You’re about to visit a remarkable place. The Fiery Furnace is a maze of towering rock walls and narrow, winding passages. It’s also a home to a surprising amount of life. Every step taken in the Fiery Furnace is an opportunity to protect it. This video will explain how you can help.
Thousands of visitors explore the Fiery Furnace every year. Whether you follow the marked route or find your own way, it’s up to you to choose a path you can follow safely and causes no damage. Walking on rock leaves no footprints, so that’s the best way minimize your impact. Slickrock can be slippery, though, especially when it’s wet or dusted with loose sand. Make good choices about where to put your hands and feet. A spot that feels easy to climb up can be a lot harder to scramble back down. Every trip through the Fiery Furnace encounters dead-ends, so make sure you can always go back the way you came.
If you’re planning to use ropes while exploring, you need to know current climbing and canyoneering regulations. Take a minute to ask a ranger about them before beginning your trip.
There are a lot of twists and turns in the Fiery Furnace, and getting lost is a real possibility. Small signs mark one counter-clockwise route, but you’re welcome to explore other passages. You might be tempted to add your own cairns or arrows, but please preserve the feeling of wilderness by not leaving any marks. Instead, take a photo of natural features as you pass them to keep track of your route, and keep your group together to reduce the odds of getting lost.
While keeping yourself safe in the Fiery Furnace, you’ll also want to protect what lives here. One essential component of desert life is biological soil crust. Biological crust is a community of organisms that weaves through the sand and holds it together. This bumpy surface layer is a nursery for seedlings, adds nutrients to the soil, captures rainwater and reduces erosion. Biological crust is very sensitive to disturbance, so you won’t see it in places that flood, like sandy wash bottoms. That’s why your permit requires you to walk in washes or on rock where crust is easy to avoid. Careless footsteps destroy decades of growth and encourage other people to follow these shortcuts, which causes even more damage. Avoid following footprints or shortcuts and let the soil support its community of life.
You’ll also find sand dunes in the Fiery Furnace. Sand dunes are an important habitat for many plants and animals. They’re a great place to spot rodent burrows and lizard tracks. Dunes are stabilized by plant roots hidden in the sand. Walking or jumping on them uncovers and breaks these roots. The disturbed sand then blows away, burying and killing other plants and depriving animals of shade, food and shelter. By not walking on sand dunes, you’ll help preserve the shade-giving trees and plants that support the Furnace’s animal communities. If the path you’re on leads to a sand dune, patch of soil crust, or vegetation, just retrace your steps and find another route.
Another good way to protect park animals is to keep track of your garbage. Food scraps aren’t healthy for wildlife, and many (like orange peels or sunflower shells) take decades to biodegrade in the desert. So be sure to pack out food scraps along with everything else.
Speaking of waste disposal: human waste takes a long time to biodegrade here, and buried waste is often uncovered by wind or rain. Yuck. Use the toilet in the parking lot, or bring a disposable toilet bag with you to keep the Furnace clean.
Although the Fiery Furnace feels like a wild, untamed place, thousands of people explore its passages every year. During your hike, you might encounter another group or a ranger-guided walk. Your permit prohibits joining or following other parties, including the tour. Step to the side to let larger groups pass, so that everyone can continue feeling that they have this amazing place all to themselves.
The same big walls that make you feel hidden also do a great job of bouncing and amplifying sound waves. Talking softly within your group lets others enjoy the natural sounds of the Furnace. It also increases your chance of encountering wildlife.
The permit you’ll display during your hike lists all these regulations, but they’re also pretty easy to remember. Walk only on rock or in sandy washes. Pack out all your garbage, including human waste and food scraps. Don’t follow the ranger tour or other groups. Keep off of all arches. Leave the route markers in place, and don’t add any marks of your own. Keep your group together, and your voices low, so that others can enjoy the silence.
Visitors come to Arches for many reasons. Are you seeking adventure? An outing with friends and family? An inspiring place to sit down and take in the scenery? There’s no reason we all can’t find what we’re looking for, as long as we treat each other, and the landscape, with respect.
If you’ve visited the Fiery Furnace before, you know what a special place it is. We invite you to be stewards. Look for changes, like damaged soils or graffiti. And if you see something that concerns you, tell us. With everyone’s help, the Fiery Furnace will remain raw, vibrant and surprisingly full of life for you and future generations to enjoy.