The Arches Won't Last Forever
Decades, centuries, millenia, no one knows when.
What they do know is that it will happen.
The famous formations and arches of Arches National Park, including the most photographed of them all, Delicate Arch, will someday fall to the ground.
It “probably” won’t happen in our lifetimes, or our childrens, or our children’s children, or even our grandchildren’s children. But there’s no guarantee.
In fact, it’s already happened in our lifetime. Wall Arch, a popular formation along the park’s Devils Garden Trail, plummeted down just 15 years ago.
The park’s impermanence only adds to the mystique, wonder and beauty of Arches National Park.
Imagine, what you see when visiting the park, the photos and videos you take, will someday serve witness for our ancestors to see how this amazing place once appeared.
Visiting the Park
Even before you enter the park, the beauty of the red rock mountains lining your way as you approach are breathtaking. Once you enter the park, well, those views are jaw dropping.
The formations tower over you as you drive the park’s roads. Massive boulders perch atop narrow spires, seemingly defying the laws of physics.
I do not exaggerate, it’s one of the most beautiful places you will visit.
There’s much, much more, to Arches National Park than Delicate Arch. There are many varied formations throughout its 18 miles of roadway (36 mile round trip), including more than 2,000, that’s right, 2,000, stone arches.
You can drive it in, oh, two-and-a-half hours, but you won’t want to. No, you’ll want to park your vehicle, get out and take in the wonder if it all.
And you should. Just take the time to sit and enjoy what nature has provided us.
There’s plenty of opportunity to do just that for both avid hikers as well as the physically challenged.
There’s great sites within steps of parking areas, while trails lead to still others for those wanting a more active visit.
FYI, Arches National Park is using a reservation system. From April 1 through the end of October, visitors are required to have a reservation in advance. Odds are, if you don’t have one, you won’t be able to just drive up, get lucky and gain admission, so plan ahead.
Delicate Arch is the one featured on the Utah license plate. The one you’ve probably seen in a countless number of Instagram or Facebook photos.
Don’t let that stop you from making the hike out to see it. It’s well worth the time and effort.
The hike is just three miles, total round trip, but, and it’s a big but, don’t let that distance lead you to believe it’s a stroll in the park. (Get it? Stroll in the “park.” As in National Park. Dad humor.)
I’m not discouraging people from giving it a go, just know what you’re getting into.
The good news is it’s almost entirely downhill, on the way back. Of course, the bad news is it’s almost entirely uphill on the way out, with more than 500 feet in elevation gain.
It includes several yards of a large, steep, sandstone rock formation. The formation is completely smooth, as smooth as a bald man’s head, and covered with a fine sand so make sure you’re wearing shoes that have some traction to them.
Also keep in mind you’re completely exposed to the sun for most of the trek, water is your friend.
And, if you’re an acrophobiac (afraid of heights), it will definitely be an adventure for you.
There’s a narrow rock ledge for 200 yards just before reaching Delicate Arch, and the area surrounding the arch drops off very quickly. Make sure to hold on tightly to your phone when taking selfies, because you ain’t gonna get it back if you drop it.
Having said all that, as you near the end of that rock ledge, the area to your right suddenly opens up and the Arch appears seemingly out of nowhere. It really is like a big Hollywood movie reveal moment. You just kind of come over the edge and there it is.
I have to admit, the Arch is way larger than I imagined.I have no clue why, but I was imagining it only being maybe 20 or maybe, 30 feet high.
Nope, the opening beneath the arch alone is 46 feet high and 32 feet wide. A short distance away, you can barely see there’s people standing under it, getting their photos taken.
People line up, taking their turn getting photos, so you don’t really want to spend a lot of time right up next to the arch. But, there’s a lot of room to wander around the area and to sit, meditating on the beauty of it all.
Wolfe Ranch and Native American Petroglyphs
Near the start of the Delicate Arch trail, within view of the parking lot, is Wolfe Ranch.
The one-room cabin was built by a 69-year-old man in 1898, who moved to the area following the Civil War. John Wesley Wolfe and his son, Fred, lived in the cabin and raised more than 1,000 head of cattle on the surrounding 100-plus acre property.
The current cabin is actually the second one they built, when John’s daughter, her husband, and their two children, moved out to join John and Fred. All six family members lived in the small cabin.
Enough about that. You can read the full story on the NPS website.
The thing I think is very cool, and the majority of people making the hike miss, is the American Indian petroglyphs.
About a hundred yards on past the ranch there is a sign pointing people to a second trail, off to the left, toward the petroglyphs. Most people pass it by because they think it’s going to add time and or distance to their hike out to Delicate Arch.
The fact-of-the-matter though, is that it doesn’t add much, if any, distance to the hike. The path to the petroglyphs loops right back to the main path so you really don’t lose any time.
The petroglyphs of riders on horseback and other animals, were carved into the stone nearly 400 years ago by ancestral Puebloans. The Puebloans were the same peoples who lived in villages such as those at Mesa Verde National Park.
Their descendants formed into various tribes including the Paiute and Ute, who are believed to have created these petroglyphs.
Non-Geologist Explanation of Formation of Arches National Park
It’s pretty crazy to think that pretty much the entire park sits on a massively massive salt formation. I didn’t stutter, it is massively massive.
Hundreds of thousands of years ago that salt formation was much larger and taller. Over time it compressed and the sandstone above it sank down with it, creating the amazing formations we see today.
As I mentioned at the beginning, those formations will not last forever. Winds blowing through the park are continuously taking little bits of sand away with them.
Even more, the sandstone is porous. When it rains, the rain not only washes down the outside of the formations, it also enters inside them, taking even more sand away toward the Colorado River, weakening the arches internally.
I am not a geologist, don’t even play one on television. The closest I can claim to being one is the Geology 101 class I took in college to fulfill a science credit.
That being the case, if you really want to know more, I’d suggest taking a look at this short video created by people who know what they are talking about:
**I allow use of my photos through Creative Commons License. I'm not looking to make money off this thing. I only ask you provide me with credit for the photo by noting my blog address, alansheaven.com, or a link back to this page.