Wending your serpentine way 2.5 miles up from the visitor’s center into Arches National Park, the first designated trailhead is Park Avenue. This upper parking area and overlook is this trail’s southern end. You might also choose to drive 1.2 miles farther to the Courthouse Towers parking area, the other end of this same trail. It is this second route that I prefer. And, if your winter-stiffened self is not up to making it up the 111 stone steps to the overlook, you can simply turn back around at the base of those steps and retrace the journey. When I first arrived in Moab 12 winters ago, I hiked this trail every week.
This hike is named for the 11-mile-long boulevard in New York City. A world away from all that glitz and cacophony, I prefer to think of Egypt and other rocky deserts as I navigate this cairn-marked slickrock-and-sand wadi (dry wash in Arabic). I imagine myself sailing an arid Nile River that flows beneath the silent gaze of geologic royalty. For, sitting on the western cliffs along this primitive trail, is a balanced sandstone formation, Queen Nefertiti Rock.
She’s serene, a bit stand-offish, and ruled an African empire over three millennia ago. Smiling slightly, she looks away, peering north toward The Three Gossips. Cut from the Slickrock Member of Entrada Sandstone, you might think Nefertiti’s blocky formation looks more like Hollywood tough guy Broderick Crawford, rather than an elegant Egyptian queen. But I digress.
Nefertiti (“a Beautiful Woman has come”) was a Syrian princess born in 1370 BCE who became the Great Royal Wife of the Pharoah Amenhotep IV. When he died, Nefertiti ruled until her own death, and Tutankhamun (“King Tut”) then came to power. Cairo’s Egyptian Museum displays several huge, stunning statues of Amenhotep IV; however, there are few statues of Nefertiti.
Most of us today recognize Nefertiti from royal sculptor Thutmose’s elegant, 19” tall polychrome, stucco-coated limestone bust, found by German archaeologists in 1912. Deemed part of Germany’s “portion” of the discoveries, the bust is now housed in Berlin’s Neues Museum. Egypt has demanded its return for many years.
For an armchair look at this scenery and the Nefertiti formation, watch the opening shots of the 1989 film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. You can also view a Nefertiti Rock and Nefertiti Rapids on the Green River, Utah, accessed on foot via the Nefertiti Trail. Farther afield, there’s Queen Nefertiti’s Rock in Yehliu Geopark on the northern tip of Taiwan.
This trail in winter offers a subdued array of plants, but the rounded clumps of buckwheat are fabulous right now. After blooming white and cream in late summer, corymbed buckwheat flower clusters turn a chestnutty rust red in the fall, retaining their ruddy, coppery loveliness all winter. Look for them up and down the side of the road.
And take care around the potholes. They contain tiny lifeforms, such as tadpole shrimp, and their salinity and pH can change drastically from disturbances from your hand or boot. Your best approach to a pothole? Photograph and admire.
When I return to my car at Courthouse Towers, a van is disgorging a group of loud, chatty tourists. I lower my windows, insert James Brown’s “Get on the Good Foot” into the player, and exit the parking lot. “Hasta mañana, mi cielo!” Brown says at the end (“Until tomorrow, my heaven!”). I’m sure he’s calling out to you, Nefertiti.
Kathy Grossman is a hiker, writer, and artist and has loved ancient Egypt since the third grade, when Principal Virginia Gerling called her into the office and shared a book on King Tut. Those images were made real many years later when Kathy toured Luxor and Tut’s tomb. Watch Broderick Crawford chew up the scenery in the 1949 film, All the King’s Men.