As a hiker I have had the oppertunity to witness the beauty of Gods creations first hand. I marvel at the miracles he has made and the wonders that he has provided. As a freelance writer I had the oppertunity a few years ago to visit Moab Utah and ghost write a photography guide to Arches national park. I have felt led to share this with you so you can enjoy this great example of Gods artwork and gift to us.
Like so many of us, you probably live in a world on hyper drive, going about your daily life in such a rush that the world seems to be spinning out of control around you. So many of us rush through our days in a dizzying pace in an attempt to etch out an existence, getting caught up in the world around us and we far too often forget the real world we live in.
Not only do we not have time to stop and smell the roses but in most cases we do not even stop to buy them. We type in a few key words on our pc’s and enter a set of numbers and wait for a reply to tell us that on the other end somewhere there is someone putting together the roses we just asked for while we continue to delve ever deeper into our organized chaos.
I am not trying to say that there is something wrong with our lives, but merely that we need to stop and breathe and look around us. There is so much of the world that we never see, so many God given gifts that we are never aware of. It is my intention to help you slow down and take in the beauty of the natural world.
Open your eyes and partake of the miracles around us and set aside a little time for yourself to become friends once again with the world we live on. Come with me on a journey through one of nature’s greatest masterpieces. Envision yourself in the images that I have captured, then gather up your loved ones and your camera gear and enter a world of sand sculptures and rock formations like no other on this great planet.
In the southeast corner of Utah sits a place that has been chiseled out of stone, through centuries of wind and rain and sun. Over 2000 delicately crafted arches lay scattered around the desert floor in almost a whim sickle manner, like a giant child had been playing with clay.
You will find yourself teleported into another reality, one free of the hassles of our every day lives. Out here there are no pc’s or flat screen TV’s, no Xboxes to clutter our children’s minds. Here there is just you and the majestic beauty that surrounds you. You will think you are in another world entirely.
Once you have entered this rock garden of gigantic proportions your scope of reality and the scope of things around you will be adjusted. Your world and worries will suddenly feel very small. The sheer size of Landscape Arch and Courthouse Towers will be enough to “startle the senses, and surprise the mind out of its ruts of habit”, as environment activist and author Edward Abbey once put it. Time will, for the moment, have no grasp on you as you loose yourself in the serenity and silence of it all. The fresh air and the wide open sky, the smell of wild flowers and scent of rain will fill your senses. Your imagination will carry you to a time long before commuter traffic and high rises, to the time of Pueblo Indians. When maize, beans and squash were cultivated and microcrystalline quartz was used to chip rock into knives and dart points - - to the time when Paiute and Ute Indians walked thru this paradise.
As the tranquility and peacefulness wash away the anxieties of life you will find yourself desiring to capture this moment and hold on to it for eternity. While the reality of life and its priorities will beckon you to return to your regular place in this world and return you must. But this brief moment of time where the world really did stand still and where you felt the breeze blow through your hair, and you gazed upon the miracles of nature, this moment can be captured and cherished.
It is my desire to take you away to this heavenly place, even if only for a day, and show you the miracles that our earth has to offer, and then help you take that moment and bring it back home with you. In these pages I will walk you through Arches National Park and show many of its wonders and its beauty through my images. I will teach you a bit about the history and the culture of the people that walked this land long before us. I will educate you a little bit about the wildlife that still calls this home and about the different fauna and flora that populate this area. I will throw in a few interesting but trivial facts and both educate and entertain you.
ll along the way I will share with you my experiences and my knowledge of nature photography. I will supply informative and instructional details that will explain how I caught my digital images and I will tell you some of my secrets for bringing out the deepest inner beauty of this area. I will recommend to you what equipment to use and when to use it. I will provide helpful information about lighting and filters and I will hopefully ignite a love affair between you and nature photography.
It is my intent in this book to give you the tools necessary for you to see the spirit of your surroundings through the eye of a camera and to ensnare the living beauty of the arches and the rock formations as I have done, while also providing a general guide of the many trails and natural attractions that make up the Arches National Park.
I feel that the information on these pages can not be encapsulated into a single category. While I will teach you many techniques and skills of nature photography, this is not a photographer’s text book. Nor is this intended as a thorough and complete hiking guide, although I will inform you about the trails and hiking in the area. I also do not intend for the space between the front and back cover of this volume to be merely a platform to feature and brag about the pictures I have taken. Rather it is my intentions for this to be a testament to the beauty that is alive and ever changing in Arches National park and to be a motivator for you to escape your daily routine but for a moment and to learn to become connected to earth we live on and to embrace the sheer power of it’s majesty.
