Arches National Park: Delicate Arch

Late afternoon on Sunday, February 13 [2022], we capped our time at Arches National Park with the hike to Delicate Arch, one of the iconic views in the entire National Park system. Strategically, we decided to do the hike not only on Superbowl Sunday, but actually during the playing of the game. It was a smart move. We had gorgeous late afternoon light and there were only about a dozen folks there with us.

We had spent much of the day with a great long hike through Devils Garden. But we still had a couple hours to kill before it was time for Delicate Arch. So we made our way back down the Park Road, stopping at pullouts to get some nice photos.

Fiery Furnace

La Sal Mountains

And we headed back to the Visitor Center to do one more go around of the exhibits and the books.

It was still pretty dead, although the infrastructure gave evidence of what a madhouse the place must be on busy early summer weekends.

By ten to four we were back on the Park Road headed to the Cache Valley.

This formation looks like the Sphinx

Cache Valley

It wasn’t empty at the trailhead, but there were maybe twenty cars in a parking lot built for many times that number.

Delicate Arch is one and a half miles from the trailhead, making it a nice three mile out and back with 480 feet of elevation gain.

The very beginning of the trail near the Wolfe Ranch site and a panel of petroglyphs is broad and easily accessible. This was underscored for us by a woman on a motorized wheelchair.

Wolfe Ranch

We crossed the bridge over Salt Wash along with a man with a toddler.

Salt Wash

Salt Wash

Beyond the little bridge, the trail was still broad and easy. And far more people were coming back from the arch rather than heading out to it. Nice.

We passed a man with a little girl on his shoulders. They were among those returning from Delicate Arch. The little girl informed us that it was a very long hike to get there.

Beyond the footpath portion, the trail went basically up a long incline of slickrock. Most of the trail’s elevation gain was right here, and it wasn’t completely easy for us as flatlanders only a month out from COVID.

But it sure was pretty.

Cache Valley

Up near the top of the slickrock portion we were stopping to rest when a lovely, friendly young German couple coming the other direction started chatting with us. They were excited for us and declared that the arch was better than they expected.


At one point we ended up off the main trail going up a fin that led nowhere, so we had to shimmy back down.

Then we reached the final approach.

Twisted Donut Arch

The Park Service has never really moved past the showmanship of the first Director, Stephen Mather, an ad man. The final switchback to Delicate Arch really underscores the drama and showmanship.


Delicate Arch

And then boom, round a corner and there it was.

Delicate Arch

Dear God. It really is as spectacular—more than, really—than you’d hope.

In a park with over 2,000 stone arches, this particular free-standing arch has become a widely recognized symbol of the state of Utah and one of the most famous geologic features in the world. The light opening beneath the arch is 46 feet high and 32 feet wide, making it the largest free-standing arch in the park.

National Park Service
Delicate Arch and the La Sal Mountains

La Sal Mountains

I pulled my tripod out, set up out of the way, and started snapping photos.

It wasn’t like there were many people there. I counted twelve. Although in the half hour we spent gazing at Delicate Arch, sometimes there were more, sometimes less.

Balanced Rock

Delicate Arch

A woman walked up and asked me to help her arrange her selfie. At one point I was afraid she’d fall into the canyon. Sean murmured, “I love her.”

La Sal Mountains

Delicate Arch

Delicate Arch

Common Raven

Delicate Arch. Image: Sean M. Santos

Delicate Arch

Delicate Arch

Delicate Arch

We wanted to make it back down before it got dark, so we waved goodbye and started our descent.

Common Ravens

There were still a few folks making their way up as we went down. Now it was our turn to excitedly encourage them.

Utah Juniper

Ute Petroglyphs

The panel of petroglyphs was a nice coda at the bottom of the trail.

Ute Petroglyphs

Although clearly stylistically inspired by Ancestral Puebloan rock art, these petroglyphs were made by the Ute since they depict riders of horses. The presence of horses in the depiction means that they date from sometime post the arrival of the Spanish, hundreds of years after the Ancestral Puebloans abandoned the Four Corners area and the Ute moved in.

La Sal Mountains

On the quiet drive back out of the Park after the Delicate Arch hike, we stopped a few times for twilight shots of the landscape.

Balanced Rock

Courthouse Towers

Image: Sean M. Santos

Back at the hotel, we ordered pick-up from the Moab Brewery again. This time it was fish and chips, burgers, salad. Before it was time to pick it up, we showered, bathed, and relaxed.

Then after dinner we wrote postcards while we watched bobsled, ice dance, and other fun Olympic offerings.

Then it was time for bed.

Next morning, Monday, February 14 [2022], it was time to make our way home to Chicago.

Our flight was in the late afternoon, so we had plenty of time in the morning to have breakfast, pack up, take our time.

As we were checking out, chatting with Brittany at the front desk, I decided that since we we’d enjoyed our time at the Radcliffe so much that we should come back in 2023. So I went ahead and booked us for eight nights instead of three for February of the following year. Then we’d focus on adventuring in Canyonlands and Capitol Reef National Parks.

It was time to go.

Sean said, “I miss my house,” referring to our lovely room at the Radcliffe.

On our way out of town, we dropped our postcard off at the post office.

As we drove back across the Colorado Plateau and over the Wasatch Range, we listened to the wonderful “Station Eleven” podcast.

We were quite early to Salt Lake City International. At the Enterprise, they offered us a 10% discount because the cruise control didn’t work.

We hung out in the airport. I took a call from a potential client.

At our gate, we sat across from four teenagers headed on our flight to Chicago for basic training for the Navy at Great Lakes Naval Base. They were a weird mix of teenage bravado and clear nervousness, both about the Navy and about about going to the big city of Chicago. One had never been on an airplane.

Wasatch Range

The flight home felt quick, and I got a nice glimpse of Park City on the way.

And when we arrived home, our little Valentine Elsa was very glad to see us.

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