Arches National Park – The Real Golden Arches

Whenever you mention arches, most people instantly think of the place where you get French fries and fast food. But there is a national treasure in America that is filled with more beautiful golden arches, and you won’t gain weight when visiting this amazing park. It is Arches National Park in the red sandstone country of southeastern Utah.

Above, the Delicate Arch is a 52-foot-tall (16 m) freestanding natural arch located in Arches National Park and is featured on Utah’s standard-issue license plate.

From the picturesque Mormon pioneer town of Moab, it is a short drive to the entrance of Arches National Park. If you are a senior, you should think about purchasing the senior pass. It will allow you to enter for free, not only Arches National Park but every USA National Park, for life! It is an amazing bargain and it can save you hundreds of dollars on just one road trip.

Now don’t think that this park is filled with just arches. It does have an impressive array of arches but there are so many other natural stone monuments that include mesas and pinnacles. There are massive towers, rolling red sandstone plateaus and so many unusual formations that your imagination will run wild.

Prehistoric Native Americans used the park for their wintering campground. They left their marks on the sandstone throughout the park. Along the Devil’s Garden, a 5-mile round trip hike that is filled with arches and formations, you can still see evidence of chalcedony that they used to construct arrowheads and other implements.

Above, you can see in the depiction of a group of Native American’s hunting Big Horn Sheep inside the park. This petroglyph was made after the Spanish had arrived in this land where they brought their horses. Nowadays, these sheep are all but gone, but the visitor may still see the occasional deer, coyote, and fox. Birds, snakes, and lizards can also be seen along with chipmunks, rabbits, and squirrels.

Arches National Park was established on November 12, 1971, and is administered by the United States National Park Service, the Department of the Interior. As a national park, it is a sanctuary for wildlife and cultural history. Hunting or the use of firearms is not permitted. It is also prohibited to collect, disturb, deface, or destroy any artifact, flower, tree, wildlife, or any other natural object. Camping and campfires are allowed but only in designated areas. Contact the National Park for specific details.

Photography in the park is extremely rewarding and is as varied as the environment, and the time of the day and the weather. Most arches in the park and especially along the Devils’ Garden Trail are best photographed in the morning. But some arches and formations make exceptional images when they are photographed at the “Golden Hour” just before sunset.

Although the Golden Hour is a fantastic time of the day for photographing and viewing the park, the early morning “Blue Hour” is also a great time and will provide a different perspective of the landscape.

Because the temperatures in the park can reach over 100 degrees F, and water supplies inside the park are very limited, be sure to bring plenty of water. NEVER leave children or pets locked inside your vehicle! If you hike, never do it alone and always be in the company of others. Cell phone service is limited and there are no gas stations inside the park so have plenty in your vehicle.

The shadows from the formation in the previous photo are cast upon these features known as the Three Gossips as the moon sets over the park. You can see most of the major arches and monuments of the park from the comfort of your vehicle, and there is plenty of pull out spaces to get out and view the spectacular scenery.

And although there are plenty of places to pull off the main road, there are also many trails that will yield incredible sights that motorists will typically miss. Be sure to obtain a brochure when you enter the park and plan your stay, your hikes, and your rest stops. Bring snacks, food, and plenty of water.

Many wonder how this spectacular park started, not just with its opening in 1971, but back about 150 million years ago. Back during the Jurassic period, this was a vast coastal desert and immense windswept deposits of sand accumulated. Over time more layers were laid down, eventually hardening as more layers were built up.

Over time this Entrada Sandstone went through tremendous changes and upheavals. Heavy rains, strong winds, extreme cold, and scorching heat along with the natural uplifting of the geography formed numerous pieces of Mother Nature’s artwork.

In the park, it is not just about the iconic arches from which it gets its name. It is also about the splendid hiking, sightseeing, and photography opportunities that you will find there. The park seems to be typically uncrowded, probably more so because of its vastness. In the park, you can see natural landmarks like the Tower of Babel, Tower Arch, Eye of the Whale, Dark Angel, Tunnel Arch, Double Arch, and the Delicate Arch, among others.

The morning time is especially nice and not too congested with people, although there are the occasional larger tour groups that cram some parking areas and the main attractions, especially the Delicate Arch which everyone wants to see.

There are several hiking opportunities like the Devil’s Garden Trail and the 1.5-mile hike to the Delicate Arch. Plan your hike! Study a map, make a plan, and stick with it! Do not attempt to reach the far outposts, like the Delicate Arch, too late in the day. The trails are well maintained but the sun can go down fast and walking the trail can be extremely dangerous if you cannot see it!

Unique and colorful formations are located throughout the park which is divided into several sections such as the Devil’s Garden, Klondike Bluffs, Courthouse Towers, Fiery Furnace, the Windows, and of course the Delicate Arch near Wolfe Ranch.

Narrow trails and steep cliffs are part of the route that takes you to the Delicate Arch, perhaps the most iconic of the arches in the park. The photo above was taken during the morning daylight hours. Imagine hiking this steep, narrow path after sundown when it is dark! Wear good shoes as these trails can also become slippery when they are wet.

As you round that final bend, before you lies the majestic Delicate Arch and you instantly realize that the trek to get here was all worth it. The panoramic view is incredible and the famous arch is astonishing.

Take in the vista and be patient as you wait for your turn to have your photo taken underneath it. An informal line forms as people wait to have their photo taken. Stay safe! Unwary people have fallen from the high, steep ledges!

Consider ending your day of trekking with a visit to the Windows Section of the park. The Double Arch is an incredible creation of Mother Nature and you will certainly be humbled by its formation and magnificence. Take care and be responsible! Stay on the path, take out your trash, and keep an eye out for your children. Watch for rattlesnakes and scorpions and watch your footing, you could easily slip off a steep ledge.

If you plan to hike into the backcountry, make sure to inform the park rangers about your plans. Take care to avoid washes, especially during times when they are prone to flash flooding. Never set up your camp in them! While you are driving on the road, it is difficult to stay focused on your driving as there are many spectacular sights to see. But there are plenty of places to pull out to enjoy the views.

Arches National Park in Utah is just one of America’s great treasures and another symbol of its natural beauty. Treat it with respect so that future generations can be as awestruck as you were. Adding a visit to Arches onto your bucket list will be an incredible and memorable drop in the bucket!

All photographs are the copyright of Jim Jackson Photography. Please contact me with any questions, comments, or for authorization to use photos or for signed, high-resolution prints.

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