Arches National Park

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After spending the morning at Bryce Canyon, and driving four hours to Moab, Utah, we arrived at Arches National Park at 5:00 pm. With us we brought the same heavy rains that followed us through Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon National Parks.

It seemed like we are singlehandedly bringing relief to the drought strewn areas of the west with the Pennsylvania rain cloud that we were carrying with us.

In fact we were told that we were experiencing a real phenomenon in Moab. “We rarely get rains like this,” the ranger informed us.

The rain was too heavy to see very far or to take cameras out in, so we decided to head over to our campground and return in the morning for a morning hike before we began our drive to Four Corners Monument.

The early evening allowed us to relax, organize the bus a bit, and let the kids play at the playground and game room while I fixed dinner.

The rains finally ended and the reward for our lost hiking time was this magnificent double rainbow that appeared above our campsite.

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The next morning we were back at Arches National Park early to explore the unique rock formations and arches that have made this area famous.

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Location: Utah

Established: November 12, 1971

Size: 76,359 acres

“This park contains more than 2,000 natural arches—the greatest concentration in the country. But numbers have no significance beside the grandeur of the landscape—the arches, the giant balanced rocks, spires, pinnacles, and slickrock domes against the enormous sky.

Perched high above the Colorado River, the park is part of southern Utah’s extended canyon country, carved and shaped by eons of weathering and erosion. Some 300 million years ago, inland seas covered the large basin that formed this region. The seas refilled and evaporated—29 times in all—leaving behind salt beds thousands of feet thick. Later, sand and boulders carried down by streams from the uplands eventually buried the salt beds beneath thick layers of stone. Because the salt layer is less dense than the overlying blanket of rock, it rises up through it, forming it into domes and ridges, with valleys in between.

Most of the formations at Arches are made of soft red sandstone deposited 150 million years ago. Much later, groundwater began to dissolve the underlying salt deposits. The sandstone domes collapsed and weathered into a maze of vertical rock slabs called “fins.” Sections of these slender walls eventually wore through, creating the spectacular rock sculptures that visitors to Arches see today.

The land has a timeless, indestructible look that is misleading. More than 700,000 visitors each year threaten the fragile high desert ecosystem. One concern is a dark scale called biological soil crust composed of cyanobacteria, algae, fungi, and lichens that grow in sandy areas in the park. Footprints tracked across this living community may remain visible for years. In fact, the aridity helps preserve traces of past activity for centuries. Visitors are asked to walk only on designated trails or stay on slickrock or wash bottoms.

Did You Know?

There are more than 2,000 arches in the park; to be classified as an arch, the opening must measure at least three feet across. The largest arch in the park, Landscape Arch, spans 306 feet (longer than a football field) base to base. New arches are constantly forming, while old ones occasionally collapse—most recently Wall Arch, which fell in 2008.

Arches National Park contains ephemeral pools, from a few inches to several feet in depth, that are essentially mini-ecosystems, home to tadpoles, fairy shrimp, and insects. The pools form among the sandstone basins, within potholes that collect the rare rainwater and sediment.

About 300 million years ago an inland sea covered what is now Arches National Park. The sea evaporated and re-formed more than 29 times, leaving behind salt beds thousands of feet thick.

Another unique aspect of the park is its knobby black ground cover, which is actually alive. A biological soil crust, it is composed of algae, lichens, and cyanobacteria (one of Earth’s earliest life forms), and provides a secure foundation for the desert plants.”

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We began our visit with a stop at the visitor’s center where the kids picked up the Arches’ junior ranger booklets and where we watched an informative 15-minute video entitled “Windows of Time,” about the formation of the arch features in the park.

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While in the visitor’s center we were informed that Delicate Arch, the most famous arch in the park, and one of the most recognizable symbols of Utah, was closed to the public due to treacherous trails as a result of unusually heavy rains the night before.

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Delicate Arch

 

The ranger told us all the other paths were open so we looked at the map, picked the route we wanted to take, marked the trails we wanted to hike, and set out on a fun journey of discovery through a beautiful world of nature’s rock art.

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Our first stop was Park Avenue Viewpoint for a view down an open canyon flanked by sandstone skyscrapers:

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From there we drove over to Balanced Rock where we walked the 0.4-mile trail that loops around the base of this classic hoodoo, a strangely eroded rock spire 128 feet high:

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Look how little the kids are next to it!

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Just beyond we turned onto the paved road leading to The Windows.

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There we took the 1-mile Window Trail that leads up to South Window, which is 105 feet wide, as well as gives amazing views of North Window and Turret Arch.

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The South Window Arch

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We all enjoyed the beautiful hike up to the arches.

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Except maybe Toby who ran the whole way up to catch up with us after parking the bus a mile away. 🙂

 

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The weather was perfect and we were so glad we chose to wait until the morning to see these amazing sites rather than attempt it in the rain.

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The kids loved being able to climb and explore the rock formations,

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And it was awesome standing beneath such monstrous, natural structures.

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The North Window Arch

 

It makes a person feel so small…

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And makes God seem so big when you stand beside a creation as large and glorious as this.

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We could have spent days exploring this park.

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I’d love to come back someday and hike the Delicate Arch trail, but we still had a magnificent day and saw some incredible sites…

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One of my favorite days of the trip so far!

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Next Stop: Four Corners Monument

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