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Fine Art at Arches National Park
I include Arches National Park in my list of Top Ten National Parks for Photography as it is among the best locations for landscape photography. As you look at the prints in my Arches National Park Landscape gallery, you will see the role light and sky play in capturing the beauty of this rugged landscape.
The sunrise picture taken at Balanced Rock captures the sunburst rays as the sun begins to rise above the sandstone formation. Mother Nature has created a rugged and dramatic landscape at Arches National Park with rock walls, balanced rocks, petrified dunes, and, last but not least, impressive arches.
I have shared in my article Best Arches and Canyonlands National Parks Photography Locations more in-depth information about sites where you can take the best pictures of Arches but I have to mention here the importance of the skies when photographing landscape scenes.
Blue skies can create a magnificent backdrop for the often photographed Double Arch but the light from nighttime starry skies at Double Arch creates an equally dramatic photo. There are other iconic landscape pictures in Arches National Park such as Balanced Rock and Courthouse Tower.
The best Arches National Park photographs are ones that connect with you on an emotional level. Once again you will be mesmerized by the contrast of the Utah red rock sandstone formations rising towards the skies as well as the variety of skies ranging from clear blue to monsoon season lightning storms with storm clouds sweeping across the horizon and rainbows reaching up to the heavens.
My fine art Arches National Park landscape photographs truly capture the colors, texture, and shadows of Arches National Park with its dramatic scenery—looking at them will make your heart soar.
Visiting and Photographing Arches National Park
Arches National Park is part of what I, and others, refer to as Red Rock Country. You can clearly see from satellite photos the reddish colors in Arizona and Utah. The Park is one of the highlights of the area, as are Monument Valley and Sedona, Arizona. Right next door is Canyonlands National Park.
I freely admit to not having studied the geology of the rock formations and arches as to how and when they were created. I will leave it to those that are experts in providing that information. What I do know, is that I find them all fascinating and a fun challenge to photograph.
Arches National Park is just outside Moab, Utah, which is a wonderful size town. They do have everything you need, including the very nice Moab Regional Hospital that I spent some time in due to some nasty virus I got from somewhere. It’s nice to have a great medical staff nearby.
Despite having been there a few times, I continue to find it a difficult place to photograph. To pick up the warm, red light of the sun on the rock formations, you have a short window of time right after sunrise and just before sunset. It’s maybe as little as 15 minutes. After that, the rock begins to wash out and lose color.
If you have some heavy clouds, maybe during the summer monsoon season, you could have more time during the day to shoot. There is pretty good cell service around Balanced Rock to be able to check the radar and see which way the storms are moving.
As you enter the Park, you come first to the La Sal Mountains Viewpoint, followed by Park Avenue and Courthouse Towers, The Organ, the Three Gossips, Sheep Rock, and the Tower of Babel. These are all fairly close together, so with some advance planning, you could be able to shoot several in good light.
Balanced Rock comes up next. Strangely enough, the view from the parking lot shows the formation with the rock on top looking its most precarious. From other angles, it can just look like a big ball on a rock, without looking like it's going to fall. This can be one of the best locations for night photography with the Milky Way.
After Balanced Rock, a short drive down Windows Road will take you to one of the most popular areas of the Park. Double Arch, North Window, South Window, and Turret Arch are all accessed from the same parking lot. This is where you see the iconic image of Turret Arch looking through the North Window. It can be, however, a challenging and possibly dangerous climb onto the rocks to get this photograph.
The main road heads north and there is a turn-off to Delicate Arch Road. The trail up to the arch is 3 miles roundtrip with a 480-foot elevation gain. Even starting late in the day for the iconic sunset shot of the arch, it is a difficult hike. It can be pretty crowded, but there are plenty of spots to set up to shoot from.
Further up the road are Slat Valley Overlook, Fiery Furnace, Sand Dune Arch, and Broken Arch. They are somewhat well separated, so getting to them all in good light would be a challenge. Just before the end of the road is the trail to Skyline Arch, an unusual arch at the top of a rock ridge.
At the very end of the road, in an area known as Devils Garden, there are trails to Tunnel Arch, Pine Tree Arch, Landscape Arch, Partition Arch, and Navajo Arch. Landscape Arch is so long and thin, that I worry that it will collapse. It makes for a great panoramic photograph. A hike out in the pre-dawn dark is the best way to capture it in good light.
I have a long way to go to photograph all of the arches in good morning or afternoon light. I need to go back and spend some more time there. Hopefully, you will have the chance to visit this incredible National Park.
Fun Facts About Arches National Park
Arches National Park is one of 63 National Parks in the United States and was established as a national monument in 1929 and as a national park in 1971. It is located in Northeast Utah near the city of Moab and has an area of 120 square miles.
The park’s red sandstone formations have eroded into a variety of unusual shapes including pinnacles, windows, and arches—making it a photographer’s dream. Underneath the sandstone formations is a salt bed that was deposited 300 million years ago. Try to visualize this: the park used to be underwater. The weight of the sandstone rocks caused the salt bed to shift and buckle creating the environment where domes, cavities, and arches were formed.
These magnificent formations have provided the backdrop for many movies and events. Utah hosted the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. All modern Olympic games begin with a relay from the historic Olympic stadium in Greece to the modern stadium in the host country. The route of the 2002 Olympic torch procession from Greece to Salt Lake City went through Arches National Park, passing directly beneath Delicate Arch.
The rugged landscape of nearby Moab and the surrounding area has attracted filmmakers for years and Arches National Park has been the location for many film scenes – from westerns to action movies. In the 1989 movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, featuring Harrison Ford, Sean Connery, and River Phoenix, the area around the Double Arch is visible in the introductory scene. Several scenes in the classic cult movie, Thelma and Louise, were also filmed at Arches National Park.
How big is big? Balanced Rock, a famous and massive sandstone boulder perched atop the pedestal is estimated to weigh 3,577 tons. Let’s put that into perspective … that is the weight of an icebreaker ship or approximately 27 blue whales and it is “balanced” on the top of another rock. I suggest you stand back when looking at it.
The most famous arch of all? The answer is the Delicate Arch which is the most famous natural stone arch in the world and it is usually on a traveler’s must-see list. The iconic arch has become a symbol of the state of Utah. The light opening beneath the arch is 46 feet high and 32 feet wide.
You may be wondering… do the arches ever fall? The answer is Yes as these rock formations are temporary features on the landscape and are shaped and changed by wind and water. Given the effects of time, these arches will crumble away leaving a new landscape. As an example, on September 1, 1991, those individuals standing at Landscape Arch heard popping and cracking noises which were followed by an unexpected major rockfall.
Wall Arch fell during the night in 2008 but as it was nighttime, there were no witnesses. Today scientists monitor the rock formations to see how they change but there is nothing that can be done about the changes… as the dynamic geologic processes that formed this park continue to be active…. Which only adds to the beauty and mystery of the area.
What makes the red rocks so red? No, it is not from food coloring. The red color of the arches is due to iron oxide in the sandstone sediment.
In summary, Arches National Park is filled with rock walls, balanced rocks, petrified dunes, and impressive arches that will capture your imagination. Its beauty and unique landscape will leave a strong impression on your mind. If it is not on your bucket list of national parks to see then I hope you will consider adding it to your list.
For more Red Rock photography see our Galleries of Bryce Canyon, Red Rock Country, Zion National Park, Slot Canyons, and Deserts.