The most iconic image of Arches National Park, the one that’s on Utah’s license plate, is Delicate Arch. Visiting Arches without seeing Delicate Arch would be like visiting Yellowstone and not seeing Old Faithful. But, unlike many of the park’s famous features, it’s a bit of a hike to get to. In fact, from the trailhead you can’t actually see the arch at all.
You begin by crossing Salt Creek, described at length in Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, the park’s only permanent flowing water – pretty but too alkaline for human consumption.
After that the path climbs into the cliffs for a mile and a half. For at least a third of that distance, though, the “path” is more idea than reality, as you’re traversing bare slickrock. No soil or vegetation for a path to be worn through.
The only suggestion a specific trail to follow comes in the form of a series of small rock cairns left by previous hikers.
Finally you round the final bend… the path at this point is a ledge hewn directly into the side of a cliff…
…and there it is before you, at last. (Note the people at the lower left of the arch. It’s bigger than you first realize looking at a photo like this.)
If Delicate Arch has any significance it lies, I will venture, 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.
–Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey