Top 10 Things to Know About Arches National Park: PHOTOS

by Jon D. B.
top-10-things-to-know-about-arches-national-park

Arches National Park is a place that has to be seen to be believed, and the more you know about it, the more fascinating it becomes.

This vast Utah landscape of unearthly land forms, contrasting colors and textures is unlike any other place on Earth. There are over 2,000 stone arches in Arches National Park alone, alongside hundreds of soaring pinnacles, massive rock fins, and giant balanced rocks.

Even just popping into Arches for a few hours can be life-changing. But if you really want to take this red-rock wonderland for all it’s worth, our Top 10 below will ensure you know everything you need to know before your Arches National Park excursion.

10. The Sunrises & Sunsets are Spectacular

Utah, Balancing Rock At Arches National Park At Sunset. (Photo by Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

An Arches sunrise is just as spectacular, but the chances of catching a sunset are higher for most. And there are few places on the planet better equipped to blow you away with either.

There are endless vistas in the park to take advantage of when the sun meets the horizon. But don’t forget to look the opposite direction, too, as both sunrise and sunset will illuminate Navajo and Estrada sandstone. It’s a spectacle unlike anything else in the park.

Stick around, too, as the sky and clouds tend to continue to chance colors for the next 10-20 minutes. And if you’re camping in Arches National Park, be sure to get up for the sunrise.

9. There is Only One Campground in Arches National Park

Utah, Arches National Park, Campsite At Devils Garden Campground. (Photo by Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Speaking of camping in Arches, Devils Garden is the only campground in the national park, so be sure to plan accordingly with our Arches National Park Lodging: Campgrounds, Cabins, Securing Reservations in Devils Garden, Moab and More.

Within Devils Garden, 51 spots are available by reservation, with two designated as group camping sites. To camp here costs $25 per night, and don’t doddle as these sites fill up fast.

Devils Garden resides 23 miles outside Moab, and is the furthest part of the park reachable by vehicle (from the park entrance). And once you get there, it is a magnificent camping experience. Prepare for incredible sunrises, sunsets, and Dark Sky stargazing above at night.

But there’s one camping partner to look out for…

8. Watch Out for Yucca Plants! They HURT

If there’s one thing Arches National Park is full of other than arches, its Yucca plants. And they seem like an easy thing to avoid at first, but ask anyone who’s spent ample time in the park and they’ll tell you how much it pays to watch out for these sharp buggers.

The long, spear-like limbs of all Yucca species have earned the name Spanish bayonet, because they do the same amount of damage to us humans. Their sharp tips will go straight through clothing and cause puncture wounds, and tips can break off and embed in flesh, so taking a look at the different types of Yuccas in the photos above can go a long way in ensuring you have a pain-free Arches trip.

And once destroyed, it can take several lifetimes to recover from a single footprint. In short: stepping off the trail is not worth 100-250 years worth of damage! So please Leave No Trace and stick to the trails in the park.

7. Where to Find Dinosaur Tracks

A well-preserved allosaurus dinosaur track in the sandstone of Buckhorn Wash in the San Rafael Swell, Utah.. (Photo by: Jon G. Fuller/VWPics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Want to walk amongst the dinosaurs? Arches National Park is an excellent place to do so. Or, to follow in their footsteps, rather.

Within the national park, three incredible dinosaur track areas exist alongside and just outside the western border of Arches. These are:

  • Copper Ridge tracks
  •  Klondike Bluff tracks
  • Willow Springs tracks

Here, you’ll find the footprints of everything from ancient giant crocodiles to the remnants of flying lizard pterosaurs’ ground-walking. Nearby tracks of the enormous T-Rex relative, Allosaurus, on Copper Ridge trail are a must-see, too.

6. Walk on Trails Only! Cryptobiotic Soil is Irreplaceable

Trying to preserve the soil and plants near Turret Arch is a fulltime effort in Arches National Park in Moab, Utah. Signs warn hikers not to stray off the walking paths December 9, 2008. (Photo by Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

As unique, important, and gorgeous as this landscape is, we’ve got to do everything we can to protect it. Which is why every trailhead in the national park begins with an interpretive sign that explains one of the most important parts of this fragile desert ecosystem: cryptobiotic soil.

Cryptobiotic soil isn’t just soil, it’s an entire ecosystem of its own made up of cyanobacteria, another living organism. And this soil ecosystem is absolutely imperative for water retention in the arid desert. It also prevents wind erosion, provides nutrients for plants and other soil, and more.

