Updated on December 24, 1999.
We started our tour of the Arches National Park mid-afternoon, thinking it would be better lighting for photography. We were correct in that thought, but we did not realize how much time it would take to see the park. So we got some great shots, but we did not get to see all of the scenery. Of course, that means we have to go back to see the rest.
We entered the park grounds off of Highway 191 and went to the gate. I was about to purchase a Golden Eagle Pass for $50 when the ranger asked how old I was. When I told him I was 62 he informed me that I qualified for a Golden Age Pass for $10 and that would cover everything the Golden Eagle Pass would. The Golden Age Pass is good until you lose it or can no longer use it.
With that good news we headed up the side of the canyon through a couple of switchbacks. When we had a good view of the Moab Canyon to the south there was a pullout with a sign explaining the geology of the Moab Canyon.
A huge salt dome had formed a long syncline and pushed the sandstone overburden up, cracking it along both sides of the length of the uplift. Over millions of years, water had entered the cracks and slowly but surely dissolved the salt beneath, dropping the overburden down and forming a canyon in its place.
From that pullout we climbed further to the top of the plateau and continued our journey into the park. In the distance we could see some clouds building over the La Sal Mountains to the southeast. The weather was very pleasant and there was a slight breeze. It really looked like it would be a good day for photography.
As we drove deeper into the park lands we started seeing the giant monoliths that are so typical of the region. The park brochure pointed out that the park is constantly in a state of change and erosion works its course. These formations were at one time part of large arches as the land around and beneath them was eroded away.
One of the first major viewpoints was Park Avenue, a watercourse that went down from the road between a number of large monoliths, some over 600 feet high. These are called the Courthouse Towers. There is a trail you can walk down the avenue. It is about 3/4 mile long and it meets the paved road in the distance. We decided to drive instead.
This is closer to the Organ, one of the monoliths at the foot of Park Avenue. The size of these rocks was amazing. This one is right next to the road, and I had to walk back across the road to get the full view in the camera.
As we drove further down the road we once again had a great view of the La Paz Mountains in the distance, this time over the petrified dunes that cover much of the park. It is hard to tell, but the "hills" in the near distance are the tops of small canyons that course through the park.
This monolith had a big vee in it. I believe it is Sheep Rock, but my notes are not very good. It made a nice picture. There were scenes like this throughout the drive, and having the clouds around lent even more character to the scenes.
Next we came to the Balanced Rock. That piece of stone sitting up there is larger than a house. There is a trail around the entire formation, and you get a somewhat paranoid feeling as you walk beneath the piece balanced up there. Who knows, maybe some day some tourist will make history by being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
We headed over towards the Windows formations. Along the way we had a good view of the window under construction. There are a number of caves and small arches in this section, and we need to take more time walking some of the trails.
There was an explanation about the kinds of formations we were seeing. There are few "natural bridges" in the park. Natural bridges are formations that have a water course running under the arch. Most of the arches in the park are windows where the rock beneath has fallen away, leaving first a cave perched high above the land around. Then as the back side of the formation also erodes, a window forms, and you can see through it.
The twin arches, North and South Window, are a beautiful illustration of this effect. There are trails up to the arches themselves, and in some cases you can walk right through them. As you can see in this picture, the sun is beginning to set, and the colors really stand out.
Next to the twin windows is the Turrent Arch. It is named for the tall formation to its left, looking like a huge siege gun of early world wars.
We walked over closer to the South Arch. There were some pictures we took almost standing within the arch, but they do not show off the formation as nicely as this shot. The people just under the tree in the distance give you some idea of the size of this arch.
Over towards the Turrent Arch there was a piller of sandstone that was being lit by sunlight coming through the arch. I stayed around it for some time trying to find the best picture as the sun went down in the west.
There was also a piece of wood from some long lost tree laying in the shadow of the Turrent Arch. It just seemed to fit into the place.
This was a peaceful time. Alice and I sat around with probably another dozen people, just watching the scenery change as the sun dropped lower and lower in the sky. The clouds in the west varied the light from time to time, and I hoped it would produce one of the spectacular sunsets you sometimes see in the southwest, but it just faded and then went out.
Some people stood in the middle of the arch, watching the sunset. I sat in the shadow of the arch taking their picture. Though the day had ended, and we had barely begun our exploration of this land, Alice and I both knew we will be back, and we would spend several days again just sitting around watching the scenery change. Maybe some day we will see the whole park.