Taking in the scene from a natural viewing spot, we looked out upon Utah’s world-famous Delicate Arch. In fact, we gazed upon the arch from within a hollow beneath another. Just a moment before, we had scrambled up to this opening. Nice smooth orange rock arched horizontally out in front of us. Far behind that, high mountains with lingering snow graced the horizon. The star attraction, however, displayed much nearer. Perched on the left side of the horizontal arch, Delicate Arch rose vertically in majestic pose. Some things are worth making a trip for and even getting up at the crack of dawn. This view definitely lived up to both standards.

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We had a long day of exploring ahead of us as we arose to start the day in morning twilight. The day before had introduced us to Canyonlands National Park. As we wrapped up camp on The Island in the Sky, we anticipated our second national park in as many days. Less than an hour’s drive away, Arches National Park awaited. This post-graduation trip doubled as a reward for my efforts and the fulfillment of a long held dream. The core of the trip centered around visiting Utah’s five national parks. Other than a few hours on the park website and in my Lonely Planet guidebook, sparse plans preceded our arrival. Usually, I plan my trips extensively in advance. However, final papers and projects limited the scope of my planning prior to our early-May arrival.

Viewing Spot Near Delicate Arch

One point of planning though included a hiking excursion to see the renowned Delicate Arch. We aimed to start early for a variety of reasons. Limited research indicated that the parking lots filled up quickly. In order to beat the crowds and the heat, we prioritized getting an early start. On top of that, the possibility of catching the sunrise cast deep orange tones on the rock motivated as well.

We definitely beat the crowds. Upon arrival at the park entrance, neither lines nor rangers awaited. We drove straight in and followed a few switchbacks up to the tableland upon with the arches arched. I steadfastly resisted the urge to start pulling over and investigating all the interesting landforms near the road. By 7:30 A.M., our feet hit the trail on the way to Delicate Arch. Fairly early, the trail/route works its way up a somewhat steep section of exposed rock. The super-grippy nature of the smooth surface somewhat surprised me. Smooth rock back home in Alaska often means very high chances of slipping and falling. Nonetheless, I quickly realized I could walk on this stuff at 30-45 degree angles very easily.

Trail to Delicate Arch

In the distance behind us, spires and arches perched on the horizon of a low ridge. Nearby, scrubby brush and plants eked out a living on the barren rocky terrain. Up ahead, a smooth rock route beckoned us forward towards a still-hidden-from-view Delicate Arch. As we progressed up the trail, rocks on the opposite side of the valley displayed interesting shapes and patterns. Eventually, we found ourselves on a ledge up against a rock wall. And then we saw the window in the rock. We scrambled up it to our first view of Delicate Arch about forty-five minutes after leaving the parking lot.

Well, of course we wanted to get closer and have our pictures taken with the famous landmark. And so we followed the route around the wall out onto the main horizontal arch upon which the vertical one perched. A bit of a crowd had formed but not too much. We waited a few minutes, found a willing photographer, and jogged over beneath the massive wonder. Both the posing and reviewing of the pictures showed just how large the arch truly is. At 46’ (14m) in height, the “ceiling” of the hole loomed high overhead. On top of that, another twenty or so feet of rock stacked even higher. We looked like miniature people in a land of giants beneath such a large landform.

Sense of Scale at A Towering Arch

Eventually, the left support of the arch will fail. Maybe in my lifetime. Maybe not. Some natural wonders offer only limited-time options for viewing. I sure am glad I got at least one chance to see beautiful Delicate Arch. As we moved around the arch, constantly shifting frames and visibility of surrounding landscapes kept providing new scenes. Eventually, we made it to the point where the opening disappeared behind the aforementioned thinning left side. Travelers who manage to make it to Delicate Arch ought to load up on pictures and sort them out later.

