Cornforth Images

Arches National Park

Arches National Park is a red, arid desert and encompasses over 2,000 natural sandstone arches, like the world-famous Delicate Arch, as well as many other unusual rock formations such as fins, pinnacles, spires, and balanced rocks. The entrance to the park is found 5 miles north of the town of Moab, Utah and east of Canyonlands National Park. A 40-mile round-trip paved road leads visitors to the major sights and hiking trails, including Balanced Rock, Skyline Arch, Double Arch in the Windows Section, Fiery Furnace, Devil’s Garden, and, of course, Delicate Arch. Located in a “high desert,” with elevations ranging from 4,085-5,653 feet (1,240-1,720 m) above sea level, Arches’ climate is one of very hot summers, cold winters and very little rainfall. It was designated a national park in 1971.

The national park lies atop an underground salt bed, which is the main cause of the formations in the area. Thousands of feet thick in places, this salt bed was deposited over the Colorado Plateau some 300 million years ago when a sea flowed into the region and eventually evaporated. Over millions of years, the salt bed was covered with residue from floods and winds and the oceans. Much of this debris was compressed into rock. At one time this overlying earth may have been one mile thick. Salt under pressure is unstable, and the salt bed below Arches was no match for the weight of this thick cover of rock. Under such pressure it shifted, buckled, liquefied, and repositioned itself, thrusting the Earth layers upward into domes. Whole sections fell into cavities. In places they turned almost on edge. Faults occurred. As this movement of salt shaped the Earth, surface erosion stripped away the younger rock layers. Except for isolated remnants, the major formations visible in the park today are the salmon-colored Entrada Sandstone, in which most of the arches form, and the buff-colored Navajo Sandstone.

The plants and animals in Arches have many specialized adaptations that enable them to survive the high desert conditions. The diversity of organisms found in the park reflects the variety of available habitats, including lush riparian areas, ephemeral pools, dry arroyos, mixed grasslands and wide expanses of bare rock.

Photographers from the world over travel to Arches National Park to photograph the incredible geology of the park. Some of the most famous formations to photograph include Delicate Arch at sunset, Double Arch in the Windows Section, Landscape Arch, Balanced Rock, and Skyline Arch.