They're called "Miracles of Nature, " and it's not possible to find a higher concentration of them anywhere in the world outside of Utah. Arches National Park contains so many natural red sandstone arches that there isn't a specific count (over 2000 have been found in the park), and erosive forces over the course of time mean they're constantly being created (by erosion) and destroyed (through natural collapses) in a geologically dynamic desert landscape.
The National Park Service accepted the responsibility of protecting these natural wonders in 1929 when Herbert Hoover declared portions of the site a National Monument. In 1971 a finalized area hugging the western edge of the Colorado River was designated as the 34th National Park.
World Famous Landscapes
Over a million visitors travel amongst the sandstone formations of Arches each year, marveling at landscapes appearing too good to be true, but real enough to hike up to and touch.
Etched from Stone
The pillars, spires, balanced rocks, fins, monoliths, and arches were (and still are) carved by wind, water, and ice into the famous features we experience today. Two layers of ancient red sandstone, the Entrada (deposited ~140 million years ago) and the Navajo (deposited ~210 million years ago) make up the layers of rock in which Mother Nature has sculpted these features.
Over the High Desert
'High Desert' is a term in climatology combining elevation (above ~3000 feet) and limited rainfall (~10 inches a year or less). Sometimes referred to as 'cold deserts, ' these inland ecosystems can have huge swings in temperatures over a six month period of time. Arches National Park has elevations that vary from 4000 to 5600 feet, with winter lows in the 0°F range and summers that can reach over 100°F. This image was taken at midday in June, the temperature, 101°F.
Hiking is the signature activity of the park, with trails that vary from wheelchair accessible to extremely difficult to rock climbing/canyoneering. What sets Arches apart is that many of the hikes include trails atop the actual red sandstone fins themselves, leading visitors to locations with unparalleled views.
View from the Top
Many panoramic viewpoints are easier to reach than their photos might suggest. I saw visitors of all ages tackling these hikes, with the key to success being a backpack full of water.
Water, Water, Water
At the trailhead to one of the most popular hikes in Arches National Park, Devils Garden, the National Park Service has installed a water station to ensure visitors maintain proper hydration. Hiking in the midday sun (even hiking mornings and afternoons) in the high desert is a workout for the body, a body that needs to stay hydrated. So make conscientious use of the parks fountains, that's what they're there for!
The Devil's Garden
Devils Garden is the northernmost hiking area with a parking lot at the trailhead. It contains an incredible collection of the park's popular (and extremely photogenic) arches.
Tunnel is the first arch visitors reach along the Devils Garden trail, and is one of the thickest in the park.
Pine Tree Arch
Pine Tree Arch, down the trail from Tunnel, is the first arch in Devils Garden where it's possible to stand directly beneath the stone opening to pose for pictures.
Landscape has the longest span of any arch in the park, measuring 290 feet. Recent updates to the measurement of Kolob Arch in Zion National Park (also in Utah), have shown that Landscape Arch is actually 3 feet longer than Kolob. This makes Landscape Arch the longest red sandstone arch in the world.
I Think I'm Lost
Remember to keep an eye out for trail markers on primitive trails (those small manmade stone towers, officially called 'cairns'), because it can be easy in Arches to wander down the wrong path, as I did several times.
Two special times of day where Arches lights up with the familiar 'red' stain of these incredible rocks, are dawn and dusk. It can be mesmerizing to watch the colors change as the sun rises or sinks in the sky.
There's a reason Utah chose to put Delicate Arch on their license plates as a representative symbol of the State. It's unforgettable, and unmistakeable.
I first visited the park when I was 13 years old on a family road trip to the western states. I've returned several times since then and it takes my breath away each and every time; one of those places you never get tired of seeing.
Arches National Park
So if you're in the market for an outdoor adventure, picture perfect, experience you can find nowhere else on the globe, consider Arches National Park. The town of Moab, an adventure sport capital, sits just 4 miles to the south of the park entrance.