We parked at the turnaround and hiked the short trail to Tower Arch. The afternoon sun was already sinking. After taking photos of the Arch and the La Sal Mountains to the south, I fired up our diesel for the return trip.
We were soon faced with the choice of driving back to Salt Valley Road or taking the 4x4 scenic route. I estimated that we still had an hour of sunlight, enough time to drive the nine miles to Balanced Rock before dark.
This road, called Four-Wheel-Drive Road, presented new challenges. There were places where the sand was eight to 12 inches deep and pulled us, just as snow can pull unwary drivers. Getting stuck was a distinct possibility. In the middle of one sandy wash, the road took a sharp 90-degree turn. I knew our F-350 couldn't make such a sharp turn, but I also couldn't back and fill in the middle of such deep sand. I swung right and then hard left, scraping the brush on the driver's side, going up onto the bank on the passenger's side, while pouring on the power.
Sometimes the road actually disappeared in sections of slickrock. One time, the road disappeared at the crest of a sharp hinge-pin hill. I stopped on the incline, and we walked up the slickrock hill to the crest. There was a large half-moon-shaped hole in the rock on the downhill side. Darlene stood next to the dropoff, so I'd know where to turn my wheels as I came up over the top.
We drove through the gathering darkness with the setting sun at our backs. Finally, our headlights shone on the Willow Flats Road sign, and we turned left toward pavement. Balanced Rock, silhouetted against the pale evening sky, appeared before us, and I shifted out of four-wheel drive as we turned onto the park's paved road.