The trail to Delicate Arch terminates at something of a high point. Make sure to spend some time taking in many other impressive, albeit, less-famous landscape wonders as well. On the backside of the area near the arch, a fantastic landform makes up the other side of a steep-walled valley. Rounded pillars, alcoves in the cliffs, and arches in early formation adorn the face of the orange rock. Just a few steps away from the growing crowd, we sat for awhile and enjoyed the view by ourselves. A great many colorful, sculpted, and unique landforms make their home in Arches National Park. I highly recommend those planning to visit Delicate Arch to arrive early, both in the season and the day. Maybe even consider hitting the parking lot in the dark and then moving up the trail with a flashlight at dawn’s first light.

Catching Wonder Behind Delicate Arch Viewing Area

Following our visit to Delicate Arch, we set a course for our next destination—Devils Garden Trailhead and access to Landscape Arch. Immediately, this trail began to win me over. It starts off by slipping through a narrow cliff opening. Although I’ve never been to Petra, I’ve seen enough pictures to feel like I was entering the ancient city. While the rocky cliffs and hills really didn’t soar very high, they added abounding mystery regarding what lay just beyond and behind them. It only takes about a mile to press back to Landscape Arch, and we did just that. This thin arch will likely fail even sooner than its delicate neighbor. While I resisted the urge to continue up the enticing trail any further, I wholeheartedly gave into side explorations on the way back.

Pine Tree, Tunnel, and a few other arches await discovery no more than a few hundred feet off of the main route. These side trips also allow for some glimpses of what lies beyond. And just like the backside area near Delicate Arch, these areas also provide more isolated settings to simply enjoy. In addition to the side trips, the changed angle on the main route back out provides plenty of photo snapping opportunity. This entire stop took about an hour and a half in total. I highly recommend getting out of the vehicle to get the most out of Arches National Park.

Scene from the Trail Near Landscape Arch

The Windows” made up our third and final primary destination in the park. A fascinating set of double arches make up the number one attraction at this stop. Visible from the parking lot, it only takes another 10 minutes or so to hike up underneath them. Along the way, we enjoyed getting a look at some gnarled old “trees” and some interesting shapes in the cliffs. The double arches work together to also provide double windows in the sky. We scrambled up to the “saddle” for a look out behind the arches. The road upon which we accessed this particular side trip stretched out on dry land in the near distance.

On the way back out of the park, we made one final stop—at the visitor center! This might seem backwards to some folks, but our early start led to this inverted order. I made this stop for three good reasons. First of all, Mrs J likes to browse for souvenirs, and I did not feel like getting in trouble. Secondly, next to pictures, the iconic park maps make up my priority mementos from national parks. I also like to pick up a few postcards and bookmarks as well. And finally, we needed to refill our water bottles. Make sure to stay topped off on water in every way when exploring on foot in the desert southwest. Even in early May, a steady flow of water remains a must.

Seeing Double–Arches and Windows

Although I have no doubt that many more excellent frontiers await inside Arches National Park, I left satisfied. For indeed, my first introduction to the park lived up to my high expectations. But we had other places to get to and other things to see this particular day. So off we went for an introduction to the shores of the Colorado River and a trip across the line of its namesake state. Because after all, I like to say “I’ve Been There”, and I’ve even got my personal set of standards for what counts. Afterwards, we turned and headed back to the west aimed at the other three of the Utah five. In the process, we enjoyed a nice day cruising over the wide open expanses of south central Utah. Many memories and sights filled in the gaps between each day’s national park highlight.

My Highlight of Arches National Park: For once, the main attraction proved just that. The thrill and beauty of Delicate Arch topped many great things to see in the park. Furthermore, the landscapes, landforms, and hiking provided along the way push this to first place highlight within Arches.

What I want to go back and do the most: While Delicate Arch proved the highlight, further exploration up the trail beyond Landscape Arch calls the loudest. I definitely had to force myself to turn around at that point. Any future opportunities to visit Arches will begin with an early morning target of this trail.

World Famous Delicate Arch on Display

*Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Resources: I used this edition of Lonely Planet’s Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks as a guide before and during the trip. However, it looks like this updated version carries more up-to-date info.

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1 Comment

  1. Incredible photos, keep them coming!

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