Naturalist Kid Scavenger Hunt in Arches National Park

Naturalist Kid Scavenger Hunt in Arches National Park

By Jen Springer
April 20, 2016

The Diary of a Dynamic Planet & How to Read It

Arches National Park

Every human being is a naturalist naturally, and every single one of you wants to hold things, poke things, touch things, taste things, smell things...and then tell everyone you know about it. If you don't know what a naturalist is or how to prepare for a naturalist outing, read this article first to help you get started.


Assignment 1: Identify 2 layers of sandstone in Arches

FACT: There are exactly two (main) layers of rock called sandstone in Arches.Q: Now, I ask, why should you be looking for two kinds of sandstone?A: Because it’s EVERYWHERE--you can’t help it, and you will see the layers all over the place.

Layers of rock are like pages in a history book. Each layer holds important clues about what happened during the Earth’s history. The layers are kind of like the Earth’s journal-- “Diary of a Dynamic Planet.”

You Need to Know…

  • What the two main layers of sandstone reveal about the Earth’s (not so) secret past and
  • How they help us to see better and observe better how things go for our Earth

I mean, don’t you like it when people are interested in your life? Plus, maybe you’ll see something that no one else has ever seen, and if you write it in your notebook, you will one day be famous.


Get ready. Are you paying attention?NAVAJO (nah-vah-ho)

Now, the Navajo sandstone is pretty dang cool because it’s actually a great big giant petrified-old-days-Sahara Desert--kind of like a Great-great-great-great-great Grandmother of the Sahara Desert, only it’s right in Utah instead of Africa.

It looked a lot like the sand dunes of Luke Skywalker’s planet Tatooine or Rey’s planet Jakku. Just imagine that! It’s a yellowish creamy color and you can actually see the diagonal lines from the slopes of the sand dunes. There’s a lookout point halfway between the Courthouse and Balanced Rock where you can really see the hardened desert!


Entrada (like "entrance" or "enter"...only's not Spanish for "enter")

The Windows arches formed in the Entrada sandstone's zone of weakness.

Now this is also made from sand, but it looks more solid and straight up-and-down than the Navajo Sandstone. It’s also red instead of yellowish-creamy. This is the main important layer for the arches--they are made out of this stuff! The sand from this layer is from tidal mudflats, beaches and sand dunes. I just heard you say, “Beaches?!” Yes, that’s right, kiddo--there used to be beaches here! A very loooooooooooong time ago (like around 160 million years ago) there was a beach! Yeah, this place used to be just like hanging out on the beach in California. Now, that’s another long story, but just to give you a hint it has to do with shifting tectonic plates and the fact that things were a little different way back then.

SUMMARY OF SANDSTONE LAYERSSo: 2 main layers of sandstone: NAVAJO & ENTRADA (there are other layers, which I hope you will notice, but this article can’t be that long!). Got it? Good. High five.


Pssssst! There is a secret, hidden layer which you will NEVER see out there. And it’s something that you would die without. Give up?

SALT. Yes, it’s salt. The crazy thing is, is that those two honking-big layers of sandstone were deposited on a huge salt bed. Well, you ask, how in the world did a thing like salt get there? Well, let’s think back to the beach idea. To have a beach, you have to have sea water, right? And sea water has this special ingredient we’re talking about: salt.

If a sea or large salt water lake evaporates, it leaves behind its salt (for the locals of Utah, this is evident on the Bonneville Salt Flats of the Great Salt Lake). The water goes up in the air, and the salt stays. It’s just too heavy to float away. So, basically the sea died away and went up to the sky, and the salt stayed and some sand got deposited on it.


OK, Mr. and Ms. Naturalists,

Other, older naturalists like you (they call themselves geologists) used these three pages of the Earth’s Diary, along with some earthquake action, to put together the story of how the arches formed! You see how their notebooks helped? Here’s the scoop:

The sandstone (on top) was heavier than the salt, and that made the salt kind of do a really groovy transformation trick: it moved around, cracked and then turned to liquid! After that, it got into a better, more comfortable position and then pushed those heavy sandstone layers up! (Kind of like saying to the sandstone, “GET OFF ME”).

That caused the sandstone to crack along special places called “faults” and made these thin rows of sandstone called “fins” (like if you had some old play-dough that was mostly dried out and you pushed up on it). And then our good friend named “Water” came along and did its job of slowly eating away sandstone through running water action and also freezing and thawing action...and voila! Some arches were made! Carved out by water!

