Written By Becky Sokoloski
I have a strong tendency to hike on trails that lead to a particular object or an extraordinary view. I rarely hike places that meander through landscapes or loop around an area. Which is why, when my travels brought me to Southern Utah, I chased arches.
Most visitors to the Beehive State are familiar with some of its amazing features. Bryce Canyon’s hoodoos, the multi-colored monoliths of Zion National Park, and the arches of the aptly named Arches National Park. But there are so many more features outside of the tourist-attracting parks that many tourists fail to venture to. The most fascinating of these features are the arches.
Arches National Park is incredibly popular due to its concentration of arches, which includes Delicate Arch, Double Arch, and North/South Window. I’ve traveled to the park in the past and was floored by how incredible these features are. But the park is often crowded even in the offseason, and I’m a sucker for isolated hikes where I have a mild anxiety of being attacked by a mountain lion.
For this reason, I search for trails that lead to features away from most of the public. Where you meet locals on the trail that seem confused that you are a tourist passing through. I was staying at Silver Reef near Leeds, Utah. The BLM free camping area is nestled in the hills near Red Rock national conservation area and part of Dixie National Forest. I spent several days lounging in a hammock, exploring the area, and taking in the breathtaking views. But most of my hikes were the meandering kind along dirt roads. I was itching for something spectacular. Maybe an arch.
I did a bit of research and found a trail that led to Babylon Arch in a section of the Red Rock conservation area. I was so excited, I didn’t read much about the trail before heading out, just that getting there was a bit tricky since the road there was sandy. Eh, my van (Rico) doesn’t have 4WD, but I knew I’d be fine. He’s a trooper.
I made the short drive to the trailhead without any issue. Red sand filled the road, but we plowed on through. I was pleased to see an absence of vehicles at the start of the trail. I gave Rico a pat goodbye (habit of mine) and started off with just a bottle of water.
The trail started out easy. I could have driven closer to the actual trailhead, but Rico wouldn’t be able to handle the massive boulders in the middle of the road. A primitive camping area marked the start of the official trail. Following the signs marked ‘Arch’, I skipped along the trail, happy to be pursuing an arch.
The trail meandered through spectacular rock formations. Regardless of seeing an official arch, the multicolored sandstone formations had fallen away to create sculptures that would make any photographer swoon. I kicked myself for leaving my Nikon in the van.
After maybe ½ mile I noticed I hadn’t seen a sign marked ‘Arch’ for a while. But the sandy path told me where people had previously been, so I knew I was on the trail. An occasional cairn gave me even more confidence I was getting closer to the arch.
At some point, the footprints became more and more sparse. I navigated over giant rocks and skipped over some holes several feet deep. My confidence dwindled a bit as I realized I was not on the trial anymore. I didn’t panic but instead climbed on top of a large rock. I looked down and saw footprints 70 feet below. See? Nothing to worry about.
I scrambled down the hill to the path, skirting over another hole, maybe 7 feet deep. Immediately after noting that it would suck to fall in, my sunglasses decided it would test this theory out. Seriously sunglasses? My first reaction was to admit defeat and be disappointed that my pair of Body Glove sunglasses that they stopped making a year ago were gone forever. But my cavewoman brain kicked in when I saw a long branch lying next to the hole. After 5 minutes of fishing, I managed to hook the glasses and pull them out. Success! I stuffed them into my jacket and zippered the pocket closed.
Continuing my trek down, I finally caught up with the ghosts of hikers past. The trail meandered through the sandstone formations and eventually came upon the Virgin River. I looked around for several minutes but didn’t see an arch. Was I meant to wade the river? The red rocks didn’t continue much further past the opposite bank, so this seemed unlikely.
Disappointed, I retraced my steps until I came to a sign marked ‘Arch’, with an arrow pointing not where I came from. The trail! I realized I had taken a faux trail, or what I like to call the “fail trail”. I carefully followed the signs and footprints, which were much denser than the ones on the not-trail. Within minutes, I saw it.
Babylon arch stands maybe 13 feet tall, a baby in comparison to the giants found in Arches. But it was so beautiful. The inside had dissolved to reveal veins and pockets that resembled shelves. I snapped a couple pictures and took a few minutes of solace under its protective roof. I reflected on the short 3-mile (maybe 4 for me) hike and how I had been lucky to find my way to the right trail.
I felt the rough sides of the arch and appreciated how few people actually take a moment to appreciate their beauty in silence. While I encourage people to visit our national parks, I also propose they find the trails less hiked. The ones where getting lost on an infrequently path is the norm. You might just discover somewhere new.
Check out the details on this hike and others in the area on Bivy.