My first view of the desert near Moab, Utah, comes into focus as the rising sun darts across red rocks stacked in layers across the landscape. Light snow left a dusting of ice crystals on the face of the stone, glittering like a million tiny lights as the dawn sun briefly catches it. It’s the sort of sight that can actually take away your breath, a moment when the concept of magic blurs with reality.
The drama increases in nearby Arches National Park. The rock itself, though predominantly rust-red in color, also glints in shades of green, black, orange and even purple, depending upon the amount of iron contained within sections and the specific geologic forces that shaped its composition.
Formed naturally of sandstone, more than 2,000 rock arches and windows punctuate the park landscape. New ones are in the process of formation all the time, thanks to the erosive action of wind, rain, snowmelt and the cracking that occurs when water freezes in narrow clefts and fissures.
Beyond these iconic, evanescent bridges of stone arcing against the sky, the park also presents a humbling collection of towering pinnacles; domes; hollow, honeycombed tafoni formations; otherworldly rock hoodoos; and massive boulders suspended at the tops of narrow, soaring plinths, including the 3,500-plus-ton Balanced Rock. Given that the area encompassing the park likely took millions of years to form, the notion of seeing everything in one trip proves a daunting prospect &mdash