Just off the main road in Arches National Park sits Balanced Rock, a large boulder sitting atop a much narrower 55 foot column. The formation is a popular destination because of its central location, its unusual figure, and also as a pilgrimage site for fans of the outspoken outdoors author Edward Abbey
, who lived near the formation when he was a Ranger at the then very undeveloped Arches National Monument from 1956-7.
The trail itself is short and sweet – a nice stop on your way to lengthier trails further inside the park. It begins on a slate sidewalk that quickly becomes a nicely manicured dirt path, complete with some lovely “desert driftwood” along the way.
The rock formation is almost always in view on this trail, and after a short distance you’ll be able to get fairly close to the formation itself.
For scale, the boulder on the top is the size of three school busses.
From the base of Balanced Rock, you’ll also have some killer views east past the Garden of Eden and Windows Sections to the distant, snowy La Sal Mountains. It’s all quite a sight to take in.
If you’ve read Abbey’s books, you’ll want to linger a while here. And if you haven’t, you’ll still want to stay to soak in as much of the scenery as possible. Afterward, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Desert Solitaire
, which he started writing the two seasons he worked and lived near this spot.
Abbey’s a fascinating figure – full of contradictory views and impossible to piegonhole – but the guy could write. And if you love the desert, there will be times you’re reading his books and you finally see your heartfelt feelings put into black and white figures on a page (or eBook):
“The fire. The odor of burning juniper is the sweetest fragrance on the face of the earth, in my honest judgment; I doubt if all the smoking censers of Dante’s paradise could equal it. One breath of juniper smoke, like the perfume of sagebrush after rain, evokes in magical catalysis, like certain music, the space and light and clarity and piercing strangeness of the American West. Long may it burn.”
If you’re interested, here’s an unaired video essay by Abbey produced a few years before his death in 1989. In the piece, he reflects on the changes Arches had gone through since he lived there.
Good food for thought as you drive down that paved road to your next hike.