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Utah's Arches National Park: Amazing Landscape Wonder near Moab

Utah is a fantastic state filled with natural wonders, including many beautiful state and national parks. We loved vacationing there!

Double arch

Double arch

Gateway to Two National Parks

Moab, Utah, is the gateway to both Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. It became our home away from home when my mother, niece, and I explored that part of the country. Natural wonders awaited our discovery.

Moab sits at an elevation of 4,025 feet. It is adjacent to the Colorado River, with the LaSal Mountains at its feet. Interestingly Moab gets its name from the Bible, which refers to it as being an isolated place. Isolated it probably was for many years! There is evidence of native Americans being there in earlier times, and they have left some evidence of their existence by leaving pictographs and petroglyphs behind.

What draws people to the town of Moab today is tourism, plus the making of films, because of its proximity to the national parks.

Moab is a city in Grand County, in eastern Utah.

Moab is a city in Grand County, in eastern Utah.

Geologic Changes Over Time

Arches sit atop an ancient salt bed. Deposited over millions of years when a sea flowed into the area and, as in Salt Lake, it eventually evaporated and disappeared. During this time, much residue was deposited on top of this salt and finally compressed into rock.

Salt under all this pressure became liquefied and shifted, and the earth began to thrust upwards, creating domes, faults, and valleys. Erosion over millions of years has created and continues to make what we view today.

Streams of water swept debris into the Colorado River and took the younger rocks, which were on top, with it. Exposed are the older Entrada Sandstone layers. Water and ice have altered this landscape over time in a slow but ever-progressing fashion.

Water, whether in the form of rain, snow, or ice, is slightly acidic. It slowly dissolves the calcium in the Entrada Sandstone. Water also expands as it freezes and becomes ice, and pieces of sandstone become chipped away from existing formations creating the arches and other rock structures seen in this area. This process continues, and the present-day ones viewed today may not be there tomorrow.

All of this geologic and corrosive action has created the sights viewed in Arches National Park. It has the greatest concentration of natural arches on view in a relatively small area in the entire world.

Early Settlers

The history of this park is fascinating. It is in the southeastern red rock country of Utah. The Colorado River borders some of this area, and there is a remnant of the Old Spanish Trail.

Homesteaders in 1879 came to this area. The discovery of uranium, oil, and potash brought more development.

An early settler named John Wesley Wolfe tried operating a small cattle operation there but only stayed for about 20 years before vacating. His original cabin is no longer there, but another one that he had built still stands in the park today. It was a hard way to earn a living in this extremely rugged country.

Arches National Park

Composed of 114 square miles, Arches became a national park in 1971 when President Richard Nixon signed this into law. Herbert Hoover first started the process by making it into a national monument in 1929. The world now benefits from the foresight of these Presidents. Safeguarding of these precious lands for future generations is now assured.

Arches National Park is in high desert country, and very little water hits the ground, in fact, less than 10 inches a year on average. The temperatures can soar well over 100 degrees in the shade of the summer!

From freezing temperatures and blizzard-like conditions in the winter to blistering 150-degree temperatures in the summer, this rocky desert supports only the heartiest of plant life and insects and animals who know how to cope with those disparate temperatures and living conditions.

Scraggly pinon and juniper trees seem to predominate. Other vegetation also grows in sandy areas, serving to hold some of the shifting sands in place. It also provides shade and sustenance to insects, small rodents, and other creatures that reside or pass through here.

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We saw some deer cross our path while on one of the trails to view some of the arches. One moment they were there, and the next, they had disappeared into the rocky landscape almost as apparitions.

Our Experiences

We choose to stay at the Cedar Breaks Condo in Moab. It was a fully-furnished two-bedroom condo with food for breakfast provided. We could prepare our breakfasts each morning and enjoy a coffee while still in our pajamas and planning our day. Nice! The next day our goal was to see as much of the park as we could.

We saw what we could from the road and hiked several of the trails to see some of the other arches in this national park. Landscape Arch is the longest natural stone arch in the world. It has a span of 291 feet. It is a 0.8-mile one-way hike to get back to see it from the paved road but well worth the effort! Someday it will come crashing down to the ground and will no longer retain that status.

The trails can be rocky with the need to scramble over rocks to continue on the path; others are quite sandy, and since we were there in the summer, it was assuredly hot! One needs good walking shoes. It is also a smart precaution to wear protective clothing or sunscreen and carry lots of water.

The three of us had only one day to view this park. We would explore Canyonlands National Park on another day while staying in Moab. One could spend much more time, and there are many backcountry trails where one can take four-wheel-drive vehicles and do some extensive hiking.

If you get a chance to visit this part of Utah and enjoy national parks as much as I do, then put Moab down as a great place to make your headquarters. Head out and explore Arches for a day or more of sightseeing, hiking, taking pictures, or just enjoying the natural wonders of nature.

“Mother Nature is a master sculptor and in no place is that more evident than at Arches National Park.”

— Stefanie Payne, A Year in the National Parks: The Greatest American Road Trip