Americana: Arches National Park
I have heard the term "bucket list," but I think there’s a hole in my bucket. Every time something gets taken off the top of the list, several more things seem to appear at the bottom. One of these bucket list items is to visit our national parks — all 60 of them.
But life seems to get in the way. I’ve been through Moab, Utah, many times, but until recently, never veered off to enter Arches National Park.
The jaunt into Arches only made my bucket list longer. Almost immediately, the views are slam-on-the-brakes spectacular. There are ample pull-outs, but we’d no sooner finish photographing one fascinating scene than we’d have to stop again for the next amazing sight.
(My husband) Jeff has a senior lifetime National Park pass. For a one-time fee of $80, American citizens over age 62 can get everyone in their (non-commercial) vehicle into any national park or national forest for free. How we have loved that card!
The cobalt blue skies set off the deep red formations like a color-enhanced postcard. There are more than 2,000 arches in Arches National Park, but there are also other formations whimsically carved by the wind into gossiping women, elephants on parade and alien-looking formations.
In order to qualify as an arch, the opening must go all the way through and measure at least three feet in one direction. Sometimes visitors must hike almost to the arch lip to see that it does go all the way through, while other arches have worn away on a spectacular scale.
The park is constantly changing. Nature is never idle, and there are places where the rock is being undermined and worn away by wind, water and ice, but the process is incomplete, and it looks like a rough sketch of the arch that will someday complete development.
Arches form in that area of eastern Utah because of ancient geography and topography. Soft sandstone formed in a warm, shallow salt sea. Now the sea has receded far away, leaving the sandy sea floor to harden to sandstone and exposed to erosion. Below the sandstone is a huge salt bed. The Colorado River, famous for carving the Grand Canyon, flows just four miles away.
Even on the short, easy hikes we undertook, I was glad we each had a full water bottle. It is a desert, after all, and though it was pleasantly warm, it didn’t take long to feel a bit dehydrated.
We started at Double Arch. This formation has two arches, joined at one end with one reaching to the North west and the other toward the North east.
Across a little valley, the Window arches span a ridgeline. There are two “windows” almost side by side, but we had to hike around to the back on the trail marked “primitive” to see both arches at once. They seem to peer down at us like a gigantic, lurking monster. Small cairns of stacked rocks mark the path back toward the parking lot.
Arches was designated a national monument in 1929 and changed to a national park in 1971 by Richard Nixon. More than 1.6 million people visited Arches National Park last year.
There are petroglyphs created by someone from the Ute tribes that once lived in the region, but now, etching on the sandstone is strictly prohibited. If caught defacing in the park, the offender can be heavily fined. There are also dinosaur tracks within the park boundaries, but no pets are allowed on trails.
Recently, someone carved the name “Anderson” in a visible area of a formation. Park workers went to great effort and expense to patch and disguise the defacement so that it blends with the surrounding stone. Visitors are encouraged to report anybody that tries to mark the stone.
The La Sal Mountains form a spectacular backdrop. This year, they still sport a heavy jacket of snow. Like most deserts, Eastern Utah gets very hot in the summer, so if you go in the summer, be prepared for heat and crowds.
Arches National Park truly is a natural wonder.