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multiple arches, note girl in the lower right corner for a size perspective
Arches National Park
Closest available address
Park is about a 10 minute drive from Moab on Highway 191.
Park is open 24 hours. Visitor center is generally open 8:00am-4:30pm.
Best time to visit
Arches National Park is a 76,000 acre park located in eastern Utah and is best known for over 2,000 natural rock arches, the largest such concentration in the world. Arches also has additional distinctive rock formations as well as impressive vistas. Hiking, camping, rock climbing, biking and horseback riding are the main recreational activities. Limited park facilities include a visitor center with a gift shop but not a restaurant near the entrance and a campground with toilets but not showers at the end of the park road.
From a geological perspective, the park rests on huge salt formations deposited here from an ancient sea 300 million years ago. Over time, additional materials built up over the salt, and then condensed into a new rock layer. Because the salt was unstable and the rock layer relatively heavy, the rock layer cracked and buckled. Water and wind gradually eroded the cracks and over many years led to the arch formations we see today. This area was only lightly settled in the late 1800 and early 1900s and mainly used for ranching. The beauty of the landscape and its potential for tourism led to calls for protection which were realized with the establishment of a small national monument in 1929. The monument was increased in size over the years and became a national park in 1971.
September seemed like a good time of year to visit because it would be cooler and less crowded than in the summer. It was cooler but was not less crowded. In fact, it was inundated with tourists, especially Europeans, and most particularly Germans. A ranger advised skipping the visitor center/museum and heading directly to the Windows area to check out the arches. It was good advice because parking lots filled up quickly, and parking illegally can lead to a ticket.
The most popular park sections are the Windows, Balanced Rock, Devil’s Garden, and the Delicate Arch Viewpoint. Of these, the Windows is the most impressive and also has good accessibility. Some short trails in this area were much less crowded than the main arch attractions; the trail around the North and South Window offered nice additional perspectives of the arches. The Balanced Rock, which is what the name suggests, was worth a visit to see the precarious rock up close. While the Delicate Arch Viewpoint was closed due to a mudslide, the trail up to Delicate Arch was open. There is a separate review of this hike, but it was great and highly recommended. As for Devil’s Garden, it was less crowded because the visit there took place later in the day. The primary draw is Landscape Arch, which is the longest arch in the park. The trail to Landscape Arch was fine but after the arch became much more difficult and is not a good choice if you don’t want to scamper. After visiting the main sites, there was time to go back to the visitor center and see the museum. The exhibits were mainly geological in nature and were somewhat dry but still informative. Not to be missed are the turnouts and vistas along the main park road, especially formations closer to the entrance such as Park Avenue, the Organ and Three Sisters. Rangers also lead hikes into an area called the Fiery Furnace, which has narrow passages in deep crevices. These challenging hikes get booked months in advance so plan accordingly if you want to go. Although crowded, Arches was great. The landscape and formations are justifiably world famous. You won’t see anything quite like this anywhere else. It’s the classic West and is best seen in person to be fully appreciated.
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Delicate Arch Trail
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