Forty Mile Ridge to Sunset Arch
Overview: Sunset Arch is a delicate, graceful span on the south slopes of Fortymile Ridge. Vistas along the way to the arch are far-ranging, and the walking is easy, with no obstacles, although it is not on an established trail.
Start: Trailhead parking area and water tank
Distance: 3 miles, round-trip
Approximate hiking time: 1 to 1.5 hours, round-trip
Trail surface: Cross-country route, rudimentary routefinding required
Trailhead access: 4WD advised when the road is wet
Best seasons: Mid-Mar through May; Sept through Oct
Canine compatibility: Leashed dogs permitted
Topo maps: King Mesa USGS quad; Trails Illustrated Canyons of the Escalante
Finding the trailhead: Hole-in-the-Rock Road provides access to this hike. This generally good, graded dirt road branches southeast from UT 12, 5.8 miles east of Escalante Interagency Visitor Center and 23.8 miles southwest of the UT 12/Burr Trail Road junction in Boulder. Follow Hole-in-the-Rock Road south from UT 12 for 33.8 miles to HurricaneWash, and continue south for another 2.2 miles to the signed turnoff to Fortymile Ridge, then turn left (northeast).
This narrow sandy road typically develops a severe washboard surface along its entire course. After 4.3 miles turn left (north) onto a short but steep and rough spur road, leading 0.1 mile to a large steel water tank and parking area atop the ridge.
From the hilltop trailhead at the water tank, drop down to Fortymile Ridge Road and turn left (east), walking another 0.1 mile to a right-angle bend in the road. Leave the road here where you see a small steel water tank and concrete cistern, and follow a southeast course across the gentle, sandy expanse of Fortymile Ridge, heading toward prominent Point 4772 and its red slickrock slopes.
After about 10 minutes and 0.3 mile of weaving a course among blackbrush, sand sagebrush, Mormon tea, and silvery sophora, you reach a minor drainage at the foot of Point 4772. Simply follow the drainage generally south and downhill. Broad vistas reach to the bold barrier of the Straight Cliffs and to the broad dome of 10,388-foot Navajo Mountain. Prominent features at the base of the Straight Cliffs include the isolated slickrock domes of the Sooner Rocks, and to the northwest of those domes you see an apron of Entrada Sandstone at the foot of Cave Point, where an array of deep alcoves create an intriguing contrast of light and shadow.
The better route ahead skirts the shallow arroyo of the drainage rather than following its winding course. The left (east) side of the arroyo is much less sandy than the right side. After about 1 mile the arroyo ends when you reach an expanse of Navajo Sandstone slickrock. Using the distant Sooner Rocks as your guide, continue on your southbound course. Traverse the rolling slickrock for about 5 minutes, and suddenly Sunset Arch appears on the low rim just ahead.