A new National Park, a new geology lesson. Buckle up, we’re visiting Arches.
I’ll try to make it quick, we’ve gone over a lot of it already. Ancient desert dunes frozen in time and space as sandstone, lifted thousands of feet into the air when North America crashed into the Pacific plate. Water does it’s thing. But what makes Arches special is that before the desert, there was an inland sea here that filled and evaporated again and again, leaving huge deposits of salts. That salt got squeezed together by all the layers forming on top of it, eventually forming a dome that rose like a loaf of bread. The sandstone we see today was like the crust of that bread, and cracked in parallel lines like you see sometimes on a nice bakery loaf. And apparently, if you bake for a few million years, that’s the perfect recipe for arches.
We did the visitor center, got permits and oriented for an exciting wilderness section we’ll hit on Friday, and then took the drive and the hike to the arch of arches: Delicate Arch. There are over 200 arches in the park, but this one is the most famous. It’s so iconic it is on Utah’s license plate.
Maybe you can tell that it was crazy windy up there. We’ve had a few windy days in a row, and in this arid landscape that means sand as well. Outside of Capitol Reef we had to shake out our sleeping bags and pillows from all the sand that blew into the tent while it was closed up. I’m writing these words now in a lovely spot beside the Colorado River in Moab, just outside of Arches, and the tent is already way sandier than it was last night. It’s a minor inconvenience to have to brush off the pillow before you go to bed, but hiking up to the arch was like getting sand blasted. It got in our eyes and we even felt it crunch between our teeth. Totally worth it though.
All of these rock formations we’ve been exploring have made me think of the vast age of the earth and all that has come before us, but the arches are unique because they make one reflect on their temporary nature. The life of an arch in fleeting in geological time, and the clock is ticking.
The idea that these formations will one day be gone was easy to grasp standing beneath Balanced Rock. The cap stone weathers slower than the material underneath it, leaving this cantilevered oddity.
There used to be a smaller version of Balanced Rock beside it called Chip Off the Old Block, but it succumbed to gravity and erosion in the 70’s. We hiked around the back of the the big guy and got a fresh perspective of how precarious it really is.
There’s a lot more to explore in Arches and around Moab. We stopped near this spire on a pedestal around sunset. We couldn’t find a name for it and Kate dubbed it “The Lovers.” Pretty good, in my humble opinion.