I wrote this book with you in mind, regardless if you have never taken outdoor photo’s before or if you are a seasoned veteran to the world of nature photography. I intend for this book to be a guidebook that you will want to have with you as you travel through Arches National park. It is my desire that you do not just read this book or skim through its pages and simply place it among others you have read, to gather dust on your book shelf in a corner of your home. I have compiled the information contained here to enthrall you with a sense of urgency to explore and examine the beauty of Balance Rock and the Garden of Eden and every other corner of this park with this volume in your hands.
So I invite you to come with me and be both educated and entertained as we explore Arches National park together.
Where in the World???
Arches National park is located in the South East corner of Utah, in a region known as the Colorado Plateau. The Colorado Plateau is a 140,000 square mile plateau that is centered on the Four corners section of the Southwest United States. This plateau consists of land in western Colorado, Northwestern New Mexico, the southern and eastern sections of Utah, and northern Arizona.
The Colorado River divides this plateau in half horizontally starting from the far northeast corner at La Poudre Pass in the Smoky Mountain National Park, northwest of Denver and meanders through Colorado, through the southeast corner of Utah, into the northwest corner of Arizona and then forms the border of Arizona and California, where it eventually runs into Mexico and the mouth of the river is at the Gulf of California.
If we were to place a canoe in the Colorado river at La Poudre Pass and follow the river southwest out of Rocky Mountain National park, we would descend from a 10,200 foot elevation and cross several lakes, Thru several small mountain communities and eventually head west where we would run parallel to I-70, building speed as we went further and further down river.
We would pass through the communities of Glenwood springs, New Castle, Rifle, Rulison, Grand Valley, De Beque and eventually run into Grand Junction. Where we would run along the base of the La Sal Mountains, past the Colorado National Monument, below Battleship Rock, Snyder Mesa, Buckhorn Mesa, The Highlands, and Dry Mesa where we would meet up with the Salt Wash and run into the Salt Wash Rapids. It is here that would we come to the most southeastern corner of Arches National Park.
If we followed the Salt Wash up creek we would pass to the east of the Elephant Buttes and the Window Arches, eventually through Cache Valley and come to Wolfe Ranch. We would now be at the foot of the most famous arch in the entire National Park, the very symbol of the state of Utah as it is depicted on the states license plates. We would have traveled approximately 400 miles through some of the most scenic terrain in the country, possibly the world, descended over 6,000 feet in elevation and arrived in truly one of the most magical places on earth.
This vast wilderness welcomes us to explore all that it has to offer, however unless you are planning on traveling by canoe down the Colorado River you will need to travel by car.
From the East
To arrive at Arches National Park from Denver and other points east you will need to follow Interstate 70E to exit 182, US-191 south. Travel for 26.8 miles following the signs for Moab and turn left at Arches National Park road.
From Salt Lake City
To arrive at Arches National Park from Salt Lake City you will need to follow Interstate 15 south toward Las Vegas, follow for 49.7 miles. Then take exit 258 onto US-6 toward Manti and follow for 127 miles. At Green River merge onto I-70E and follow for 23.1 miles till you come to exit 182 toward Moab and pick up US-191S. Follow for 26.8 miles and turn left into Arches National Park.
From Las Vegas
To arrive at Arches National Park from Las Vegas you will need to follow Interstate 15N, passing thru Arizona and entering Utah near St George till you come to I-70E at Fishlake National Forest. Then go EAST on I-70 toward Grand Junction 182 miles to exit 182, US-191 toward Moab. Go 26.8 miles then turn left into the National Park.
Visiting Arches National Park
Whether you are traveling through for the day or if you are planning to spend several days here, I will help you discover as much of this natural wonder as you desire. You may be here simply as a stop along your journey or perhaps you has chosen this destination, one of the few unspoiled places on earth, as a spot to share with your children, in an attempt to foster in them an appreciation for nature and the world around them. Or you may be a hiker looking for some unique terrain to explore and enjoy or maybe you are a photographer looking to capture your own version of the pictures you have seen in books, magazines or online. No matter whom you are or what your motivation for visiting Arches may be, it is my goal to help you gain a better understanding of this wonderland.
Certainly you could visit Arches National Park without ever opening a book and you could drive through the National Park to the end and turn around and leave without ever stopping to really get to know this great place. However, it is my desire that you not only see this place for yourself but rather that you get familiar with this unique place, become friends with the nature here and leave here with a sense of somehow having been transformed by the elegance and mystery that is Arches National Park.
This land that spreads out before us is 76,379 acres of miracles unlike any other. There are over 2000 natural wonders cut out of Sandstone with wind and rain and around each corner of this paradise is another treasure waiting to be discovered. Arches National Park lies out over the mountains in the shape of a right hand glove, with its palm facing you.
