Arches, Utah on the map. National Park Arches (Utah state) on the map of US

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Arches, Utah on the map. National Park Arches  (Utah state) on the map of US

Arches, Utah

Established: 1971   Acreage: 73,379

Arches National Park, which has the greatest density of natural arches in the world, lies atop an underground salt bed. Wind and water, extreme temperatures and underground salt movement created the red rock pinnacles, spires, balanced rocks, sandstone fins and arches that make the area a sightseer's mecca. Early explorers thought the huge arches were, like Stonehenge in England, the remnants of a long lost culture.

The more than 200 catalogued arches range in size from a three-foot opening (the minimum considered an arch) to Landscape Arch (105-foot), a ribbon of rock that measures 291 feet from base to base. All stages of arch formation and decay are found here. Delicate Arch, all that remains of a bygone fin, stands on the edge of a canyon, with the white-capped LaSal Mountains for a backdrop.

Covering the salt bed was millions of years worth of debris, which had been compressed into rock. Salt is an unstable

substance and the salt bed below Arches was no match for the weight of this thick cover of rock. Under the pressure of the rock layers it shifted, buckled, liquified and repositioned itself, thrusting the earth layers upward into domes. Entire sections dropped into cavities; others turned on edge. When overlaying areas of earth sank into cavities, great fractures, called 'faults,' formed. A 2500-foot displacement of earth is obvious in the Moab Fault, which can be seen from the visitor center.

Green pinyon pines and juniper trees provide a contrast to the red sandstone terrain. In spring, when conditions are right, pockets of the park brim with wildflowers. Wildlife here is typical of the sparse pinyon and juniper forests of the Great Basin Desert. Although most species are nocturnal, visitors occasionally glimpse mule deer, kit fox, jackrabbits and cottontails, kangaroo rats and small reptiles. Blue pinyon jays, golden eagles and redtailed hawks reside in the park, and bald eagles and peregrine falcons have been sighted.

The park also contains the site of Wolfe Ranch, a small cattle operation once run by John Wesley Wolfe, a disabled Civil War veteran, and his son Fred. An aged log cabin, root cellar and corral provide a look at life 100 years ago.

Above right: South Window (left) and North Window (right). The people standing in North Window give a sense of the overwhelming size of these formations.

Delicate Arch (right) and Balanced Rock (far right), two of the well known landmarks in Arches National Park.

Facing Page: Pine Tree Arch, so named for the pine tree in the center of the arch.

Arches, Utah on the map. National Park Arches  (Utah state) on the map of US