Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Another World, Part 3 - Arches National Park

Moon through Turret Arch

                                         Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit,
                                         and as vital to our lives as water and good bread.

                                                                           -- Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

Arches National Park, near Moab, Utah, has the greatest concentration of rock arches in the world -- over 2,000 arches with spans ranging from a definitional minimum of 3 feet to a maximum of 290 feet.  The park also has dramatic balanced rocks, spires, pinnacles, walls, and domes.

The arches are created from sandstone that was deposited about 150 million years ago on top of layers of salt that were deposited about 300 million years ago by repeated refilling and evaporation of great inland seas (29 times to be exact).  Once in uniform layers, the sandstone was cracked by the subterranean movement of the salt.  Over time, the cracks in the exposed sandstone were eroded by water, leaving huge vertical walls from which the arches formed. 

Diagram courtesy of U.S. National Park Service

I visited Arches on the afternoon of May 2 and the morning of May 3, 2014, as part of a Road Scholar tour.  In the account below, I've rearranged the days into a single chronological sequence beginning in the morning and ending at sunset.

We started the day with a hike down Park Avenue, so named because of the gigantic sandstone walls towering like skyscrapers above both sides of a mile-long valley near the entrance to the park.


From below, the walls look even larger . . .

This one reminds me of a gigantic streamlined locomotive coming around a curve:

The awe-inspiring sandstone walls are not as huge as the walls of Zion's Virgin River canyon, and the valleys do not have the benefit of a river running through them.  But there is enough annual rainfall (about 12") to support an amazing range of beautiful plant life, much of it in bloom in early May, which of course we had to photograph.

At one point I came upon my fellow travelers clustered around -- and sprawling in front of -- a flowering bush:

Here's the shot we were all trying to get . . .

Edward Abbey, the cantankerous chronicler of Arches from his time as a park ranger in the late 1950s and an outspoken advocate for wilderness preservation (quoted at the top of this blog post), once wrote, "Walking makes the world much bigger and thus more interesting. You have time to observe the details."

In that spirit, here are some details from our walk down Park Avenue that you won't see from the windows of a car or bus:

At the end of the Park Avenue valley, another major (and frequently photographed) feature appears -- the Three Gossips . . . although to my eye they look like the Three Magi of the New Testament:

But what about the arches?  Oh yeah . . .

The most famous one -- Delicate Arch -- was too distant and challenging for our group to hike to, so I'll have to go back someday on my own.  Here's what it looked like from a viewpoint a couple of miles away:

(It's the left-most feature on the distant hill.  And no, my camera is not tilted . . . that's the way the land slopes where the arch is located.)

But we visited Landscape Arch -- at 290 feet, the longest span in the park, and only 6 feet thick at its thinnest point:

In the afternoon we headed to the "Windows" area of the park, first stopping by Balanced Rock, a 55-foot sandstone rock on a 75-foot sandstone pedestal:

Next stop was Double Arch, featured in the opening scene of "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" where teen-aged Indy and a group of Boy Scouts climb up to a cave underneath the right side of the front arch (which doesn't exist in reality):

For a sense of scale, notice the two people at the very bottom about 1/3 of the way from the left corner of the image.

We closed out the day exploring Turret Arch . . .

and the North and South Window arches.  This is the North Window:


As the sun set, a pair of ravens swooped around the giant arch, and the sandstone red turned richer:

(Honest, I did not boost the saturation on this image.)

We stayed until the light was almost gone . . .

grabbing one last image of the waxing crescent moon through Turret Arch before heading back to Moab:

If you would like to see these images (and more) in a larger format, visit my photography website -- Todos Juntos Photography -- by clicking here.