Arches National Park
PO Box 907
Moab, UT 84532
Welcome to Arches!
Arches National Park preserves over 2,000
natural sandstone arches, like the world-famous Delicate Arch, as
well as many other unusual rock formations. In some areas, the
forces of nature have exposed millions of years of geologic history.
The extraordinary features of the park create a landscape of
contrasting colors, landforms and textures that is unlike any other
in the world.
History & Culture
People have visited what is now Arches
National Park for thousands of years. Over time, many different
groups have moved in and out of the area in concert with the
availability of natural resources and the technology for exploiting
Rocks have attracted visitors to Arches
National Park for thousands of years. However, sightseeing has not
been the main activity for very long. Hunter-gatherers migrated into
the area about 10,000 years ago at the end of the Ice Age.
explored Courthouse Wash and other areas in what is now Arches, they
found pockets of chert and chalcedony, microcrystalline quartz
perfect for making stone tools. Chipping or knapping these rocks
into dart points, knives, and scrapers, they created debris piles
that are still visible to the trained eye.
Then, roughly two thousand years ago, the
nomadic hunters and gatherers began cultivating certain plants and
settled into the Four Corners region. These early agriculturalists,
known as the ancestral Puebloan and Fremont people, raised
domesticated maize, beans, and squash, and lived in villages like
those preserved at Mesa Verde National Park.
While no dwellings have been found in Arches,
the northern edge of ancestral Puebloan territory, there are rock
inscription panels. Like earlier people, the ancestral Puebloans
left lithic scatters, often overlooking waterholes where someone may
have shaped tools while watching for game. People living in
modern-day pueblos like Acoma, Cochiti, Santa Clara, Taos, and the
Hopi Mesas are descendants of the ancestral Puebloans.
The Fremont were contemporaries of the
ancestral Puebloans and lived in the same general area, so
distinctions between the two cultures are blurry.
rock inscriptions, pottery and other artifacts clearly demonstrate
the existence of different technologies and traditions. Both the
Fremont and the ancestral Puebloans left the region about 700 years
As the ancestral Puebloan and Fremont peoples
were leaving, nomadic Shoshonean peoples such as the Ute and Paiute
entered the area and were here to meet the first Europeans in 1776.
The petroglyph panel near Wolfe Ranch is believed to have some Ute
images since it shows people on horseback, and horses were adopted
by the Utes only after they were introduced by the Spanish.
The first Europeans to explore the Southwest
were Spaniards. As Spain�s New World empire expanded, they
searched for travel routes across the deserts to their California
missions. In fact, the Old Spanish Trail linking Santa Fe and Los
Angeles ran along the same route, past the park visitor center, that
the highway does today.
The first reliable date within Arches is an
interesting one. Denis Julien, a French-American trapper with a
habit of chiseling his name and the date onto rocks throughout the
Southwest, left an inscription in this area: Denis Julien, June 9,
1844. If we only knew what he thought of the wonders he saw!
The first European settlement of Southern Utah
arose from the colonizing efforts of the Mormon Church. The Mormons
attempted to establish the Elk Mountain Mission in what is now Moab
in June of 1855, but conflicts with the Utes caused them to abandon
the effort. In the 1880s and 1890s, Moab was settled permanently by
ranchers, prospectors, and farmers.
One settler even found a beautiful spot within
what is now Arches National Park. John Wesley Wolfe, a veteran of
the Civil War, built the homestead known as Wolfe Ranch around 1898,
seeking good fortune in the newly established State of Utah. It is
located on Salt Wash, at the beginning of the Delicate Arch
Wolfe and his family lived there a decade or
more, then moved back to Ohio. The cabin remains, an echo of what
must have been a remarkable experience.
One of the earliest settlers to describe the
beauty of the red rock country around Arches was Loren �Bish�
Taylor, who took over the Moab newspaper in 1911 when he was
eighteen years old. Bish editorialized for years about the marvels
of Moab, and loved exploring and describing the rock wonderland just
north of the frontier town.
Some of his journeys were with John �Doc�
Williams, Moab�s first doctor. As Doc rode his horse north to
ranches and other settlements, he often climbed out of Salt Valley
to the spot now called Doc Williams Point, stopped to let his horse
rest and looked back over the fabulously colored rock fins.
Word spread. Alexander Ringhoffer, a
prospector, wrote the Rio Grande Western Railroad in 1923 in an
effort to publicize the area and gain support for creating a
national park. Ringhoffer led railroad executives interested in
attracting more rail passengers into the formations; they were
impressed, and the campaign began.
The government sent research teams to
investigate and gather evidence. On April 12, 1929 President Herbert
Hoover signed the legislation creating Arches National Monument, to
protect the arches, spires, balanced rocks, and other sandstone
formations. On November 12, 1971 congress changed the status of
Arches to a National Park, recognizing over 10,000 years of cultural
history that flourished in this now famous landscape of sandstone
arches and canyons.
- Balanced Rock
- Devil's Garden Trailhead
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