Within the Fiery Furnace
We had about twenty-five people in our group, with an age range of mid 20s to early 70s and an experience range of us (feeling cocky with Gooseberry under our belts) to "practically never having stepped off a sidewalk." The ranger who led the hike, Alison Van Lonkhuyzen (sp?), did an amazing job of keeping the group together, safe, informed and engaged during our 2 mile, 2.5 hour tour of the Fiery Furnace. She was great at reading our group, in addition to engaging with the other permitted groups exploring the area. She conveyed a ton of information about Arches in general, and the Fiery Furnace specifically, as well as her affection for the greater Moab area.
Skull Arch (the skull is upside down)
We were in the guided hike in the first place because the Fiery Furnace is a delicate and restricted area. You are only allowed in with a guide or, if unguided, with a permit (and they vet you carefully before handing out those limited permits). There are no actual trails within this area and the ecosystem is quite fragile, including one plant, the Canyonlands biscuitroot, which is only found there and one other place on the planet.
Me, bringing up the end of the group
It's a pretty spot, although we have seen places equally as scenic in our own explorations, and people want to get in there - but it is important to protect it and I think the Park Service is doing the right thing in limiting the foot traffic. Going on a guided hike isn't really our kind of thing but we were glad to have finally been able to do it.
Surprise arch, somewhere in there
Afterwards, we got off the main park road, driving 7+ miles on the dirt Salt Valley Road to the Tower Arch trailhead. The Salt Valley Road is listed on the park map but there isn't any sign for the turnoff on the road. This is presumably to keep the hoi polloi off it since it is impassable in inclement weather: the road is actually on a soft sand wash for some distance and when it is wet, vehicles would get stuck. We had to drive very slowly to keep from washboarding but were entertained by the dozens of tiny white-tailed rodents dashing across the road into their burrows.
Old sign en route to Tower Arch
We parked in the small lot at the Tower Arch trailhead and walked into the arch, recognizing two other couples who had been in our Fiery Furnace group. Despite being several cars at the trailhead, however, we pretty much had the trail to ourselves.
Just below Tower Arch
The trail wasn't difficult, crossing slickrock for the most part, except for an extended hilly section where we were crossing sand dunes. Although our legs were experiencing some cumulative fatigue at this point, it was still a nice and easy walk after Gooseberry.
Tower Arch (with all the people hidden)
It was, as so many of these desert trails are, quite scenic. And when we came around the corner of a sandstone fin and saw the massive Tower Arch looming overhead, we were impressed. The rock comprising the span of the arch is easily as thick as the opening beneath it - we hadn't known what to expect but we hadn't expected something so huge. We stayed for a while, gazing at the arch, until the somewhat noisy and annoying group who were there ahead of us drove us away. (We wish people would use their inside voices when they are outside in spectacular locations like that.)
Heading back on Salt Valley Road
Then it was back to town to clean up for dinner at Miguel's Baja Grill: margaritas, a giant burrito for H and goat enchiladas with green chile and mole for me. After dinner we swung by Back of Beyond Books (recently given very good press in Neil Peart's Ghost Rider), which is an excellent independent bookstore right in the middle of Main Street, Moab. They've got everything you could want in a bookstore: tons of local guidebooks, maps and history books, cookbooks, best-sellers and a large collection of old and rare books and maps. We spent quite a while there, poring over a late 1800s map of Utah before purchasing two quirky books of Moab area day hikes and two maps. If you're ever in Moab, you should definitely stop by and buy something from Back of Beyond.
Tower Arch trail map (2.8 miles)