The United States is blessed with some beautiful geography — perhaps more varied than that of any other land. Utah especially has some extremely unusual geology and is home to 5 National Parks, surpassed only by Alaska and California. There is perhaps no more beautiful area in Utah than that around small city of Moab, adjacent to which Arches National Park is located.
Arches National Park is situated in the “high desert,” around a mile above sea level, and has very hot summers, cold winters and little rainfall (though lots of wind). Arches is easily accessible and frequently visited — around 1,000,000 people come here each year. Most come in the peak summer season for obvious reasons, but it’s better to visit in fall or spring if you can because of the stifling summer heat which can limit your ability to explore on foot. I’ve visited the park three times and on each visit (all in the summer) the temperature was over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, heat that drained my hiking energy. Next time I hope to visit in the fall when things are a little cooler.
The park derives its name from its 2,000 natural sandstone arches, the largest density of natural arches anywhere on the planet, like the world-famous Delicate Arch. (Note: to be considered an arch, the rock’s opening must measure at least a meter in diameter). Arches are formed by differential erosion of the rock by wind and rain. In addition to arches, there are a number of other unusual and appealing rock formations, like those of Park Avenue and the Fiery Furnace. The vivid colors in the stone is best seen at dawn or dusk.
There’s a great drive through the park which you can comfortably complete in a half day. It takes you by the main arches and other geologic formations, and stops at many scenic points. And it’s great to walk around the rock formations, though difficult in the hot weather of summer unless you head out early or late in the day.
Some of the best hikes in the park include:
1) The Fiery Furnace region, a hike which must be done under ranger guidance because of its maze-like quality. This is a challenging and rugged hike.
2) The Windows loop trail which provides an up-close view of the North and South Windows and Turret Arch. There’s few trails anywhere that provide better access to or views of archs.
3) The Delicate Arch Trail winds up the sloping slick-rock to this beautifully shaped and situated arch.
4) Hike Devils Garden to see Landscape Arch, the world’s longest. It measures 306 feet from base to base. It’s an awesome sight to see the span of this arch!
If you’re in the park after dark, there are few places better for watching the night sky. Keep an eye out for bats and owls, and listen for the howl of coyotes.