From 14,259-foot Longs Peak to a 30-square-mile dune field to a 2,000-foot-deep canyon to ancient cliff dwellings, Colorado’s four national parks deliver both natural and human-made spectacles that beg to be seen. But if you’ve already experienced the grandeur of those locales and are in search of your next national park adventure, let us show you the way. Just 80 highway miles from our state’s western border lies a landscape unlike any other: Utah’s Arches National Park.

Proximity isn’t the primary reason to visit Arches, of course. Mother Nature outdid herself here by outfitting the 76,519-acre playground with red-rock monuments that defy both gravity and reason. Whether you’re raising your eyebrow at a 3,600-ton boulder perched precariously atop a rocky spindle or cocking your head at the impossibility of a 306-foot-long stone arch, the resulting emotion is the same: awe.

Hiker and Delicate Arch
Arches National Park’s most famous formation, Delicate Arch. Photo by Jordan Siemans/Getty Images

As with many national parks, Arches delivers much of that wonderment in highly accessible ways. The 18-mile road that slithers through the landscape leads visitors to ample parking lots, from which many bucket-list sights are visible. In other cases, hiking trails—some paved, some hard-packed dirt, some sand—depart from the lots, encouraging parkgoers to take (mostly) easy strolls to view what cannot be so readily seen.

While anyone can appreciate the drive-right-up ingresses, characteristically adventurous Coloradans will likely be more interested in getting off the well-trodden paths—a possibility most visitors forego. “We don’t have a lot of trails, and the ones we have get use; however, there are more wilderness-y parts of the park,” says Karen Garthwait, acting public affairs specialist for Arches National Park. “Folks from Denver just have to ask.”

Or simply scroll down, because we’ve rounded up the best of the can’t-miss highlights, the lesser-known experiences, and all of the did-you-know details that make a trip to Arches even more awe-inspiring.

Jump Ahead:

The 8 Best Hikes In Arches National Park

Devil’s Garden

The view from Devils Garden Trail. Photo by Whit Richardson

The path had simply vanished. Or, at least, it seemed that way. Standing on top of a large sandstone fin in Devils Garden, it was difficult to tell which direction to go. Should we continue straight, descend the fin, slide between the rock wall and junipers, and hope to connect with the sandy trail we’d been following? Should we backtrack? We paused, looked around, and finally saw a crudely devised, human-made minibridge, constructed of thick branches, that crossed a thin crevasse. After negotiating that, we worked our way down the ancient sandstone on our backsides, hit the ground, and found the path once more. This is the story of trekking along parts of the lollipop loop that is the Devils Garden Trail, a 7.8-mile path that starts as a maintained route and, if one journeys far enough, turns into a loosely defined primitive track.

The trail contains multitudes. We had already seen 306-foot-long Landscape Arch, which lives about a mile from the trailhead via the hard-packed section of the route. We’d then checked off Partition, Navajo, and Double O arches, all of which also sit adjacent to the main thoroughfare. For Coloradans who regularly climb 14,000-foot peaks, these formations can be seen without a whole lot of effort.

But it’s along the primitive trail—the beginning of which, if you’re hiking the loop clockwise, starts just after Double O—where the rugged beauty of Arches shows out. Steep rock walls, towers and spires, long fins stacked together, unnamed arches, sandy washes: They’re all here, without the crowds. In fact, we saw just two other sets of hikers during our two hours in the backcountry.

That’s what makes Devils Garden’s primitive trail so different from many of the other trails in Arches: the sense of adventure it imparts. We scrambled up massive boulders, balanced on slender mantels, and leaped from rock to rock, high-fiving each other as we stuck perfect landings. And as we plodded along the sandy final section of the primitive trail, before it reconnected with the maintained path that leads back to the trailhead and parking lot, we took a moment to acknowledge that losing the trail, even for those short few moments, was easily our favorite adventure of the day. —GVD

Fiery Furnace

People walking through arch
Surprise Arch inside the Fiery Furnace. Photo by Whit Richardson

The first time I stepped inside the Fiery Furnace, I was on a guided tour. I learned about desert varnish, ephemeral pools full of tadpoles, and 1,000-year-old juniper trees. Ranger Thomas Buskuskie also provided a few tips for navigating the Fiery Furnace’s maze of tight passages that wind through sandstone fins, hoodoos, and cliffs. But the best lesson I learned from the tour was that I wished I weren’t on it.