Our tour together will break this glove into 6 sections:
1. The palm of the hand (Park Avenue) - Court House Towers, Court House Wash, the visitor’s center and the nature trail.
2. The Thumb (Windows section) - Which consists of Balanced Rock, The Garden of Eden, Double Arch, and the windows or spectacles.
3. The Pointer finger (Delicate Arch Section) - Wolfe Ranch, Delicate Arch, The Petrogliphs, and Cache Valley.
4. The Index finger (Fiery Furnace section) – Fiery Furnace, The Salt Valley overlook, Sand Dunes Arch, Broken Arch, Skyline Arch and the Tapestry Arch.
5. The Ring Finger (Devils Garden section) – Devils Garden trail, Tunnel Arch, Pine Tree Arch, Partition Arch, Landscape Arch, Navajo Arch, Double O Arch, Dark Angel and the primitive loop trail.
6. The Little Finger (Klondike Bluffs section) – Tower Arch, Anniversary Arch, Marching men, and Eye of the Whale.
On each stop of our journey I will point out the natural wonders and some items of interest including information about the fauna and flora of the area, history and other interesting facts and some tips for capturing great pictures and how to utilize secrets that I learned over the years.
While this book is divided by sections in order that they appear in the park, there is nothing saying you can’t choose to approach the park your own way. Perhaps you will only have time the first evening to take in Delicate Arch or the Park Avenue trail, or maybe you are planning on camping in the park and want to hike the Devils Garden your first day. No matter how you choose to explore it is my desire that you allow me to help you enjoy the park to its fullest.
Getting around the park
Throughout this book you will find detailed maps that will help you stay on the trail and limit your chances of getting lost. Most of the trails in Arches National Park are short relatively easy trails that are very family friendly. The few exceptions to this include the Delicate Arch Trail, the Devils Garden trail (past Landscape arch) including the primitiave loop, and the Tower Arch trail.
In addition to the maps in this book other maps are easy to come by. While the trails are well marked it is a good idea to have a map with you, particularly when traveling the longer trails. You will find that you will want to have a map with you on the longer trails not only for the purpose of keeping yourself found, but also so that you may make sure you are not missing any of the great treasures the park offers. Another good reason to keep a map with you is to gage how far it is from one location to another, you never want to overdo it and find yourself in trouble because you misjudged the distance on a trail.
America the Beautiful
As we travel together through the National Park chances are you will not only marvel at the incredible rock formations but also the cleanliness of the park. This depends on each and every one of us to do our part, and be responsible for what we carry in. It is pertinent that we carry out any trash that we carry in.
The incredible beauty of this park is partially a result of the hard work and the continued love for nature by the people that visit this unique place. We owe it to the hardworking park rangers, the park itself and the generations that come after us to leave Arches National Park as we found it. PLEASE DO NOT LITTER!
Along with doing our part to protect the park from unsightly litter we also owe the park respect. We must understand that Arches National Park is actually alive. The Soil is a living organism (see the side note on Cryptobiotic soil) and the plants animals and even the arches depend on us and our respect in order to continue to exist.
Consequently it is of the utmost importance that we treat the park as the National treasure that it is. Certainly you would not want anyone to trample through your garden at home and so in turn it is our duty to make sure that we stay on the trails and do not pick at or dig up any plants, attempt to confront wild animals no matter how cute and cuddly they may appear and even the rocks and stones deserve to kept in their natural surroundings.
Let’s make sure we all do our part to help keep Arches National Park a special place and a symbol of the extent of the God given treasure that helps make this country America the Beautiful.
Stay off the …. Dirt!!!
In Arches National Park, even the soil is alive and a crucial part of the ecological system. You may think like many others before you that this statement is ridiculous and just an attempt by the park service to keep you from wandering off a path and getting lost, but the truth is that the soil that covers the majority of the desert floor in the Colorado Plateau and Arches National Park in general is in fact a living organism.
It was discovered by Jayne Belknap, a biologist working for the U.S. Geological Service’s Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center, that the unusual looking crust on the soil throughout Arches National Park held a remarkable secret. What most people would probably consider a lifeless crust on the desert floor is indeed, not only not dead, but in fact the mainstay of the entire ecological system of the desert.
This Cryptobiotic, or Hidden life, soil plays a vital role in the well being of the entire environment. This soil affects the life of all other plants on the desert floor as well as directly contributing to the well being of all wildlife in the park. The role this “dried up” soil plays includes creating stability, preventing erosion, supplying nitrogen to the atmosphere, being a source of nutrition to plant life, providing water infiltration, seed germination and directly effecting plant growth.
