Arches National Park


Delicate Arch Trail


            Delicate Arch is rather special, as it cannot be seen close up unless one hikes up the trail to the arch.  This arch, one of two thousand in the Arches National Park is specifically used as the symbol of the state of Utah because of its beauty, its size, its design and its limited access. 

             Delicate Arch is perched on the edge of a canyon wall, which falls more than a thousand feet to the canyon floor below on one side and drops into an inverted dome hundreds of feet to the bottom on the other side.   The arch was created of Entrada sandstone some 100 million years ago and has been disintegrating ever since.   It is forty-five feet high and thirty-three feet wide at the base.  

            Most watch the arch from a distance of maybe two hundred feet, but it is possible to walk over to the arch to see the splendor of the canyon below or to just take a picture while under the arch.   Approaching the arch, you have to walk around the inverted dome carefully so as not to lose your balance and fall toward the middle.   On this trip someone either accidentally dropped an orange or did so on purpose to watch it roll with ever increasing speed to the bottom of the bowl in the center.

            But to reach this most wondrous site, the hike up to Delicate Arch is strenuous and demanding and begins at the site of the former Wolfe Ranch in Arches National Park.  This ranch was the home of a Mormon settler, who was a disabled Civil War veteran and built his house in 1898 and then lived there for twenty years.    The Delicate Arch Trail is one and one-half mile each way with a vertical rise of almost 500 feet.  

The trail begins from the Wolfe Ranch parking lot and then continues on a level dirt trail for maybe a quarter of a mile.  We pass the old Wolfe house, and then start climbing up some low hills, but the trail then heads up and over larger hills.  My breath starts to speed up as I walk up the steps that are erected on the trail to make our climb easier, but they do help.   As I look ahead of me when I start up the bigger hills I see this huge sloping piece of slick rock that appears to be at least one-half mile long.   

            I had this queasy feeling as I looked up toward this huge piece of sandstone rock.  The people hiking on the slick rock looked liked insects trudging up a concrete block.   But they were not insects and this trail to Delicate Arch will take us up this slick rock lined with “cairns” to guide our way.    A cairn is a stacked pile of rocks, a technique used by Indians to mark a trail, to show others and themselves how to reach a destination and return home.  With trepidation we finally reach the slick rock about one-half mile into our hike.  

             We are now somewhat drained, but still excited about reaching our destination….so as we reach the slick rock we easily spot the first cairn and continue our trek.   The slick rock slope is quite steep and we trudge upward to become the “insects” that those who are yet way behind us will see up ahead.   Our steps become quite labored, but we walk from cairn to cairn stepping over breaks in the rock or up the steps that are cut into the slick rock. 


            No point in looking to far ahead on the slick rock, just taking one step at a time takes enough energy.  We continue on and finally reach the end of the slick rock segment of the trail.  We have now completed approximately one mile of the hike and the trail becomes a little less steep as we leave the slick rock, and the trail takes us among Entrada sandstone formations where some small trees and bushes flourish.  


           Lila and I have been on this trail to Delicate Arch three times before and we knew what the “final reward” was…an intimate encounter with the arch that the state of Utah adopted as its symbol.   So we continue our hike along with other hikers as the trail becomes higher and follow the cairns to our final destination.    We have to step up, over and on rocks in our path and onto ledges in the sandstone formations.  


            As we approach the arch, our path takes us on a narrow ledge around a sandstone wall, but then Delicate Arch appears before us.   This massive sandstone arch that is in a constant state of erosion from wind, weather and water now stands before us as a majestic symbol of what nature could create.    The arch, once a solid piece of sandstone, was slowly worn away until its center eroded away with time leaving only the standing arch.


            Lila remained on the ridge that lies between the canyon floor below and the inverted dome away from the arch.    But I walked very carefully along the upper part of the inverted dome until I reached the arch and posed for a picture inside and under the arch as a final triumph of my trek.

            We sat there gazing at this breathtaking marvel, wondering when and if we would ever see it again.   We wondered whether we would have the energy to once again repeat our Delicate Arch hike especially as we get older.  Even further, will Delicate Arch withstand the forces of nature that created her and now continues to demolish her?  

            We then left and followed our path back down the trail to the parking lot and the comfort of our car.   Our trek is over, but we are left with the wonderful memories of this physical exertion and the “extraordinary image” of Delicate Arch.  

Additional photos of the natural designs in the park........

  Upper left and clockwise: Landscape Arch, Turret Arch, Balanced Rock and Park Avenue Trail