"An arch consists of two weaknesses which
leaning one against the other, make a strength"
Leonardo da Vinci
State 23: Utah - December 14, 2017
We woke at a Walmart in Richfield, UT well rested and ready to explore! Today we planned to drive North to Utah’s Capitol in Salt Lake City, but fate would soon unexpectedly intervene! We were getting ready for the day while listening to the radio and heard the meteorologist say, “Expect 5 inches of snow in Salt Lake City tomorrow, which will worsen the inversion!”. The inversion? Nate and I both looked at each other and simultaneously said, “What the hell is the inversion?”. I thought it sounded like something from Star Trek, and Nate thought it sounded like a 1970’s disco dance. Whatever the “inversion” was, it certainly did not sound good! It was time for a quick google search, and what I discovered would ultimately eliminate Utah from consideration as our new home state.
Please note: The following is a very simplified explanation of an inversion. Typically, the air near the surface of the earth is warmer than the air above it. In an inversion the opposite is true. The air closest to the surface of the earth is colder than the air above! As the temperature drops, the cold air becomes trapped beneath the warm air! Inversion causes pollution and smog to become trapped close to the ground in unhealthy concentrations, and adversely affect people’s health; especially those whom have respiratory disease! City's surrounded by mountains such as Salt Lake City are at a particularly high risk! In Salt Lake City’s defense, the city was founded in 1847 before the start of the industrial revolution. At the time, no one could have known the consequences of building in a valley. Not to mention, there was no pollution in the mid 19th century! The city is aggressively seeking to decrease pollution, and build up their public transits infrastructure. However, the inversion continues to be a serious problem each year, because of the cities geographical location in a valley combined with the cold winter temperatures.
The greater Salt Lake City area in Northern Utah is the most populated part of the state, and we refuse to live in a place where we can’t breathe in the winter. To make matters even worse, since the inversion was in full effect, we were forced to cancel our exploration of Northern Utah! We watched news reports of people walking the streets wearing breathing masks, and lines at hospitals going out the door. I had absolutely no desire to be among them! We had many interesting stops planned in Northern Utah too! How very disappointing!!!
Central and Southern Utah are very rural and sparsely populated, so living there is less than ideal. While searching online to learn more about the inversion, I also discovered disturbing information which would also eliminate Southern and Central Utah from consideration as our new home. For over 50 years the US government conducted nuclear tests in Nevada, and the wind carried the nuclear fallout into Southern and Central Utah. In the years that followed, the residents in these regions called “Downwinders” experienced nasal, prostate, reproductive and Leukemia cancer at significantly higher rates compared to rest of the US population! The inability to breath in the winter, and exposure to nuclear fallout are deal breakers for the Cross Country Couple!!! For only the 2nd time on our trip, we are eliminating a state prior to completing its exploration. (you can read about the 1st state we disqualified by clicking here) Utah, as beautiful as you are, you are NOT the new home state of the Cross Country Couple!!!
We immediately plotted a course on Michele, our GPS, for the most direct path out of Utah, but had one last stop prior to departing too juicy to miss. We drove 170 miles East to visit the national park depicted on the reverse of the Utah quarter; Arches National Park. Please see the pictures below! Nate is pretending to be an arch in one of them! What a dork! LOL!
Established on April 12, 1929, Arches consists of 76,679 acres of high desert in Eastern Utah, and contains the highest density of natural arches in the world! To be considered an arch, an opening in a rock must be extended 3 feet in any direction, and Arches National Park has 2000 natural sandstone arches meeting the above criteria. How did so many arches form, and why did they form in Utah? I was very fortunate to find the recipe for a natural arch online! First you need a porous rock such as Entrada Sandstone. Next you need a thick layer of salt in the earth. Over time the salt pushes the sandstone upwards causing the rock to crack in parallel lines. The next ingredient is very important! You need to add the right amount of rain! 8-10 inches of annual precipitation is just enough water to soak into the porous sandstone. The water slowly dissolves the salt in the sandstone, causes erosion, and results in the formation of an arch over time! There is one last ingredient needed to make a natural arch: a geographically stable region. Natural arches pose the perfect balance of height, coarseness, and curvature allowing huge slabs of red stone to suspend in the air! Earthquakes are extremely disruptive to this process!