Wow What a huge responsibility for some dried up dirt!
This soil has several stages of its life and while the dark mature stage is clearly apparent as being different than anything you may have seen before, this soil is equally as important to the desert environment during all stages of its life cycle. Even the matted sandy like soil (Cryptobiotic soil in its early stage) must be avoided by human contact.
Even Just one step kills!
The Cryptobiotic crust that we see throughout Arches National Park is the result of years of adaption to the harsh high desert environment. While this soil has become adapted to the harsh natural elements it faces in the desert, it is not capable of withstanding being crushed by foot, or vehicle.
When we step on this soil we are compressing the sheaths and filaments that make up this crust and consequently reducing the stability of the organisms that make up this soil. By affecting the stability of this soil we are causing water that would usually be absorbed by this sponge like organism to runoff and decrease the absorption by 50%, consequently causing additional soil loss that in turn depletes the entire desert environment of vital nutrients.
One step not only effects the soil in that immediate area but by breaking up the soil it can now be carried by the strong desert winds and cause additional soil to be buried by the dust of the soil that was loosened by our step.
The full recovery of the soil that was impacted by just one small foot print can take up to 50 years and the mosses that were affected by this impact can take up to 250 years to recover.
Hiking safely in Arches National park
Whether you are an expert hiker or have never laced up a pair of hiking boots before, there are some general guidelines to hiking safely in Arches that you will want to consider, no matter how far you intend to hike.
The Six basic rules to hiking safely in the Arches National Park.
Although most trails in Arches National Park are short and well marked these basic rules still apply.
1. NEVER HIKE ALONE- There is fun and safety in numbers. The more people you have the more eyes you have looking out for trouble, such as loose rocks. If you are hiking with a group never brake off from the pack. When planning your hike always take into consideration the ability level of everyone going with you, and ALWAYS keep all children in your sight.
2. BE SURE TO LEAVE AN ITINERARY WITH SOMEONE- Leave as much information as you can with someone back at camp or at home, such as how long you intend to be, where you are going, and what path. It is also a good idea to leave a map of your expected route if you intend to do any long hikes, and be sure to stay on that trail, not only will it assure you that you don’t get lost but in most places along the paths in Arches the soil is living and should not be walked on. Also make sure to check back with the person when you return so they know you have made it safely.
If you do not return within the expected time, have them contact the Arches National Park office at (888) 467-2757.
3. WEAR THE PROPER ATTIRE-Even if you are only taking a short hike the proper footwear is vital. It is not uncommon to see sandals and other footwear being worn, but it is not suggested even for short hikes. After all you are in the dessert and there are always the possibility of snakes and other creatures, and the high desert elevation can have drastic temperature changes.
For short hikes running shoes are ok so long as they are comfortable and have good tread. For any long hikes be sure to use a major brand hiking shoe or boot, water resistant are recommended, while you may not run into rain, there are places that you may need to walk through water (Courthouse wash trail) also they will help keep you from slipping. Good ankle support is also important on longer hikes such as the primitive loop.
Layering – This is a good idea if you are planning to do any distance hiking and may not be near your car. In the dessert the mornings and be cool while mid-day can be unusually hot, so layering is a good idea.
What is LAYERING? This is the best way to stay warm, dry and comfortable. This involves wearing a Base Layer, an Insulation Layer, and an Outer Shell. Each layer can be removed or added as needed.
It is a good idea to wear sunglasses during any season of the year since you will be at elevations in excess of 4,000ft and the sun can surprise you in higher elevations. However, for your own safety it may be a good idea to remove those glasses when climbing up fins (large rocks), so that you can clearly see where to place your feet.
Along with sunglasses you should also wear some head coverage, such as a wide brimmed hat and sunscreen, to limit your exposure to the sun. Over exposure can be a problem even on cooler days.
4. KNOW HIKING SAFETY 101-This is a simple matter of common sense. However, there are many classes on hiking safety available both online and by local hiking clubs. Know how to deal with natural disasters also how to prevent animal attacks (NEVER APPROACH A WILD ANIMAL, NO MATTER HOW CUTE THEY LOOK!), remember you are invading their territory not the other way around.
Know general first aide and ALWAYS have a first aid kit with you. This does not have to be elaborate so long as it supplies the basics, including bandages, gauze, disinfectant, and preferably some surgical tape. Also, know where you can get medical care.
Also, be familiar with snakes and know which ones are poisonous. There are two kinds of snakes common to the park, Gopher Snakes and Midget Faded Rattlesnakes (these are rarely seen). While the chances of being bitten by a snake are very unlikely, be careful where you place your hands and feet, always watch the path in front of you.
