The Dreamscape of Arches National Park, Utah

Genie Davis November 21, 2012 No Comments

Arches National Park

One of many arches in Arches National Park – a window on the sky

We were looking for double arch. I was told that’s where Indiana Jones stood as a child in film number three. I confess, all I can remember from the series is Harrison Ford and the massive boulder hurtling down after him, which I know didn’t happen in Arches National Park.  I also vaguely remember a monkey in the second film. Pretty sure there aren’t any monkeys in southern Utah either.

But there are plenty of Arches. Over two thousand of them. The hundred plus miles that make up the national park are full of them, and some even stretch out onto highway 191. The red sandstone in this part of the state has beautifully eroded into shapes like spires and windows and bridges and of course arches. The magnificent formations, clear blue skies most of the year, and easy to access short trails, lookout points, and grand vistas from the parks road makes this my favorite National Park. For us, it trumps Yosemite’s grandeur and Yellowstone’s geysers.

From the impossibly precarious Balanced Rock, to the surreal Courthouse Towers that look like windowless high rises, to the elegant flat planes of the city scape look of Park Streets cliffs, the often photographed Delicate Arch, and the stream of fascinating smaller arches located along the paths of Devils Garden, the landscape never disappoints.

And neither did Double Arch, located easily on a paved spur road about mid-park, and easily accessed. Wind and erosion partnered here to create a particularly impressive wing of sandstone from cracked rock domes. Throughout the park, most of the arches were formed from the weathering of Entrada sandstone deposited by ancient oceans millions of years ago. Salt beneath the rock pushed upwards as the seas advanced and fell, creating pressure that made the sandstone crack and create the arch. Over time, some arches fall, and new ones form.

We loved sand dune arch. Less than an eighth of a mile from the main park road, you duck down a sandy trail to a shaded arch right over a deep dune. Windows are two separate, facing arches a short distance away from each other. They’re among the most accessible in the park. Pull into a lot, stroll over to either one, climb up the short stair-like sides, and voila. Picture opportunity, amazing views, and brilliant sky framed by the arch itself. Children love this easy scramble. The caveat probably goes unspoken that small tots should have their hands held at all times.

Park Avenue in Arches National Park

Park Avenue in Arches National Park is like a movie set facade of the NYC highrises for which it’s named – a spectacular one.

Possibly even more impressive than the arches themselves is the attraction known as Park Avenue that appears shortly past the visitors center entrance to the park. These enormous vertical slab cliffs indeed bear the outline of skyscrapers and could be a surreal, Martian alternative universe of New York City.

The easy single mile path that leads from the parking lot through the Park Avenue area has a few stairs but is otherwise entirely child friendly. It’s most beautiful late in the day or early in the morning, when the sky scraper illusion is most prominent and the day’s heat has faded or not yet risen. The mile will pass effortlessly – there’s so much to see and admire as shadows shift over the rock facades – like a movie set all done in red – and create new illusions of buildings and towers.

The well known Delicate Arch – so well known that it graces Utah’s license plates – is the hardest to access. It’s a long walk by any standard, and small tykes are going to be carried much of the way. There are so many other easy to see arches along the eighteen mile road through the park that you won’t mind too much if you need to miss it to accommodate small children. Besides, it’s a reason to come back, as I did, when my children were older. You can take photos from an overlook and point it out, but the trail that will lead you to stand beneath it is three miles long and has an elevation gain of about four hundred feet.

Outside the park, right along U.S. 191 you’ll find Wilson Arch. This is a simple climb up a hill which many people undertake – you’ll see people posing for pictures beneath it from the road. Join them and you’ll be treated to a sweeping view of the desert valley and the red rock everywhere. We stood for awhile gazing at a thunderstorm on its way before scrambling back down to our car before the first drops fell.

It’s hard to describe how magical the arches are, but it is an incredibly special place. Many years ago, a waitress in a Salinas truck stop told me that I had to take my children there. That it was more important that I take them there than to Paris or New York or San Francisco, the latter of which I was headed toward. Her fervor impressed me and got me there – and I’m passing it on. Take the kids. So many easy trails, so many stunning views. Seeing the world framed by an arch puts more than the landscape into perspective. It gives you a dream-scape to admire, too.

Arches National Park is located in the southeast part of Utah about 5 miles north of Moab, Utah. Find out more about this inspirational wonder of nature by visiting their site at the National Park Service:

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Genie Davis is a multi-published fiction author, screen and TV writer, and travel writer. If it was possible, she'd like to spend every day traveling.

Tags: Travel Excursions

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