Moab Excursion #02 Moab & Arches NP
Moab Excursion #02 – Moab & Arches National Park
After our afternoon in Capital Reef, we drove on to Moab and checked into our hotel. The town of Moab is in quite a remarkable place. Right on the Colorado River it sits within a 60 minute drive of some of the most spectacular Southwest scenery there is to behold. Arches NP (10 minutes), Canyonlands – Island in the Sky (35 minutes), Dead Horse Point SP (40 minutes), Professor Valley (Colorado River to NE of Moab 10 minutes), Colorado River to the SW (10 minutes).
The Moab Area
We first visited Moab in 1972 when it was not much more than a sleepy little town with a few motels and a couple of restaurants. That was just 1 year after Arches became a national park. Canyonlands became a National Park under LBJ in 1964 but it was greatly enlarged also in 1971, We visited again in 2010 and now once again in 2018.
Let me tell you, Moab is no longer a sleepy little town. It has grown by leaps and bounds fueled by action sports and tourism. Moab is now a Mecca for mountain biking, off-roading, white water rafting, hiking, road biking, and witnessing some of the most breathtaking scenery in the -world. This area is the definition of Red Rock or Slick Rock country and is instrumental in making America what it is and what it is known for.
Moab today is still expanding like crazy. Just in the couple mile stretch between downtown and the Colorado River we saw no less than 3 major – and quite large – motels under construction. This is in addition to the more than 30 motels already operating. Add to this, countless restaurants at all levels, tour companies and sporting goods stores and you have quite a place to use as a base camp for your SW adventures.
During our 4 or 5 days staying in Moab, we ventured into the various parks multiple times on different days. So, I’ll just do the rest of the travel log for this trip by park rather than chronologically.
Route’s through Arches NP
Arches became an official National Park in 1971 under President Nixon of all people. Who would have thought? This was after it was named a National Monument in 1929 under President Herbert Hoover. The park has over 2,000 natural sandstone arches, but this number is always changing as new ones are discovered and old ones collapse. Just since 1977 43 arches are known to have collapsed. But, no matter how you count them, it has the highest density of natural arches anywhere in the world.
The park is nearly 120 Sq. miles (310 Sq. km) in the high desert area known as the Colorado Plateau. The park itself ranges in elevation from 4,085 Ft.(1,245 m) at the entrance visitor center to 5,653 Ft.(1,723 m) at the top of Elephant Butte.
Okay, so how did all of these natural arches come about I hear you ask? Well, maybe not, but I’m going to tell you anyway. The park sits over a salt bed several thousand feet thick in some places, which is the main cause of the formation of the arches, spires, balanced rocks, sandstone fins, and eroded monoliths. Over millions of years, the salt bed was covered over with debris eroded from the Uncompahgre Uplift to the northeast and over the millennia several other layers of varying types of sandstone and shale were laid down including Navajo Sandstone, Entrada Sandstone, and Mancos Shale. Most of the arches in this area are in the Entrada layer.
As the story continues, the weight of this cover over the salt bed caused the salt to liquefy and force up layers of rock above into salt domes and the more unusual linear regions of uplift called salt anticlines. All this lifting and shifting caused lots of mostly linear cracking (or faulting) throughout the whole area,
At the same time erosion was washing away the higher layers of this layered geology and except for isolated remnants, what we see today is the salmon-colored Entrada Sandstone in which most of the arches form and the buff-colored Navajo Sandstone. These are visible in a layer cake fashion throughout most of the park.
Over time, water seeped into the surface cracks, joints, and folds of these upper layers where it froze in the fissures, expanding and putting pressure on surrounding rock and breaking off bits and pieces. Winds cleaned out the loose particles in these cracks leaving a series of free-standing fins, or tall thin walls of rock. Wind and water continued to attacked these fins until, in some, the cementing material gave way and chunks tumbled out. Many damaged fins collapsed. Others, with the right degree of hardness and balance, survived despite their missing sections. These became the famous arches. Okay, so now you know and can impress your friends.
For the most part, Arches NP is car visitor friendly. You don’t have to be a great hiker or backpacker to be able to see most of the major attractions. Many of the famous features are a short walk from a parking lot and in several cases can be seen from the parking lot. Others are in the 1 to 2 mile range and, of course others are farther.
