I was lucky to see canyon country
repeatedly over all seasons. I realized that when we visit a place
once we leave with a mental
snapshot, not at all worthy of the landscape. As a park ranger I was
always amazed when people told me, "We saw Delicate Arch the first time.
We don't need to go back." Landscape changes over time, but more significantly,
we change over time and view things differently. I hope these essays
will help people develop a deeper appreciation and respect for the desert
and that they will want to learn more about it.
From the book:
Delicate Arch has become an icon. From license plates
to calendars to laminated place mats, its likeness has been plastered
onto every imaginable surface. Even so, few, if any, images can capture
the full magnitude of Delicate Arch. Despite the fact that most visitors
to the arch already carry in their head an image of the span, it rarely
fails to meet expectations. More importantly each of us carries away
a different vision of the structure.
If you ask a geologist about Delicate
Arch she might say: "It is all that remains of a fin formed by the
collapse of a salt anticline. Also, notice that the top of the arch
is made from a different
material than the bulk of the structure. This harder cap is key to
the arch's shape because it has helped protect Delicate from additional
A photographer would give a different
response: "Go see
it at sunset when the low-angle light electrifies the rock, changing
it from orange to red to salmon in only a few minutes. The interplay
of shape and light creates an ever-changing palette. The magic of the
arch is that a photographer could spend years here and always find
new and intriguing angles to shoot."
A philosopher might point out
that "The sheer improbability
of Delicate invites us to inquire into forces that work in ways far
beyond our understanding. The arch is so fantastic that we may feel
belittled or humbled by nature. On the other hand, we may want to rejoice
that such simple forces as erosion and gravity could conspire to produce
such a sublime visage."
A first-time visitor might simply
say "Wow!" and thus
summarize all thoughts into one globally understandable word.
Delicate Arch Viewpoint offers another perspective. The
gentle trek affords the time to focus on the surrounding landscape.
On the way up, you pass through one of the park's most unusual rock
layers, the Morrison Formation. The green, red, and white beds consist
predominately of sand and silt deposited in lakes and streams that
came and went in the region over millions of years. The green-blue
hills near the Delicate Arch Trailhead parking lot contain iron-rich
volcanic ash that fell into lakes. In the oxygen-free environment of
the lake bottom, the iron turned green. Had it been in an oxygen-rich
environment, the iron would have turned rusty red.
Boulders of milky white chert, a type of quartz that
precipitated out of the lake water, dot the viewpoint trail. Also known
as flint, chalcedony, or jasper, chert has been used for thousands
of years for projectile points and arrow heads.
You can see Delicate Arch for
most of the walk up to the viewpoint. At the top of the Viewpoint
trail, Delicate Arch confronts
you from across a small canyon. The view from here is of the arch in
context. It reveals what makes the arch truly remarkablethe sum
of the parts that makes that single spectacular element whole.