Cobra Arch is a venomous stone snake, striations down the length of its body, eyes keeping watch from its elegant, hooded head. The statuesque span of Navajo Sandstone frames a Utah-blue skylight in brooding carmine.
The arch is located in southern Utah, west of Page, Arizona, and south of U.S. Route 89. It is proximal to places featured in a previous column: Buckskin Gulch and the Paria River, White Pocket and Yellow Rock.
The gold-star hike to Cobra Arch is delightful throughout and is suitable for moderate hikers. The trail is practically flat, hovering on the rim of The Dive, a miles-long sandstone escarpment with a fantastical, polychromatic mural face. Climb two sand dunes and walk across a red stone pocket, The Dive’s runout zone.
The Cobra Arch Trail shares a trailhead with the Middle Route into Buckskin Gulch. Sign the register and walk south along a fence line, entering the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness as you do so.
The track penetrates a sage and euphedra flat. A vermilion-earth view opens to the south. The frozen parabolic cones of Coyote Buttes lie beyond the Steamboat Rock battlement. Mere minutes away is Buckskin Gulch, the longest traversable slot canyon in the world.
Reach the rim of The Dive and turn east with the trail. The route to Cobra Arch stays on top of the bench while seeking a weakness in the persistent Carmel Formation scarp. The Carmel rests on Page Sandstone. The Navajo Sandstone arch would be creamy white were it not stained red by the Page.
The footpath passes by sculptural juniper skeletons. Among the living are snakeweed, prickly pear and buffaloberry. The smooth walking surface could not be easier. It rates 100 points on the pleasure scale. The trail bears east, south, east, south, zig-zagging with the rim.
Notice a cluster of stacked standing rocks below the trail. These peculiar effigies signal a break in the cliff rock. At 2.3 miles, a cairn marks the location of the 200-foot descent to the base of The Dive. Follow cairns west down a rock runner.
In April, the leaves of shrub oak are shiny green and cliff rose smells like fancy soap with a hint of cinnamon. Claret cup cactus bloom crimson.
Cairns direct onto a minor ridge. The trail ascends a dune and then a 150-foot sand mountain. The dunes are covered in Indian ricegrass. In the spring, orange globemallow, primrose, deervetch, yucca and purple spiderwort are blooming.
From the dune’s crescent get a good look at the stupefying face of The Dive. Conical turrets interplay with color-infused cross-bedding. Cantilevered sheets of fragile fins project in countless layers from the bulwark.
Enter a red pocket of Navajo Sandstone. Linger in this lumpy bowl complex with its chaotic cluster of turtleback weathered domes, water-sculpted channels and a short slot.
The arch is located on the south side of the pocket at 3.7 miles, elevation 4,680 feet. This primal structure rises 30 feet up from the earth and spans 35 feet. The underbelly of the pit viper is 8 feet wide. A simple scramble leads to the top of the arch, where you can balance on the snake’s slender back.
Relax in the shade cast by the serpent before retracing your steps to the trailhead.
Cobra Arch is located very near the rim of Buckskin Gulch. The navigation savvy may turn the hike into a loop by going southwest to the rim of the finger canyon and walking northwest for 2 miles to intersect the Middle Route just before its exposed plunge into Buckskin. Return northeast on the poorly marked route back to the trailhead. This 9-mile loop is primarily off-trail with 1,200 feet of climbing.
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