2016 Arches National Park stamp
US #5080h – from the 2016 National Parks Centennial issue

Arches National Monument was established on April 12, 1929.  Made into a national park in 1971, it’s home to more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches.  That makes it the highest density of natural arches in the world.

The story of the park’s famous arches begins some 300 million years ago, when the area was covered in water.  Below the water, a salt bed built up.  After the sea evaporated, millions of years of debris built up on top of the salt bed, eroded and was blown over from a nearby uplift.  Eventually, the weight of all the rock on the surface caused the salt bed below to turn to liquid.  The liquid then pushed up layers of rock, turning them into salt domes.

1998 Spanish Settlement of the South stamp
US #3220 – Part of the Old Spanish Trail runs through Arches National Park.

As erosion wore away top layers of rock, water seeped into cracks, joints, and folds.  When temperatures dropped, ice formed, the rock expanded, and pieces broke off.  Wind and water then took their toll on these “fins,” causing several to collapse.  However, many survived, losing their middle section in the process, leaving the arches which remain today.  The effects that formed these arches continue to work today, so each one is only temporary and will someday crumble.

1947 Utah Centennial stamp
US #950 – Members of Brigham Young’s Mormon Church were the first to attempt a permanent settlement at Arches.

Some of the earliest visitors to the area now known as Arches National Park were hunter-gatherers, arriving about 10,000 years ago at the end of an Ice Age.  About 2,000 years ago, nomadic hunters, known as ancestral Puebloans, settled in the Four Corners area and may have lived seasonally near the arches.  As they began to leave the area about 700 years ago, they crossed paths with arriving Ute and Paiute, who then settled there.

1996 Utah Statehood stamp
US #3024 – Delicate Arch is pictured on this 1996 Utah statehood stamp.

The first Europeans to enter the area were the Spanish, around 1775.  They did interact with the Ute and Paiute, who likely helped them route parts of their Old Spanish Trail.  The first attempt at permanently settling the area came in June 1855.  A group of 41 Mormons built a fort to serve as the Elk Mountain Mission, trading with travelers and baptizing the natives.  However, conflicts with the Ute forced the missionaries to flee the area after just three months.  It would be over 20 years before the area was permanently settled by a mix of ranchers, prospectors, and farmers.

1996 Butte stamp
US #2902B – The park’s highest point is Elephant Butte at 5,653 feet.

Over the next few decades, the area around Arches continued to build up.  The town of Moab (of which the park is a part) was home to Loren “Bish” Taylor, one of the earliest proponents of establishing a national park there.  In 1911, at the age of 18, he took over the local newspaper and regularly published articles detailing the beauty and marvels of the nearby arches.

Over time, Taylor’s articles captured local attention, particularly prospector Alexander Ringhoffer.  In 1923, Ringhoffer convinced the Rio Grande Western Railroad that the area could be a tourist destination, which would mean more customers for their railroad.  With their support, the campaign for Arches National Park began.  Researchers visited the area to decide if it was worthy of park protection.

1977 Talking Pictures stamp
US #1727 – More than 40 movies have been filmed in the Arches area including Stagecoach, The Greatest Story Ever Told, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

With the researchers’ approval, Herbert Hoover established Arches National Monument on April 12, 1929.  The monument consisted of about 4,500 acres in two sections.  Though the area was protected, little was done to develop it until nine years later.  President Franklin Roosevelt signed a proclamation expanding the monument to include several more scenic features.  Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps established their camp in Arches in March 1940.  Though they were only there a few short years, they completed several large projects.  However, their work was quickly brought to a halt after the US entered World War II.  Their camp was one of the last in the nation closing in March 1942.

2014 Arches National Park quarter
Item #CNUTAP25D – Arches National Park Quarter from the Denver Mint

After the war, work resumed at Arches, particularly when Bates Wilson took over as custodian and superintendent in 1949.  He helped improve the park’s roads, campgrounds, and visitors center.  In 1969, Lyndon B. Johnson expanded the park dramatically.  And on November 12, 1971, President Richard Nixon established Arches as a national park.

Find out more about the park at its website.

FREE printable This Day in History album pages
Download a PDF of today’s article.
Get a binder or other supplies to create your This Day in History album.

Discover what else happened on This Day in History.

Did you like this article? Click here to rate:
5/5 - (19 votes)
Share this Article


  1. In the second line of the article, the correct contraction for “it is” is “it’s” NOT “its.” “Its” is the possessive form for “it.”

  2. I found this article to be very interesting and can certainly recognize how easily mistakes are made and forgiven.

  3. FDR died in Warm Springs GA 76 years ago today. Is that a subject that has already been treated in this column? If to, when?

  4. Well written article. The history is interestng and very informative but you failed to mention where the park is located.

  5. Whenever I receive a “This Day in History,” message, I repeat author Wallace Stegner’s comment: National Parks are the best idea America ever had,” This certainly applies to Arches National Park.

  6. I tend to look for information on the origins of natural formations in articles such as these, fascinating information on how the arches came to be.

  7. I apologize for being so picky about one little mistake in such a fine and interesting article. By the way, Arches National Park is one of the five national parks in Utah.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *