|Delicate Arch is a mile-and-a-half upward climb of 480 feet almost a mile high in elevation--and I made it!|
Ever since I first saw pictures of the mystifying red rocks of Utah, I wanted to visit Arches National Park.
After looking at the map, however, the place seemed so remote that I wasn’t sure I’d ever get there.
Although my hosts at “The Junction” are avid outdoor enthusiasts, I didn’t expect to go on a mile-and-a-half hike in 100+ degree heat. But that’s exactly what we did in order to see the Delicate Arch, a signature landmark that is pictured on the Utah license plate.
Fortunately, my friends knew how to handle such extreme conditions, and I had an engaging experience trekking in those hot and beautiful desert lands.
|My friend, Bobbie Hutchison, with umbrella|
Heat in the arid West is intense and penetrating but shade from a bush, tree or boulder can be at least 10 degrees cooler and provide some refreshing relief and a welcome rest. Although it looked pretty silly and seemed unconventional, our umbrellas shielded us from the hot sun while we walked. Many of our fellow trekkers commented to us about their wish to have brought such cover.
Finally, a walking stick not only made me look and feel like a professional hiker, it provided me with an extra “leg” to climb the long stretch of slick rock, navigate the trail’s various rugged “stairways” and feel a little more secure on the high five-foot wide ledges right around the corner of the arch.
Hiking also allows you to feel the Earth under your feet and sense the quiet of the desert’s surroundings. Maybe you’ll see a lizard scurrying across your path. Maybe you’ll realize that the plants and animals that live there yearn for life, while those dead bushes and trees are still intent on leaving their twisted legacy for posterity. Maybe you’ll be like those people who find hiking in Nature puts them in touch with God and Creation.
|My friend, Martin Stafford, with slick rock climb (top center)|
Walking on it, however, wasn’t as bad as it looked, and it gave me the confidence to know that I could make it to the end of the trail. Nevertheless, each high point we climbed and each turn we rounded, fooled me into believing we were within steps of our destination. The arch is only visible at the end of the trail.
|Slick rock up close|
I huffed and puffed with each step as I made the gradual climb upward 480 feet to the arch whose altitude is just 400 feet shy of a mile above sea level. It was a quite struggle to climb, I admit, especially in the oppressive heat and sun.
|Martin and Bobbie on the ledges before final turn to Delicate Arch|
Hiking to the Delicate Arch was well worth the climb, even for an inexperienced and out-of-shape hiker like me. After all, such grand achievements are not meant to be easy! I felt I was in a dream just standing in the presence of the arch.
I satisfied myself by sitting and staring at it from a distance while most other hikers continued toward it in order to touch it and be photographed next to it. The ledges were a little too steep for me to chance this last bit of adventure.
Hiking back to the trailhead was much easier because it was downward, although it was a bit hard on my toes. (I can only imagine what it was like for those hikers who wore flip flops!) My breathing was less winded compared to the climb upward.
|Cairns mark a safe path|
I have to admit that despite my reservations about the hike to Delicate Arch, making it has inspired me to return to Arches National Park on another day to take on the challenging Fiery Furnace hike. It is three hours long and requires greater physical stamina and determination to make it. (A slim, fit body would help greatly, too.) Because of the fragility of the area, only a limited number of hikers are admitted twice a day for a ranger-led experience, which is previewed in an NPS video.
Actually, the park has over 2,000 natural stone arches (an arch must be three feet across to qualify), in addition to hundreds of soaring pinnacles, massive fins and giant balanced rocks, according to the National Park Service. These structures formed because they lay atop an underground salt bed, which was deposited 300 million years ago when a sea covered the area and eventually evaporated. Debris from floods, winds and ocean currents was compressed into rock, some of it a mile thick.
|Balancing Rock (right)|
The Wolfes weren’t the only ones to inhabit this area. Hunter-gatherers came here 10,000 years ago and used the microcrystalline quartz they found for their stone tools. Two thousand years ago the Pueblo and Fremont peoples cultivated maize, beans, and squash, and lived in stone “condo” villages like those preserved at Mesa Verde National Park. Evidence of their habitation is found in rock inscriptions, pottery shards and other artifacts.
|an arch in the making|
In June 1855 the Mormons attempted to establish a mission in what is now the town of Moab (population 5,000), but conflicts with the Utes caused them to abandon that effort. In the 1880s and 1890s, ranchers, prospectors, and farmers permanently settled the town.
The Moab area is a mecca for biking, climbing, hiking, whitewater rafting devotees with campsites available along the Colorado and Green Rivers. A variety of lodging options and other information on activities and events is available through the Moab Information Site.
The Arches Park has attracted artists and authors too. Loren “Bish” Taylor, who became editor of the Moab newspaper in 1911 at age 18, frequently featured the beauty of the red rock country. Edward Abbey, a seasonal park ranger in the late 1950s, wrote a memoir of his experiences in his 1968 classic, Desert Solitaire.
For more information, see the Arches National Parkwebsite.