Monday, November 10, 2008

Desert Destination: Lexington Arch

Every Monday we visit a desert destination.
This past weekend, I decided to take a trip to Lexington Arch in Great Basin National Park. It's located in a remote canyon and doesn't get many visitors. But it should get more. Most arches are found in sandstone, but this 75-foot tall arch is in limestone, making it a little different. 

It's a twelve mile drive on a gravel road from the highway to get to the parking lot at the start of the hike. We didn't see any other vehicles on the gravel road.

Once we got there, it was time to get out the backpack. Desert Boy was very excited to go on a hike. So was Henry. Although dogs aren't usually allowed on trails in national parks, most of this trail is on Bureau of Land Management land, and so the park has made an exception and allows leashed dogs to also go on the last little bit of trail that is on national park land.

The first sign at the trailhead says the arch is 1.5 miles away, but the next sign and the pamphlet from the visitor center say it's 1.7 miles. One other thing that might be helpful to know is that the hike starts about 7,400 feet (2,270 m) and the arch is about 8,400 feet (2,570 m), so there's a 1,000 foot (300 m) elevation gain. The oxygen can be a little thin if you're coming from a lower elevation.

The trail starts out through a pinyon pine and juniper woodland, and then switchbacks up a sagebrush-covered hillside. It seems like the switchbacks will never end, but finally the trail heads into a Douglas-fir and white fir forest. 

The trail heads out to an overlook where you can get a good view of the arch. A bench is provided so you can take a rest and watch the birds. I watch birds a lot when I want to catch my breath. On this particular day, we heard and saw some raucous Clark's Nutcrackers flying about, looking for seeds to put into their caches for the winter.

One hypothesis of the formation of Lexington Arch is that it used to be part of a cave system, and the rest of the cave collapsed, leaving just this arch. If that's what happened, I sure would have loved to have seen the rest of the cave, because the arch opening is humongous! Nearly all the caves around this area are rather small and involve crawling.

Following the overlook, the trail descends to cross this wash via the bridge. Do you see the snow on the bridge? Yep, it was a little chilly, but that made it easier to hike than on a hot summer day. Water flows in the wash generally only during flash floods or fast snow melt on high snow pack years. Some people think that Lexington Arch should be called Lexington Bridge. A natural bridge is formed by running water eroding away the weaker stone, whereas an arch is formed by the processes of weathering, like freezing, wind, and erosion. Perhaps this creek used to flow through Lexington Arch/Bridge, but later the channel changed and now it goes on the side.

A few more switchbacks up a steep, rocky section, and then we're under the arch! Desert Boy was glad to get out of the backpack and have a snack. The view is spectacular, looking down the canyon and out into the valley.

The arch seems even bigger when you're under it. 

Here's another view of the arch, this time from below it. Old maps show a trail that follows the gully from the trailhead to the arch. I've taken it before, and much of the old trail is obliterated, making the hike a bushwhack with lots of rose bushes, downed trees, and rock hopping. So although it might be shorter on the map, in real life it really isn't a shortcut.

The hike makes a great half-day destination. No water is available here (unless you get lucky and experience a flash flood), so bring all you need. And sometimes no one comes here for a few days at a time, so it wouldn't hurt to tell someone where you're headed just in case you have vehicle trouble. It's great to be able to go visit something so huge and beautiful and not worry about it being overcrowded!


The Incredible Woody said...

Absolutely beautiful! Desert Boy is very lucky to have such an energetic mom to take him to all these places!

Caroline said...

Desert Mom, that is some hike!! You be careful when out wondering the mountainsides!! Thank you though for the beautiful pictures! They are awesome!!

Anonymous said...

I went to the Natural Bridge in Lexington, VA a couple weeks ago. It's a huge limestone arch. Yours is probably a namesake.
Beautiful day; good company for a hike. If you are ever in Lexington, Virginia, the Natural Bridge is a sight to see, and an easier hike. More people, though.

Anonymous said...

What a gorgeous day and good company, too.
I went to the Natural Bridge, a limestone arch near Lexington, VA with my friends who live there a couple weeks ago. It was huge! And an easy hike. Quite a few people, too. Colorful leaves still on the trees. More water, falls, and a replica of an Indian village. I'm guessing the Lexington Arch is named after the one I saw. Worth the stop if you are ever in Lexington, VA

ps: this was the first comment. I thought it was lost.

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