Arches Wildlife

Western Collared Lizard
Arches National Park
Photo Courtesy US NPS

Spadefoot Toad
Arches National Park
Photo Courtesy US NPS

Red Fox
Arches National Park
Photo Courtesy US NPS
Lee Kaiser, Photographer

Western Scrub Jay
Arches National Park
Photo Courtesy US NPS
Neal Herbert, Photographer

Arches National Park
Photo Courtesy and Copyright Kurt Repanshek, Photographer

The Organ
Arches National Park
Photo Courtesy and Copyright Kurt Repanshek, Photographer

Stairs to Window Arch
Arches National Park
Photo Courtesy and Copyright Kurt Repanshek, Photographer

As with its neighbor, Canyonlands National Park, Arches National Park conceals most of its wildlife from visitors. That said, lizards are easy to spot, as are mule deer in the cool times of the day. And if you spend a little time before breakfast, or after dinner, you just might see coyotes, porcupines, desert cottontails, black-tailed jackrabbits, and many songbirds.

Because of the high heat during the summer months, most of these animals will be most visible when humans are not typically out and about. Desert animals have a variety of adaptations to deal with the hot weather and aridity. A key adaptation is that most animals are nocturnal, being most active at night. Nocturnal animals in Arches include kangaroo rats, woodrats (also called packrats), and other small desert rodents, skunks, ringtails, foxes, bobcats, mountain lions, bats and owls.

Some desert animals are “diurnal”, or primarily active during the day. These include rock squirrels, antelope squirrels, chipmunks, lizards, snakes, hawks, and eagles.

Many animals have are only active in certain temperature ranges, and they alter their active times of day depending upon the season. During winter months, snakes and lizards are in an inactive state of “torpor,” or sluggishness or even dormancy. But they become active during the day during the late spring and early fall, and then become “crepuscular,” or active mainly during the nighttime hours, to avoid the daytime heat of summer.

Insects, too, alter their times of activity. Mosquitoes, as you no doubt know, may be out from dawn through dusk, depending on the temperatures. But they are not active after the sun goes down.

In spite of Arches’ rather inhospitable appearance, almost 50 species of mammals live in the park’s landscape. But the hot climate and lack of water favors small mammals. Because of their size, these animals are less able to migrate, but have an easier time finding shelter, and require less food and water to live. Rodents are numerous: there are eleven species of mice and rats.

Desert bighorn sheep are one of the larger mammal species to be seen. They are frequently spotted along Highway 191 south of the park visitor center, and call Arches home all year long. They roam the talus slopes and side canyons near the Colorado River, forage for plants, and negotiate the steep, rocky terrain with the greatest of ease.

While Arches may not be considered a prime bird watching hot spot, 273 species have been seen in the park, which includes seasonal, year-round residents, and migrants.

Much of this diversity is due to the riparian corridors like Courthouse Wash and the Colorado River (which forms the park’s southern boundary). Mornings along these corridors often are filled with birdsongs during spring and summer. You might spot blue grosbeaks, yellow-breasted chats, and spotted towhees. Listen carefully and you’ll hear the trill of the canyon wren echoing from the sandstone walls. Great blue herons hunt the shallows for fish, while Cooper’s hawks deftly maneuver through the tangle of trees beyond the riverbanks.

There is life in the desert, if you know where, and more importantly, when, to look for it.

For Wild About Utah and National Parks Traveler, I’m Kurt Repanshek.

Images: Courtesy US NPS
Images: Courtesy and Copyright Kurt Repanshek,
Text:     Kurt Repanshek/Patrick Cone,

Additional Reading:

National Park or National Monument?

National Park or National Monument: Sipapu Natural Bridge, Natural Bridges National Monument, Courtesy and Copyright Anna Bengston
Sipapu Natural Bridge
Natural Bridges National Monument
Courtesy & Copyright Anna Bengston

National Park or National Monument: Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Courtesy and Copyright Anna BengstonDelicate Arch
Arches National Park
Courtesy & Copyright Anna Bengston

Established in 1916 the National Park Service manages all properties included in the National Park System. This system includes over 400 areas that encompass more than 84 million acres of land. These areas can go by one of 31 different titles. Within this system, Utah boasts 1 national historic site, 2 national recreation areas, 7 national monuments, and 5 national parks. While the reason for some of these titles is self-explanatory, the reason for others is less clear. National Park or National Monument?

For example, what makes one area a “national park” and another a “national monument?” Most people – including myself – would probably guess that the difference is in size. And while this is sometimes true, the primary difference is the reason for which each is established, because these two designations grew from historically separate concepts. The notion of the national park, which was simply the idea of large-scale natural preservation for public enjoyment, grew in popularity throughout the 1800s. As a result you can typically think of a national park as a spectacular scenic feature or natural phenomena preserved for inspirational, educational, and recreational value.

On the other hand, the idea of the national monument arose as a result of the need and desire to also protect prehistoric cliff dwellings, pueblo remains, and other historic ruins found by explorers of the American West and Southwest. Efforts to protect these sites resulted in the passing of the Antiquities Act of 1906. Therefore a national monument is usually designated to preserve objects of prehistoric, historic, cultural, and/or scientific interest. However, the Antiquities Act has been used more widely to preserve natural features as well, meaning the content of national monuments can be quite varied from wilderness areas to military sites to buildings and ruins.

There are also a couple of legal differences between these two designations. National parks are established through acts of Congress, whereas national monuments are established by Presidential proclamation. Administratively, the National Park Service manages all national parks. While national monuments, depending on their location and content, can fall under not only under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, but also that of the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Defense, or the Bureau of Land Management.

So, it’s not just size that makes the difference, its intent, content, process of establishment, and administration. The next time you visit one of Utah’s national parks or monuments, will you be able to tell the difference?

For Wild About Utah, I’m Anna Bengtson of Park City.

Arches National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park
Capitol Reef National Park
Canyonlands National Park
Zion National Park

Golden Spike National Historic Site
Cedar Breaks National Monument
Dinosaur National Monument
Grand Staircase National Monument
Hovenweep National Monument
Natural Bridges National Monument
Pipe Spring National Monument(Border Utah/Arizona)
Rainbow Bridge National Monument
Timpanogos Cave National Monument

Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Image: Courtesy and Copyright Anna Bengston
Text: Anna Bengston

Additional Reading:

Biggers, Ashley. “National Parks Versus National Monuments.” Outside Online. 22 Apr. 2014. Web. 8 June 2014.

McDonnell, Janet. The national parks: shaping the system. 3rd ed. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of the Interior, 2005. Web, 8 June 2014.

O’Connor, Mary. “Killing A Bill that Could Save National Parks.” Outside Online. N.p., 14 Apr. 2014. Web. 8 June 2014.

“Parks and Monuments.” Utah. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 June 2014.

Righter, Robert. “National Monuments to National Parks:
The Use of the Antiquities Act of 1906”, National Park Service History: National Monuments to National Parks. N.p., Aug. 1989. Web. 8 June 2014.

United States. National Park Service. “National Park Service History: National Park System Nomenclature.” National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior, n.d. Web. 8 June 2014.

United States. National Park Service. “Frequently Asked Questions.” National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior, 28 May 2014. Web. 8 June 2014.

Yard, Robert Sterling, and Isabelle F. Story. “Parks vs. Monuments.” The national parks portfolio. 6th ed. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1931. Web, 8 June 2014.