5. Gopher Snake vs Rattlesnake: Know the Difference

A western diamondback rattlesnake tastes the air. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

Thankfully, most snake species found in Arches are harmless and nocturnal. And the majority will immediately attempt escape from human confrontations. But there are 8 species of rattlesnake found in Arches, and one species, the midget-faded rattlesnakes, boasts extremely toxic venom. Safety and knowledge is paramount as a result.

A gopher snake tastes the air. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

Thankfully, however, the vast majority of snake sightings in Arches are the non-venomous gopher snake (above). The species can grow up to 96 inches, or 8-feet long, but are typically 4-6 feet in length. They are often confused for rattlers because of their similar markings. But you can spot them by their brown to reddish blotches on their back, and their oval-shaped head and rounded eyes.

By contrast, any venomous rattlesnake will have a distinctly triangular head and eyes that read much more severe to us humans. Take a good look at the two photos above and be sure to know the difference.

For more on Arches wildlife, see our Arches National Park Wildlife: Desert Animals You’ll Encounter & When to See Them.

4. Arches National Park Rock Art will Blow Your Mind

The painted rock art pictographs of the Courthouse Creek Panel in Arches National Park were painted in the Barrier Canyon style about 3000 years ago.. (Photo by: Jon G. Fuller/VWPics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

How cool is this? If you come to Arches for anything outside of, well, arches, make it the incredible historic rock art found throughout the park.

Some of the most stellar examples of indigenous rock art in North America are found in Arches, including the Courthouse Creek Panel (above). This artwork is at least 3,000-years-old, and remains an awe-inspiring glimpse into the past that you can see for yourself.

And as the park cites, “Many people call it “rock art,” but “art” doesn’t adequately define their importance to American Indian tribes. These images are more than mere adornments hung on the landscape. They are communications between people across time, written not with letters but with visceral, vital imagery. They could express anything one human being might want to communicate to another.”

3. Dozens of Indigenous Cultures Call Arches Home

circa 1960: An elder of the native American Hopi tribe resting in the fields where he is working. (Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images)

The Indigenous American peoples of Arches National Park are magnificent in presence, culture, and history. On their official website, Arches National Park acknowledges the peoples who are traditionally associated with these landscapes in full. They are:

  • Hopi Tribe
  • Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians
  • Las Vegas Paiute
  • Moapa Band of Paiute Indians of the Moapa River Reservation
  • Navajo Nation, Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah
  • Pueblo of Zuni, Rosebud Sioux
  • San Juan Southern Paiute
  • Southern Ute Indian Tribe
  • Ute Indian Tribe of Uintah
  • Ouray Reservation
  • Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.

The ancestors of many of these tribes are responsible for the incredible ancient artwork found throughout the park. And as you walk through these lands, know that it is their people who have called it home for millennia.

2. How Did Arches National Park Come to Be?

Double Arch in Arches National Park near Moab in Utah. (Photo by: Andrew Lloyd/Loop Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Through the growth of railroads and the communities that built around them in the early 20th century, the lands around Moab soon garnered a reputation for being a must-see. But it would be a winding road to national parkhood.

So on April 12, 1929, President Herbert Hoover would sign Presidential Proclamation No. 1875, reserving 1,920 acres in the Windows and 2,600 acres in the Devils Garden for the purpose of establishing Arches National Monument.

Since that time, however, Arches’ boundaries have been expanded several times. Congress would finally change the status of Arches to a National Park in 1971, “recognizing over 10,000 years of human history that flourished in this now-famous landscape of rock.”

1. How Did the Arches Themselves Form?

Utah, Moab, Arches National Park, Delicate Arch. (Photo by: Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

If there’s one thing to know about Arches National Park, though, it’s got to be about the arches themselves, right? How did these gravity-defying geological wonders form? There are over 2,000 of them in the national park, after all. So where did they all come from?

From Landscape to Turret and The Windows, or Double Arch and Skyline Arch, these are world-renowned wonders. And each was formed by completely natural circumstances.

This entire region (beyond just Moab) began to rise up around 15 million years ago. During this time, increasing erosion caused removal of the sedimentary rocks above the Entrada Sandstone. Once to the surface, erosion from wind, rain, snow, and all forms of weather began to carve out of the sandstone layers.

This is known as Turret Arch which is in the center, It looks through what is known as the North Window, It is located in the Windows Section, This was taken at sunrise. (Photo by: Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

This process, over millions of years, is what created the famous arches of the one and only Arches National Park.

For more on the Utah park ahead of your excursion, be sure to see our Arches National Park in Utah: Everything You Need to Plan Your Trip from Lodging and Must-Sees to Wildlife and Safety next.

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