Wind and water, extreme temperatures, and underground salt movement created the sculptured sandstone rocks encountered at Arches National Park. This park contains the greatest number of natural arches in the world. Early explorers thought the arches and monoliths were, like Stonehenge in England, the works of some lost culture.
Arches National Park is located in southeastern Utah in the midst of red rock country. It lies atop an underground salt bed, which was deposited over the Colorado Plateau approximately 300 million years ago when a sea flowed into the region and eventually evaporated. Because the salt bed is unstable, as rock has formed on top, the area has shifted, buckled, liquefied, and repositioned itself, thrusting layers upward into domes. Over time, superficial cracks, joints, and folds have been saturated with water, creating through erosion a series of free-standing fins. Wind and water further eroded these fins until chunks of rock tumbled out. While many damaged fins collapsed, others with the right degree of hardness and balance survived despite their missing middle sections. These became the famous arches.
John Wesley Wolfe, a disabled Civil War veteran, settled in Arches with his son in 1888. A log cabin, root cellar, and corral remain as evidence of their primitive ranch. It is unknown why they chose to move from their original home in Ohio to the West, but they managed a living with a small cattle operation for more than 20 years. The ranch is located near Delicate Arch.
In August 2008 one of the larger and more accessible arches in Arches National Park collapsed--worn down by years of gravity and erosion. Paul Henderson, the park's chief of interpretation, said Wall Arch collapsed sometime between late Monday, August 4th and Tuesday, August 5th, 2008. As the 12th largest arch in the park, Wall Arch will be missed. Fortunately the park contains over 2,000 arches, so there are still plenty to see on your visit.
If You Go > >
Leave enough time to get out of the car and hike as much as possible. It is worth it to get right up next to the arches and take in just how large and impressive they are.
Read More in NPCA's Park Advocate Blog
Enjoy guided hikes into a landscape of spires, fins, arches, and canyons. Learn both the grand and subtle influences that shape life in Arches and Canyonlands national parks. Only 2 spots left on this Southwest journey! Check out a virtual journey of this fall tour.