5. PACK THE NECESSARY SUPPLIES- you should always have plenty of water on hand. There are very few places in the park that offer running water and it is not a good idea to try to drink water in the streams and brooks, even with a filtration system. This is the opposite of most hiking situations and may be a difficult adjustment if you are a seasoned hiker who is used to filtering nearby water for hiking purposes.
It is very easy to dehydrate, particularly at higher elevations. It is also a good idea to take along a trail bar or other snack, even if you do not plan to be gone very long. In the thinner air of high elevations it is much easier to dehydrate, even if the temperature is not that high.
A good rule of thumb is to bring along one gallon of water per person for longer hikes. A great way to carry water when hiking is to use a “Camel pack”. This device is available as a self contained pouch or built into a backpack.
6. Bring along a map or guide book (preferably this one!) while a GPS may seem like a nice thing to have along it is always a good idea to have a non-electronic map as well. A GPS can tend to be incorrect in storms or higher elevations.
So be sure to use common sense and follow these simple rules for hiking safely, be safe and enjoy the beautiful nature that Arches National Park has to offer.
Sticking to the trail
Although most trails in Arches National Park are short and well marked there are sections of the park that require more strenuous hiking and traverse through less traveled sections of the park, when following these trails it may be slightly more difficult to follow the path. In most cases, when a path changes terrain or direction the path will be marked by a cairn (a small stack of rocks) marking the trail.
There is always the slight chance that a cairn may have been knocked over by the wind or rain and may cause the path to be no longer clearly marked. In the event that you accidently travel off the path, back track to the last spot where you saw a cairn and you should be able to find your way again.
For this very reason it is a good idea to have a travel guide or a map with you.
What are the arches?
They are more than a collection of “freaks of nature” as they were called by the NY Times in 1909. They are also more than the art work of a cosmic hand, the fine artistic rendering of God. They are the ‘living’ testimony of the power of nature. They are in fact a symphony of shapes and forms as diverse as they are numerous, no two exactly the same.
They are flying buttresses and bridges, windows in rock, peepholes through sandstone, towers and pillar a collection of over 2000 natural oddities. They vary in size from barely big enough to walk through to large enough to cover the arch of the capitol building in Washington D.C. They vary in color from off-white to shades of pink, brown and red. Their tones change with the rising and the setting of the sun, and their moods reflect the weather and the sky.
The geologists tell us that over 300 million years ago an ocean covered this part of the country and that over time the ocean dried up and the salt that had been in the ocean did not. The salt settled on the top of the soil and then eventually hardened, creating a “salt bed”, which in turn became covered with residue from floods and rains. Much of the debris became compressed into rock, possibly as much as a mile thick. Over time the weight of this rock created pressure on the salt bed and caused it to shift, liquefy and reposition itself, thrusting the rock above it into domes.
The reshaping of the salt bed caused the rocks on the surface to erode causing the younger layers of rock to strip away. Over thousands of year’s water seeped into the cracks that had formed in the rocks and ice then formed in the fissures, which put pressure on the surrounding rock causing bits and pieces to break off. Eventually wind pushed these loose pieces causing rocks to tumble out. Some of these fins were destroyed while others remain today, and those that were not destroyed created the arches. It is this process that gave them life and it is this process that causes them to live among us.
They are so much more than just stone they are indeed ‘living’ spectacles of sediment standing in the dessert with their heads to the stars and the galaxies beyond, proclaiming their uniqueness and individuality and beckoning for our attention. They are ever changing through the very process that created them. They are a remnant of the domes they once were and they are cavities of massive walls long gone. They are changing constantly, sometimes at a pace so slow we will not be able to notice it in our lifetime, and yet at other moments they are a cacophonous outburst more powerful than the clashing of thunder clouds, as was witnessed on august 8th of 2008 when some arches collapsed.
By some perfect planning of destiny, or perhaps some God given privilege, we have the opportunity to take pleasure in their existence and share this moment of time with them. Considering that they are the result of changing elements, the very idea that their existence is in concert with our own is a coincidence that demands our gratitude. Had their evolution been in a different time frame from ours they could possibly be merely the shattered and smashed remnants of their current existence, or perhaps they could have been simply the hard rock floor that they once were.
We need to take heed in the fact that we have indeed been blessed to have the chance to gaze upon them and walk through them and share the same time and space as they do. They are a gift of nature for us to enjoy and treasure. Generations from now or perhaps hundreds of centuries in fact, what we see now will have departed, possibly leaving others in their place. They are miracles for us to witness. They deserve our respect and admiration. They are worthy of our awe and astonishment.