All of the aforementioned natural forces must work in perfect unison in a single geographical location for a natural arch to form. The fact that such a place even exists, is what makes Arches National Park a place like no other in the world! Unfortunately, all of the park's arches will eventually erode into oblivion, and since 1977, over 43 arches have collapsed from natural causes. Thus the perfect storm of natural forces resulting in the arches creation, are the very same forces which with result in their inevitable destruction.
As usual, we first stopped by the visitor center to talk with the ranger and plot our path throughout the park. We would explore the park via the Arches Scenic Drive; A 13 mile out and back paved road. This path would bring us within close proximity to the parks most famous features! Since the park is home to over 2000 natural arches, there was no way we could see them all in the ½ day we had allotted! We settled on a few of the most famous arches, and from those we will share with you our top 3 favorite!
Coming in at number 3 is... Delicate Arch!!!
Delicate Arch is not only the most famous natural arch in the entire park, it is the most famous in the entire world! Even if you have never been to Utah, you have most likely have seen pictures of Delicate Arch! It is featured on the Utah license plate, and is one of the most iconic symbols of the American West. Prior to the 2002 winter games, the Olympic Torch was actually passed through Simple Arch enroute to Salt Lake City! Delicate Arch is 60-foot-tall freestanding natural arch, and the park offers 3 viewing options! The first is the lower vantage point, which is a 100-yard paved path from the parking lot. From this perspective, Delicate Arch is viewable from 1 mile away, so be sure to bring you’re binoculars! The second is the upper vantage point, which is a ¾ mile out and back moderate hike with some elevation gains! From this perspective, Delicate Arch can be seen from 1/3 mile away with the naked eye. This was close, but there is a better option for the more adventurous! The last vantage point is a 3 mile very strenuous out and back hike leading directly to the base of the Simple Arch! This is as close as you can get, and you can literally stand right beneath it! Of course this is how Nate wanted to view Delicate Arch! However, we did not have enough daylight for a 6 mile round trip hike, and I think I actually saw Nate cry! Please see the pictures below!
Coming in at Number 2 is…Double Arch!
Double Arch is a close pair of natural arches, and is one of the most famous formations in the park. The site was even used as the back drop for the opening scene of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”. With a span of 148 feet, and a height of 104 feet, these dimensions make Double Arch the 2nd largest in the park! It was an easy ½ mile round trip hike from the parking lot to this spectacular and unique formation! It was an indescribable feeling, and a forever memorable moment to stand beneath Double Arch! Please see the pictures below.
Coming in at number 1 as the Cross Country Couple's favorite Arch is…. Sand Dune Arch!
The Sand Dune Arch Trail is a level and easy 1/4 mile out and back trail from the nearby parking lot. However, the arch is not visible from the road, because it is hidden behind massive sandstone walls obstructing the view. The trail leads you between these sandstone formations towering hundreds of feet into the sky! Once in between the sandstone walls, the ground is covered in a deep fine grain sand reminiscent of a tropical beach! I actually took my shoes off, and it felt great to feel the sand beneath my toes in such an unusual and unexpected location! The sandstone structures also provided shade from a very hot day in the Utah high desert! Although I had found a shady oasis, I had yet to find the arch I sought! Then suddenly, 100 feet in distance the Sand Dune Arch revealed herself to me, and she was magnificent! If I did not know the location of this arch in advance, I would have never have found it! Nate scaled the steep and sandy slope beneath the arch and took one of my favorite pictures of our entire cross county trip. Please enjoy the pictures below of our favorite arch at Arches National Park: Sand Dune Arch!
Below are additional pictures of our visit to Arches National Park.
To me, Utah felt like a love I could never have! Despite disqualifying Utah as our new home, this state was without a question the most beautiful I have visited so far in my cross country trip! I was extremely disappointed to have to leave the state largely unexplored!!! At some point in the future, Nate and I will take a vacation to Northern Utah to visit the sites we missed! Next time, we will visit in the summer, so we avoid the “inversion”! In addition, I feel we could have spent another day exploring Arches National Park as there were many arches we did not see. Hiking around the park in search of arches was a fun scavenger hunt! I know for a fact, it killed Nate to be unable to hike to, and stand beneath the iconic “Delicate Arch”, due to the lack of time and daylight! Just another reason to one-day return Utah! But until that time, my heart will go on!