Sometimes a photograph doesn’t do a time or a place justice. It doesn’t tell you what it was like to be standing on top of a mountain or at the bottom of a waterfall or how it felt to bleed from your eyes in a bike race. This is usually seen as a bad thing. But sometimes it’s not.
I was in a bad mood when I took the above picture of Delicate Arch. An hour or two before this I had been comfortably tucked into a table at Miguel’s, drinking margaritas and eating all the salsa. And then inspiration struck and I decided I would head up to Arches National Park and hike the trail to Delicate for sunset. I scurried back to the hotel, packed up some camera gear, grabbed a bottle of water, and booked it to the trailhead.
Anyone that has hiked up to Delicate Arch knows that it’s a short hike that is also kind of an ass kicker. It rolls a couple times and then heads up a steepish section of slick rock for a half mile or so. It’s not super hard but it’s also not incredibly easy, and it feels a lot longer than a mile. The temperature was still around 90 degrees and I was in a rush to make it up before the sun went down. So I booked it.
Delicate Arch has to be one of the most photographed spots in Utah, if not the country. It sits in a natural bowl high above Arches National Park and when the light hits it at sunset, it glows. Hiking to Delicate Arch for sunset is one of the ‘must do’ things on every Moab visitor’s list. This is a good thing because it means a lot of people get to experience one of Mother Nature’s greatest shows in one of her most beautiful amphitheaters. And it’s a bad thing because you are very much not alone up there.
I had been up to Delicate Arch before and knew to expect a crowd. What I didn’t expect was the type of crowd that was there on this night. There were numerous families that didn’t seem to be getting along and a loud and rowdy group of college kids that were on some sort of school trip. They spent their entire time yelling back and forth at each other and doing yoga poses under the arch. Someone was running around draped in the school’s flag. Someone else had a radio. It was chaotic and loud and the opposite of what you want or expect in this type of place.
I was feeling pretty down on the whole thing. I was hot and tired from my sprint up the slickrock. I was annoyed at the party going on at the arch (I know, I know. Damn kids, get off my lawn!). I knew my husband and son were back at the hotel playing in the pool and I kind of wished I was with them. I wasn’t enjoying myself at all.
The hike back down to the trailhead in the waning light was a lot more peaceful. The desert is eerily quiet at night and the masses had long since dispersed. The setting sun made the sky glow pink behind the silhouettes of the rocks and the cooler air lifted my spirits a little. But I was still down on the experience.
A few days later I went through the photos I took while I was there. Most of them show hordes of people doing what hordes of people tend to do – hang out, be loud, and take a lot of selfies. (Full disclosure: I also take a lot of selfies. No shame in that game!). But the one at the top of this page, which is the only shot I have without people in it, shows Delicate Arch in the way that I prefer to remember it. It reminds me that it really is a magnificent spot and that it’s always worth the visit. It presents an image that was far different than reality. And, in this case, I’m pretty ok with that.