We’ve visited Arches National Park near Moab, Utah, twice and found it fascinating. Both our visits occurred in March and, even though it was chilly, that seems preferable to summer heat in the Utah desert. We thoroughly enjoyed many short hikes and the amazing scenery.
Park Avenue Courthouse Towers
Arches National Park is a park that can be enjoyed from a vehicle or explored more thoroughly on foot and can accommodate whatever length of time a person has for a visit. If you have only a day, one can drive the park road, stop at the various waysides, take photos and, in general, be awestruck. Of course more time is better and, unless you are going into the backcountry or are an overly enthusiastic hiker, two days works pretty well.
Turret Arch Partition Arch
Arches have a life cycle. Beginning as a small hole in a cliff or narrow rock fin, the opening is enlarged by weathering and rockfall. Then arises the question: When is an arch an arch and not a window or just a hole? Over decades, it has been debated as to how large an opening must be in order to be considered an arch and also whether an opening high in the face of a fin is a window while one closer to the ground is an arch. In addition to vertical arches formed in the walls of fins, there are also horizontal arches which are pothole arches, formed where rainwater has run and pooled. Sometimes the deepening of the pothole will result in joining an alcove below and form a horizontal arch. Arches National Park recognizes an arch as an opening that measures at least three feet in any one direction. In the park, there are over 2000 arches.
The arches are primarily the result of shaping by water, frost, and the release of tensions in the rock itself. Sedimentary Entrada Sandstone is the primary rock which has eroded into arches and other fantastic shapes in the park. Entrada Sandstone is composed of three members – Dewey Bridge member, a muddy sandstone; Slick Rock member, a fine-grained sandstone; and Moab member, a white layer of sandstone that caps the Slick Rock. From various combinations of these three members, the arches are carved.
Spanning 306 feet, Landscape Arch is one of the longest natural arches in the world. 92 feet above the ground and only 12 feet thick at its center, it continues to enlarge. In 1991, a 60-foot-long slab of rock fell from its underside and rockfalls from 1991 to 1995 estimated to total 268 tons of rock, led the park service to close the trail underneath the arch. Seems like a good idea to stay out from under it.
North and South Windows Broken Arch
On our hikes to view various arches, we discovered that at least one of the arches on our map – Wall Arch – no longer existed. A huge pile of rubble marked where it had fallen. Fortunately no one was in the vicinity when it crashed to the ground below. Even though, the rock formations seem timeless, they are actually constantly changing, usually slowly but sometimes very dramatically.
Delicate Arch is perhaps the best-known arch in the park. This freestanding arch perches at the edge of a slickrock bowl and is the iconic symbol of Arches National Park.
Balanced Rock Ham Rock
In the park, in addition to the 2000 plus arches, a variety of unusual shaped and fancifully named rocks catch the attention. Balanced Rock, Ham Rock, the Three Gossips, Courthouse Towers, Sheep Rock and Park Avenue beg a photo.
The Three Gossips Sheep Rock
A very short hike off the highway, where Courthouse Wash joins the Colorado River, is a rock art site. This panel displays evidence of people’s passage for hundreds of years both in pictographs and petroglyphs. It is thought that Archaic Indians first painted the long, tapered figures and later, ancestral Puebloans or Utes added bright white circular forms that resemble shields. Petroglyphs by Utes appear elsewhere on the wall and adjacent boulder. Vandalized in 1980, cleaning and restoration by the National Park Service revealed older pictographs beneath the white shields.
Over two thousand namesake arches, petrified sand dunes, impressive rock formations, ancient rock art and the beauty of the Utah desert combine to make Arches National Park a real treasure.