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April 28, 2011

National Parks: Arches, Delicate Arch


Delicate Arch

When we visit Moab Utah, we always make time for a visit to nearby Arches National Park.  Arches spectacular gateway road starts just a few miles from the heart of Moab.  This National Park is relatively small and easy to see in a short visit.  And many do visit.  Arches National Park had slightly over a million visits in 2010, 19th out of the 58 parks.

This time in the park our destination was Delicate Arch.  Delicate Arch is the iconic arch in a National Park named for its sandstone arches.  Indeed it can be argued that the freestanding arch is the iconic landscape of the State of Utah.  It is on the state’s license plates, after all.  It might even be the most iconic scene of the American Southwest.

If you know where to look, Delicate Arch can be seen in the distance from many vista points in the park.  For a much closer view there are a few options.  Driving on the road past Wolfe Ranch, visitors reach the trailhead for the Lower and Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoints.  One hundred yards of a wheelchair accessible trail gets the tourists to the lower viewpoint for a distant view of the arch.  A longer and steeper 0.5-mile round trip hike climbs a ridge and allows a better view of the rock arc across a chasm.  It’s a good view.

A dryfall and a natural bridge near Delicate Arch: sometimes you see something that makes you want to walk up to the base of it and check it out.

By far the best way to see the Delicate Arch is to hike in from Wolfe Ranch.  This exposed three-mile roundtrip hike climbs 480 feet over slickrock.  The hike includes a last pitch on a ledge that is stuck to the side of a red rock cliff.  With the rock wall blocking the view, the final approach to Delicate Arch is blind.  One last stride rounds the corner of the rock and opens to an astonishing view.  Massive Delicate Arch suddenly appears standing by itself in the clear.  The arch is no more than couple hundred feet away from the end of the ledge path.  In the instant the sweaty effort of the climb is rewarded.

Delicate Arch is popular with photographers.  Countless thousands of pictures of the arch are snapped daily.  Indeed, during our visit, swarms of photographers were positioned to catch the arch in the margins of the day’s light.  There are some great pictures taken, for sure.  Still, this is a place where it is best to be standing there in person.

Looking at Delicate Arch edge on across the oval basin

Delicate Arch edge on

On foot, you can walk over to and under the arch.  Is there a better way to sense the scale?  The rock formation sits at the edge of a perfectly symmetrical oval sandstone bowl roughly the size of a basketball court.  Undoubtedly this bowl has helped channel the wind and shape the arch over time.

I inched my way around the steep side sloped oval basin careful to avoid a particularly uncomfortable slip and fall.  Creeping along, the exposed steep slickrock and the monumentally distracting view compete for attention.  At the far edge of the basin the side slope finally slackens.  Only then is it possible to turn and reflect on just how surreal and improbable this place is.  Nature carves many surprises.

Eventually we needed to leave.  The fast trip down the hill took us past the hordes creeping up the sandstone cameras in hand looking to capture the perfect sunset picture of Delicate Arch.  Is there another place more photogenic than Delicate Arch?

Photos are fine but what can compare to seeing Delicate Arch its oval sandstone basin in person?  Standing at the base of the arch the size and scale of the formation are manifestly apparent.  Amazement is unavoidable.  Delicate Arch truly is one of the World’s most spectacular sights.

Delicate Arch viewed from an unusual angle

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3 Comments »

  1. That first picture is amazing. The contrast really brings out the arch.

    Comment by Today's World In Pics — April 28, 2011 @ 5:43 am

  2. [...] more to Arches National Park than Delicate Arch.  You’ll have to trust me on that one.  Though we’ve tramped most of the short hikes off the [...]

    Pingback by National Parks: An Arches Drive By « Another Header — April 28, 2011 @ 4:28 pm

  3. [...] Arches (2011) [...]

    Pingback by The List « Another Header — July 22, 2011 @ 9:15 pm


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