200 Million-Year-Old Arches Are Not Two-Bit

By Peter Rexford

June 5, 2014 5 min read

A few months ago, a disturbing video circulated. It showed an individual — a Boy Scout leader no less — toppling a 200 million-year-old, Jurassic-era rock formation in Utah's Goblin Valley State Park. Utah is remarkable for its abundance of natural formations found in its deserts. And while resilient and adaptive animals have long inhabited the area, leave it to humans at the top of the food chain to, for no reason, destroy something it took almost forever to create.

Just a few hours from Goblin Valley is an equally amazing natural wonder: Arches National Park. In its 76,000 acres, over 2,500 natural arches, bridges and "windows" have been carved by wind, rain and natural elements out of the sandstone. They, too, are estimated to be 200 million years old. Of course, present-day visitors aren't the first to discover these ancient wonders. Evidence of other visits date back many centuries.

Thanks to a new quarter being released by the U.S. Mint, future generations will become aware of these wonders as well. Better still, they may be lured to visit so they can see them firsthand.

Featured on the quarter released on June 6 is "Delicate Arch," one of the large and impressive formations visitors see. For most all of the arches, "delicate" is a fair word to use. Being crafted of soft sandstone, they would have succumbed long ago to the forces of nature in other climates with more severe weather. But the hot and dry climate of Utah has helped preserve the unique shapes over the millennia.

There is also evidence of humans who passed by over the centuries on some of the reddish rocks of humans. Ancient petroglyphs showing pictures of hunter/gatherers chasing their quarry can be found carved into the soft red rock. So, too, for the trained eye, are piles of chirt and microcrystalline quartz — the remnants of where those prehistoric hunters made tools, arrow points and knives.

The native Indians stopped regularly inhabiting the area beginning around 1300. But the Spanish, French-American fur trappers and other pioneers soon came. They also left reminders of their passing, including a prospector cabin that still stands near Salt Wash in the park.

Not surprisingly, the protection of having national park status hasn't saved the area from modern visitors who feel compelled to leave their own marks in the form of graffiti. In 1980, even some of the ancient, hand-colored petroglyphs were vandalized. Park personnel spend appreciable time each year trying to eradicate the modern etchings left by those who feel they, too, should be immortalized. Predictably, the contemporary graffiti shows no imagination and tells no story.

What's remarkable about the area is how hidden from view so many of the arches are. Granted, it's a large national park, but as recently as 1970, printed literature stated that the park contained "nearly 90 arches." Fast-forward to today and more than 2,500 are known. Amazingly, every now and then, a group of "arch hunters" will stumble across yet another arch tucked away from view.

It's also encouraging to think that maybe not this year or 10 years from now, but sometime in the future, people will be going through their change and see one of the Arches quarters. That, in turn, could compel them to travel there to see one of the world's wonders right here in the U.S.

The new Arches National Park quarters will be entering circulation shortly. The quarter — 23rd in the 56-coin, 12-year America The Beautiful series — can also be obtained directly from the Mint in rolls, bags or special sets. For more information or to purchase them, log on to the Mint's website: www.USMint.gov, or phone toll-free at: 1-800-USA-MINT (872-6468).

Editor's Note: A JPEG visual of the new Arches National Park quarter has been sent with this column.

To find out more about Peter Rexford and features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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