Phipps Arch beckons with its curiously thick shape, quick name that trips off the tongue, and of course its location in the ever stunning Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Of the two routes to choose from, I went with the lesser known, less easy to find choice. It’s really not that hard to find (the power of the Internet remains quite strong when it comes to directions). To be honest, I wouldn’t recommend this route, the one that departs in precipitous fashion from the side of Highway 12. The seemingly miles of torturous slogging through deep sand scarred both my psyche as well as my calf muscles for days to come. Two things in this route’s favor bear mentioning, however: its remoteness will likely ensure your solitude throughout, and it’s certainly pretty for the most part.
Each turn of the trailless hike presents new vistas. Desert potholes filled with water beckoned to my hot dog. (Don’t count on these actually having water after a long dry spell, although they probably fill well during summer monsoon season. These photos are from early April.)
The sandy slogs remained resolute in the face of my marked lack of enthusiasm for treading through them. With Pippin as my cheerleader, we somehow made it.
Taking a close look at snippets of sandstone along the way reveals the astonishing artistry of nature.
The Staircase is filled with canyons and rock domes and spires and nooks and crannies that demand exploration. It’s a wild place for sure, one that will never be tamed.
Big cats need water, too. There is little need to worry about stumbling across a mountain lion in any desert ramblings, unless you’re cruising around at dawn or dusk calling “here, kitty, kitty” while covered in aroma of fresh deer kill. Although I’ve seen recent tracks many times in my life, I’ve yet to encounter a cougar in anything but my imagination.
Claret Cup cactus offers an incredible splash of springtime color. The red is so shocking amidst the browns and tans and russets and buffs of the surrounding landscape, the blossoms stand out like the visual version of a siren.
Don’t tangle with the spines of the Fish Hook Cactus. This one was in bud. I probably missed the blooms by a day or two.
A stagnant area of water still creates remarkable beauty with its coloration and the play of light bouncing off the water onto the rock walls above.
You can’t see Phipps Arch from the canyon below. It is revealed only after a climb that is not for everyone. Drop offs and scrambles require balance and a trust in one’s abilities. This photo, taken from the canyon below, is aimed right at the arch, which is to the left of that tiny figure standing on the rounded dome of rock in center mid frame.
For those who make it up, the arch is quite interesting to behold.
Pippin is accustomed to posing for photos in the backcountry. He makes a great model for scale, I think!
Rock and sky from under the arch = classic Utah view.
Although the arch is cool, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this as one of the best area day hikes–at least not from the Highway 12 route. I need to do the Escalante River route for a fair comparison. But if you’re an arch-bagger, head on over. The serenity is sublime.