Throughout the park, rock layers reveal millions of years of deposition, erosion and other geologic events. These layers continue to shape life in Arches today, as their erosion influences elemental features like soil chemistry and where water flows when it rains. Arches is in a "high desert," with elevations ranging from 4,085 to 5,653 feet above sea level.
In 1923 Alexander Ringhoffer, a prospector, wrote the Rio Grande Western Railroad in an effort to publicize the area and gain support for creating a national park. Ringhoffer led railroad executives interested in attracting more rail passengers into the formations; they were impressed, and the campaign began. The government sent research teams to investigate and gather evidence. In 1929, President Herbert Hoover signed the legislation creating Arches National Monument, to protect the arches, spires, balanced rocks, and other sandstone formations. In 1971 Congress changed the status of Arches to a National Park, recognizing over 10,000 years of cultural history that flourished in this now famous landscape of sandstone arches and canyons.
To many, the most outstanding natural features of Arches are the park's geologic formations. Over 2,000 catalogued arches range in size from a three-foot opening (the minimum considered to be an arch), to Landscape Arch which measures 306 feet from base to base. Towering spires, fins and balanced rocks complement the arches, creating a remarkable assortment of landforms in a relatively small area.
Two unusual natural features common in Arches intrigue both scientists and visitors: cryptobiotic soil and potholes. Cryptobiotic soil is a living groundcover that forms the foundation of high desert plant life.
Potholes are naturally occurring basins or pools in sandstone that collect rainwater and wind-blown sediment. These potholes harbor organisms that are able to survive long periods of dehydration, and also serve as a breeding ground for many desert amphibians and insects. Both of these communities are very vulnerable to human impacts.
The plants and animals in Arches have many adaptations that enable them to survive these conditions. Some species are found only in this area. The diversity of organisms reflects the variety of available habitat, which includes lush riparian areas, ephemeral pools, dry arroyos, mixed grasslands and large expanses of bare rock.
Generally, the trees of Arches grow small and far away from each other. However, mixed stands of Pinyon pine and Utah Juniper, two trees that thrive in dry, rocky environments, can be found throughout the park. In Arches, there is more tree diversity in riparian environments where there is plenty of water. In such locales, trees such as netleaf hackberry, box elder, and Fremont's cottonwood can be found. Nine species of cacti can be found in the park, as well as many types of desert wildflowers and shrubs.
Nearly 50 species of mammals can be found in Arches National Park. Among the more commonly sighted mammals are mule deer, desert bighorn sheep, desert cottontail rabbit, and kangaroo rat. Other large mammals, such as the mountain lion, are present but rarely spotted.
Although Arches National Park is not a birding hot spot, 273 species of birds have been spotted in the park. Species such as Spotted Towhee and Canyon Wren can be found near water in spring and summer. In drier grasslands and pinyon-juniper woodlands of the park, Say's Phoebe, Black-throated Sparrow, Western Meadowlark, Juniper Titmouse, Pinyon and Scrub Jays, and Lucy's and Black-throated Gray Warblers are present. Common Raven will likely be seen by nearly all visitors, and can be spotted throughout the park. Cooper's Hawk and Turkey Vulture are among the birds of prey that glide above Arches' desert landscape.
Arches is home to many reptiles as well. These include 10 species of lizards and 9 types of snakes. Venomous rattlesnakes are present, but are reluctant to attack, so use common sense and caution when observing them.
Southeast Utah is part of the Colorado Plateau, a "high desert" region that experiences wide temperature fluctuations, sometimes over 40 °F (22 °C) in a single day. The temperate (and most popular) seasons are spring (April through May) and fall (mid-September through October), when daytime highs average 60 to 80°F (15 to 27°C) and lows average 30 to 50°F (-1 to +10°C).
Summer temperatures often exceed 100°F (38°C), making strenuous exercise difficult. Late summer monsoon season brings violent storm cells which often cause flash floods.
Winters are cold, with highs averaging 30 to 50°F (-1°C to +10°C), and lows averaging 0 to 20°F (-18 to -7°C). Though large snowfalls are uncommon (except in nearby mountains), even small amounts of snow or ice can make local trails and roads impassable.
