What: Arches National Park, Utah. It’s one of the most beautiful places on the planet.
How to Get There: Grab I-70 from either the east or the west, and then take US 191 south.
Best Kept Secret: Arches National Park itself. I’m embarrassed to admit I knew very little about it until this visit. This destination belongs on your list. It’s magnificent.
Avoid: Going into the park without water and suitable attire, especially if you plan to do any hiking (it gets mighty hot out there), walking off the designated trails (the soil’s crust consists of algae, cyanobacteria, lichens and fungi that reportedly take decades to recover after being crushed by our Buster Browns) and rolling into Moab without a hotel reservation.
More Info: Arches National Park
Red rock formations, landscapes that are the stuff of science fiction and an overall aura of breathtaking beauty best describe Arches National Park. Perhaps overlooked as a result of being less well-known and farther from the West Coast than the big name national parks (Zion, Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon), Arches is every bit as beautiful as its more popular big brothers.
Tucked away in Utah’s southeastern corner right on the Colorado River (and just minutes outside of Moab), you know you’re entering a special place as you approach this 120-square-mile patch of nature’s artistic endeavors. Stunning, visually arresting and dramatic are the appropriate adjectives. As you ride southeast on US 191, combinations of red, pink and light sandy-brown rock formations start to appear sporadically, and then become more frequent as you approach the magical mesas of Arches National Park. As you near the entrance just west of the Colorado River, you are suddenly surrounded by cliffs whose clarity is intensified by the contrast between their crimson walls and Utah’s bright blue skies. The ride in just gets better and better until there are 1,000-foot vertical red walls on either side of US 191. There’s only one way in to Arches National Park and it climbs sharply as soon as you pay the $15 motorcycle entrance fee. As of Oct. 1, 2015, the National Park Service raised the motorcycle entrance fee to $15 per bike, per person, so a rider and passenger will cost $30 to enter.
This national park is named for its arches, but there are many other formations of note. One of the most dramatic is Balanced Rock, so named because of the house-sized boulder perched precariously on a stone tower. It appears as if the Almighty himself plucked it up and delicately balanced it on an oversized golf tee. Dr. Suess-like geologic formations abound, with shapes ranging from poured molten plastic to giant file folders to, of course, the arches. The most stunning of these is Delicate Arch. Delicate Arch is not visible from the road and you have to make a demanding hike to see it, but it’s worth it.
Arches National Park was named a national monument in 1929, and then designated as a national park in 1971. The geology that created this jewel is even more complex than the intricacies of the U.S. government, and it took eons to create this masterpiece. Arches National Park sits on an underground salt bed thousands of feet deep, formed over 300 million years ago when an ancient sea evaporated. Sediments then swept over the area, compressing the salt bed and forcing buried rock formations to emerge. Throw in a couple hundred million years of erosion and the result is what you see today. Human habitation in this region goes back a scant 10,000 years. Pueblo Native Americans settled in the region about 700 years ago. They were followed by the Paiute and Ute tribes and then Spanish explorers in the 1700s. Mormons unsuccessfully attempted to make a home here in the mid-1800s. By that time, the word was out: The beauty of this area was unparalleled. The history is interesting, but the real story is the park’s incredible (and incredibly colorful) geology.
The only issue is where to stay. Nearby Moab, a tourist town just minutes to the south along US 191, was disappointing. If there’s a reasonably priced hotel or good restaurant in town, we didn’t find it. Your best bet is to stay in one of the hotels outside of town, but even those are pricey. MC