National Geographic : 1947 Aug
Utah's Arches of Stone BY JACK BREED " EYOND those mountains," said Harry Goulding one evening as we watched the sunset from the porch of his Monument Valley trading post, "is a natural arch as long as a football field!" Harry was looking north toward the Blue (Abajo) Mountains in southeastern Utah. Beyond this range we could clearly see, 100 miles from us, the La Sal or "Salt" Mountains, which served as a towering landmark for Arches National Monument of Utah, to which Harry was referring. An arch that almost equals a football field in length was worth investigating! The next morning I climbed into the station wagon and headed up the rough, dusty trail that leads from Monument Valley* over the San Juan River at Mexican Hat, past the Goosenecks turn-off,t to the Utah towns of Bluff, Blanding, and finally Monticello, at the very base of the Blues (map, page 175). From Monticello the snow-capped 13,089 foot peak of Mount Peale in the La Sals, 40 miles ahead, beckoned us to continue along US Highway 160, which boasts a paved surface for most of the journey. We wound through a narrow gorge below the peaks and finally burst forth into a broad valley, paralleled on either side by brilliant red cliffs, that leads to the Mormon town of Moab, Utah. Center of a Scenic Wonderland Moab, with a population of about a thou sand, is the county seat for Grand County and the center of an extensive sheep- and cattle-grazing area for a little-known sector of eastern Utah. The valley in which the town is located was first settled in 1855. Con tinuous trouble with the neighboring Piute and Navajo Indians, however, prevented any permanent settlement for nearly 25 years, when in 1879 the town itself was established. Moab has never grown large. Many of its people are descended from the original settlers of the region. Most travelers pass right through Moab and remember the place as a verdant farming community sleeping amid a setting of brilliant red cliffs. However, the speeding traveler is really missing some of the most spectacular scenery in the United States. Behind the ruddy abutments of Moab Val ley lies a veritable galaxy of natural wonders -delicate arches, giant natural bridges, and the deep canyons of the Green and Colorado Rivers, climaxed by the startling vistas from Dead Horse and Grand View Points. Nestled against the slopes of the La Sal Mountains are lovely lake and aspen glades to tempt fisherman and hunter, lonely Castle Valley, and awe-inspiring Fisher Towers, which dwarf modern skyscrapers. The most readily accessible attraction is the maze of sand-blasted formations included in Arches National Monument, which lies just a few miles north and west of the town.$ Wagons Lowered by Rope to Valley With Custodian Russell L. Mahan of the National Park Service as guide, I set out toward the Windows section early one morning to study and photograph its geologic wonders (Plates III, X, XII, XIII, and XVI). We sped northwest on the paved highway up the steep incline of Moab Canyon, following the route of the old Mormon dugway (Plate XIV). "Over here," said Russell, "you can see where some early settlers lowered their wagons over the rock. They had to dismantle them and let them down piece by piece through these clefts." Paralleling the road in many places are unusually regular steps cut into the rocks, and on close examination we could still find the marks worn by the old wagon wheels. Near the top of the dugway, where the highway bursts out of the red-rock canyon into the open prairie, we passed the original jumping-off place, a perpendicular ledge which offered Mormon settlers their first real obstacle in reaching the fertile valley beyond. A few miles along on the prairie we turned off to the right on an unobtrusive dirt road that leads to the Windows section of the Arches, nine driving miles away. In the fall of 1936, Harry Goulding of Monument Valley, in his specially equipped car, managed to traverse the rugged sand and rock of the Arches region and thus became the first person to drive a car right into the Arches. Soon afterward a bulldozer followed Harry's tracks and made a passable trail. Little improvement was done on this rough road to the Windows section until recently. Mahan, aided by members of the Highway Department, has done much to make the way * See "Flaming Cliffs of Monument Valley," by Lt. Jack Breed, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, Octo ber, 1945. t See "Desert River Through Navajo Land," by Alfred M. Bailey, in this issue of the NATIONAL GEO GRAPHIC MAGAZINE. $ See "Utah, Carved by Winds and Waters," by Leo A. Borah, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, May, 1936.