Five Things You Should Know Before Visiting Arches National Park

You heard me say how much I like the American Southwest for its vast and simplistic beauty. Well, Arches National Park in Utah is yet ano...

You heard me say how much I like the American Southwest for its vast and simplistic beauty. Well, Arches National Park in Utah is yet another place in that region that had been sitting in my bucket list for quite some time before I had a chance to visit it this past winter. Though not entirely unique as there are other places on Earth that feature natural sandstone arches, the park holds the largest concentration of them - more than 2,000. Scroll down to check them out and learn five things about these natural marvels before visiting Arches National Park yourself.
1. What is a natural sandstone arch?
The Colorado Plateau that spans across four different states - Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah - used to be covered with sea water. 
Eventually, the water evaporated, and underground salt, compressed into a soft bedrock, eroded by wind, ice and high temperatures into what is now known as arches, spires, mesas and other weathered features of different colours and shapes that draw millions of people per year into the American Southwest. 
This process continues to these days carving new arches from a soft bedrock and let the old ones collapse.
The most famous arches include Landscape Arch, the longest natural arch in the world spanning 306 ft / 93 m from base to base.
The most photogenic and iconic arch is Delicate Arch. It's heavily used in promotional materials about the American Southwest and is even featured on the Utah's license plate. 
Double Arch is my favourite one. A short trail takes you inside its huge dome, so you really feel like you are in a cathedral. 

Most arches are red or orange in colour due to a high concentration of iron in rock.

2. Arches National Park experiences cold and snowy winters.  
Winter is winter, even in Utah, so I was expecting cooler days and subzero temperatures at night, but what I completely didn't expect to see was lots of snow.
Apparently, even a desert in Utah gets a fair amount of snow in winter thanks to its elevation and proximity to mountains.

3. The park gets crowded year around.
As more and more tourists from all over the world flock into the Unites States in order to see its natural attractions, especially in the Southwest, it's no wonder that Arches National Park gets crowded even in the winter. And that's considering the fact that the park does not get into the top 10 most popular national parks in the US!
However the heavy crowds tend to stick close to their cars, so if you're willing to stretch your legs on moderate to long distance hikes, you'll almost guaranteed to enjoy a solitude.
Alternatively, getting up early in the morning or picking weekdays low and shoulder seasons gets you more room for yourself and your travel companions.
This especially holds true for popular places like Delicate Arch.

4. Fiery Furnace is the best kept secret.
Fiery Furnace is a very special place, and I'm very thankful that National Park Service has kept it out of reach from most selfie-seekers and other less caring folks.
It's only about 1 mile by 1 mile in square, and you can see it from the parking lot, but the place really unfolds only for those who take time and courage to enter it.
So what's so special about Fiery Furnace? Besides its unique flora and beautiful spires and arches, Fiery Furnace is a maze with no marked trail in it, so you have to find your own way out.
Each visitor has to buy a separate permit and the number is visitors is strictly enforced. There is a mandatory orientation session that includes a movie about Fiery Furnace and a Q&A session with a park's ranger. I learnt a lot from that session and it was so much fun!
There are two main rules that one has to obey: 1. You can only walk in washes and on open rocks. 2. You cannot join other groups of people, so if you meet one, you have to wait until it's out of sight to proceed.
To make it a bit simpler, the park created "a route" (not "the route") which is in fact marked with 20 small arrows that blend with surrounding red rocks and snow. See if you can spot one on the picture below.
We tried to follow the arrows and got lost three times. The last time it was a bit scary as we were getting tired and running out of food.
Some washes lead to dead ends, normally with attractions like this beautiful double arch.
Although Fiery Furnace is an overwhelming experience, it's not for novice hikers as you have to be able to climb some rocks and squeeze into small wall cracks. But most importantly: don't rush and take your time to enjoy silence and scale of this place.

5. There is more in the park besides natural arches.
Natural sandstone arches may seem like a main attraction (and it in fact is), however there is more to them. Park Avenue, for instance, features beautiful spires and walls.
Balanced Rock reminds you that nothing is eternal, and eventually its hard caprock will fall down from the mudstone pedestal under the forces of erosion.
Petrified dunes may seem like yet another rock, but it developed under circumstances different from the rest of the Colorado Plateau: it wasn't an underground seabed, but real sand cemented by layers of sediment on top of it.

When to go
Park is open year around, 24/7. Winter brings some snow which adds yet another colour to the park's beautiful palette of red, orange, yellow, and brown.

Directions
To access the park's entrance from Moab, UT, drive north on US 191 for five miles / 8 km. From Interstate 70 (Crescent Junction), drive south on US 191 for 22 miles / 35 km.

Additional Information
For additional information visit Great Sand Dunes National Park's official website.

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