Who lived here?
The first people to walk among these awe inspiring rock formations were the Anasazi or “Ancient ones”, the ancestors of the modern Pueblo people. The Anasazi first appeared on the scene around 1200 B.C. during the time period known as the Basketmaker II Era. This is the time period between 1200 B.C. and 50A.D. and caves were inhabited and baskets were made but pottery was not made yet. They lived off wildlife and harvested maize and squash. They created and used a form of pestal and mortar known as mano and mutates.
Pueblo tradition states that their ancestors emerged on earth from the underworld through a portal. The Pueblo people called this portal Sipapu. The Pueblos worship building is called a Kiva and in the center of the floor of their Kiva is a small hole or Sipapu that symbolizes this portal. It is also believed that once they ascended to earth that the war chiefs would lead their tribes around the area led by inspiration from the Great Spirit. The Pueblo culture believes that after they wandered they eventually settled in this area.
Around 50 A.D. a new period of culture developed with the invention of pottery. This second period also saw the first man made structures or pit-houses. The first examples of these pit houses were shallow pits, as the name implies, and used a pole and adobe architecture for a roof. These shelters and the development of the Shaman religion were indications that these nomadic tribes began to develop into organized communities. It was during this time period that the petroglyphs that appear in the park were most likely created.
After 500 A.D. the simple pit houses became deeper more complicated dwellings and above ground rooms were also developed. During this period the first pottery was made, this pottery was plain bisque and eventually the traditional Black-on-white pottery was developed. The first trade with people of other areas occurred and as a result beans became a staple to the area as did amaranth and the Pinion Pine. It is believed that the turkey was first domesticated during this period.
Communities started to grow and become more organized around 750 A.D. with social integration and more complex agriculture. This period is considered to be the beginning of Pueblo culture and the end of Nomadic times. Innovations such as reservoirs and canals were created that made year round residences possible. These year round structures were the first Pueblos. While no Pueblo structures have been found in the area of Arches National park, remnants of pottery from this period have been discovered within the park, indicating that Pueblo culture did exist.
The time period of 900 A.D. to 1130 A.D. saw a “Golden age” of sorts, with the development of larger Pueblo, cliff dwellings. Areas became populated for longer periods of time and traditions in architecture and pottery developed. Long distance trade appeared to become common during this period with the introduction of sea shells and turquoise to the Pueblo people.
At approximately 1150 A.D. the climate changed and brought with it the Great Drought which lasted 300 years and led to the collapse of several civilizations. The drought also created a change in spiritual beliefs. Kivas were burned and their roofs were removed. Pueblo tradition states that the people of the time had achieved great spiritual power and control over natural forces and that they had used this power to create changes that were never meant to occur. It was believed that by dismantling their religious structures that they were making amends with nature.
While it has been said that the Pueblo people ‘vanished’, it is probably more correct that they migrated to cooler areas that had more favorable rain conditions. It has also been suggested that change in the environment led to change in social structure and eventually warfare. It is believed that perhaps the influx of other societies may have caused this area to become abandoned by the Pueblos.
With the departure of the Pueblo civilizations, came the rise of Ute and Southern Paiute tribes. While the origin of either tribe can not be precisely calculated, experts have studied the languages of Indian tribes to attempt to determine their origins. While the dialect of the two tribes did have its differences, they both have a similar origin. Both dialects fall into the category of Uto-Aztecan languages, or having their origins in the same group as the Aztecs.
It has been guestimated that both the Ute and Paiute tribes originated in southern California and have connection with the Kawaiisu Indians, who originated in the Santa Barbara, California area. Both words translate in their native languages as “The People”. The state of Utah is actually named after the Ute Indians.
There were many similarities in the two different tribes but it was the subtle differences that would eventually separate the two. The Paiutes tended to be more passive and there was no real leadership among them. Certain individuals would be in charge of different tasks but for the most part there was no true leader. They were mostly foragers, living off the berries, nuts, roots and seed with some hunting of smaller animals such as rabbits.
The Ute on the other hand were hunters of large game, such as antelope and buffalo and had a slightly more organized leadership. The Ute’s were introduced to the horse by the Spanish around 1680 and they quickly adapted to using the horse for hunting down large animals such as the buffalo for food.
When horses first came to the area the Paiute saw them as competition for food since the horses would graze on the crops and food of the Paiutes. As a result of this threat the Paiute people started to hunt the horse for food.
It was the horse that would eventually be the major difference in the two tribes. The Ute’s quickly gained mobility as a result of the horse, this not only affected their hunting but also their cultural habits. Horses facilitated raiding and trading, giving the Ute’s superiority over the Paiute. They became respected warriors and eventually middlemen in the western slave and horse trade, capturing and trading the Paiute as slaves to the Europeans in exchange for more horses.
