Returning to one of my favorite National Parks, Arches is as intriguing and beautiful as any place in the world. Why? The mystery of the arches, of course. Not only are they wondrous to view, our curiosity is aroused as to how they are formed, and how long it takes.
“What a country chooses to save is what a country chooses to say about itself” – Mollie Beattie, Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, 1993-1996.
Simply amazing to me are the over 2000 natural stone arches (along with spires, hoodoos, and pinnacles) here in the park. So, what exactly is an arch? An arch is a vertical curved structure that spans an elevated space, and may or may not support the weight above it. A natural arch is a natural rock formation where an arch has formed with a space beneath it. They have three main characteristics: 1) made of rock, 2) form a bridge, and 3) formed by erosion.
Now, how are they formed? From World Landforms: Natural arches are formed when soft rock material is eroded rapidly by wind or water. Natural arches generally form where they are susceptible to this type of swift wearing away. The natural agents of erosion work on wear rocks along coastlines, in caves, and in areas that have water running through them. Natural arches can also form in areas that have high winds or experience intermittent freezing and thawing which weakens rock.
So, in a very spiritual sense, God is an amazing stone mason. And Arches National Park is his workshop. The most amazing and recognizable is Delicate Arch, spanning 65 feet from an orange hued bluff. It was once part of a fin until erosion worked its way through the sandstone through the years. It is but a short, sometimes, arduous three mile round trip hike to the arch. Delicate Arch has become the symbol of Utah, and is pictured on Utah license plates.
Arches NP itself spans about 77,000 acres, with elevations ranging from 4085 feet to 5653 feet (Elephant Butte) above sea level. And it receives less than 8.5 inches of rain annually, in other words, this is desert! It became a National Park in 1971, after being designated a national monument since 1929. And about 2 million of us visit each year, a site that began forming a millennia ago.
Interestingly, and most fortunately, there is a ban on climbing arches since 2014. American author, Edward Abbey was a park ranger here. His notes and journals became published in his book, Desert Solitaire. Plants and animals are in abundance here, led by junipers, cactus, bighorn sheep, and rattlesnakes.
For those less ambulatory, the 18 mile, one way drive through the park is almost as magical. And as in most red rock vistas, sunrise and sunset are simply spectacular. The spring has warm days (60-80) and cool nights (30-50), just about perfect for hiking and biking.
Some other points or arches of interest: Double Arch, two arches that share the same foundation. The south arch has a vertical opening of 112 feet, the tallest arch in the park. North Window and South Window Arches, also called The Spectacles, are first viewed upon entering the park, and only a short walk from the road. Landscape Arch spans 306 feet, the longest in the U.S., and the fourth longest in the world. One of my favorites is Double O Arch, two arches formed from one sandstone fin, stacked upon each other. Another is Skyline Arch , so named since it is the only arch that sits on the skyline.