The variety of arch shapes happens because the sandstone is not exactly the same everywhere.


Assignment #2: Identify 2 plants in Arches National Park


Mormon Tea - Ephedra

Mormon Tea is a funny word because Mormons aren’t supposed to drink some kinds of tea. So, it’s something easy to remember. And, who knows, there may be something mysterious about it.

This plant looks like miniature bamboo stalks growing on a bush. It’s kinda dark green, and the mini stalks look segmented.

Maybe it will keep you alive if you are stranded in the desert when you make it into a tea. This is a mystery for you to figure out--maybe ask a park ranger. Let’s see if they’re up on their survival skills.

A good naturalist would be sure to write down all the places you see this plant, and would also draw a good picture of it. Write down if the plants are healthy looking or if they seem to be in some kind of distress. Be a good note-taker because, remember, these notes may make you famous someday.

PLANT #2: BIOLOGICAL SOIL CRUST (not pizza or pie)

But maybe when we get done with our note-taking we can have a tea party, complete with Mormon Tea and some biological soil crust! (J/K, J/K!)

On the hunt for biological soil crust in Arches National Park

This kind of crust is really cool because it’s alive. It’s why folks at Arches are so strict about staying on the paths. It grows right on the sandy dirt. And it doesn’t look alive at all. It just looks like someone sprinkled some fine black ash powder on bumpy soil. But really, it’s a lot like a “Who” village from “Horton Hears a Who” by Dr. Seuss. So very small and so very alive! We must save them all!

It is made out of living fungi, lichen, algae, and cyanobacteria (really cool name), and it takes a super loooooooooooong time to grow. And it will probably save our lives one day.

Write down where you see it, draw a picture, and try to see if you can tell if it’s healthy or not. Or if it’s old or new.


Assignment #3: Identify 2 animals in Arches National Park


Desert Cottontail

The cutest, by far, are the little cottontail rabbits. Not jackrabbits--they’re cool and fast, but not as cute as the cottontail. I saw one myself just hiding in the trees and bushes watching us all, hoping someone would leave behind an apple core or something like that (don’t feed the animals anything!). Or maybe he wanted to cross the parking lot to get to the river.

They have large eyes and little white tails, and are a nice creamy color. Just remember to respect their shyness and give them space and quietness. I think it would be a good idea to count how many you see and where you see them and what time of day it was--take note in your notebook.

If you have a camera, you could take a picture or a video. This information may be helpful to knowing how healthy the animal population is.

DO NOT purposely leave out food for them. If people did that to your parents, they would eventually quit their jobs and just sit out on the porch, waiting for the food drop off. We’ve got to keep the cottontails employed or the might die.


A.K.A. Mini Dinosaurs

Collared Lizard

There are lots of lizards in the desert. And did you already know about their tail trick? They have this tail trick where if the tail gets grabbed by a predator, it will fall off so they can get away! But it’s not too sad because they will grow a new one. It would be like humans having an “arm trick” where our arm would fall off when a bad guy would grab it. And then we would grow a new arm back…

Lizards like to be out in the sun when it’s cool outside, and in the shade when it’s really hot. Keep track:• How many?• Are there different kinds? Describe them.• What time of day did you see them?• Were they in the sun or the shade?• Hiding under rocks or bushes?

Remember, naturalists keep tabs on everything in nature.


Assignment #4: Identify 2 insects in Arches National Park


Dragonflies prefer the evenings to fly in, and they like water. So, if you are around puddles or some type of water you may see some. If you don’t see any in Arches, you could go on a little trip to the Colorado River and I bet you’ll see some there! Things to note in your notey-note-book are colors. Colors of wings, colors of bodies, colors of faces of all those fire-breathing dragonflies! But they don’t really breathe fire.


Also known as the “Ten Lined Giant Chafer Beetle”. They’re a good-sized beetle (not giant though) with stripes on itss back. Make sure you discover times of day best to see them, where you see them (under things? Or out on the rocks? Or just taking a walk in the dirt…), draw some pictures and count them up. Good job.


OK, you’ve got a great start as the Rookie Naturalist of the Year! Keep your notebook handy, and get ready for another adventure in the wild! You’ll be famous one day, famous!

Collared Lizard