Arches National Park – Moab, Utah
Updated: Aug 19
Utah has five national parks and we've been to all of them: Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Zion National Park. But of all these national parks, we have been to Arches National Park numerous times, by ourselves or with family and friends. The park is a fun place to explore. Every time we go there, the unusual formations never stop to amaze. We have driven all over the park to see all the popular arches and formations, too many to name here. We also hiked to several arches not seen from the road.
Arches National Park is located just to the northeast of Moab, Utah. The park has more than 2,000 known natural sandstone arches and countless other geological formations. Some are known to have collapsed over the years, one of which, Wall Arch, we have seen both before and after the collapse in 2008.
The park lies over layers of salt beds deposited over 300 million years ago, when a sea flowed onto the region in the Pennsylvanian Period. The water evaporated and layers of salt deposits from repeated flooding piled up over many millions of years. It was covered with debris, sandstone and sediments; over time, the debris was compressed into rocks, which pushed the salt aside. That is what created domes, cavities, faults and anticlines (upfolds of the earth).
Between 60 million and 10 million years ago, the accumulation of rocks on top of the salt deposits slowed and erosion began. Erosion stripped away more than 5,000 vertical feet of rock. Cracks began to open and support was weakened by groundwater seeping into cracks. The salt valley collapsed and arch formations, fins and sculpted rocks began to form. The results are what we can see in Arches National Park today. The area was created as a National Monument in 1929 and was upgraded to National Park in 1971.
Besides arches, there are other noteworthy sights to see in the park such as Petroglyphs. A wall of Petroglyphs can be found just off the main trail to Delicate Arch. They were created between 1650 and 1850. The horse and rider with the bighorn sheep and dog-like animals are typical of Ute Indian artworks.
NOTE: You can find the Rock Art Sites (Indian Writing) on Scenic Byway 279, there is a sign by the road.
The Wolfe Ranch cabin, also known as Turnbow Cabin, is 17 feet x 15 feet was built in 1906. It was once home of John Wesley Wolfe, his son and daughter, together with her husband and two kids. Wolfe sold the ranch in 1910 to Tommy Larson and who then four years later sold it to J. Marvin Turnbow, first custodian of Arches National Monument. The last owner was Emmit Elizondo who sold the property to the U.S. Government to be included in the park.
ROCK FORMATIONS & ARCHES
Some arches can be seen from the car or from very short walks, while others require moderate or even long hikes. If you are not a hiker there are arches that are just short walking distance, as well as other rock formations including the Three Gossips, Queen Nefertiti and the Courthouse Tower.
Some popular arches and formations that you can explore without walking far are: The Windows, Sand Dune Arch, Tunnel Arch, Double Arch, Pine Tree Arch, Turret Arch and Balanced Rock.
Balanced Rock is one of the most popular rock formations in Arches National Park, located beside the park’s main road, about 9 miles from the entrance. A balanced rock is a naturally occurring geological formation - a large rock or boulder resting on other rocks, bedrock or glacial till.
This Balanced Rock, also called Balancing Rock, sits on top of a 55 foot pedestal. The balanced rock itself is about the size of three school buses. It weighs as much as 1,600 full-sized cars, about 3,577 tons. That should give some idea of how big that thing is. Someday, it will tumble as the softer pedestal rock erodes and crumbles. You don’t want to be nearby when that happens.
The best time to visit Arches National Park is either in spring or fall, when the weather is not too hot. Summer heat in the desert is unbearable, if you are not used to it. In Spring, the desert flowers are in bloom while in the Fall, the golden colors of cottonwood trees among red rock formations are amazing, so you have a choice.
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