A couple of months ago, I wrote about the United States national parks trip that I had, and focused on Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. This month, I am excited to talk about Arches National Park, and to give you some tips to have the best time touring there possible.
Arches National Park is located in southeast Utah, five miles north of Moab, and features over 2,000 natural stone arches. You can also see towers, pinnacles, and balanced rocks from the paved park roads. Or, go on one of many hikes to see incredible arches and other formations, inaccessible by road.
The creation of Arches started about 65 million years ago, when the area was a dry seabed. The red rock features we see today would have been buried thousands of feet below you, as uncarved raw material.
First, geologic forces wrinkled and folded the buried sandstone, as if it were a giant Pringles potato chip. As the sandstone warped, fractures tore through it, establishing the patterns for rock sculptures hundreds of thousands of years later.
Next, the entire region began to rise, climbing from sea level to thousands of feet in elevation. The forces of erosion carved layer after layer of rock away, and once exposed, deeply buried sandstone layers rebounded and expanded, kind of like a very slowly expanding sponge. This created even more fractures, each one a pathway for water to seep into the rock and further break it down.
Today, water shapes this environment more than any other force. Rain erodes the rock and carries sediment down washes and canyons to the Colorado River.
You could certainly make a day trip to Arches, but there are so many incredible formations to see and beautiful hikes to take, that I definitely recommend two nights. If you go in the summer months especially, you will want to take advantage of the early morning hours, especially if you can get up early enough to enjoy sunrise, because the lighting is beautiful, there are less people, and the temperatures are cooler. This is a good time to mention that the winter months are actually a fantastic time to visit Arches. There are less people, cooler temperatures, and you may even get lucky enough to capture a snow dusting on the arches and other formations. Just be careful about icy roads.
A few hours before sunset is also a nice time to start an exploration, and definitely go to Delicate Arch at sunset at some point during your time there. Delicate Arch is located at the top of a large stone mountain. You certainly will not be the only people there, but as you see the setting sun igniting Delicate Arch, changing the colors of the sandstone right before your eyes, you see why this is such a popular spot for sunset. Make sure you bring a flashlight, and try to leave before it gets very dark. While I was there, my friend with whom I was traveling could not stop taking photos of the arch. By the time we left the arch, it was dark, and we could not find the trail. Luckily there were some other people who were in the same predicament as we were and we all got back to our cars together.
Another one of my favorite things to see in Arches National Park is Landscape Arch. Landscape Arch, one of the world’s longest stone spans, stretches 306 feet. Since it is only about 11 feet thick at its center, and you observe it from a distance, the area within the arch looks like a small slit. You do have to hike to it, and it is certainly worth the beautiful hike.
The park also contains a geological formation called the windows. It is essentially a large stone wall outcropping with large holes in it, almost like windows. I came here for sunrise, and I was so glad that I did, because the sunlight passing through the windows was magnificent.
One of the cool things about Arches National Park is that there are so many incredible formations to see within 300 yards of the main road. So it is a great national park to visit, especially if you are short on time or with people of varying skill or fitness levels.
While camping is available in Arches, I recommend staying at one of the hotels in Moab. There are many different options to accommodate different budgets and even interests. I stayed in an inexpensive eco-friendly bed-and-breakfast, which I loved. The grounds were beautiful, and every morning we had fresh eggs, organic homemade banana bread, incredible coffee, and other organic produce. You also will not go hungry, because Moab has a lot of great restaurants. This is yet another really wonderful thing about Arches National Park. After a busy day of exploring, you can stay in a nice hotel, have a great sleep, and enjoy a good meal. Plus, there are stores selling virtually anything you may have forgotten to bring with you.
My last selling point for Arches National Park, isn’t actually anything about Arches National Park itself. One of the great things about coming to this area, is that you can also go to Dead Horse State Park and Canyon Lands State Park, which are only about a half an hour from Moab. Think Grand Canyon but smaller, and without the crowds. I say smaller, but it is still massive and magnificent. You can actually drive through Dead Horse State Park, and enjoy incredible viewpoints of the canyon below. If you do this, then you may want to add another night to your itinerary, just to have more time and really enjoy the scenery. The whole area is a photographer’s and nature lover’s dream.