After another fruitless attempt at sunrise, we dove into what would become one of our favorite parts of the park: the Fiery Furnace.
If you have aspirations of visiting this playground, know that you’ll need a permit – but don’t let that deter you. Permits were easily acquired (following a brief safety video), inexpensive, and well worth it. You have two options when diving into the Furnace: self-guided or tour guide-led.
You should know us by now; we opted for the former.
Not only is that option less expensive, you’re also not led in a pack of other fanny pack-wielding tourists like a herd of cattle. Instead, you’re left on your own to explore at your own pace – exactly how we like it.
Know that you’re truly on your own with this option. Hikers are expected to properly prepare with adequate snacks, GPS/map, sturdy shoes, and plenty of water. Also, everyone who enters the Furnace has to be careful to not step on the fragile cryptobiotic soil. If you question your hiking prowess, your physical fitness, or your sense of direction, I’d play it safe with a guided tour. If you’re an avid hiker like us, jump right in!
The path quickly dissolves into stacks of enormous boulders navigated through wending warrens ranging in size from wide crevasses to narrow cracks. The ground disappears, and you’re quickly lost, scrambling up, around, and under the rocks.
Wow! What a place! I had never seen anything like it. Sharp blades of rock jutting from the ground crumble into odd, lumpy towers on the south side. It’s a boulderer’s field day, and a photographer’s dream. Even Dad was giddy as a schoolboy. So many tunnels and ridges to explore! And the best part: we had it all to ourselves.
We started by heading left into the heart of the large slot canyon walls. Our first treat was coming across an unexpected arch. It was difficult to see before we were almost upon it, but there it was, waiting for us like a little altar. I had fun catching some shots before we moved on. It was a surprise find, but we discovered later it was not Surprise Arch, as we thought perhaps we had found.
Before long, we encountered nothing but dead ends, so we turned south to see if we could get out around the large fin of rock blocking our way to the east and venture deeper into the Furnace. This involved some careful navigation and lots of rock hopping. At one point, we had to descend from a perch, knowing we wouldn’t be able to climb back up the way we came. Dad assured us there were other ways to get back out, and I could only hope he was right.
As we rounded the southern end of the blade of rock, the rock garden opened up into the vast plain of the park. We turned east, but not before passing some four-legged visitors.
We wound up on top of a ridge, climbing up more than making our way back into the Fiery Furnace. While the view of this amazing playground was incredible, we quickly realized this was not going to be a sufficient trail to lead us back in. So, much to my chagrin, we turned around to backtrack.
Sure enough, there was fortunately another path to get us back out… though it did require some rock leaping. I was fine for the first hop, but Dad had to help pull me across the second with this walking stick. I’ll admit there was a slight adrenaline jolt.
We then ascended once more. Dad just had to get on top of the next ridge.. and the one after that… and the one after that. Before we knew it, we were standing on top of the Furnace, gazing down into its depths. We posed with a chunk of whale’s tongue (that’s the only layer I remember the name of) that looked completely out of place, and I captured the mountain goat on top of all the rocks.
Alas, we couldn’t stay, as much as I would have loved to just sit and take it in all day long.
We made our way back north again, toward the entrance, still not having truly found the heart of the Furnace. We saw a tour group coming down some all-too-perfectly-carved steps, and though we figured that was probably the way to delve deeper, we didn’t want to run into them or any other groups, so we continued along the rock fin.
We managed to find our way beyond the edge of the Fiery Furnace altogether, popping out the western side. The day was advancing, and we still wanted to hit a few more arches with Mum before the day was out, so we continued back to the car, leaving much of the Furnace unexplored.
As we were leaving, we saw a lone silhouette upon one of the ridges, and I immediately decided Dad and I must find our way up there on our next visit. It was such an incredible place, and we easily could have spent the entire day playing in that rock garden. Next time, perhaps we will!