Utah Field Guide: Delicate Arch

The trail to one of the most sacred spots in Utah’s landscape is three miles long. It’s an easy trail really, although for tour-bus types it can be daunting. At the parking area at its base, it is common to overhear sweating Midwesterners just off the bus querying hikers coming down with: “Is it worth it?”

Is it worth it? What a dumb thing to ask.

The Delicate Arch is a national treasure. One of the most unique and beautiful objects of nature. Edward Abbey, who wrote passionately about Arches National Park in his soaring masterpiece Desert Solitaire, rolls over in his grave each time that question is voiced.

Is it worth it? Nope. Get back on the bus.

To those for whom such questions are anathema, the reward for the quick hike up a cairn-marked stretch of slickrock toward the arch is great. The arch appears from around a blind corner, and it is common among those who revere such rarities to hear gasps of delight and wonder. The arch sits above a sandstone bowl, and visitors find (increasingly rare) quiet spots on its edge from which to regard it. There is a hushed, reverent atmosphere at Delicate Arch.

The arch’s appeal is its intense fragility and the knowledge that, one day, the wind and rain that have carved this unique structure will end its time on Earth. It is an impossible structure. It simply should not still be standing there so fragile, and yet it does. It invites the viewer to contemplate his own short mortality in comparison to the incomprehensible eons it took to form. One day the arch will fall and be lost. That one day will probably not come in our lifetimes. 

But then, maybe it will. And that thought—of its possible demise—gives your time with the arch an internal sigh. “I got there. I saw this.” There is an urgency at work here. The Grand Canyon will only grow deeper, but Delicate Arch will one day be no more. 

You’re on the clock and, yes, it’s worth it.

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Jeremy Pugh
Jeremy Pughhttps://www.saltlakemagazine.com/
Jeremy Pugh is Salt Lake magazine's Editor. He covers culture, history, the outdoors and whatever needs a look. Jeremy is also the author of the book "100 Things to Do in Salt Lake City Before You Die" and the co-author of the history, culture and urban legend guidebook "Secret Salt Lake."

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