Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Landscape Arch

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.


  1. It is the little pleasures in life that make me so happy.

    One of my well documented little pleasures is to be the FIRST to comment on Sharon's blog post.

    I am proud today of that --- not sure why such a strange act of writing amuses me so....

    With all of that out of the way.

    Southern Utah in many respects is one of the most beautiful places on the planet, and Sharon continues to amaze us not only with her astute photography, her grasp of the surroundings (thanks to Ed) and also the story, and how it unfolds around us in Tierra Madre.

    I continue to look upon southern Utah for inspiration, and Sharon thank you for taking us there.

  2. I hope the arch lasts forever because the thought of it collapsing just seemed tragic but then...that is life and the ways of the physical universe. I wondered how wide the arch is and if one could walk across it and who did thousands of years ago. Thank you for getting up early so we could see this beauty through your eyes. I love your life.

  3. Having been in the air over the arch while Michael was commenting and Lois musing (giggle) I would like to add... that if the arch begins to "thin-out" Sharon WILL be there first to observe it. We just arrived in Hong Kong, safely and with flair, amidst thunderstorms, went out by the harbor and caught a bottle of yellowtail, and are happily observing the goings on of the world across the world in that place called USA. xoxox

  4. Michael, happy to have you as First. In the "strange act of writing" imaginary things like Landscape Arch become real as rock.

    Lois, I hope so too, but it already seems holding on by a thread. It spans 306 feet and is the worlds longest unless you believe those yahoos over a Zion Park

    Kathabela, I dont want to observe the arch thinning out; that would be sad. Hong Kong must be exciting.

  5. Sharon.... this is simply awesome. I love the pics and the narration of all thats been happening. I've viewed your latest posts too and they are all fascinating. You are one globe trotter and adventurer. Or should I call you a Nomad? hehe..... Have fun!

    BTW - I've published my blog a few days ago. In case you haven't seen it yet, here it is.

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