In my last post, I gave you a preview of Wolfe Ranch, the old homestead that is just beyond the Delicate Arch trail head at Arches National Park. And now for Delicate Arch itself. It is probably the most famous arch within Arches National Park; it is really picturesque and accessible, so it ends up being in all the official tourist brochures and millions of tourist photos. If you have seen the “Experience the Mighty 5: Utah’s National Parks” ad that has been all over the internet lately, you have seen Delicate Arch. If you haven’t seen it – where have you been? Seriously though, you can check it out here.
Cowboys originally called Delicate Arch The Chaps and The Schoolmarm’s Bloomers – I have to admit I’m kind of disappointed that the NPS didn’t adopt the latter as the official name. I guess they wanted to keep the names G-rated. And curiously, Delicate Arch was not actually within Arches when the park was created; it was added when the park was expanded in 1938.
The hike is 3 miles round trip, with a total elevation gain of 480 feet. If that is too much for you, there is a viewpoint where you can park and see the arch without the hike. The trail to Delicate Arch begins as a well-defined trail, with a bridge over the salt wash, and a gravel footpath that winds its way around the rocks. There is a little side trail that you can take to see some petroglyphs too, if that suits your fancy. We didn’t do that this time, but I would like to when I get back there.
We hiked past several beautiful spring blooms and Jon was convinced he saw a rattlesnake hiding under a rock – the snake turned out to be dry grass debris. Oh well, you can’t win ’em all. After a little while the trail gives way to a slick rock slope and the Park Service stacks piles of rocks called cairns to mark the trail.
Jon frequently bolts ahead of me while we are hiking so I had some time to ponder the beauty of the area, and catch a couple photos of a cute chipmunk. The trail is moderately strenuous – certainly not a Sunday stroll but it required nowhere near the level of exertion as Angels Landing in Zion. I stopped to catch my breath a couple of times and took photos of the beautiful landscape around me.
Once you get closer to Delicate Arch, you walk along the edge of a
cliff rock ledge and then move out into a bowl shaped formation with sloped insides. The edge of the rock ledge is fairly wide so it wasn’t really scary (people who aren’t afraid of heights would say it isn’t scary at all), but at the end you do have to climb over the slick rock to get into the bowl, and this got my fear of heights working overtime as I imagined losing my footing and rolling down the inside of the bowl to my death. There were high winds that day, so making my way to the edge of the bowl was even scarier. Most people would probably say that it wasn’t really very frightening though, including the guy who was showing off doing gymnastics moves on the sloped slick rock. Handstands, back bends – this man was insane – he is lucky to have lived!
Once you see Delicate Arch, you never forget it. The arch is 65 feet tall, and formed from Entrada Sandstone, which gives it its terra cotta coloring. Its placement makes it a great arch for photos, because you can see the beautiful landscape beyond the arch and the mountains in the background. In a word, it is spectacular. In the summer, White Throated Swifts nest in the top of the arch – what a fantastic place to raise your family!
I wanted to stand in the arch for a picture – I decided that at the beginning, and I made up my mind that I was not going to be deterred! My mom and Jon will both tell you I have a stubborn streak, and it worked in my favor that day. Even if I was scared – I was going to do this! This was another place where there were enough people that you had to wait in line to stand alone in the arch, but everybody there was really polite and waited their turn. Just so you know – you are standing on a fairly wide area – 20-30 feet wide or so, but it was still scary for me. Who said a fear of heights is rational?
So, I walked over, and waited my turn, and then stood in the center of the arch in my victory pose while Jon took a couple of photos of me. I tried to convince him to stand in the arch, either alone or with me (there were plenty of people who would have taken our picture), but no dice. Jon is never going to be a guy who is comfortable with posing for photos.
And how was it? It did freak me out a little, but after chickening out at Angels Landing when we were in Zion – I was very proud of myself! I talked about it the whole rest of the day!
We enjoyed a lunch of nuts, banana chips and granola bars while we sat on the slope and looked at the arch. Then after a time, we hiked back so we could see more of the park. Even though there were lots of people at the arch, this was one of my favorite hikes.
Have you hiked out to Delicate Arch? What did you think of it?