Southern Utah is home to the best national parks in Utah: Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon and Zion. The awe-inspiring beauty of these parks is related to the geological story preserved in their sedimentary rocks. Tectonic forces have uplifted the rock layers during the past six million years as the region’s rivers have eroded downward into the ancient rocks. Today, these strata are well-exposed due to the arid climate and sparse vegetation of the region.

All five parks are located on the physiographic region of North America that is known as the Colorado Plateau. Most of the rocks exposed on the Colorado Plateau were formed during the Mesozoic Era (about 65-245 million years ago), the same era in which dinosaurs roamed the Earth. These rocks are typically formed by the deposition of sediments in the bottom of ancient seas or lakes, river deltas and tidal flats, or in sandy deserts. The rocks of the Colorado Plateau are like a layer cake, with successive layers being deposited on top of one another. As we look at the cliffs in this region, the rocks on the bottom of the cliffs are older than the rocks on the top.

Some of the most spectacular scenery in Utah is found where the cliffs of Navajo Sandstone are exposed on the earth’s surface, particularly at Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Zion. The Navajo Sandstone is an example of what geologists call a “formation,” a rock layer which maintains the same characteristics over a wide area. The Navajo Sandstone was deposited during the Jurassic Period in a vast desert that is similar to today’s Sahara Desert of northern Africa.

The light color of the sandstone is due to its composition of almost pure quartz sand grains, with some red and brown coloration from oxidized iron minerals in the rock. The non-parallel layers in the rock are called cross-beds, which formed when the loose sand was formed into dunes by desert winds. The Wingate Sandstone, which is well-exposed at Capitol Reef and Zion, is older (Triassic Period) but formed in a similar way. Both the Navajo and Wingate Sandstones form spectacular cliffs at many places on the Colorado Plateau.

Arches National Park

Arches National Park is just north of Moab, Utah. During your Moab plane tours, you will be able to witness hundreds of stone arches formed from the weathering of the Entrada Sandstone, which directly overlies the Navajo Sandstone. The most well-known arches are Delicate Arch, Landscape Arch and the varied arches in the Windows region of the park.

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park is characterized by the deep canyons carved by the Colorado and Green Rivers and their tributaries. The Island in the Sky is a broad plateau surrounded by sheer sandstone cliffs of the Wingate and Navajo Sandstones.

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park is dominated by the Waterpocket Fold, known to geologists as a “monocline.” Along this hundred-mile-long fold are steeply tilted layers of sandstones and colorful red mudstones.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Geology and scenery of Bryce Canyon National Park are distinctly different from Utah’s other national parks. The park encompasses a huge amphitheater carved into the soft white and pink rocks of the Claron Formation, deposited in a freshwater lake during the Paleocene Epoch around 65-58 million years ago. The rocks weather into colorful towers and turrets known as “hoodoos.”

Zion National Park

Zion National Park owes its scenery to the erosional forces of the Virgin River, which carved through 2000 feet of sandstone to create the magnificent cliffs of this park. Here we see the same rocks layers as in Arches, Canyonlands and Capitol Reef.

There are many things to do in Moab such as hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing and much more. Through all of your Moab, Utah adventures you will be able to view the wonders and great Moab attractions this area has to offer. The best way to view Southern Utah is from the skies. Through our Moab flights, you will be able to receive a national park tour from one of our knowledgeable and experienced pilots.