Arches National Park - Utah

The park lies atop an underground salt bed that is basically responsible for the arches, spires, balanced rocks, sandstone fins, and eroded monoliths that make the area a sightseer's mecca. Thousands of feet thick in places, this salt bed was deposited across 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, winds, and the oceans that came and went. Much of the debris was compressed into rock. At one time this overlying layer of rock may have been more than a mile thick.

Skyline Arch

Double Arch

North Window

Delicate Arch

This movement also produced vertical cracks that later contributed to the development of arches. As this sub-surface movement of salt shaped the Earth, surface erosion stripped away the younger rock layers. Except for isolated remnants, the major formations seen in the park today are the salmon-colored Entrada Sandstone, in which most of the arches form, and the buff-colored Navajo Sandstone. These are visible in layer cake fashion in most of the park. Over time water seeped into the superficial cracks, joints, and folds of these layers. Ice formed in the fissures, expanding and putting pressure on surrounding rock and breaking off bits and pieces.

North and South Windows

Turrett Arch

Skyline Arch

Salt under pressure is unstable, and the salt bed below Arches was no match for the weight of this thick cover of rock. Under pressure, the salt layer shifted, buckled, liquefied, and repositioned itself, thrusting the rock layers upward into domes. Whole sections dropped into the cavities. Faults deep in the Earth contributed to the instability on the surface. The result of one such 2,500-foot displacement, the Moab Fault, is seen from the visitor center.

Landscape Arch

Park Avenue

Sunset on Windows

Wind later cleaned out the loose particles. A series of free-standing fins remained. Wind and water attacked these fins until, in some, the cementing material gave way, and chunks of rock tumbled out. Many damaged fins collapsed. Others, with the right degree of hardness and balance, survived despite their missing sections. These became the famous arches. Pothole arches form by chemical weathering as water collects in natural depressions and eventually cuts through to the layer below.

North and South Windows

LaSal Mountains

Wall Arch

Landscape Arch

Pinyon and gnarled juniper trees add a splash of green contrast to the red sandstone terrain. When conditions are just right, wildflowers bloom in profusion from April to July. Most species of mammals are nocturnal, but you might see mule deer, kit fox, or more often, jack-rabbits and cottontails, kangaroo rats and other rodents, and small reptiles. Flocks of blue pinyon jays chatter in tree tops. Migratory species such as mountain bluebirds and residents such as golden eagles are seen by careful observers.

South Window

Wolfe Ranch Rock Art

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