More than 2,000 imposing natural stone arches punctuate this sandstone plateau, almost as if it were one gigantic pop-up book. These are natural formations, the result of cycles of freezing and thawing rain and snow that continually dissolve the "glue" that holds together the sand grains of the stone, chipping away at them bit by bit over time. And yet, knowing the scientific process doesn't detract from the marvel of it, a seemingly endless variety of shapes and delicate colors, as if some giant sculptor were deliberately trying to make each arch more fantastic than the one before.
It's a place to let your imagination go wild. Is Delicate Arch really so delicate, or would its other nicknames (Old Maids Bloomers or Cowboy Chaps) be more appropriate? And what about those tall spires? You might imagine they're castles, the towering masts of stone sailing ships, or the petrified skyscrapers of some ancient city. Be sure to pick up a map at the visitor center, because half the fun is matching up the formations with the fanciful names that have been given to them. On the 18-mile scenic drive from one end of the park to the other, you'll pass such features as Park Avenue, a solid rock "fin" that reminded somebody of the Manhattan skyline; the La Sal Mountains, which early explorers thought looked like piles of salt; Courthouse Towers, with such monoliths as Sheep Rock, The Organ, and The Three Gossips; and the Tower of Babel. A side road leads to The Windows, Turret Arch, and the Cove of Caves, where erosion is even now slowly making a new arch out of the largest cave. Detour onto Wolfe Ranch Road for a brief hike to see a 100-year-old ranch and some Ute pictographs.
Along the drive, stop to venture onto the various walking trails, many of them short and easy enough for even young children. A .3-mile walk lets you circle Balanced Rock, a 3,000-ton boulder perched on a slowly eroding pedestal; a .5-mile there-and-back trail leads past The Parade of Elephants to Double Arch; and another .3-mile walk goes to Sand Dune Arch, with an irresistible sandy hollow beneath that the kids can play in.
Nearest Airport: Grand Junction Regional, CO, 125 miles. Salt Lake City International, UT, 230 miles.
Where to Stay: $ Arch View Resort RV Camp Park, U.S. 191 & UT 313 (tel. 800/813-6622 or 435/259-7854; www.archviewresort.com). $$ Bowen Motel, 169 N. Main St. (tel. 800/874-5439 or 435/259-7132; www.bowenmotel.com).