Like a childís playground grown huge, Arches National Park is a landscape of smooth and rounded sandstone eroded into pillars, arches, hoodoos, and myriad other forms -- a landscape that invites spontaneous exploration. Though its prominent arches and fins of pink and orange sandstone have been shaped by wind and water erosion, the reason for their existence actually lies far underground. Hundreds of millions of years ago deep layers of salt were deposited here by the evaporation of an ancient sea. Covered by thick layers of sand and sediment that were eventually compressed into rock, the salt buckled and shifted, causing the overlying rocks to heave into domes or settle into cavities. Erosion widened the resulting surface cracks into wide crevices separating free-standing fins, some of which have now been whittled into narrow arches by wind and water.
Sparse pinyon-juniper woodland covers much of the parkís 73,379 acres now, often growing amid carpets of black cryptobiotic crust, a melange of bacteria, algae, fungi, and lichens that conserves moisture and hinders soil erosion. Its presence and fragility is the prime reason for the park managementís insistence that visitors remain on existing roads and trails. Trails allow visitors to approach many of the several thousand known arches. The starkness of the landscape is often enlivened by the sight of Common Ravens, Pinyon Jays, Mountain Bluebirds, and other birds, more rarely by a distant view of Desert Bighorn Sheep, Mule Deer, or Kit Foxes.
Camping is allowed year-round at a developed campground, though water is not available there in winter. A permit is required for backcountry hiking and camping. Winter nights are quite cold at the parkís more than 4,000-foot elevation, while summer temperatures can reach 110 degrees F.
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