When I’m looking for design inspiration, I turn to the landscapes of National Parks. I like to study these natural landscapes from both an ecological and geological point of view. These type of landscapes are rich with complexity, with numerous plant species, geological formations, and weather conditions to marvel over. With this endless amount of complexity, it’s no wonder we are unable to reproduce what nature creates. However, we can all appreciate their splendor.
One of the National Parks I visited this year that really inspired me with its geological history is Arches National Park.
One view of the vast landscape of Arches National Park and you can help feeling you’ve entered an ancient land full of history and stories. The grand red sedimentary rock formations feel like ruins of an ancient city that once ruled over the entire region. There are potholes that collect desert rainwater and sediment to form ephemeral pools full of life consisting of tadpoles, fairy shrimp, and insects.
A look into the geological history of the site reveals that was once covered with sea water over 300 million years ago. These inland seas refilled and evaporated several times throughout the ages, creating salt beds that were thousands of feet thick. Fresh water streams slowly buried these salt beds with a blanket of dense rock and sand carried from higher lands.
Since the salt layers were not as heavy as their surroundings, they rose up through the blanket of rock, forming domes and ridges across the land. Water would dissolve into the soft red sandstone, and cause the domes to collapse into a maze of vertical rock slabs called “fins”. Weathered sections of these fins would erode through, eventually creating the famous arches and rock sculptures seen today.
With more than 2,000 natural arches, Arches National Park is what I consider a 76,000 acre art piece – one where water, salt, wind, and millions of years worked together to eventually shape the landscape into these geological wonders. A place like this is a reminder that landscape design is not only about plants, but also about the geological history of any site’s past and the emotions evoked when one stands upon it today.