The main entrance to Arches National Park is a mere 3 miles outside of Moab, yet for its close proximity to the crowds and occasional mayhem of Easter Jeep Safari, it seems eons distant. If you need a change of pace, feel the urge to hike, or simply want to check "Arches National Park" off of your places-to-go-before-you-die list, it's an easy drive from anywhere in Moab. There's no good reason not to go.
Arches National Park joined our National Park system way back in 1916, and is home to over 2,000 sandstone arches. Arches form when sandstone walls, called fins, erode in an uneven fashion. If the lower reaches of a sandstone fin erode away more rapidly than the upper reaches, an arch gradually forms. Ultimately over time the whole arch will erode away and collapse.
Arches can be seen in various stages throughout the park. Although geologic features like arches seem mighty and permanent, they're actually temporary and in a state of flux. Some arches are still forming, and the lower areas of the "window" are still filled in. These are called `blind' arches. Other arches are fully formed, but are eroding to the point of collapsing. Still other arches have collapsed, as happened to Wall Arch during the night of August 4, 2008. Geologic processes, such as the erosion that breaks down the arches, happen very slowly and typically take thousands, if not millions, of years.
One of Arches National Park's best features is that the major attractions can be conveniently experienced. The park's main road snakes its way past viewpoint after viewpoint, with convenient pull-outs that allow shutterbugs to snap away a safe distance from traffic. If you've got just a few hours available, you've easily got time to drive the park's main road all the way to the end and back out. If you're behind the wheel, pay attention to the road! Pull over and get out before fully immersing yourself in the spectacular scenery.
Delicate Arch, the iconic symbol that appears on the Utah state license plate, can be experienced a couple of ways. The easy way is to drive to the Delicate Arch viewpoint parking lot and stroll a short distance to the viewpoint. Binoculars or a telephoto camera lens are recommended for the best view. The tougher way is to drive to the trailhead by Wolfe Ranch and hike the 3-mile round trip to Delicate Arch and back. The Delicate Arch hiking trail climbs 500 feet along the way, has no available water, and offers little to no shade. Be honest about your ambitions and fitness level before beginning the hike.
It's not all paved roads and hiking trails. Arches National Park has several miles of dirt roads, too. Willow Spring Road, AKA Willow Flats Road, takes off from the main park road next to Balanced Rock, and heads west to Highway 191. Deep sand and assorted slickrock areas keep you from getting too complacent. Willow Spring Road leads to the turnoff for the road to Eye of the Whale Arch, which is also unpaved. Just past the Sand Dune Arch trailhead, unpaved Salt Valley Road leaves the pavement behind. Salt Valley Road can be taken out of the park and linked up to Highway 191, and Salt Valley Road is also the way leading to Tower Arch Road, which is genuinely rough in several places, and full of deep sand in others.
If you're already in Moab, a visit to Arches National Park is quick, easy, and rewarding. There's no good reason not to go.