Ranger Buskuskie was a geeky delight, and my fellow guidees were a pleasant bunch, but I wanted to be alone in that primordial place. It felt like a setting where a person could go to just…think. So the next day, I got a permit to do just that.

I thought I’d be nervous as I slipped into the dizzying network of sandstone—but with plenty of water, a compass, and an early start to avoid the Easy-Bake Oven temps of midday, I felt comfortable that I could complete a short hike without having to alert search-and-rescue. As I descended into the Fiery Furnace, the first thing I noticed was the cool air. Even at 8 a.m., the shade provided by the soaring sandstone walls was a welcome relief from the July desert heat. I was relieved, too, to see the tiny brown signs with white arrows that showed the way most park rangers take their tour groups. I didn’t always follow them, but they provided a sense of security that allowed me to wander this way or that way, knowing I could always retrace my steps.

Really, though, I wanted to get lost. Well, at least a little. Enough that I could not see or hear another person. Enough that my iPhone could not possibly find a signal. Enough that my problems could seem far, far away. Enough that I could sit cross-legged on a weathered mound of 220-million-year-old slickrock, eyeball the gnarled trunk of a 1,000-year-old juniper tree, and think about the meaning (meaninglessness?) of the relative brevity of a human life.

On that day, my 97-year-old grandmother had only four weeks of breath left in her. On that day, I was heartsick about an argument I’d had with someone I love. On that day, I wondered how many more special trips I’d be making without a person to share them with. And on that day, sitting on that rock, I thought maybe none of it really mattered, in a cosmic sense. My 44 years were less than trivial compared with the history I could actually reach out and touch. The juniper tree was, I think, laughing at my insignificance.

Humbled by my surroundings and aware of how high the sun had risen while I was lost in thought, I left my alcove. I shimmied across ledges, squeezed through crevasses, and scampered my way out of the Fiery Furnace. This time, I learned a different lesson: Sometimes perspective is right there in front of you. —LBK

Permit particulars: There are two ways to experience the Fiery Furnace. The first is a reservation for a 2.5-hour guided tour ($16). The second is a reservation for a self-guided tour ($10). Both are released seven days in advance at 8 a.m. Mountain Time. The 14 daily spots (or 28, if two tours are available) for the guided tours book up within minutes of being released; you’ll need to be logged in and refreshing your browser right at 8 a.m. to have any chance. There are 75 daily slots available for self-guided tours; these tickets often sell out but do so less quickly.

Either way, pick up your physical permit at the Arches Visitor Center the day before or the day of your reservation. Arches National Park uses a timed-entry reservation process; however, if you have reservations for Fiery Furnace, you do not need a timed-entry pass. Quick tip: If you can’t get the timed-entry pass you desire on a certain day of your vacation, consider trying to book a self-guided Fiery Furnace reservation. You can enter the park at any time and sightsee as much as you want (including hiking in the Furnace between sunrise and sunset).

Everything You Need to Know About Delicate Arch

Delicate Arch. Photo by Whit Richardson

The allure of Delicate Arch, a freestanding sandstone sculpture that’s possibly the most recognizable natural stone arc in the world, is undeniable. So dramatic is its visage—red-rock striations encircling chiseled stanchions that rise inexplicably from a slickrock slope—that its likeness graces Utah’s license plate and an estimated 250,000 hikers make the three-mile round-trip trek to revel in its beauty each year. Popular though it may be, Delicate Arch isn’t nearly as accessible as many of the park’s other luminaries, making it harder to get to know this celebrity.

We rounded up a few facts you might not have heard about this prehistoric knockout.

