Eight days in southeast Utah, based in Moab, and I’ve adopted a routine. Up at four, on the road in darkness, arrive at some trailhead with enough light to see, fast hike to some strange rock formation that reveals its glories best shortly after sunrise. I avoid people this way and always find a place to park. Yesterday, I arrived at Landscape Arch, shown above, and stood alone before it, watching it unfold like a flower in early light. Only a mile walk on an easy trail, but they all missed its best today, choosing to arrive around nine when the day is getting hot and the parking lot full of cars. I was gone before the crowd came up the trail. I can’t understand their thinking on how to see Arches National Park, but am happy they do it wrong.
Just fifty years ago, you had to drive a rough dirt road to get to this trailhead, and few people ever saw this wonder. But now progress has come to the Arches after millions of years of neglect.
Do you wonder how this long, fragile beam of stone originated and has not fallen? To me it defies physics. Rock arches stay in place by transmitting compression to the abutments, the Romans figured that out. But the thin part of this arch seems not arched enough to develop compression. It appears in tension on its lower side. The span is 306 feet, the longest in the world, and there’s a lot of weight up there. Since 1991, at least three big pieces of rock have fallen from the arch, and it cannot last much longer before total collapse.
The arches were formed by weathering of sandstone walls or fins, like the ones pictured at the left.
The modest wear of rainwater and wedging of ice hollowed out the arches. Landscape Arch might have looked like this in its infancy. Millions of years in the making, it became thin and will fall in a few seconds.
Perhaps between these two abutments an arch once spanned.
The trail ends at Landscape Arch, for most people. A series of rock cairns will guide those who wish to scramble over boulders, slither through slots, and walk atop narrow rock fins. By following the cairns, I maintain the illusion that I am one of few, the brave, the Marines, living wild like this flower, out of bare rock.
While the US Park Service has paved the roads and provided short easy trails to most of the sites, I am happy to find that many spectacular places are no more accessible today than they were when Edward Abbey was a park ranger here in the sixties. After leaving Landscape Arch, I followed cairns to Partition Arch, Navajo Arch, Double-O Arch, the spire of Dark Angel, Private Arch, and many unnamed cracks and fins and small arches on a long hike that left me satisfied, hungry, and tired. I did not post anything yesterday, but am resting, posting today.