License Plate symbolWithout a doubt, the premier attraction for a visitor who visits Arches National Park is the famed Delicate Arch. It is truly the state symbol of Utah as displayed on so many of the Utah license plates one sees on the
Utah highways and it is a geologic wonder. What makes Delicate Arch special is that it is unique in being a freestanding arch. Its uniqueness makes it a"must see" by most visitors to Arches and the fact that it is only a short hike by trail adds to the allure. The day my wife and I visited, the place was being mobbed. The story below will explain how we were one of the mob on
a springlike saturday morning.
A quickie of a tripOn March 20th, which was a friday morning, my wife and I were hoping to get out of the house for a planned trip to Arches National park. The car was all packed and ready to go and so all we had to do was lock the doors on the house and head out. Unfortunately we were expecting a UPS delivery and some important mail so we couldn't leave the house until both the mail lady and the UPS guy made their deliveries. So instead of getting away at 8 a.m., it was 12:30 in the afternoon before we rolled out of the driveway, not good.
We could tell by all the traffic on the road heading to Price that it seemed like we were part of a migration and we hoped that only a few of those travelers were heading for Moab. Alas, that turned out to be a false hope as when we made the turn off of I-70, almost every one else turned off for Moab as well. We knew getting a spot in the campground at Arches was out of the question now, so we started studying the alternatives and one by one they fizzled out as "full" signs indicated we had indeed left way too late.
The town of Moab was packed and motels were out of the question as all were sporting "No Vacancy" signs. We were really intent on camping anyway so we continued our search for a place to tent.
We kept looking and just about when we had given up, my wife spotted a small campground south of Moab that looked like it had a few vacant spots where we could throw up a tent. As it turned out, not only did it have a few spots left, it had some grass where we could set up our tent. So our lodging problems were solved and the owner informed us that the reason the town was so packed and crowded is that there was going to be a half marathon race the next day and hundreds of people were participating. We settled in the for the evening and listened to the hustle and bustle of the campground as it was a busy place and then after everyone else had settled down, we got to listen to the highway all night. Such is camping close to a busy highway.
Arches on the first day of Spring
We were up as soon as we could muster the energy to push ourselves out of our warm sleeping bags and quickly had our tent and gear packed away as we knew we had to get through Moab before the start of the half marathon race. Even at 8 in the morning, the place was a zoo and we were fortunate to not get bogged down too much by the traffic. We made the short drive north to the entrance of Arches National Park and noted that it was a ten dollar entry fee for most people when we entered. I flashed my "golden passport" card at the ranger, and she handed us a map and waved us on through. The golden passport is one of the few benefits you get for being over 62. For ten bucks, a one time fee, it will get you into any national park for free and half price for campgrounds at most other federal properties.
My wife had never been to Arches before and that was one of the reasons for this trip, an introduction. I, had been there once before, in the summer when the thermometer had hit 104 in Moab so it was nice to visit at a more temperate time, a time when you could don a short sleeve shirt and neither freeze or bake. As this was the first day of spring, the weather forecast had promised a day with temps of about 75 degrees, perfect weather for a visit to Arches. As we drove and stopped at each of the special places that abounds in Arches, we took our time and to savor the experience. The one spot that I wanted to visit up close and personal on this trip was the Delicate Arch. The previous trip I had settled for a hike to Landscape Arch in the broiling heat and that was enough hiking on that day. I had not hiked to Delicate Arch as the heat was just too much so this was the day to
get that hike in. Our timing was good as when we pulled into the parking lot, there were still plenty of spots left. Although there were quite a few people on the trail ahead of us, it wasn't quite a mob, yet.
Up the trail - the most popular hike in Utah
I should add here that my wife hadn't been able to hike for the past six months due to a nasty foot problem but she was determined to make the three mile round trip to Delicate Arch. I was not sure she could do it as a short hike on Y Mountain just the week before had left her limping on one her bad foot. I figured that about a mile or so would be it but as I have done before, I underestimated her and should have known better. My wife was an avid hiker before foot problems got in the way but when she set her mind to something, she would get it done, even if she had to crawl. She wanted to see Delicate Arch just as much as I did and she wanted to see it in person. Enough with just seeing it on calendars and license plates. I carried a small day pack with water and room for her to stuff her jacket in as the day warmed up and off we went. The trail is well constructed and crosses a small pond/steam on a bridge just a bit out of the parking lot and then winds it way up and down most of the way with most of it being up. Just beyond the bridge is a short detour to some petroglyphs(pic) that is worth the extra little effort. In the mile and a half, the elevation gain is about 500 feet and always easy to follow.
Some sand in a couple spots and slickrock in others make for an interesting
trail. Small cairns are plentiful and at times, over plentiful but probably needed considering the fact that many of the people might get lost without them. I saw one woman get lost with them so probably a good thing that they are there. The tread is always good and as you near the Delicate Arch, the trail is literally carved out of the side of the mountain and hugs the side with a dropoff just before you get to the D.A.
As you round the corner, you suddenly see it and it is breathtaking, well worth the effort. While my wife had to take it easy, she made it and I was so proud of her. Of course, along with us, a lot of other people had made it with us and they were quickly grabbing spots to sit and gawk. Cameras were clicking and children were whining and a few made the effort to hike over to the arch itself. I had to join that group while my wife declined and made my way over to the arch so I could see it from all angles. Truly a wonder of nature. I remember the big hubbub about Dean Potter climbing it a couple years back and I kind of felt that even climbing on it could make it collapse, so I now understood the feeling a bit better of those who were outraged by his actions. Yet, I also understand the reason for climbing it, it would feel amazing to be able to stand on top. I believe it is now outlawed to climb on it by the National Park Service.
Back to the moment. One of the popular activities was for people to stand under it and have a photo taken and so it was hard to find a time when there was no one under the arch itself but finally eveyone cleared out and I was able to capture the wonder with no humans in the frame. What a beauty. I made my way back over to my wife and she snapped a picture or two of me sitting and admiring the arch from afar and then it was time to head back down.
On the way down, it seemed like all of Moab was now heading up the trail as I'm sure we passed a couple hundred people making their little pilgrimage upward. Men carrying babies in backpacks, crying kids, whining kids, whining adults, women and kids in flip flops, people in strange garb, all kinds of different languages were being spoken as the world comes to see this wonder and literally people in every size, shape and form. I worried about a couple really overweight folks and hoped I wouldn't be needing my CPR skills but give them credit, they wanted to see it as much as I did.
My wife, not limping and smiling big time, and I made it back to the now overflowing parking areas and still more cars were heading down the hill towards it as we left. I could only imagine what it would be like in another hour or so. I left with the impression that this must be the most popular hike in the whole state of Utah. I will be back as once isn't enough.
A few shots of the main attraction