  • It’s 60 feet tall and 45 feet wide.
  • Delicate is backlit at sunrise, meaning if you’re doing it for the ’gram, you’re doing it for nothing in the morning. However, sunrise is the least crowded time of day to visit.
  • The light opening beneath the arch is 46 feet high and 32 feet wide.
  • There is no shade on the trail to Delicate, making midday jaunts in the summer a potentially dangerous, 100-plus-degree sweat fest.
  • Sunset is prime-time viewing for Delicate, but you’ll likely share the vista with 250 iPhone-wielding friends. Quick tip: Bring a headlamp for the hike back.
  • A short spur trail off the Delicate Arch Trail leads to a petroglyph panel thought to have been crafted by Ute peoples as long ago as the mid-1600s.
  • Rock arches are constantly vibrating—something the park has monitored to determine the structural health of the formations—but scientists have been unable to measure Delicate’s vibrations and they don’t know why.

More Fun Trails

Broken Arch. Photo by Whit Richardson

1.2-mile Broken Arch Trail: Choose this highlight reel if you are interested in seeing the effects of time and erosion on an arch that’s easy to reach via a mostly flat trail that winds through desert grasslands. Fun fact: Broken Arch isn’t actually broken—but it’s well on its way, as evidenced by a large crack in its middle. If you’re brave, you can hike under the arch and connect to another trail that loops you back to the trailhead.

1-mile Windows Trail: Choose this one-miler if you have active kids who are itching to get out of the car and want to scramble around—and under—multiple arches after a short, easy hike. There’s 0.3 miles of primitive trail behind North and South Window arches that few people take advantage of. Don’t miss it. You’ll be all alone and get different perspectives on these formations.

The path to Sand Dune Arch. Photo by Whit Richardson

0.4-mile Sand Dune Arch Trail: Choose this quickie if you like Tatooine-esque landscapes (or have little ones who might peter out on a longer hike). While the trail to Sand Dune Arch is short, it’s made of deep sand, which makes it more tiring than its length suggests. The trail also has one very narrow spot you’ll need to shimmy through.

0.6-mile Double Arch Trail: Choose this popular romp if you want to see one of the park’s most dramatic formations: a 112-foot-high double arch that’s the tallest arc in the park. At 144 feet long, it’s also the second longest, behind Landscape Arch. This hike provides one of the better photo ops in Arches because you can scamper up the sandstone beneath Double Arch and find great angles with your iPhone.

1.8-mile Park Avenue Trail: Choose this circuit if you like red-rock structures that aren’t arches. This hike sends you down to the floor of a canyon lined on either side by towering walls replete with formations your brain will try to categorize: That’s a human head! That looks like a castle! (Fun fact: Park Avenue makes a cameo in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.) Note: It gets hot down in the valley, so bring plenty of water. Also, the trail is easy to follow for the first half-mile but then becomes harder to discern. Look for small cairns or footprints in the sand to stay on track.

Trail tip: When the well-defined dirt path you were following leads you onto slickrock, it can feel like the trail has disappeared. Fear not: When that feeling arises, stop, look down, and find the smoothest rock. The footfalls that have come before you will have worn the sandstone down. That is your path.

3 Trail Markers To Help You Stay on the Trail
Illustrations by Mike Ellis

Cairns and/or deliberate rock arrangements: These stone configurations can be quite subtle, but if you look closely, you will sometimes see rocks organized in ways that are clearly not natural. They are pointing the way; follow them.

Little arrow signs: When you’re in the backcountry, by all means, enjoy the scenery, but also be on alert for these small arrow markers, which are easy to wander past if you’re ogling that magnificent arch in the distance.

Footprints in the sand: If you’re on a sandy path and feel like you’ve taken a wrong turn, you can often find tread marks in the sand that will tell you other people have been where you are. No footprints? Turn around and scan until you find some.

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The 5 Best Places To Camp In Arches National Park

Car camping has its upsides—namely, access to water and toilets—and if that’s your thing, the Devils Garden Campground has 51 sites. But if you covet a more rugged camping experience, Arches’ backcountry locales are one of a kind. Well, four of a kind, actually. Unlike, say, Rocky Mountain National Park, which has more than 250 wilderness sites, Arches has but a tetrad: one in Devils Garden and three in Courthouse Wash, all of which you’ll have to reserve and get a permit to use.

The Devils Garden site, where you will pitch your tent right on the slickrock (hello, sleeping pad!), offers amazing views but no access to water, so you’ll have to pack in your H₂O. Getting to the Courthouse Wash sites requires more route-finding—there’s no maintained trail at Lower Courthouse Wash—and you’ll likely cross water (pack water shoes), but the remoteness of these overnight spots means you likely won’t see another soul.

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The 3 Best Places To Drive In Arches National Park

Tower Arch with Tower
Tower Arch is located in the less-frequented Klondike Bluffs area. Photo by Whit Richardson

West Valley Jeep Road

Those who like their adventures to be both off the beaten path and off paved roads gravitate toward this bumpy 10.7-miler. You’ll need a high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicle with low-range gearing (that you actually know how to use) because you’ll encounter tricky slickrock slopes, tire-eating streambeds, and even sand dunes.

From Salt Valley Road, you can access this rough ride in the Klondike Bluffs area. Steer your truck 1.7 miles down West Valley Jeep Road, at which point you can go straight onto Tower Arch Road, a 1.4-mile-long four-wheel path that allows you to park close to Tower Arch, cutting the hike to 0.5 miles round trip. That box checked, turn your rig around—stopping to find Anniversary Arch North and South, just south of the 90-degree turn in Tower Arch Road—and then take a right to rejoin West Valley Jeep Road. As you drive south, take mental snapshots of the valley before stopping to see 37-foot Eye of the Whale Arch. From there, steer your oversize tires over uneven terrain until you hit a T-intersection. You’ll go left to find smooth pavement on Arches Scenic Drive, the park’s main road.

Don’t miss: To extend your rocky road escapades, hang a right at the T to take Willow Springs Road back to U.S. 191.

Salt Valley Road

As its name suggests, this unpaved path winds through the Salt Valley, a kaleidoscopic basin surrounded by high bluffs and red-rock formations. Although you can access Salt Valley Road from outside the park (Google Maps can get you there from U.S. 191), we like going through the main entrance, sightseeing along 18-mile Arches Scenic Drive first, and then using this 15-mile-long washboard route as our way back out to 191. Why? After having experienced the easy-access parts of the park, visiting the more rugged Klondike Bluffs area feels wildly adventurous.

From Salt Valley Road, you’ll turn left at Tower Arch Trailhead Road (it’s the second left that leads into the Klondike Bluffs area) and find a spot in the lot for Tower Arch Trail. The 2.6-mile (round-trip) trail to 92-foot-long Tower Arch isn’t easy—sandy terrain and elevation gain make for some huffing and puffing—but the scenery will keep your mind off the burn. You’ll come to Marching Men, three hoodoos in a line, and see the bulbous tower the span is named after before you see the arch itself.

Don’t miss: Two other arches—Parallel Arch Outer and Parallel Arch Inner—appear just a few hundred feet before you reach Tower Arch.

The Courthouse Wash pictograph panel. Photo by Whit Richardson

Courthouse Wash

Located in the southern part of the park, Courthouse Wash offers a wilderness experience you won’t find in much of the rest of Arches. But this is an IYKYK situation, as the unmaintained trail isn’t widely advertised by the park.

The 11.2-mile-long drainage—which does, at times, host a creek you’ll have (and want!) to walk through—has two distinct sections and three access points. Hikers can enter the Upper Courthouse Wash, replete with a meandering canyon, riparian areas, cool pools of water, and a smattering of arches, from its high point at Willow Springs Road outside the park or from the Courthouse Wash bridge pullout along Arches Scenic Drive. Lower Courthouse Wash’s 5.5 miles run between the same bridge and U.S. 191. The lower section is less dramatic, but the four side canyons that lead into the Petrified Dunes area of the park are worth exploring.

Don’t miss: Hikers can trek 1.5 miles through Upper Courthouse Wash from the bridge to find the trail to Ring Arch, a narrow span that’s 64 feet long. Near Lower Courthouse Wash’s access point off U.S. 191, there is a pictograph panel showcasing the ancient rock images of ancestral Indigenous peoples.

The Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway

Road and river
The Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway. Photo courtesy of benedek/Getty Images

In southeastern Utah, there’s no shortage of stunning scenery. The Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway, however, is often overlooked by visitors to the Moab area. Locals, who’ve long called the route River Road, know better. “Have you seen our little scenic byway?” asked the man working the register in Arches National Park’s visitor center. When we shook our heads, he swiftly pulled out a map to help us correct our mistake.

