Arches National Park
Red Rock Wonderland
July 12, 2021
The story of
Arches National Park
begins roughly 65 million years ago. At that time, the area was a
dry seabed spreading from horizon to horizon. If you stood in Devils
Garden then, the striking red rock features we see today would have
been buried thousands of feet below you, raw material as yet
uncarved. Then the landscape slowly began to change.
forces wrinkled and folded the buried sandstone, as if it were a
giant rug and someone gathered two edges towards each other, making
lumps across the middle called Anticlines. As the sandstone warped,
fractures tore through it, establishing the patterns for rock
sculptures of the future.
Next, the entire region began to
rise, climbing from sea level to thousands of feet in elevation.
What goes up must come down, and the forces of erosion carved layer
after layer of rock away. Once exposed, deeply buried sandstone
layers rebounded and expanded, like a sponge expands after it's
squeezed (though not quite so quickly). This created even more
fractures, each one a pathway for water to seep into the rock and
further break it down.
Today, water shapes this environment
more than any other force. Rain erodes the rock and carries sediment
down washes and canyons to the Colorado River. Desert varnish
appears where water cascades off cliffs. In winter, snowmelt pools
in fractures and other cavities, then freezes and expands, breaking
off chunks of sandstone. Small recesses develop and grow bigger with
each storm. Little by little, this process turns fractured rock
layers into fins, and fins into arches. Arches also emerge when
potholes near cliff edges grow deeper and deeper until they wear
through the cliff wall below them. In addition to grand arches,
water dissolves small honeycomb formations called tafoni.
Over time, the same forces that created these arches will continue
to widen them until they collapse. Standing next to a monolith like
Delicate Arch, it's easy to forget that arches are impermanent. Yet,
the fall of Wall Arch in 2008 reminded us that this landscape
continues to change.
While some may fall, most of these arches will
stand well beyond our lifetime ... a lifetime blessed with an
improbable landscape 65 million years in the making.
Image created by USA Patriotism! from U.S. National Park Service
courtesy photos including by NPS Chris Wonderly and Andrew
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