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Time, erosion, destroy Wall Arch in Arches National Park
The most recent crumbling arch Wall Arch in Arches National Park which, according to the Associated Press, died of natural causes on August fourth or fifth, 2008. 

Time, erosion, destroy Wall Arch in Arches National Park

By Tom Boyd

August 11, 2008 —  On the human time scale an arch seems near immortal, but they are far from it, and once in a long while humanity will observe the passing of one of Utah’s thousands of sublime archways. The most recent was the loss of Wall Arch in Arches National Park which, according to the Associated Press, died of natural causes on August fourth or fifth, 2008.

No one knows the exact moment when the stresses of wind and rain, sand against sand, finally became too much for the multi-ton slabs of rock which held one another up at one of the Park’s most well-photographed monuments, because no one was there to see it. The falling boulders smashed onto the trail below, releasing a small tremor and audible boom unfelt and unheard by humans, though it likely sent a few desert pocket mice bolting toward their holes in a hurry.

The seismic waves certainly didn’t reach as far as Vail, Colorado, but the emotional shockwave of discovering this news certainly rippled through me, as I think it would for any of us who make the annual (or multi-annual) pilgrimage to the red desert across the Utah border.

On the other hand, I’m not sure exactly why I felt a stirring of grief at hearing about the loss of what, on logical examination, ends up being the inevitable re-arrangement of sedimentary particles, nothing more than a rockslide. Surely the surly Edward Abbey, who guarded the park’s dirt-road entrance in the 1950s wile writing his epic “Desert Solitaire,” would scorn my anthropomorphizing of nature’s wonders, if that is indeed what I’m doing. And no doubt an old college acquaintance named Seth would be deeply puzzled at my sense of loss; Seth being the man who, when we arrived at Delicate Arch after a short hike, pronounced the memorable utterance: “You mean we walked all the way up here to see this thing when there are rocks we can DRIVE to???”

On the remainder of that particular trip, Seth and his pals opted for the bowling alley while I took another group on a class I kayak trip on the nearby Colorado river (I ended up half-naked and stranded in the middle of the highway, kayak paddle in hand, accidentally mooning a truck that ended up belonging to a weed smuggler – but that’s a story for another time). Anyway, as Seth made clear, the Arches aren’t for everyone, nor is the desert. In the frying-pan heat of summertime, or the bitter chill of winter, the landscape is cruel and labyrinthine, lacking even the most fundamental of human needs. Yet one of my most memorable trips of all time was walking through an empty Arches covered in inches of blank, white snow, with a childhood friend named Ingrid, our noses white with near frostbite, exploring miles of sandstone passageways so narrow we were forced to walk in single file. Even in springtime the weather can be harsh, the wind so powerful as to blow tents like tumbleweeds toward the horizon or, as another friend learned the hard way, over 1,000-foot drops into near-inaccessible box canyons.

I would love to have time to scroll through my memories of time spent near, in, and around Arches, to conjure up the images from a teenage trip when rain fell in sheets, filling mountain pools and creating canyons full of waterfalls so steep, so surreal, that we walked soaking through the night simply to witness the Shangri-La formed when the rare, big rain comes through Moab. Or maybe I could relive memories from the many trips through Westwater and the carnage of Skull Rapid, or downstream trips to Spanish Bottom, Cateract, and finally to Lake Powell.

But there isn’t room here, and there likely isn’t room in a lifetime to give proper storytelling justice to all the many memories that almost anyone who lives out West is likely to have from voyages out to that mystical, maybe even sacred part of the American landscape. There just isn’t time.

And time, now that I think about it, is probably why I felt a surge of loss at the crumbling of another arch, the first since a chunk of Landscape Arch fell away in 1991. It’s not because I’ll miss Wall Arch, to which I can tie no firm memory, or because I’ll never get to see it – because I’m pretty sure I have. It’s not even for its rarity, because thousands of other arches fill the canyonlands beyond number and many more are undergoing their epoch-long creation as we speak.

As Abbey put it once: “Men come and go, cities rise and fall, whole civilizations appear and disappear. The Earth remains, slightly modified.” Thinking of that, I come to the conclusion that the shudder which ran through me on hearing Wall Arch's fate was purely egocentric, animalistic, a primal recognition that the big, dark, second hand on nature’s geologic clock had somehow taken a significant tick forward, a big, booming tick which emanated silently outward from the epicenter of that falling archway, cold and indefatigable, sending me and all my desert memories one seismic step closer to dust.



Comment on article  6 Comments on "Time, erosion, destroy Wall Arch in Arches National Park"


Terry — August 11, 2008

A sad thing to hear about but a great article. Just a note to clear up confusion that Delicate Arch is alive & well as we just visited it last month on our family vacation. It was Landscape Arch that lost a 6' undersection back in 1991. It still stands but is much thinner. Fascinating park, Arches.
Thank you,


Tom Boyd — August 11, 2008

Thanks Terry, I've made the correction above (my mind sometimes suffers from severe erosion).


Bob Diaz — August 11, 2008

I too was at Arches last month, great place to view the world as it was. Thank you National park Service. Made my first trek to Delicate Arch this trip, well worth the hike. This may be the last arch to fall in my lifetime which is such a short tick in the clock of time.


Lucy St. James — August 11, 2008

Visited Arches on my birthday back in April; a magical place. It's all a part of nature's way, but sad as losing anyone/thing is sad.


Jack, aka Stargeezer — August 11, 2008

Thanks Tom for the blog entry.

I happened upon it seeking more info about the fallen Wall Arch.

As an old man (stargeezer) my arches have fallen completely.

I enjoy your writing style. Clearly, you've read a little Abbey in your life. Ed (that cranky old surly seer) is my favorite author! Ed loved to mess about with words, as do I.

Ed would likely be saddened by the fallen arch, but would be gratified by its occurrence just the same. As usual, Ed was right: "Leave it alone!"

As a lifelong flatlander, an Iowan, but whose soul resides in the "west", it is difficult for me to stay put here in the realm of phony food--GMO'd corn and beans and factory farmed hogs--but I cannot in all conscience put two more footprints in what I call Abbeyland, the sacred great Colorado Plateau and surrounding region. My last visit was in 1991 and will likely be my last visit ever. I simply can no longer tolerate the damage we pesky humans create with our Earth-Eater ways!

At least I do little to no damage here in Iowa, where only 1/10th of one percent of real Nature survives (native prairie).

Iowa is what happens when people do not fight to protect land...Iowa is what happens when humans invade and eat Earth for profit and greed. Iowa is what happens...well, that's enough Jack in the Pulpit for now...

As a lifelong amateur astronomer who's now going blind, I fight for dark skies and starlight. You may read more if you wish...

Thanks again for your most enjoyable blog entry about my beloved Abbeyland and...

Sunny Days and Milky Way Nights.

Jack T.
aka Stargeezer


Ingrid — August 19, 2008

Great article Tommy!
I too remember our snow covered exploration of Arches and the utter silence that existed. The wall arch collaspe was I am sure as you say, seismic. Thanks for bringing back memories.



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