Completed in the early 1930s, this stretch of pavement, which starts just north of Moab, adds a few minutes (maybe 10, depending on traffic) to your return trip to Denver—as opposed to taking U.S. 191—but you won’t regret the delay. Towering red-rock walls will have you craning your neck. Must-see natural attractions, such as 243-foot-long Morning Glory Natural Bridge and the 400- to 900-foot-tall Fisher Towers, will plead with you to leave your car for a hike. Folks floating down the river in rafts will have you wishing you could extend your vacation. And riverside campgrounds, run by the Bureau of Land Management, will have you wondering why you paid $250 a night in Moab. (If camping just isn’t your thing, see “The 2 Best Places To Stay In Moab,” for hotel recs in town.)

Whether you choose to make pit stops along the byway or promise yourself you’ll explore its treasures on your next trip, we promise you’ll never overlook River Road again.

Off-Roading Around Arches National Park

Man and jeep in landsacpe
Slickrock terrain along the Hell’s Revenge four-wheel-drive trail. Photo by Seth K. Hughes

Fiery Furnace. Devils Garden. Dead Horse Point. I guess I hadn’t realized eastern Utah was so foreboding until I decided to arrange a four-wheeling trip through the Moab Tourism Center and became intrigued by a 2.5-hour, $139 tour of…wait for it…Hell’s Revenge.

Although I’ve piloted ATVs through rugged landscapes near Grand Lake and Vail, the center’s marketing copy touting an “unforgettable ride up and down steep inclines across sandstone domes and slickrock ledges” gave me a jolt of anticipatory excitement. I booked it.

A few weeks later, on a sunny September day, my travel partner and I listened as our guide, a guy by the name of Jesse Rainbow, gave his pre-drive safety talk. With his hair pulled back into a tight ponytail and a smile permanently spread across his face, Rainbow tried to inspire confidence among the five drivers in the group when he said the UTVs (which are larger than ATVs) we’d be driving could handle anything Hell’s Revenge spat out at them—which was a nice thing to have in the back of my head 30 minutes later when I was looking up the spine of an approximately 70 percent grade, 15-foot-wide sandstone fin with precipitous drops on either side.

My body flashed hot with adrenaline—and a little fear—but my white knuckles gripped the wheel, my knobby tires gripped the sandstone, and we crawled up that steep slickrock incline with no problem. It was just like Rainbow had said. With that initial obstacle out of the way, I was able to enjoy, and lean into, the ridiculous fun that is UTVing along the sandy trails and sandstone rock formations of the Sand Flats Recreation Area, located south of the park and just east of Moab.

We peeled around sandy berms and crept up and down seemingly vertical rocks. We motored along narrow ledges and let out whoops as we zoomed downhill, rollercoaster-style. We blasted through puddles and stopped several times to admire the views of hidden canyons, Arches National Park, and the muddy Colorado River with its sheer canyon walls. And, just as Rainbow had also promised, we returned to the Moab Tourism Center in one piece (the UTV was similarly intact), where I couldn’t help but purchase an “I Survived Hell’s Revenge” can cooler to commemorate the adventure. —GVD

Jesse Rainbow. Photo by Seth K. Hughes
Jesse Rainbow’s Best Tips for Visiting Moab

5280: You seem to take joy in your job—is that true?
Jesse Rainbow: I love all of it. I get to meet cool people from all over the world and show them things they’ve never seen before. We get to drive these crazy machines together. I talk to them about desert conservation, geology, and the history of the area. I try to tailor every tour to what lights up people’s eyes.

Does your Apache and Yaqui heritage inform your tours?
Totally. Some of this land used to be part of Native American turquoise trade routes. There’s also a lot of ancient history—old petroglyphs from the Fremont and Ancestral Puebloan peoples. We actually do a petroglyph tour that’s awesome. Plus, I like to talk about how Indigenous people used piñon, juniper, yucca, desert sage, desert rhubarb, and the sego lily for food and medicine.

OK, let’s chat about these “crazy machines” you drive.
Oh, man. These Teryx side-by-sides will go up and over things that people can’t believe. You can go up a 60 percent grade, no problem. They’re a ton of fun.

What’s your best driving advice?
Be humble. Listen to the guide. Put your tires in the tracks of the vehicle in front of you. When in doubt, ask. And don’t be afraid.

