A Different World:  Arches National Park

Arches National Park resides on land sacred to the Pueblo of Zuni (A:shiwi); Hopi Tribe; Southern Ute Indian Tribe; Ute Indian Tribe (Nuu-agha-tuvu-pu) (Uintah and Ouray); Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah; Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians; Las Vegas Paiute; Moapa Band of Paiute; Navajo Nation; Rosebud Sioux; and San Juan Southern Paiute Peoples.


What is now Arches National Park was a ceremonial area for the various tribes that farmed in the area. Moab is the major crossing of the Colorado River, so the area saw extensive travel and trade. The arches themselves were seen as portals in space and time for ceremonial purposes. The surrounding Sal Mountains were also considered dwelling places for spirits.

There does not seem to be evidence that there were settlements here, because no evidence of dwellings exists. But the area was sacred and valued by Pueblo tribes and they may have visited seasonally. Eventually, around the 1300s, The Pueblos left and the nomadic Utes came to the area. During the mid-1600s, these people carved images (petroglyphs) in wall panels at Wolfe Ranch (center area) that show figures on horseback (lower right in painting) and used pigments on the Courthouse Wash Panel (nearby in painting).


The first European settlement came from Mormons, who first came in 1855. Nearby Moab became a settlement in the 1880s. The area became known by various adventurers and in 1924 Dr. J.W. “Doc” Williams (upper left in painting) showed the scenery to Laurence Gould, a graduate student studying the geology of the region and the idea of a national monument was formed. The Park was designated a National Monument in 1929, and a National Park in 1971.

Arches is an area known for its delicate cryptobiotic crust, taking 1000s of years to create. Visitors who stray off the path are likely to destroy this feature of the Park. Other threats include development of oil and gas lease of lands, which would provide all types of pollution, the overuse by tourists, and the introduction of non-native species.


In 2017, the National Park Service completed an ethnological study of Arches National Park that will guide their management of the land. Various tribes were invited to participate and did so. According to the National Park Service, “Arches National Park contains features that many tribes find important and powerful. Standing spires are sentient beings who continue to provide help or resources to people. Tribes described views of the La Sal Mountains, dwelling place for spirits and sacred beings, as being very important to their traditional practice.” Hopefully, this will lead to more open park interpretation that provides information regarding Native understanding of the meaning of these lands. Visitors would be enriched by embracing the values of respecting and living integrally with nature.

A Different World, watercolor by Beth Shadur

A Different World, (detail)