Thursday, October 30, 2014

Arches National Park: Delicate Arch

Essence: Not often is visiting one of Earth's great treasures so easily achieved. We are supremely fortunate to be alive at a time when this fantastical ring of stone remains tenuously grounded upon the rim of its sandstone bowl. While solitude is unlikely at the arch, communion amongst an eclectic, international group is probable. Information on Double Arch, camping, and road riding follow.

Travel and Water: From Center Street in Moab, drive 5.0 miles north on Hwy 191 and turn right/east at the sign for Arches National Park. Reset your trip meter at the entrance station. The Visitor Center follows shortly on the right. A 24-hour, year-round outdoor water spigot is located steps from the parking lot on the north side of the building. The only other source of dependable water is at the Devils Garden Campground 17.3 miles up the road. To reach the Delicate Arch trailhead, drive up the park road, turn right/east at 11.4 miles and go 1.2 miles to a large parking lot which typically fills in peak season. Since over-flow parking is not allowed, get there early or come in the winter. Expect an outhouse but no water.
Fee Information
Devils Garden Campground: The campground has 50 individual sites which accommodate up to ten people. Sites may be reserved between March 1st and October 31st. You may, and should, make your reservation six months out. During winter months, 24 sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Campground information. To make a reservation, visit
Distance and Elevation Gain: 3.0 miles round-trip, 500 feet of climbing
Roundtrip Time: 1:45 to 3:00
Difficulty: Highly manicured trail leads to a pleasurable climb upon a sandstone slab, the route well-defined by cairns; navigation is easy; some people will experience mild exposure on the stone ledge just prior to reaching the arch.
Maps: Trails Illustrated: Arches National Park; or, The Windows Section; Big Bend, Utah 7.5 Quads;
Latest Date Hiked: October 30, 2014
Quote: If Delicate Arch has any significance it lies in the power of the odd and unexpected to startle the senses and surprise the mind out of their ruts of habit, to compel us into a reawakened awareness of the wonderful--that which is full of wonder. Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire
Route: The footpath crosses Salt Wash and a sage-rabbitbrush flat with excellent views of The Windows. Holding a northeast bearing, the route ascends a broad sandstone slab. Finally, it narrows onto a 0.1 mile ledge with excellent footing before reaching the bowl that is graced by the arch.

Delicate Arch may be seen from the trailhead. In this image, it looks like a pinnacle. In the jutting sky lineup below, it is sixth from the right.

I have visited Delicate Arch in a windblast, drenching rain, and freezing fog. On a day when the temperature was forecast to top out at 110 degrees, we began our hike at dawn. Below, Delicate Arch is the thin form just right of center.

The Wolfe Ranch homestead, a one-room cabin and corral, was settled in 1888. At 0.1 mile, cross Salt Wash on a bridge.

Visit a Ute petroglyph panel via a short loop that returns to the main trail, adding 0.1 mile. The hunting panel, created sometime between 1650 and 1850, depicts horses with riders, big horn sheep, and canines.

The relentlessly trodden trail was, not so long ago, a crude track.  While it continues to undulate with the terrain, it is a now a sturdy, meticulously groomed affair, wide enough for three abreast. This is a nod to the sheer numbers of people who traverse it daily.

Look south and find an open window.

At 0.8 mile, reach Entrada Sandstone and mount a block staircase.

Now on the slab, begin the consistently gentle, broad ascent. Enjoy the playfulness of unconstricted terrain.

The pitch decreases and the route narrows as it wends its way through rounded forms.

At the beginning of the stone ledge, Frame Arch is on the right. Standing beneath this arch is one of the greatest features of the hike. Leave the trail and do a 20 foot friction climb with decent holds. Spoiler alert. If you have not been to Delicate Arch, this vantage point affords a first glimpse.

Seen from Frame Arch, Delicate sweeps up from its bowl's deep depression. When the sun is in the south, the shadow cast by the arch has its own animated presence.

Back on the trail, marvel at the blasted-out ledge pathway and feel the exhilaration that comes while walking along a safe edge.

I have been to Delicate many times, but still, when I round the corner and see the freestanding arch, I am startled and awestruck. On a personal note, I have a first edition copy of Desert Solitaire, published in 1968, and I rolled through Moab long before the streets were paved. While I lament the lack of solitude at Delicate, my loss is trumped by the delight and elation of the crowd. An 82 year old man exclaimed, "There's my quest!" So while throngs aren't so good for those seeking intimacy with this great structure, the arch stands hugely, out-sizing us, and is ultimately unaffected. And that is the more important thing.  In this image, the La Sal Mountains are in the background.

To stand beneath the arch, walk on the sloping side of the Entrada Sandstone bowl. This is not for everyone but for those who make the short journey, the reward is deeply felt. The top of the ring soars 65 feet overhead.

There are endless opportunities for scampering on stone in this neighborhood. The rules: stay on the rock and off the top of named arches.

Return to the trailhead as you came and consider your options.

Additional Hiking Opportunities: Arches National Park is a landscape of continuous astonishment. It is best seen on foot. Since Delicate Arch is a half-day hike, it is quite possible to just keep walking. The eager and fit can comfortably add Landscape and Double O arches from the Devils Garden Trailhead. Or, visit Double Arch in The Windows.

Double Arch: The turnoff for The Windows Section is 9.0 miles from the entrance station. However, if you are traveling from Delicate Arch, return to the main park road and turn left. Drive 2.5 miles to a signed left turn. Go 2.3 miles and park in the lower lot. While heading east on this road, keep your eyes wide open for this too-quick glimpse of Turret Arch and the La Sal Mountains.

It is 0.5 mile roundtrip to Double Arch. The trail passes through enchanting surroundings.

The larger of the two arches spans 144 feet, the third longest in the park. At 112 feet tall, it is the highest. For those who like to play on rock, it is a happy climb with good holds to the base of the smaller arch.

If you wish, cross to the east side of the parking lot and take the 1.0 mile trail to Turret Arch and North and South Windows. On your way out of the park, consider stopping at Balanced Rock or strolling along ever-so-beautiful Park Avenue.

Devils Garden Campground: Make every effort to stay in this campground. It is right in the middle of Heaven. Skyline Arch frames the western backdrop. Walk there. And hike from your camp to Sand Dune Arch. The sites are generously spaced.

The views from each space are incomparable. The image was taken from Site #1.

Road Riding in Arches: Visiting Arches on a bicycle is an intimate and interactive way to engage with the landscape. Ride in the winter or early spring when traffic is moderated. There are no shoulders. Start in Moab and take the bike path to the park. Show your park pass or pay $5.00. From the Visitor Center, it is 43 miles roundtrip to Devils Garden Campground to water-up, out the spur road to The Windows Section, and rolling to assorted viewpoints. Expect several big climbs. Elevation gain is 4,226 feet.

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