We rode to Arches National Park today and enjoyed hiking and seeing a whole bunch of arches. Like I said before, you’d think with all the parks we’ve visited that we would have seen all the forms that sandstone can take, but today was yet another experience, seeing so many arches in one area. Over 2,000 catalogued arches are located within the park, ranging in size from a three-foot opening (the minimum considered to be an arch), to Landscape Arch, one of the largest arches in the world. Towering spires, fins and balanced rocks complement the arches, creating a remarkable assortment of landforms in a relatively small area.
Although we certainly did not 2000 arches, we did see a lot of them. What caused so many arches to form here? The NPS explains it better than I could: “Arches National Park lies atop an underground salt bed called the “Paradox Formation” which is responsible for the arches, spires, balanced rocks, fins and eroded monoliths common throughout the park. Thousands of feet thick in places, the Paradox Formation was deposited over 300 million years ago when seas flowed into the region and eventually evaporated. Over millions of years, the salt bed was covered with the residue of floods and winds as the oceans returned and evaporated again and again. Much of this debris was cemented into rock. At one time this overlying layer of rock may have been more than a mile thick. Salt under pressure is unstable, and the salt bed below Arches began to flow under the weight of the overlying sandstones. This movement caused the surface rock to buckle and shift, thrusting some sections upward into domes, dropping others into surrounding cavities, and causing vertical cracks which would later contribute to the development of arches. As the subsurface movement of salt shaped the surface, erosion stripped away the younger rock layers. Water seeped into cracks and joints, washing away loose debris and eroding the "cement" that held the sandstone together, leaving a series of free-standing fins. During colder periods, ice formed, its expansion putting pressure on the rock, breaking off bits and pieces, and sometimes creating openings. Many damaged fins collapsed. Others, with the right degree of hardness and balance, have survived as the world famous formations of Arches National Park.” Does all that make sense to you? Not much to me, but then geology and I are not very comfortable roomies- I just enjoy seeing the results! I just think: “water and time” and let it go at that.
Anyway, we went on two great hikes today to see some of the arches that are not able to be seen from the scenic drive. Our first hike was at the Devil’s Garden area, where we went to see Landscape Arch, which has a 306 foot span. In 1991, a huge chunk of stone 60 feet long dropped from the underside of the arch’s thinnest section, making it only 11 feet thick instead of 16 feet thick; therefore, tourists can no longer go too near the arch, so we stood with others at a viewing area. It was quite a view! The trail to this arch is one of the most often traveled in the park, and was quite an easy hike. It was pretty normal – it had some ups and downs as it followed the contours of the land, but was not hard to do. The next hike we took was not as easy. I believe it was labeled moderately difficult, and we now know why. It was lots of fun though, and we got to see some neat scenery and cool arches. The hike was easy at first, but then became more difficult. It was on a primitive trail, with several surface types: regular dirt, soft deep sand (like walking on a sandy beach), and pure slickrock, where we were guided by stone cairns. Combining both hikes, we hiked about five miles today. It would have been less, but whenever we saw a “spur” trail we took it too, since we didn’t want to miss anything. We took spurs to see Pine Tree Arch and Tunnel Arch, and on the second hike, we saw Tapestry Arch and Broken Arch. On the second hike, we sometimes had to duck under low tree limbs, clamber over slickrock, and trudge through some really deep sand. Fred took a not too complimentary shot of me trying to get up a steep rock, and told me I should post it, so I will do so to be a good sport. To Velia –climbing the rocks on the way back on this trail reminded me of the steep steps we climbed in Bellagio, only the rocks were steeper.
We finally ate our picnic lunch at about 3:30 PM, sharing our table with a German couple back at Devil’s Garden. We have seen way more German and French people on this trip than Americans. The people we have talked to say the exchange rate is great for them, and they love to see the American west. By now the 30% chance of thunderstorms was becoming more like a 100% definite deal, since we could see the thunderstorms growing to our east, over the La Sal Mountains. We decided we’d best continue our hiking in Arches tomorrow, so we rode back to the RV Park to relax, stopping just for a few minutes to take photos of Sand Dune Arch, which is right off the scenic drive.