Both tribes were affected by the introduction of the European settlers. While the first expedition came through the area in 1776 and was followed by Jedediah Smiths expedition in 1826, it was not until 1855 that the first Europeans attempted to settle here.
The Mormons stopped in this valley and attempted to create a settlement called the Elk Mountain Mission. This settlement is said to have destroyed the sovereignty and lifestyle of the Paiute Indians. The Mormons settled in a place that had traditionally served the Paiutes as foraging and camping areas. This caused starvation and disease and greatly reduced the Paiute population.
On July 15th, 1855 41 Mormon men built a fort where the city limits of Moab now meet highway 191. They also built a corral and planted crops overlooking the La Sal Mountains (which were called the Elk Mountains at the time). They attempted to forge a friendship with the Ute’s, initially finding success and baptizing over a dozen Indians into the Mormon faith. However by September things had turned for the worse, culminating in an attack on the fort by the Ute’s, who had recruited some Paiutes to assist them. This attack on the fort resulted in a Mormon missionary being killed and in exchange several Indians were killed. Eventually the fields around the fort were set ablaze and the Mormons all retreated the following morning.
It was not until two decades later that further settlement of this area was attempted. In 1877 a prospector by the name of William Granstaff and a trapper known as “Frenchie” moved into the fort. They grew crops and raised cattle here. By this point president Lincoln had established a reservation for the Ute Indians and by 1891 a reservation near St George had been established for the Paiute Indians.
Several farmers followed Granstaff’s example and also settled here and by 1884 the town of Moab had been designated and a post office had been established. Grand County was created by the Utah Territorial legislature in 1890 and Moab was officially incorporated in 1902.
We now stand here in this great place 107 years after the town was incorporated, 154 years after the Mormons first settled here, 183 years after Jedediah Smith established a trade route, 700 years after the Ute and Paiute first called this home and almost 3000 years after the first Anaszi Indians walked this land. We share the same space as they all did and gaze upon the same miracles of nature. We are now part of the history of Arches National park.
So when you walk the trails and gaze upon the awe inspiring arches, stop and think of the over 3000 years of man that looked at this very spot and saw it exactly as you do today. Gaze upon this area and think of the tribes that once hunted and fished here, who left evidence of their existence in the form of pottery and old corn cobs. Let your imagination flow back thousands of years and think of what it must have been like for the Paiute and Ute Indians and what this area must have meant for the Pueblo Indians and the Anasazi before them. Stand in awe and admire this land that has been unaffected by modern man, and preserved to remain exactly like it looked when the first Anasazi Indian walked through this valley.
Welcome to Arches National Park
As we ascend upon the entrance of Arches National Park, we leave behind civilization and the small community of Moab, in Grand County Utah. (Note: you will most likely notice the large “G” perched along the mountaintop to the northeast of the highway, This “G” symbolizes Grand County) This little tourist hub is home to approximately 5,000 people and welcomes in excess of a million visitors a year. It is debated as to how exactly this little town got its name but one popular theory is that it was borrowed from the Bible. In the Bible there are numerous references made to Moab, a dry mountainous area east of the Dead Sea and southeast of Jerusalem.
This etiology would seem to be fitting when you consider the geological symbolism that correlates between this area and the area referred to in the Bible. In the Bible, Moab is near the Dead Sea and tucked in the mountains, here in this valley we are close to the Great Salt Lake and tucked in the La Sal Mountains.
Another common theory behind the naming of Moab is that it derives from the Paiute word that translates to Mosquito water. In this case the connection can also be seen in the fact that along the Colorado River mosquito’s can be rather abundant. You will also find as you walk through the park that the park is home to many mosquitoes and it is a good idea to carry some mosquito repellent with you.
Old Spanish Trail
Regardless of how this little community got its name, it is just north of this little mountain community that we will find the entrance to Arches National Park. As we head north from the town limits we travel up hwy 191 north and follow a section of the Old Spanish trail.
This trail served as a trade route from Santa Fe New Mexico to Los Angeles California between 1830 and 1848. It is during this period that Mexican and American traders took goods such as woolen clothing by mule train and traded these items for horses. It was along this trail that the Ute Indians conducted trade including providing Americans with captured Paiute Indians in exchange for horses. These Paiute Indians were later used as slaves.