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How an Arch Is Formed

Illustration by Mike Ellis

Human beings represent but a blip on the planet’s geologic time scale, so it’s no surprise that our modern brains can’t easily comprehend events that began roughly 300 million years ago. At Arches National Park, Earth’s long history of tectonic chaos—where landmasses continually slam into one another, shaping and reshaping both land and sea—is readily apparent, yet it’s the more recent forces that created this landscape that parkgoers are often curious about. “I’m not a scientist, but I understand the basics,” says Karen Garthwait, the park’s public affairs specialist. “I have to, because people always ask.”

If you like to geek out on ancient cataclysms and ponder rock layers from the Jurassic Period, the Arches Visitor Center’s detailed displays are nerdvana. Those who want a (much) more abridged version of history can peruse this CliffsNotes-style summary Garthwait helped us craft.

  1. 300 Million Years Ago: Tectonic forces pushed the Earth’s landmasses together. As those collisions occurred, the Rocky Mountains surged skyward and a basin emerged to their west. Over millions of years, fluctuating sea levels filled and drained the basin dozens of times, ultimately leaving a salt bed 5,000 feet deep. As the Rockies eroded, sand, rock, and other debris accumulated on top of the salt, creating a thick layer of compressed rock.
  2. 70 Million to 35 Million Years Ago: Squeezed by the weight of the rock and at the mercy of tectonic pressures that were warping the geologic column of the region, the salt layer became unstable, shifted, and created a dome. The rock layer, which had eroded and become thinner, began to crack in roughly parallel fissures above the dome. Water infiltrated the cracks and dissolved the salt. Without the supportive salt layer, the rock above fractured and collapsed over time, creating large depressions in the regional landscape, including what is today called the Salt Valley, located within Arches National Park.
  3. 15 Million Years Ago: As the entire region began to rise in elevation and erosive force intensified, some of the remaining fractured rocks—all sedimentary stone—along the valley’s perimeter eroded to form thin, closely spaced sandstone walls called fins. Sand became trapped between these fins over time, and slightly acidic rainwater seeped into the trapped sand. Eventually, the acid dissolved the calcium carbonate that held the sandstone fins together. It wore away at the rock until the fins collapsed or, in some cases, holes were formed. In other fins, an exposed layer of weaker rock lay beneath a stronger one; the weaker stone weathered first, creating an opening. Without support from below, the stronger rock above succumbed to gravity. Chunks of rock fell from the top layer, creating the area’s distinctive arches.
  4. Today: The forces of weathering and erosion—i.e., water and wind—continue to mold and remold Arches National Park. In fact, most of the arches and other seemingly delicate formations you see in 2024 are likely only 10,000 years old. The sandstone they’re made from was formed tens of millions of years ago, but structures have come and gone over time, continually creating “new” sights to see.

The Death of an Arch

Landscape arch
Landscape Arch. Photo by Whit Richardson

Jeff Moore doesn’t look at natural rock arches like most people do. He recognizes their beauty, but as an associate professor of geology and geophysics at the University of Utah, he squints in the desert sun to find their weak points. He wonders about each crack, considers each sagging layer, ruminates on how thin stone can wear before its weight becomes its downfall. “When I go to Arches,” he says, “I sit quietly with an arch. I slow down with it. I think of its time frame and how lucky I am to be here to see this geologic blink of an eye.”

Since 2013, Moore and his colleagues in the university’s geohazards research group have been studying the lifespans of arches using seismometers to measure their unique vibrations. “These formations are constantly vibrating,” Moore says. “You can picture them moving like a string on a guitar or piano might when it’s plucked. We can measure the motion in fractions of a millimeter, and if we measure over time, we can notice mechanical changes.” In other words, Moore can ostensibly hear the death knell of an arch long before it actually crumbles.

Illustration by Mike Ellis

This information is useful in a couple of ways. First, it helps the National Park Service (NPS)—or other land management agencies stewarding fragile formations—make decisions about public safety. Many of the trails in Arches National Park lead parkgoers directly underneath arches, but accessibility can be altered if a hazard presents itself. “Landscape Arch used to have a trail that went right under it,” says Moore, who has monitored that arch over the past nine years. “After a partial collapse in 1991, the park closed the trail, which was smart because there were subsequent partial collapses in 1995.”

