If you read last week's travel post I talked about what Arches National Park is famous for...it's arches and how they are formed. This week is my final post on Arches National Park and I am ending it with the world famous Delicate Arch! This is the arch that is pictured on Utah license plates and on their state welcome signs. It is a 65 foot tall free standing natural arch with a picturesque view of the snow capped mountains and desert terrain. People come from all over the world to see this arch, and once you see it for yourself, you know why. It is truly a spiritual experience to be had!
There are two ways to see the arch: the Lower and Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoints and the Delicate Arch Trail. The first way, the viewpoints, is for anyone who physically can't hike the Delicate Arch trail, or doesn't want to exert themselves that much. The Delicate Arch Trail is not for the faint of heart. Rescue operations occur frequently for visitors who underestimate the trail's difficulty.
I am thankful to the National Park Service for providing a second option to view this beautiful national landmark so everyone, regardless of their physical ability, can see it. Even though other options are provided for viewing, Delicate Arch is still not easy to see from a vehicle. If you need a level path take the Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint. It is a level 100 yard walk with a view of the arch a mile away. The Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoint is a 0.5 mile walk up stairs but has a less obstructed view.
Now, if your physically up to the challenge, the best view is the Delicate Arch Trail. It is a difficult three mile round trip trail with a elevation of 480 feet, no shade, and open slid rock with some exposure to heights. You will struggle not only with the challenge of walking up a steep hill for a mile and a half, but also with the desert heat, sun, and altitude. I saw at least a half a dozen people or more walk half way up and either turn around and go back or they looked like they were suffering heat stroke. I'm not kidding. And the irony is that most of them were younger than me. It's a test of endurance, that's for sure. If you can hike the trail in the early morning or evening that is best, because then you will not be dealing with the hot desert sun. We were stupid enough to hike it in the middle of the day, but we also didn't even know about this trail till we got to the park.
When you first start on the trail you come across this cute little cabin called "Wolfe Ranch Cabin". It is named after John Wesley Wolfe who settled in this area in 1888.
I took this photo so you could get an idea of how dry this area is. And yet, isn't it funny how there is still plenty of green growth? I don't think I've ever seen ground this dry in Wisconsin during my entire lifetime. It is such a different environment than my home state.
Still, despite all the dryness, there was still water running along this trail.
Now once you get past the cute little cabin and river, the long, uphill hike begins. At first you think "This isn't so bad", and then after hiking for awhile, you look up and see this:
"Are those people up there on that rock?" I ask my husband. "Looks like it", he said. "Is that the trail, or are they just walking on that giant rock?". He wasn't sure, but we soon found out. Yes, those are people on that giant rock, see them in the center of the picture? If not, there's a zoomed in photo below. And yes, this is the trail. Hmmm, somehow I didn't think rock climbing was in the trail description.
This is me thinking "Eh, how much further?"
And here I am at the top of the rock. Can you see the dirt path in the distance? There is a parking lot in the middle of the photo. That's where the hiking trail starts. Where I am is about 1/3 of the way. I thought once I reached the top of this rock the hike would be over. I mean, how long is a mile and a half anyway? But no, I was no where near the end of the trail yet!
The terrain does change slightly once you reach the top of the first giant rock, but not for long!
If it weren't for all the other of hundreds of hikers on this trail, I think I would have gotten lost. After all, your pretty much just walking on rock most of the time, it's not like a nice worn down path in the woods. They do have these small stone formations (called cairns) occasionally to make sure you are on the path.
As you start to near the end of the trail, the terrain changes again. Now you are no longer up on top of a giant rock, but walking alongside the huge rock formations! The path is right along the lower edge of this formation...see the person walking in the distance?
And here I am ascending the same path as well.
And now is when one's fear of heights is tested. It may be hard to tell in the pictures, but this is HIGH, with a steep drop off. Needless to say, I hug the rock wall! Look at the two people in the distance...they look like they could drop off the edge! Yikes!
This is the view below from where I am standing. Gorgeous, but scary!
But when you finally make it to top, it is all worth it, because this is what you see! Amazing isn't it? Just look at those gorgeous snow-capped mountains in the distance!
When you get to this point, you are so physically exhausted. I remember my legs feeling like rubber and starting to shake a bit. I sat down on the rocks and just soaked in the view while I ate some granola and dried berries. This is a hike where you must bring food and water with you. The park service advises bringing at least one quart of water per person on this hike. I never felt a need to eat during a hike before, but I did on this one. I felt my body was just so weak at this point and I was craving the nourishment. I also noticed most people around me were eating as well.
After I was physically refreshed, I started to explore. It involved more climbing, for I now had to climb down the rocks and into the "bowl".
Professional photographers often complain that Delicate Arch is always so crowded that it is hard to get a photo without someone in it. I felt everyone was very polite and waited their turn in line to get a photo of themselves standing under this famous arch. And I actually prefer pictures of people in the photos to help give an idea of scale.
This is the view of the opposite side from which the arch stands.
My husband under the arch.
And me to the left of the arch with a view of the snow capped mountains.
We probably spent almost an hour at the Delicate Arch. It was such a spiritual experience to see such beauty and grandeur, and I think the difficult hike to get there, only made me appreciate it so much more. I was proud of my 53 year old body to be able to make a hike that people half my age couldn't do. It proved to me that even though exercise doesn't produce the waif thin body I would like to have, it's still certainly worth it for my health.
Now, if I could only get over my fear of heights!!!! My husband made fun of me for hugging the rock wall. Of course, he walked right along the outer edge with no fear at all!
Going back down the trail was so, so easy. It seemed to take minutes to get back down. We did notice that there were a lot more people going up when we were coming down. I did find out later that the park recommends taking this hike to see the sunrise or the sunset to avoid the desert sun and get the best views. Parking is difficult to find during sunset hours, so sunrise would be the best time of the day to hike this difficult trail.
And finally, here is a very short 1:13 minute video of the Delicate Arch. I am standing at the very top of the rock, when your view first opens up to the arch. I will do a complete circle with the camera. I want you to notice how quiet it is. Even though there are hundreds of people all excited to see the arch, it's almost like there is a spiritual reverence here. Every one just seemed so awestruck by the experience and the views there was no need for conversation, but only contemplation.
And that concludes my posts of Arches National Park. Next week I will share the very last day of our May road trip...Vail, Colorado!
Have a Great Day! Amy
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