Arches National Park a Memoir

one arch, another arch, and the contrast of red and blue that only Utah can afford

Photograph by Gautam Dogra


I am dying. At least the version of me you stand within today.

The nature of my livelihood, to supply the world a moment in time that all of Earth’s mountains would have or one day will achieve, is coming to an end. Not during your lifetime, or that of your children, no. But in the grand cathedral of the universe I am but a single note in one hymn of a service. Though I took millions of years to create, and though few of the rangers or tourists who explore my boundaries ever see any of my rocks fall, let alone my arches collapse, I am but a blink of the galaxy’s eye away from extinction.

I am Arches National Park. And I pray you take the time to visit, for I can’t say with any great certainty for how much longer I’ll be excepting company.

At some point, my 2000 or so natural sandstone arches will, one after the other, topple. They are weak, as solid as stone may seem to humanity, which is the very reason they exist. Blowing wind and driving rain has eroded the softer sediments from the bottom, leaving the more stalwart portions to open like the eye of a needle for anyone willing to make the desert venture to see me. I am the desert, they are my children. Together, we are beautiful beyond explanation.

Photographs do not do me justice. No human, and certainly no machine, can capture exactly what I’m about. It’s an experience, perhaps described as holy or sacred, that must be felt.

Scientifically speaking, I am a culmination of salt and sand, flora and fauna, the result of wind, rain and ethereal time eternal. I can transform my climate from 100°F to freezing all in one summer’s day. I have little need for science though, at my age I am more concerned with the metaphysical, the next life. You dream of a heaven, I know only reincarnation. I am destined for piles of rubble soon wiped down to a barren plane. One day my mountains may rise again, but even as a direct part of Mother Earth, I can’t see the future. Where you live and die in less than a century, I must watch the spinning of the sun in slow motion, ever aware of my end, my past, and curious as to what inventions the universe will bestow upon my future.

The people you now refer to as Native Americans were not the first I encountered. While I was not present for the slow transition that you took from amoeba to homo sapien, I have known your kind for millenia. The Fremont people, the Ancient Puebloans, they were my first human inhabitants. You would barely know it for the little they left behind, a few scratches to my surface, from times when people came from the sky or their imaginations to inspire mighty tales of gods and heroes rising in their wake. Only after them came the Indians, the Ute, the Paiute, and we lived harmoniously together. They zig-zagged my countryside, what you might consider a simple life, we thrived together within.

Then came the Spanish, missionaries bent on exerting their god on the Indians. Hearts and minds were changed through sickness, kindness, love and war alike. But the missionaries could not survive my harsh winters and absolutely harsh summer. They disappeared, and fear and disease removed the Ute and Paiute almost completely. Then came the Mormons, and though hardworking and relatively harmonious with my own nature, they were a sort of beacon to the rest of your nation to bring along a decimation to these native people that could only be described as cowardice in the name of fear and greed.

But even the Indians, the Fremonts, are not the true indigenous beings in this land. Cougars, rams, rattlesnakes and moths lived here, and did so more easily, long before any prehistoric people arrived. Fabulous creatures of makes and models now unknown to this planet crawled along my walls, dinosaurs shook the grounds between my elevation. Junipers and pinyons, cacti and blackbrush felt even more at home, and if I’m honest, are among all of nature’s creations to which I felt closest. Like my own rocky formations, they are stationary, though in a single generation they can move many miles, a feat that takes me decades without the aid of human mechanics.

And before them all, it was just me. And before long, in grand terms, it will be just me again.

one arch after another
Photograph by Tobias
towering pillars of sandstone lay wake the landscape of a childrens novel
A city of stone. Photograph by Nathan.
a thin, long crust of orange sandstone mountain
Fins, as this type of geological feature is known, are the first step in the evolution of an arch. Photograph by Weaselmouth
a towering mountain of crimson sandstone with slits from erosion that resemble a futuristic city
Perhaps the inspiration for many a Star Wars architecture. Photograph by Nathan.
bright green tamarisk branches and a sandstone arch
Tamarisk, though invasive, sure contrast beautifully against the formations of Arches National Park. Photograph by Nathan.
snow capped mountains rise high in the background, a juniper/pinyon desert landscape afore
The La Sal Mountains, snow capped and ever-present on the horizon, contrast the juniper/pinyon desert of Arches National Park. Photograph by Nathan.
a juniper snag, dead, and the orange beauty of arches national park
A dead tree and the ever-eroding arches. Photograph by Nathan.
sandstone arches and a million stars at night
Double Arch and the Milky Way in Arches National Park. Photograph by John Fowler