This is arch: Utah geologists begin 'Arch Madness' to highlight state's many arches

Delicate Arch at Arches National Park

(Darren J. Bradley, Shutterstock)

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SALT LAKE CITY — 'Tis the season for Cinderella stories and busted brackets; however, state geologists aren't focused very much on hoops.

They want to highlight Utah's arches.

Yes, as "March Madness" tips off in Indiana this weekend, the Utah Geological Survey began "Arch Madness" to determine the state's best arch. Over the next few weeks, they hope to figure out who is worthy to advance to the "Faunal Four."

Bill Keach, director of the agency, said the idea was sparked as a fun activity after a stressful year of the COVID-19 pandemic and without outlets like live sports.

"Arch Madness provides an opportunity for families to learn more about the state's amazing geology and participate in some light-hearted fun during these unnerving and challenging times," Keach said in a statement.

In all, 64 arches and natural bridges were selected and randomly placed into a bracket format. That means Arches National Park's Delicate Arch, which has been featured on Utah's primary license plate for 25 years now, isn't the defacto No. 1 overall seed like the Gonzaga men's basketball or Stanford women's basketball teams.

Voting for the first round began Thursday and a winner will be selected after the final round April 5. All votes will be held on a webpage dedicated to the online event.

Arches and natural bridges are quite abundant in Utah, including over 2,000 with a diameter of at least 3 feet at Aches National Park alone. While most of Utah's are sandstone, they can form in limestone, shale, granite or basalt, the agency noted.

"Arches form because the shape is nature's most effective geometry for holding up overlying strata. The semicircular shape of an arch is actually the most effective load-bearing form in nature because of the manner in which it distributes the compressional stresses and eliminates the extensional stresses in the surrounding rock," Lance Weaver, a geologist with the state agency, wrote in 2016. "It is the shape that most effectively follows nature's rule of getting the best natural stability with the least amount of effort."

Six of the 10 largest known arches and natural bridges are located within the state, according to Utah Geological Survey. That includes the largest known arch or natural bridges in the world, which is Landscape Arch at Arches National Park. The arch spans 290 feet, besting Kolob Arch at Zion National Park by 3 feet.

Given Utah's many natural landscape beauties, it's difficult to know which one will come away as the champion.

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Carter Williams is an award-winning reporter who covers general news, outdoors, history and sports for


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