With more than 2,000 documented arches, Arches National Park is a popular tourist destination that is as hot as the red rocks. We were glad to stayed at Wingate Campground at Dead Horse Point State Park near Moab. Although it is 32 miles away from the park, we saw the meander Colorado River at Dead Horse Point State Park and visited Arches National Park.
It was close to noon on Saturday, after forty minutes wait in line, we finally entered the park. Looking up from the Visitor Center, we were awed by the steep cliffs above the valley. On the east, vehicles were climbing up the steep switchbacked road carved on the reddish brown cliffs into the park. Behind the cliffs lie the wonder land of arches. On the west, the red tall Wingate Cliffs stand high above the town like a Great Wall. A couple of kids were climbing up a steep red sandy slope. From the overlook on the cliffs, Moab Valley was below our feet. Highway 191 winds through Moab Valley along Moab Fault (www.gly.uga.edu). The majestic La Sal Mountains came to our vision when the road took us into the inner land of the park. The various shapes and colors of rock formations dazzled us. Mother nature shows her playfulness in this wonder land. It looked like mother nature’s kitchen where she baked sandstones into layered cakes, caramel chocolates, and bread. It also looked like nature’s sculpted garden where she carved sandstones into towers, animals, figures and arches.
Park Avenue is a canyon with sheer walls of salmon red colored rock that resembles the skyline of a city. These vertical slabs of Entrada Sandstones are called fins. They are the first step in arch formation. In the distance, the spectacular La Sal Mountains shined with snow covered peaks. Courthouse Towers feature a group of towering monolith soaring above the ground. On the right is the tall Organ and the Tower of Babel. Three Gossips are the three boulder-capped pinnacles on the left. They looked like three people standing there and talking gossips. Remnants of rocks scattered at the base like the rocks chiseled by the sculptor. It is amazing that the force of nature shaped this marvelous artwork. Sheep Rock near the Three Gossips is a fine example of the life cycle of an arch. The huge gap between the left and right rock wall on the same base indicates a possible fallen arch. And a baby arch is forming on the left rock wall. Weathering gives birth to new arches. In a window of time, an arch finish its life cycle, and fall back to earth.
The main road took us north passed the Great Wall, miles of sandstone cliffs stretch on the west. On the east is Petrified Dunes where Slick Rock domes of Navajo Sandstone cover a huge area. Balanced Rock greeted us when we approached Windows Section. The neck seemed so fragile, and I wonder how long the big boulder can stay on top of the pedestal. The reason that it is still standing is because the cap is composed of stronger rock – Slick Rock Member, and the pedestal is a softer sandstone – Dewey Bridge Member. Then we turned right to arrive at the picturesque Windows Section.
The parking lot was packed. Luckily we managed to find a parking spot near the trail to Double Arch. A group of red rocks surrounds this area on three sides. The rock formations on the left of Double Arch were named as Parade of the Elephants. Using my imagination, I could figure one group of rocks resembled the head and the long nose and two giant ears of an elephant. Walking towards the Double Arch, we saw people standing under the giant arch, some were climbing up to the second arch. Standing under the Double Arch, I was impressed by the magnitude of the arches. Besides the two obvious arches in the front and on the side, there is a big opening at the top. That is a pothole arch. So there are actually three arches at the Double Arch.
Several people were sitting on top of the rocks under the second arch including a young parent with a crying baby. A girl was climbing down from the rocks. A man gave a hand to help another young dad carrying a toddler on his back climbing up the steep rock formation. When the dad with the baby in his front pouch started descending, the baby cried loudly. I admired the spirit of the young dads. When fewer people were up there, I also climbed up to the base of the arch on the side. I felt like I was a mountain goat while making the ascent. It was windy and cooler up there. The vista was fantastic. Parade of the Elephants is next to the arch, and the expansive view of the gentle landscape of the park and beyond unfolded in front of me. Looking through the front arch was the panoramic view of the north and west wings of the Window Section framing La Sal Mountains on the horizon. North Window and South Window are large arches that frame a view. I only took a photo of them but didn’t go and explore them. Turret Arch sits south of the Windows. I didn’t get a good photo of it because it was backlit by the afternoon sun.
We wrapped up our visit to the Windows Section and stopped by Garden of Eden. It is a place to explore whimsical pinnacles and walls. Several rock climbers were descending a steep pinnacle. The looming La Sal Mountains is the perfect background for Garden of Eden. Then we kept going north on the main road. Salt Valley sits in the center of the park. Beneath the barren landscape of the valley lies a thick layer of salts. The deposit of salt came from an ancient sea. The salt bulged upward and cracked the sandstones above into parallel lines. Weathering and erosion slowly sculpted the sandstones into spires, arches, pinnacles and other dramatic shapes. Fiery Furnace stand high above the Salt Valley. It got its name from the glow of the color of the rock formations in the late afternoon sunlight. We arrived at Devils Garden at the end of the main road. The parking lot was packed because this area is concentrated with arches. We joined the crowd and walked through the narrow canyon flanked by vertical sheer fins. After some slope climbing and walking on the red sandy soil, we finally reached Landscape Arch. With a span of 306 feet, Landscape Arch is the widest arch in the park. The arch looks so fragile with a thin layer of rock stretching across the top of the opening. It looks like it is under tension and could break apart any time. But it changed little when comparing its first photo taken in 1896. Hope it will stay this way for many years.
We went back to the park early in the morning for a second visit. Our goals were to visit Delicate Arch, the iconic arch of the park, and to get a photo of North Window framing Turret Arch. I didn’t take the difficult three miles hike that takes one to the foot of the arch. I hiked on the Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoint and saw the arch from the distance. It is truly a nature’s master piece. It looks like a pair of strong legs standing on the cliff. Some people made to the base of Delicate Arch. I could imagine the visual impact viewing it up close.
Then we drove back to the Windows Section. The morning light was the right lighting for photographing Turret Arch. I quickly walked up the trail and reached the base of the North Window. I stepped up the rock and looked down to the other side. It was a slope at the base of the North Window. A rock formation connects to the base of the Window. “How did other photographers take the photo?” “Am I at the right Window?” I thought. I walked to the South Window from the back. I still couldn’t see Turret Arch from there. I returned to the North Window and surveyed the area. The only option was to climb up the steep rock. But I had no idea if I could see Turret Arch from up there. The surface of the rock looked smooth. I looked back to the North Window and saw Stephen was standing there watching me. I started to climb up the rock formation. I climbed up to a height where I thought I could see Turret Arch. But no. I had to climb a little higher. There I saw the head of Turret Arch. I moved left towards the cliff and I saw the arch through the window. The wind was cold in the shade. I saw Stephen looking up towards me. I waved to him and started taking photos. I was a little scared because of fear of heights. I saw Stephen walked away. I guessed he didn’t want to see me fall down. So I started to descend. Descent was more difficult than ascent on this rock formation. I slowly descent with my back against the rocks and carefully climbed down. I felt a big relief when my feet touched the ground by the Window.
Our tour of Arches National Park was a great memory. It is a place to explore and to have fun. My favorite is the Windows Section. And I am proud to get the photo of North Window framing the Turret Arch. I did it!