Courthouse Wash Rock Art
The Spanish trail followed ancient native Indian trade routes and crossed the Colorado River, exactly as the highway does today. As you cross the river be sure to look east up river and notice how it cuts between the rock banks. Shortly after the bridge crosses the river, you will find a public parking area. While this parking area is outside the entrance to the park, it is worth mentioning here, as it provides a great spot for photographs and it is near here that the Courthouse Wash runs into the Colorado River.
From the parking lot head south on the path toward the Colorado River and follow the path to where the Courthouse wash meets up with hwy 191. The Rock art sits parallel to the highway and can be seen from the road if you know where to look, otherwise you will travel by it by car and never notice it. This hike is a short excursion and well worth it.
What you will find along the wall near courthouse wash is much older and in many ways much more valuable than any great painting hanging in any museum. These paintings can never be replaced and are listed as a national treasure on the National Register of Historic Places.
Unfortunately in 1980 this irreplaceable art work was heavily vandalized, and can never be restored to its original image. It is very important that you respect the value of these images and obey all rules regarding their preservation. Note: Even the oils from your skin can destroy these images.
While it may initially appear that all rock art comes from the same period, the fact is that there are several types of rock art that exist in the Moab area. To get a better understanding of the type and age of the particular rock art images it is important that we understand some of the basic differences.
While the term Petroglyph has become generally applied to all rock art, not all rock art is petroglyphs. The word Petroglyph actually comes from the Greek words petros which means stone and glyphin which means to carve. So in its truest form a petroglyph is a stone carving, this carving has typically been done by either incising (to cut or to notch), pecking, carving or abrading (to scrape or grind).
While these rock art are often incorrectly labeled Petroglyphs, Pictographs are actually a different type of rock art. Pictographs are painted or drawn rather than carved rock art.
Rock art had its origin over 10,000 years ago and was common for Indian tribes to use this method of recording events up to and after the time Indians made contact with Europeans. Certain elements within the art work help determine its age and these elements can be witnessed in the two samples of Rock art that exist in the National Park.
While newer examples of art work such as those found near Wolfe Ranch mimic the ancient art work of the archaic period the difference is obvious. In the Wolfe Ranch Rock art there are images of horses and so it is obvious that this image must have been created after the introduction of horses. It is commonly believed among historians that the first horses came through this area during the Dominquez-Escalante expedition of 1776. Consequently the Wolfe ranch Petroglyphs must date from sometime in the 1800’s.
The Courthouse Wash rock art is much older than the rock art found in the Wolfe Ranch area and in fact, consists of both Petroglyphs and pictographs. This large panel (about 19’x52’) contains numerous figures including human forms, bighorn sheep, shields, what is believed to be dogs, a long beaked bird and various other abstract elements.
This particular panel has been categorized into a group known as Barrier Canyon style rock art. This rock art which is the oldest form of pictographs in the Colorado Plateau is believed to be associated with the period of the Anasazi Indians and estimate to have been created over 1,500 years ago.
. Cactus are a popular version of this type of plant and the dessert floor in Arches is home to nine varities of cactus. Most popular among these are:
Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia Engelmannii) - These cactus that resemble ping pong paddles with red balls attached and are rather abundant in the park. This cactus bears bright yellow cup shaped flowers and red fruit. This fruit is very common in the western states and is used to make syrups, candies and desserts. This plant has also been widely used for medicinal purposes. These plants were commonly used by the first settlers as living fences.
Claret Cup Cactus (Echinocereus Triglochidiatus) - Another variety of cactus that is popular in the park. This very photographic plant, with it’s contrasting colors and textures has beautiful red cup shaped flowers, giving the plant it’s name. Claret cups are a species of Hedgehog cactus, and like all hedgehog cactus have short bodies covered with straight spines. These plants bloom April to June and are pollinated by humming birds. If you are fortunate enough to find one of these plants in bloom you will have a great photo opportunity.
It was common for the Paiutes to collect these stems, burn off the spines, mash them and add sugar, then bake them to form small cakes.
Beavertail Cactus (Opuntia Basilaris) In the same family as the Prickly pear Cactus , these plants have a larger paddle than the Prickly Pear and are shaped similarly to a beavers tail, hence the name. This cactus has a brilliant red to lavender flower with a cup shape. These flowers are typically in bloom from March to June. The fruit that grows on this plant is a brownish-gray oval fruit and while they are edible they have a large amount of seeds. Both the fruit and the pads of the Beavertail were eaten by Native Americans.
Beehive Cactus (Coryphantha Macromeris) This small round cactus grow in short clusters that cling close to the ground in rocky areas. These plants are typically found near Juniper and Ponderosa Pines. The flowers of this cactus are light pink with a large number of petals and a yellow center. The fruit has traditionally not been eaten but the Native Americans refered to it as “Coyote-paws”.