It's the magic number in any casino in town--21. Also the number of participants who turned out for the Thursday hike to Virlis Fischer. Hard by the time-forgotten town of Nelson, the famous arch would take a bit of determination to attain. The Fiesta Casino parking lot looked like the staging area for an AARP convention as the merry band of adventurers convened on this final day of January. Couldn't buy a frown or a cloud. Half had never been to the famous dome.
It took a half-dozen vehicles to transport the crew 30 miles to the trailhead high above Nelson. If the Colorado River is in sight, it's a good bet that Chuck Hawkins knows the hike du jour. And there was never any doubt as Chuck led his serpentine train of trekkers off through the desert. Thirty minutes into our adventure, however, the train abruptly stopped. It was a scene right out of a Lewis Carroll tale, as one by one, we dropped into a 'rabbit hole,' then disappeared. Really. Single file, down into the abyss we descended, only to emerge on the far side of the tunnel a few hundred feet distant. Pretty cool.
After a regroup and an hour's traverse across the desert floor, the stately arch finally appeared above us. Reaching the window itself would entail a testy scree field and some fairly steep sandstone. But nothing would deter this exuberant horde of hikers. After all, lunch awaited under the arch.
Not much for conformity, we opted for three different descent routes back to the valley floor far below us. After gathering again and doing a cursory head count, it was off across the undulating desert terrain. Somewhere out there beyond the hills were six sedans, waiting to take us home.
Narration by Mike OC. Photos by Mike and Laszlo.