But Moore’s research also helps protect the arches from people. His readings give the NPS some understanding of how human activity can shorten the lifespans of these gravity-defying structures. “We used to let people walk on arches,” he says with an incredulous laugh. “Not anymore. We also didn’t used to think about how repeated vibrations from helicopter tours might weaken the arches. We’re studying that now. We also have studied the idea that vibrations from highway traffic and passing trains can shake arches and have a detrimental effect over time.”

Still, Moore says, it’s the forces of erosion—the wind and the rain—that usually have the final say. So could a world-famous red-rock formation such as Delicate Arch fall tomorrow? “The answer is maybe,” Moore says. “Delicate is indeed delicate. It is not long for this world. Landscape can’t get much thinner. Their lifespans are far shorter than we think. Go enjoy them now.”

Check it out: In March, an exhibit featuring Jeff Moore’s vibration recordings opened at the Denver Art Museum (through October 20). Moore explains that he “sonified” the vibration data with other goals in mind, but the “cool set of tones and the weird low rumbles” it created ended up fascinating him. The 12-minute audio piece plays through hidden speakers in benches in the gallery where Fazal Sheikh: Thirst | Exposure | In Place is showing. “The sounds help create a more immersive experience and partner well with Fazal Sheikh’s photos of Bears Ears National Monument,” Moore says.

4 Arches That Have Partially or Completely Collapsed in the Not-So-Distant Past
  • Skyline Arch lost a large chunk of rock in 1940, expanding its light opening and creating its now distinctive look.
  • After two partial collapses in the ’90s, Landscape Arch is, in places, only six feet in diameter.
  • Wall Arch, which had a light opening 71 feet wide by 33.5 feet high, was the 12th largest span in the park—until it fell in 2008.
  • Rainbow Arch, a small span Jeff Moore had been studying to see if vibrations from nearby highway traffic could be detrimental, collapsed in 2018.

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Biocrust 101

Paintbrush (plant) and soil
Biocrust allows plants to thrive in Arches. Photo by Dan Leeth/Alamy Stock Photo

Most of the 1.5 million annual visitors to Arches National Park will spend much of their time looking up, or out, at the remarkable landscapes. But those who consider themselves eco-curious should also look in another direction: down. The top few centimeters of earth in and around Arches is known as biocrust, a rich, dynamic soil environment that is, quite literally, alive.

Composed of multiple living organisms—the most important of which is cyanobacteria—biocrust’s tiny inhabitants are activated by water. After a rare sip of H₂O, this blue-green bacteria “squiggles” around and leaves a lacy superstructure in the soil, according to Karen Garthwait, acting public affairs specialist at Arches National Park. “We often say it holds the place in place,” she explains. “It’s kind of gluing together the top two to four centimeters of what might otherwise be just a loose sand surface.”

Other organisms, such as lichens and moss, move into that superstructure and, by retaining water and pumping nitrogen into the soil, allow plants to sprout up in what would otherwise be a difficult place for anything to grow. This, of course, means that biocrust and its resident flora, much like the alpine tundra living in thin soil at high elevations in Colorado, is extremely fragile.

Overeager tourists who stray off established trails run the risk of damaging this critical and sensitive part of the ecosystem, which can take years to regenerate. That’s why the National Park Service has put such an emphasis on educating people who come to the park. “We’re inviting the visitors into these landscapes,” Garthwait says. “We are offering educational opportunities, and we are hopeful that the inspiring surroundings they can find themselves in will lead to feelings and behaviors of stewardship.” And, in Arches, that means sometimes looking down when you want to be looking up.

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The 2 Best Places To Stay In Moab

hotel room
Field Station Moab. Photo by Matt Kisiday/Courtesy of Field Station Moab

Field Station Moab

With two locations—one tucked near Joshua Tree National Park and the other in Moab near Arches National Park—Field Station clearly understands how to create an outdoor-adventure-forward accommodation. Staying at the 14-month-old, 139-room lodge, located just four miles from the Arches entrance, feels like putting on your favorite Patagonia jacket: It doesn’t look fancy, but it’s comfortable, functional, and fits just right.

