The world’s greatest diversity of natural arches and other geological formations has made Arches National Park in Utah the jewel of a unique region. Located in a high desert, extremes of temperature, water, and wind erosion have finely sculpted the region’s multi-hued sandstone into no less than 2,400 named arches, as well as a variety of unusual balanced rocks, monoliths, and pinnacles. At Arches, a hole in the rock has to be at least three feet (one meter) across for it to be officially listed and mapped as such.
Delicate Arch is the symbol of the park. It is, perhaps, one of the most iconic American landmarks, and has appeared in an endless array of books, films, postcards, and calendars. It has a span of about 33 feet (10 meters) and is 50 feet (15 meters) high. The twin arches of Double Arch, seen in many western films, criss-cross a gap between two rocky outcrops at a height of 148 feet (45 meters). Although not as well known, the nearby Landscape Arch spans an incredible 328 feet (100 meters). It was here in 1991 that a more dramatic development in the park’s geological evolution occurred. A massive slab of rock 66 feet (20 meters) long, 10 feet (3 meters) wide, and three feet (one meter) thick plummeted from the underside of the arch, leaving a relatively thin ribbon of rock to support the arch. In terms of geological chronology, Landscape Arch’s days are numbered.
Tourism has only recently been introduced to the area, but there is evidence that people lived here thousands of years ago. Paleolithic hunter-gatherers migrated to the area about 10,000 years ago, and discovered the rock-type perfect for making stone tools.
Today there are numerous four-wheel-drive tracks and walking trails leading to the arches and canyons. Note that travels in the backcountry are not to be undertaken lightly, as water is scarce and the temperature often reaches a scorching 104°F (40°C) during the summer months.