In praise of place: the dry lands (part 9) — trail to Delicate Arch

One of the highlights of our trip to Utah last summer (experientially, if not photographically) was our hike to Delicate Arch – certainly one of the most iconic viewpoints in Arches National Park, and indeed the entire state of Utah.

Delicate Arch in unfortunate lighting conditions. But – hey – it’s still Delicate Arch!

I hate to kick off any photo post with an apology (bad sign!), but nevertheless… we began our hike up the steep slickrock trail on a whim just after midday, on what turned out to be one of the hottest days of the year. There were few clouds to provide depth to pictures featuring sky, and the view of the arch itself — a much longed-for destination coming at the end (well, mid-point, considering the return trip) of an arduous sun-blasted uphill hike — was as contrasty and harsh as I expected it to be, making for a far less than award-worthy image opportunity.

Furthermore, I decided for some damn reason to take my backup camera (the ol’  10D) up the trail instead of the 5DII, with its far greater dynamic range. Yeah, the 10D is a bit lighter, but — in retrospect — what the hey was I thinking?

The marvelous erosional bowl just behind Delicate Arch

Still, we were there, and we did it — along with a surprising number of other tourists who took to the 3 mile (round trip) trail far less prepared than they ought to have been — resulting in most of them turning back before the halfway point to the top of the trail. I’m talking about the lack of obviously needed items such as hats and water bottles. Here’s a funny story (at least I presume it’s funny, given that I don’t know the eventual fate of the individuals involved; I trust they made it back to their RV without expiring):

Just around the bend

After basking in the glory (and the coolness!) of the shadow of the arch itself, and retracing our route down to the long, sloping sandstone ramp leading to the parking area, I noticed coming up the trail towards us a cute girl of seventeen or thereabouts — hatless — who  seemed already on her last legs. She did not look happy nor put much energy into returning my greeting as we passed by. Right behind her was her father (it turned out), also hatless, carrying something under a bath towel. I thought, “well, at least they’ve had the wherewithal to bring along some water, and he’s keeping it cool under that towel.” Still, it seemed odd, and so I asked:

“What’s under the towel?”

Under the arch

“It’s my daughter’s tortoise,” he said, removing the protective wrapping and showing me the reptile in question by way of demonstration. “She was afraid to leave him back in the camper for fear he’d get too hot.”

Rather abashed, I asked him whether either of them (referring to him and his daughter, and leaving the tortoise out of it) had brought any water.

easterly view from Delicate Arch

“No, but we’ll be fine,” he said, declining my offer of one of our two remaining water bottles. “It’s only a mile and a half up there, right?”

And a mile and a half back down, I thought. And you’re not even at the top of the first half of the trail yet…

View to the north from the spectacular ledge trail near the top of the hike

But there’s no arguing with those who know better, and thus we went our separate ways.

I still wonder whether that unlikely trio made it to the top or decided — like so many others that day who discovered themselves overmatched by heat, thirst and exhaustion — to turn back before they got themselves into real trouble.

Mudcracks, Wolfe Ranch trailhead


6 thoughts on “In praise of place: the dry lands (part 9) — trail to Delicate Arch

    • Angela, there have been a lot of postcards featuring that very scene – most taken in the golden light of early morning. (Which is when I’d have made the hike if I’d planned it out in advance.)

  1. You apparently like to hike, so if you like beautiful rock formations you really should check out Colorado. Garden of the Gods has the most beautiful red rock and hiking trails. The Paint Mines is also quite beautiful. I have some photos on my blog but it’s pretty far back in there. Just thought I’d let you know.

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