Local weather conditions and forecasts are available by phone at (801) 524-5133.
Moab's Canyonland Field Airport [url=http://www.moab-utah.com/moabairport/]]has daily service to Denver on Great Lakes Airlines. The next closest major airports are:
* Salt Lake City International Airport [url=http://www.slcairport.com/[/url]]in [[Salt Lake City[/url]], about a 4 hour drive away by way of Interstate 15 and US Highway 6/191.
* Walker Field [url=http://www.gjairport.com/index.asp]]in [[Grand Junction[/url]], approximately 2 hours from the park via Interstate 70.
* Denver International Airport [url=http://flydenver.com]]in [[Denver[/url]], about 5 hours 45 minutes via Interstate 70.
The entrance to Arches National Park is located 5 miles north of Moab along US Highway 191.
Most visitors see Arches National Park on their own, driving automobiles, riding bikes or hiking. However, there are a few privately operated tour companies authorized by the National Park Service to provide visitors with guided trips into the park:
* Canyonlands Tours/North American River Expeditions, 543 N. Main, PO Box 1107, Moab, UT 84532, Ph: (800) 342-5938.
* Desert Highlights, 50 East Center St., PO Box 1342, Moab, UT 84532, Ph: (800) 747-1342.
* NAVTEC Expeditions[url=http://www.navtec.com/national-park-tours.html],]321 N. Main St., Moab, UT 84532, Ph: (800) 833-1278.
* Moab Adventure Center [http://www.moabadventurecenter.com/trips/nationalpark/[/url], 225 S Main Street, Moab, UT 84532, Ph: (888) 622-4097.
A car is the most common way of exploring the park; most visitors will drive to sites and then take short walks to view the amazing geologic formations of the park. There are several four-wheel drive roads in the park's backcountry that may appeal to those with appropriate vehicles.
There are numerous trails throughout the park, providing an alternative means of travel for those not wanting to spoil the nature experience with a vehicle. Hiking at or around sunrise (5-6 am) can provide a less crowded experience and easier parking.
Although the summer heat can make a bike a masochistic way of viewing the park, in cooler months it can be a popular option. Though there are no bike lanes and traffic can be heavy at times, biking the scenic drive is a great way to see the park. The Salt Valley and Willow Springs roads are less traveled but are more suited to mountain bikes due to washboards, deep sand and other obstacles. Bicycles are only permitted on roads: there is no single track or trail riding in the park. When biking on the main road, please use caution and ride single file on the edge of the lane.
There is no lodging within the park, although the nearby town of [wiki=a0af9aa292e905b158a006fc4b365e65]Moab[/wiki] has an enormous number of hotels to choose from.
There is only one campground within the park, and reservations are highly recommended. Outside of the park the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) operates several campsites (see [http://www.blm.gov/utah/moab/rec-frame.html]).
* Devil's Garden Campground. Located at the end of the park road, this campground has 52 individuals sites and two group sites. Water and flush toilets are available. Costs per site is $10 per night. Between March 1 and October 31 up to 28 individual sites may be reserved. Reservations can be made no less than 4 days and no more than 240 days in advance from www.reserveusa.com [http://www.ReserveUSA.com/] or by calling NRRS at 877-444-6777. There is an additional $9 fee for reservations. The remaining 24 sites are first-come-first-served and will be taken shortly after the park opens each day; stop at the visitor center when it opens at 7:30 for the best chance at a site.
Arches is a relatively small park, with very few areas far enough from roads to qualify as backcountry. Outside the developed areas there are no designated trails, campsites, or reliable water sources.
In order to backpack in Arches, you must obtain a free backcountry permit at the visitor center. The maximum group size is ten, but smaller groups are strongly recommended to reduce impacts. Permits may not be reserved in advance. Backpackers should know how to navigate with a topographic map, recognize safety hazards and practice low-impact camping specific to the high desert. Primary safety considerations include steep terrain, loose rock, lightning, flash floods, and dehydration.
Pets may not accompany groups in the backcountry.