In the vast deserts of the Southwestern states, a scattered treasure stands; lonely, mysterious, hard to find, and priceless. These are the great natural arches and bridges of the Four Corners region, marvels of nature that occur nowhere else in the world in such size and number.

But even here, like any treasure, they are rare. One could wander the desert plains and canyons for many a month and never chance upon one. They are there though, but only if you know where to find them, and have the time and the will to track them down.

Geologically, they are useless. You can't mine them, farm them, or live in them. But to anyone with poetry in his soul, with a heart instead of a stone, these are stones with a heart. They are the jewels of the desert precious, strange, and even a little bit dangerous.

As they stand with their ancient, golden faces to the sun, you sense that these are majestic survivors. This is not a logical formation of nature, not something that should sensibly even be there. They are oddities, aberrations, the willful side of Mother Nature, resolutely defying gravity and weather, at least for as long as they can.

They are so valuable because they are beautiful, far more so than just the rock they spring from. And what character they have some wide, some tall, some delicate, some massive, some graceful, some bizarre. Some really look like arches or bridges, but others are more like windows, potholes, jughandles, or colonnades. There are double arches, triple arches, broken arches, holes-in-arches, and yes, even fallen arches.

Some are protected in national parks and monuments; protected, one hopes forever, from commercial encroachment. A handful can be seen by any tourist, right from the road, but the full impact of their often incredible size can never be felt unless you walk right beneath them. However, the great majority are just out there, far away in the desert, standing alone on the rocky plains, or on the mesas, the buttes, the cliff sides, the canyon floors.

A few can be reached by an easy stroll or a pleasant hike. More often it's a strenuous bushwhack, a grueling climb, a slosh down a muddy stream, hours of four-wheel-driving, or days of backpacking. Or all combined. And bad directions much too often result in a goose chase.

But after a long, difficult trek to a major span, when you are finally standing in its cool shadow and are rewarded with the sight of a great strip of stone silhouetted against the sunset sky, you know it was all worth it. And you can hardly wait to go exploring and find your next great arch.

Ring Arch 
Canyonlands National Park, Utah

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