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Nature's Arches

Credit: Gautam Dogra
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gautamdogra/6777119421/
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

The rocks at Arches National Park in Utah seem almost too spectacular to be true. How in the world did such majestic formations come to be? Even if you’re not a geologist, you can begin to understand these amazing creations of nature if you think in terms of composite solids.

Amazing But True

At first glance, these sandstone arches might look like they were constructed out of thin air, but they are actually the eroded remnants of what were once completely solid formations that were thrust up from the rock beds. Millions of years ago, this Utah region was home to a sea that left behind thick salt beds that have since been buried by other rock. Over time, a series of geologic events transformed this unique Utah landscape and formed slender, solid “fins” of jutting rock. Water and erosion have caused these fins to dissolve and crumble from the bottom, leaving the arches we see today.

Credit: Chase Lindberg
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/chaselindberg/4425179942/
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Knowing the geologic history behind these formations helps us understand how these unique geometric shapes were created naturally. These natural composite solids are still changing shape today as erosion continues to remove inner chunks of rock from the originally solid “fins.” Currently, more than 2,000 arches still remain standing in the national park, but they will continue to crumble until they collapse completely.

See exactly how the Utah arches formed in this video:
http://www.nps.gov/arch/photosmultimedia/geologyvideo.htm

Explore More

With the following link, learn more about Wall Arch, one of the most recently fallen arches.

http://geology.utah.gov/surveynotes/geosights/wall_arch.htm

Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: Gautam Dogra; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gautamdogra/6777119421/; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: Chase Lindberg; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/chaselindberg/4425179942/; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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