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Utah Travel Headlines

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Awestruck At Delicate Arch

The next few weeks will bring ideal conditions for those of us who enjoy wandering, enthralled, through the red rocks of southern Utah.

Delicate ArchLast weekend, with a storm bearing down on northern Utah, I couldn’t resist escaping to Moab, with its blue skies and perfect spring hiking weather. I had friends in town and decided to show them some of Utah’s famous icons. Arches National Park became our destination and we enjoyed the moderately adventurous family hike to Delicate Arch.

Here’s a video clip showing our trek.

You see images of Delicate Arch everywhere. They graces magazine covers, computer screensavers and license plates. The photos are great but they do not adequately convey the stunning beauty that hits you as you come over the ridge and see the arch in person for the first time—when you stand under it, the stone towering above your head, slickrock canyons falling away below you, the snow-covered La Sal Mountains in the distance. It is a spectacular sight.

Naturalist author Edward Abbey wrote: “There are several ways of looking at Delicate Arch. Depending on your preconceptions you may see the eroded remnants of a sandstone fin, a giant engagement ring cemented in rock, a bow-legged pair of petrified cowboy chaps, a triumphal arch for a procession of angels, an illogical freak, a happening.... If Delicate Arch has any significance it lies, I will venture, in the power of the odd and unexpected to startle the senses and surprise the mind out of their ruts of habit, to compel us into a reawakened awareness of the wonderful—that which is full of wonder.”

The Delicate Arch hike is 3 miles round trip along an easy, well-marked trail. The trailhead is at Wolfe Ranch, accessible via a paved spur from the main park loop. Signs make it easy to find. The parking lot was full on our visit and so we had to park in a wide spot on the road’s shoulder. That’s pretty common. They are working to develop a park shuttle service, which will make access easier.

The trail slopes gradually upward as you hike toward the arch. The total elevation gain is only 480 feet, but it seems steeper than that as you climb up the slickrock ridge. There is no shade on that section and it will soon start to feel hot during the middle of the day. The most pleasant hiking is in the morning or evening, but midday is fine if you wear a hat, use sunscreen and carry water.

Near the top the trail swings behind a ridge, where it levels out and enters an area that is often shaded. Steps have been carved into the sandstone to make it easy to get up some steep places. In one spot the trail follows a shelf on the side of the ridge, a solid-rock mountain on one side and a sheer cliff on the other. The trail is wide and smooth and walking is easy but some people get nervous because of the cliff. Just hang onto your kids and stay away from the edge.

This is a very popular hike and there are always other people along the trail—people who would gladly help if a hiker has problems.

It’s always fun talking to people along the trail, finding out where they are from and what they think of the area. There are always international tourists, along with people from all around North America.

In response to my inquiry one said: “I love it. I wish I could live here.” It’s that kind of country—big and beautiful.

- Dave Webb


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