Score on-site rentals for things like mountain bikes, sleeping bags, and tents; join Mappy Mornings, during which staff will steer you toward can’t-miss hikes and bike rides; and enjoy the outdoor fire pit, where guests can sip on beers from the lobby bar.

The Moab Resort, WorldMark Associate

This two-year-old oasis offers studios as well as one-, two-, three-, and four-bedroom options that are all remarkably spacious, with kitchens that are nicer than what you’ll find in most people’s homes. Plus, the red-rock-resplendent views from many of the balconies at the Moab Resort are so lovely you might reconsider your plans to go to the park.

Grill stations make it easy to avoid the crowds at Moab’s restaurants; mountain bike wash stations will keep your trusty steed clean; and the snack bar lets you remain poolside when you get peckish.

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Where To Eat In Moab

Brick exterior
Moab Garage Co. in downtown Moab. Photo by Lindsey B. King

Moab isn’t the only tourist town to suffer from a lackluster lineup of restaurants (see: Estes Park), but that doesn’t make it any less disappointing when you’re ready to replace those hard-spent calories with something tasty. After nearly a week’s worth of eating (and plenty of input from locals), we concluded that the ostensibly upscale places weren’t worth the outlay and that the more casual the eatery was, the better the food we had. When it’s time to refuel—pre-hike, post-ride, or before bedding down—consider these munchtime options.

Love Muffin Cafe: The go-to is the New Mexico breakfast burrito packed with eggs, potatoes, chorizo, cheddar, and salsa. But don’t miss the patatas bravas, a Spanish potato dish reimagined with eggs and a caramelized sauce of onion, garlic, tomato, spinach, and feta.

Doughbird: The go-to is more traditional doughnuts, such as the cinnamon sugar or chocolate old fashioned. But don’t miss the over-the-top iterations such as vanilla sprinkle cake or salted caramel crodough.

Moab Garage Co.: The go-to is a turkey Gouda sammie with cranberry relish, greens, mayo, and pickled onion on sourdough. But don’t miss the BLT, a staff fave that has fresh mixed greens, thick-cut bacon, and a to-die-for homemade tomato jam.

Sweet Cravings Bakery & Bistro: The go-to is the build-your-own panini. But don’t miss the ooey-gooey cinnamon rolls and other homemade pastries.

Moab Food Truck Park: The go-to is a panino at Paninis Plus (the Hawaiian sandwich is chef’s kiss). But don’t miss the Dirtbag Quesadilla with refried beans and cheese at Quesadilla Mobilla, a truck located adjacent to the park.

Antica Forma: The go-to is a caprese salad with homemade mozzarella. But don’t miss the prosciutto pizza with tomato sauce, prosciutto di Parma, mozzarella, Pecorino Romano, basil, and extra-virgin olive oil.

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Arches National Park Trip Planner

  • Hours: The park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
  • Reservations and entrance fees: For the past two years, Arches has been using a timed-entry reservation system. You must purchase a reservation ($2) online in advance of your arrival. The park releases timed-entry tickets on a first-come, first-served basis three months in advance. The tickets are released at 8 a.m. Mountain Time. A limited number of timed-entry tickets are also released each evening at 7 p.m. Mountain Time for the next day. In addition to the reservation, you also need to purchase a park entrance pass (private vehicle $30, motorcycle $25, bicycle/hiker $15). To enter the park, you will need your reservation, your entrance pass, and your driver’s license, which must match the name on the reservation.
  • Permits: You will need to secure permits in advance for backcountry camping and Fiery Furnace tours at the park’s permit office and, respectively. Day-of permits—which are issued at a self-service kiosk or at—are required for canyoneering and encouraged for rock climbing.
  • Campground: The Devils Garden Campground has 51 sites that can be reserved on online for dates between March 1 and October 31. The sites can be booked up to six months in advance. (Between November 1 and February 28, the sites are first-come, first-served.)
  • Lodging and services: There are no hotels or restaurants inside the park.
  • Visitor center: Through September 23, visitor center hours are daily from 7:30 a.m. until 6 p.m. Rangers are on hand for questions; the park store has all the souvenirs you could want; explanatory exhibits teach visitors about the park; and restrooms and drinking water are available.

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