On the easy end of the spectrum are ones you can see from the road or parking lot such as Balanced Rock, the Windows, Double Arch, Three Gossips, the Courthouse Towers, and view into Park Avenue. All of these of course also have trails so you can leave the parking lot and in a few minutes be up to the arch or feature itself where you can roam around and in many cases get right up under the arch. They don’t like people going up on top of the arches as I suppose too many have fallen off. Someone said they don’t want folks on top in case one collapsed. But I don’t believe that as I would think being under an arch when it collapsed would be just as bad if not worse than being on top. So, I’m sticking with the falling off story.
With a short walk - not a hike but a mostly a level walk - of a few minutes you can see the back side view of Delicate Arch from a distance. Another very short walk on loose sand (and a little bit of a rise) gets you to Sand Dune Arch. If you can walk 5 to 60 minutes, you can get to Broken Arch, Skyline Arch, Landscape Arch, and Courthouse Wash Rock Art Panel. Add a little bit of up and down, but still in the under 60 minute range you can walk Park Avenue – all downhill - but will need to figure out how to get yourself from the lower parking lot where you end back to the upper parking lot where you left your car.
If you are a bit more adventurous and can hike over an hour with some elevation gain there is the 3 mile (round trip) hike up the to the world famous Delicate Arch which is a 2-3 hour trek – not including the 2 hours you’ll spend gaping at the arch once you get there. Getting there is all uphill making the return much easier. Sunset at Delicate Arch can’t be beat but it may be dark on the return to your car. There are several other longer hikes such as to Tower Arch, Double O Arch and Fiery Furnace.
But, even if you barely leave your car you will not be disappointed in your visit.
Summer in Arches and be blazingly hot so is not the best time to go. Spring and fall, or even winter are marvelous although winter can be a bit chilly. The crowds when school is out are quite large but if you avoid summer you’ll have a wonderful time and not have to fight for a parking place in the lots. On our trip the first week of November we could always find a parking place in the lot we wanted without much trouble and did not find the number of other people on the trails or at the attractions in any way annoying or obtrusive.
But, on our trip they were in the middle of re-paving all the roads in the park which caused them to close the park at 7:00 pm each evening. This killed the Night Sky photography I was considering and greatly curtailed any Sunset shooting. And, every now and again we had to wait a bit where they had alternate one way traffic at the paving locations.
Three Gossips (from the car)
Like I said, many features can be seen from the road or a parking lot. The shot below includes the road where I was standing for the shot above
Rock Formations from Skyline Arch Trail (5 minutes from car)
Back side of Park Avenue (from road near LaSal Mt. Viewpoint)
One of many side roads. This one going up Salt Valley
Panorama including Skyline Arch from Salt Valley (dirt) road (road shown in prior shot)
Skyline Arch from Salt Valley Road
Backside of Delicate Arch (shot from a 30 min hike up a tilted slab of rock from parking lot)
Front side of Delicate Arch near sunset from 2010 trip. Due to park closing at 7:00 we didn’t do this 2-3 hour hike on this trip
Rock Formations along Park Avenue
Late afternoon shadows along Park Avenue
Balanced Rock (from Picnic Area) 2010 trip
Double Arch (3 min from parking lot) 2010 trip
I hope you enjoyed reading this first episode of our Moab Excursion and that you’ll come back for the rest of our journey.
PLEASE LEAVE COMMENTS AS I ENJOY HEARING YOUR REACTION TO WHAT I'VE WRITTEN
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These and other Images of this trip are posted in a Gallery on my website.
http://www.danhartfordphoto.com/moab-trip-all (all images)
http://www.danhartfordphoto.com/moab-trip-favs (subset of images)
Thanks for reading – Dan
(Info from Wikipedia and pamphlets gathered at various sites along the way along with attraction websites)
Keywords: arches, arches national park, balanced rock, blog, dan hartford photo, dantravelblog, dantravelblogmoab, delicate arch, double arch, moab, salt valley, skyline arch, skyline arch trail, three gossips, ut, utah, wall street
Nice photos and loved the explanation of how the arches were formed. We visited in the early 80's and again a couple years ago - always worth the trip, and very car friendly. You can see a lot without the 2-3 hour hike, or you can do it all.
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