We signed up for a three-hour ranger guided hike though the "fiery furnace". It's a maze of sandstone fins, spires and box canyons with narrow openings between the sandstone formations.
You are encouraged to take this hike with a ranger. We draw Becky, the former English Professor who conducted the lecture on Edward Abbey. Becky tries to scare off those that are afraid of heights, of rock-climbing, are short of breath or who feel unable to refrain from using a bathroom for three hours. No one drops out. She spends some time explaining the ecological importance of the little bumps in the sand (Cryptobiotic soil crusts, consisting of cyanobacteria, lichens and mosses) which take 250 years to grow large enough to be visible. We try to stay on the rocks and washes where these don't grow to avoid destroying them.
An opening in the rocks has to have at least a three-foot dimension to qualify as an arch. There are about 2500 discovered arches in the park. At 95 pounds, Mrs. Phred easily sqeezes though "Crawl-Though" arch.
I felt a little like Homer Simpson when he ate too many donuts and got stuck in the waterpark tube. My belly and butt barely squeeze though.
Becky does a fine job explaining the native plants. It's spring so the desert wildflowers are everywhere. My personal favorite is the Utah Juniper. When it runs low on water it kills part of itself to save the rest. The strange twisted shapes of the half-dead, half-alive junipers are everywhere.
I keep my eyes open for the sacred datura (moonflower, thornapple, moonlily) whose ghostly, white trumpet-shaped flowers bloom only in the desert night. The moonlily carries a heavy dose of atropine, a strong vision-inducing alkaloid.
The soft sandstone sometimes forms a honeycomb pattern where acid trapped in the rock has eroded holes.
The "biscuit root" is here. It's an endangered plant that grows only in the sand worn off from this particular strata of sandstone. The arches below are called the "skull" arches. You may notice that the picture appears to be upside down. I was standing on my head when I snapped it. In retrospect it might have been easier to flip the picture over with my photo editor.