During the day, plenty of benign critters scamper about, most of them members of the rodent family. At dawn, when the park is free of people, deer can be seen wandering through the terrain; at other times there are coyotes and foxes and 154 species of birds. A large variety of reptiles populate the rocks, including lizards and snakes (diamondback rattlers are among the inhabitants but are rarely seen).
Cyclists are everywhere, although they are restricted to roads within the park. In the neighboring Moab public lands area outside the park, mountain bikers are not restricted to roads or paths and crisscross the land in unrestricted patterns.
At night, of course, the sights and experiences are more solitary, more personal, more satisfying. But I would not recommend a night visit to everyone, especially not to those with bad night vision or a poor sense of direction. Getting lost in the dark is a real possibility. The hike in darkness to Delicate Arch, for example, requires carefully following a path marked by little rock pile markers, called cairns, over long slabs of smooth and potentially slippery rock.
Moonlight helps significantly. But a trip needs to be scheduled around it. I consulted the weather section of the newspaper to find out the moon's cycles. I also found out the times of the moonrise and moonset. To avoid having to stay up too late, I timed my visit so that I was there a day or two before a full moon, when it rises earlier in the evening.
Stumbling over an unseen rock was the only hazard I encountered on my moonlight foray. But I carried a flashlight to help me navigate shadowy areas. While most of the trails in Arches National Park can be traveled with just sneakers, I recommend wearing long pants to protect against cactus spines. In spring and fall a warm jacket is a good idea.
I have seen an occasional coyote and various rodents, but have never been bothered by them. The park spokesperson also told me that she has never heard of a human assault while someone was wandering the moonlit landscape.
After Delicate Arch, I took a shorter, less demanding 10-minute walk to Window Arch and nearby Turret Arch. The nearly level path was well-marked and easily seen by moonlight. I could even read the direction signs without a flashlight. At the first junction, I headed left to North Window and South Window arches: dramatic 100-foot-wide walls of erosion-carved stone. The trail circled right and led to Turret Arch. In a few spots obscured by deep shadows so dark they looked like black holes ready to suck me in, I turned on my flashlight for safety.
While nearly as large as the Window arches, Turret Arch didn't feel quite so monstrous and forbidding. It's actually two arches, one large, one a mere porthole high above ground, with a tower overseeing the entire formation. I passed through the arch into a three-sided room created by rock and was rewarded by a ceiling made of stars.
There was one more site I wanted to see before the caffeine wore off. It was Landscape Arch. I had seen it by sunlight but in the moonlight it looked more like a wisp of imaginary rock floating in the sky, supported by stars. By moonlight, it was magical.
I decided not to go much beyond Landscape Arch. Beyond it, the trail requires scrambling over large rocks and that seemed unsafe in the dark. Too bad. This was the kind of world I wanted to continue exploring, one where even dull landscape is transformed into a moonscape of delicate beauty, and where the quiet of the night is the only sound.
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GUIDEBOOK: Moonstruck by Arches
Getting there: From LAX to Grand Junction, Colo., there is connecting service, with one change of planes, on United, America West and Delta Airlines. Advance-purchase, round-trip fares start at $251. Grand Junction is 100 miles east of Arches National Park.
Where to stay: Moab is the closest town, a 10-minute drive away.
The 73-unit Best Western, Greenwell Inn, 105 S. Main St., is one of the largest motels in town, with rooms for about $110 for a double; telephone (800) 528-1234 or (801) 259-6151.
The Pack Creek Ranch, 15 miles southeast of Moab, rents cabins, houses and bunkhouses for $100 per person; tel. (801) 259-5505.
For more information: Utah Travel Council, Council Hall/Capitol Hill, 300 N. State St., Salt Lake City, UT 84114; tel. (801) 538-1030.
Arches National Park, P.O. Box 907, Moab 84532; tel. (801) 259-8161.