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Arches National Park - Utah

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Near the Colorado border, and south of Interstate 70, this national park contains the greatest density of natural stone arches in the world. Located in Utah's red rock country, the park connects with the Colorado River for a short stretch, and a bridge on U.S. Highway 91 leads from the park to the city of Moab. The nearby remains of a small part of the old Spanish Trail provide some historical perspective, as does the Wolfe Ranch, which lies inside the park.

We'll see many examples of natural arches in the national parks and monuments of southern Utah (see the following pages), but Arches has more in a smaller space than all the others. Sandstone is very vulnerable to erosion, and what was once flat land has been sculpted by wind and water, removing the soft sandstone to reveal stronger rock underneath. The shifting of salt beds under the park also contributed to the exposure of arches. Salt beds liquefied and buckled under the weight of heavier rock that lay above, causing faults, which resulted in earth layers being turned on edge. One such displacement is the Moab Fault -- seen from the park visitor center.

What to See & Do

More than 1,500 arches are found in the park, ranging in size from 3 feet to the huge Landscape Arch, which is 306 feet from base to base and 105 feet high. Pinnacles are also a feature of the park, and are good places to see these spires are at Delicate Arch viewpoint (in the extreme mid-eastern section) and along the Great Wall Road, which is the main north/south route through the park.

The park visitor center is at the southern entrance, 5 miles north of Moab. Here, you can watch a slide show that will orient you to the park attractions and walk through a geology and history display. Commercial tours are available, and a self-guiding booklet will lead you through the park. Naturalists lead walks through the Fiery Furnace area in the north/central part of the park. This 2-hour tour is given during the prime season -- not summer, when it's too hot and exhausting to spend much time outdoors!

Park Attractions

At the extreme north end of the park road is Devil's Garden. A trail through the area provides views of a fine collection of arches, including the Tunnel, Pine Tree Arch and Landscape Arch, and leads past the Partition, Navajo and Wall arches, and ending after a 2.5-mile (one-way) walk at the Dark Angel Arch. People who don't wish to walk the full loop, which is primitive in places, should turn around at the Landscape Arch (1 mile) or Double-O Arch (2 miles). The starting point is the Devil's Garden Trailhead. This trail also offers wonderful views of the Salt Valley and the La Sal Mountains. This is an easy walk, as far as Landscape Arch.

The Desert Nature Trail begins at the front of the visitor center. This is a short, self-guided walk following a series of numbered posts that correspond to the features listed on an excellent brochure available inside. The trail is only 2/10 of a mile long (0.3 km), but it offers a wealth of diversity in desert plants including cacti, small shrubs, and desert grasses. A juniper hangs onto a rocky crevice and, in the fall, the squawbush (a sumac) turns bright red. You may see desert animals such as spiny lizards, cottontails, and squirrels.

Delicate Arch Trail provides a moderately-strenuous hike for 1.5 miles (one-way), crossing a suspension bridge over Salt Wash and climbing along the rock ending at the arch. The trail is off a sideroad, with the trailhead at Wolfe Ranch. The ranch is a national historic site, containingthe remains of a rustic homestead settled by John Wesley Wolfe, a civil war veteran, and his family.

Another major area is Fiery Furnace, which is located in the middle of the park. There are two viewpoints in this area, providing overlooks of the Salt Valley and the Fiery Furnace -- a display of exposed sandstone fins. The viewpoint is at the head of the 2-mile guided walk. You'll see several arches, including Skyline, Broken, and Sand Dune.

Located along the highway north of the visitor center is the Windows area. From the highway you can see four of the most impressive arches: North and South Windows, Double Arch, and Turret Arch. The two Window arches -- as seen from Turret Arch -- are also called the Spectacles.

The most remote part of the park is Klondike Bluffs, situated at the end of a sideroad that departs from the main road just south of the Devil's Garden area. This is a vast area with panoramic views of many formations, including the awesome Tower Arch. It is also is a popular cross-country hiking area. Backpackers should get advice at the visitor center on hikes in the area and be sure to inform the rangers of their intentions.

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Camping in the Park

The only campground in the park is operated on a first come, first served basis. It's located near the north end of the park in the Devil's Garden area. It has 50 tent and trailer sites, plus two group sites for tents. The campground has running water and flush toilets from spring until fall and a fee is charged; in winter there are chemical toilets and no water nor fee. The Devil's Garden Campground is open from spring through early fall, at an on-site amphitheater where rangers give interpretive talks during evening hours.

For park information, write to the Superintendent, Arches National Park, P.O. Box 907, Moab UT 84532. Or call (435) 259-8161.

Other Places to Stay

Overnight accommodations and restaurants are available in the Mormon pioneer town of Moab.

For nearby motels, plus B&B inns in Moab,
Go to the Moab Page,
or go to hotel reservations.

Nearby Places

Canyonlands National Park
Natural Bridges National Monument
Monument Valley
Capitol Reef National Park

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