Arches National Park – Moab, UT

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It was a cold and stormy afternoon as we traveled to Arches National Park. As we drove into Moab the dark storm clouds above us opened up and poured. Poured like I could never have imagined in the desert. It was incredibly awesome. Also, rather scary. The windshield wipers couldn’t keep up and I had to pull off the road to wait it out.

Luckily, it didn’t last for too long and once it ended we were able to pile out of the car and take a quick wander down the street to a local coffee shop for some hot chocolate and a chance to stretch our legs.

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The thing about torrential rains in national parks is that people all load into their cars and leave. In some ways it’s totally awesome (fewer people in your photos) in other ways it kind of sucks (roads closed to great sites because they’ve been washed out). The rain didn’t stop us though and with some beverages in hand we loaded back into the car and set forth to see as much of Arches National Park as the weather would permit.

Arches is located in Eastern Utah near the town of Moab, which I sort think I need to go back to…all those climbers. Swoon! I think I need to take up rock climbing.

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Anyway, Arches, has over 2,000 sandstone arches and it turns out it’s not possible to see all of them in an afternoon. Haha! Looks like a return visit is in order. Especially, since the world-famous Delicate Arch was closed when we were there (damn road closures). The park covers over 79,000 acres and it lies atop a salt bed. This evaporative layer is the main reason for all of the arches, spires and precariously balanced rocks. This is all part of the Colorado Plateau which, until this road trip, I didn’t know much about. I’ll have to blog about that in another post because it’s rather interesting.  At least I find it rather interesting but maybe I’m just kind of a nerd person.

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Over the course of millions of years the salt bed was covered by debris and several kinds of sandstone. The weight of all these layers so to speak under up causing the salt bed to liquify and thrust up salt domes, uplifts, and faulting. When you first enter the park you have a great view of one of these uplifts called the Moab Fault. It’s quite a bit different than the faults I’ve seen in California.

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As the liquified salt was shaping the landscape from below erosion was at work removing layers of rock from the surface. Over time water seeped into the cracks, ice formed, and the expanding pressure broke off bits and pieces of the rocks. Then the winds blew out the loose particles slowly creating what can be found in the park today and boy, oh boy, are the formations impressive. Take Double Arch for example:

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While the arches and terrain look tough they’re actually not. Rather, they are quiet delicate and composed of things like cyanobacteria, algae, and lichens to name but a few. With 700,000+ visitors a year, this poses a problem to the park. The semiarid environment, the unpredictable and scarce rainfall, and the lack of plant litter for example, make for soil that takes a very, very, very long recovery from us humans. that’s why climbing on arches is banned in the park.

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According to the park service human have occupied the area ever since the last ice age. Can you imagine? Up until about 700 years ago the Fremont people and the Ancient Pueblos lived in the area. As with much of Utah, the Mormons arrived in the 1855, and settled in a nearby area called Riverine Valley.

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It wasn’t until 1929 when President Herbert Hoover signed a presidential proclamation that Arches became a National Monument. The nine years later, in 1938, when the then President Franklin D. Roosevelt enlarged Arches. It was enlarged again in 1969 by President Lyndon B. Johnson and then two years after that President Richard Nixon reduced the total area enclosed and changed it’s status to a National Park.

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In case that wasn’t enough attention, American Writer Edward Abbey was a park ranger at Arches where he kept journals that later become his novel Desert Solitare: A Season in the Wilderness. I think it’s fair to say that this is totally going on the reading list for this year. Haha!

Anyway, the park has also appeared in the 1965 biblical film The Greatest Story Ever Told and the 1989 film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

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Looking back on the trip I wish that we would have had a chance to explore more. So, I think it’s safe to say that I will return again and visit Delicate Arch and Landscape Arch, then explore the areas around Devils Garden and the Klondike Bluffs.

Until I get back I have these images and Edward Abbey’s book.

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Who’s been to Arches? Are there any places I should check out the next time in the area? Any great restaurants in Moab that I just have to go to? Any great places to stay?



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