Get Lost in the Fiery Furnace, Arches National Park

, March 6, 2012

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Despite this adventure’s foreboding title, getting yourself lost in the tall maze-like sandstone towers and fins of the Fiery Furnace is one the more exhilarating and humbling experiences available in Arches National Park. Located on the outskirts of Moab, in eastern Utah, the Fiery Furnace is unlike many of the park’s other trails that meander through the rock-speckled desert landscape. In an effort to protect the fragile environment, the Fiery Furnace has no designated trails, providing the opportunity for a self-guided exploration.

Over the course of time, the Fiery Furnace and Arches’ many other geological features were formed as a result of a massive underground salt bed, Utah’s dry climate and continued wind and water erosion of Entrada Sandstone. Thus, those who venture into the depths of the Furnace will find themselves climbing up rock faces and cracks, squeezing through tight underground passages, skipping down sandy dunes, and jumping over deep gaps to find their way out of this labyrinth.

Arches also offers a 3 hour ranger-guided tour. All visitors are required to pay a fee (Adult – 13 and older: $10.00, Child – 5 through 12: $5.00) to enter and children under the age of 5 are not allowed. Due to the popularity of the site, only a certain number of visitors are allowed in each day in an effort to prevent damage to cryptobiotic soil and plant life. Reservations are required and should be made beforehand to ensure a spot, especially during busier seasons.

Those seeking to explore the area on their own, must pay the fee and watch a 5 minute informational video to obtain a special permit. If you visit with a group, everyone must watch the video and be recorded on the permit. Rangers are strict and will not hesitate to lecture you on proper protocol. Take the time to make sure everything is in order before you go.

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The best advice for those travelling without a ranger is to pick a direction and stick to it. At the north end of the area, the large sandstone fins generally run north to south. Once into the maze of rocks, my group decided to consistently head north, gaining a small amount of altitude as we went. Eventually, we were able to make our way on top of the fins and gain access to panoramic views of the park as well as of the areas of the Fiery Furnace we had traversed. We spent about 4-5 hours moving throughout the rocks. Once we made it out, we could see the park road, and headed southwest back toward the parking lot.

Due to the nature of this adventure, make sure to bring plenty of water, food, and extra layers. Consider also taking a map/GPS as a safety precaution; it is extremely easy to get disoriented. Additionally, all items you carry should be stored in a backpack to ensure free hands at all times.

Ultimately, there are both moderate and difficult ways to experience the Fiery Furnace. I will admit there were times when I was not so sure I could make it up and over particular rocks, or felt uneasy about a 100+ ft. drop to one side. However, as the day went on, I became more confident in my abilities to make it through the difficult terrain. Most importantly, know your own strength and limits, and know what you are getting yourself into. The Fiery Furnace is by no means an easy hike, yet it is truly a unique and rewarding way to experience the landscape. I have never had as much fun getting lost as I did that day!

Check out the National Park Service’s video on the Fiery Furnace for more information about the area.

When to go

Spring (April-May) and Fall (mid-September-October) are the best months to visit this area of Utah. These months offer the most comfortable temperatures. During the summer, the possibility of afternoon thunderstorms and flash floods increases significantly and temperatures often exceed 100 F.

Getting there

If traveling by plane, Moab Airport (16 miles away), Grand Junction Regional Airport (120 miles away) and Salt Lake City International Airport  (240 miles away) are the closest. If traveling by car (from Denver), take I-70 West to exit 182 for US-191 S toward Crescent Junction/Moab. Turn left onto US-191 and drive 31.5 miles. The entrance to Arches National Park is about 5 miles north of downtown Moab. The trailhead to Fiery Furnace is located off of the main park road between the Delicate Arch turnoff and the Devils Garden area.

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Accommodations

Although the city of Moab offers an abundance of lodging, BLM Campgrounds along the Colorado River are an inexpensive, scenic, and fun alternative. Spending the night outside in the river-cut canyons, away from the city lights, is a great way to enjoy the bright stars. From US-191, head east onto US-128 to find sites conveniently located between Arches and Moab. Keep in mind that most privately owned campsites are available on a first come – first serve basis.

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