The “main event” in Arches National Park is undoubtedly Delicate Arch. It has been documented that people come from all over the world to see Delicate Arch and I can confirm that statement. Peter and I estimate that 40 percent of the visitors in Arches (and the other national parks we visited) were from other countries.
Delicate Arch is one of the largest free-standing arches in the park with an opening of 46 ft high and 32 ft wide. I knew prior to our visit to Delicate Arch that it would be bigger than I imagined but I could not believe my eyes when it first came into view.
Peter and I went back and forth on whether to visit Delicate Arch at sunrise or at sunset. There were pluses and minuses to the two times of the day. Sunrise would have fewer visitors but the arch would have muted tones because it is the sun that makes the stone “glow”. Sunset would present the arch in its blaze of gold glory but would have far more visitors.
The big question about sunrise was what time to arrive at the arch. Sunrise was technically at 5:55am but we were not sure if we should arrive for “technical sunrise” or if we should arrive shortly after technical sunrise. We ultimately decided to set the alarm clock for 4:15am to arrive for technical sunrise. This was our second day in a row waking in the 4 o’clock hour and would become a theme of the trip.
From our hotel in “downtown” Moab, it took 5-10 minutes to drive to the park entrance. We blew through the unmanned entrance gate. We were the only car in the park and we could see the sun starting to light up the horizon so we zoomed through the park on the curvy one-lane road and arrived at the car park shortly after 5am. I remember telling myself that I needed to treat the ride like a game of Mario Kart.
There were eight other cars in the car park when we arrived. We jumped out of the car with way too much energy for 5am and started our very brisk one-and-a-half-mile uphill hike/run to Delicate Arch.
We arrived at Delicate Arch around 5:40am, 27 minutes after we started our hike. The last portion of the hike is all uphill and the very last portion takes you along a narrow ledge that hugs the big stone wall that hides Delicate Arch from view. People scared of heights will not like this short segment of the trail but I found it exciting because I knew that the Delicate Arch reveal was around the corner.
Note: I snapped the photo below at 7:15am, one hour and 20 minutes after technical sunrise.
The reveal was incredible with the most surprising part being that the arch is positioned on the rim of a bowl.
The bowl is a natural amphitheater with relatively steep sides. The stone’s surface is similar to a very fine sandpaper and your shoes “stick” to it well. Peter would not say the same but as soon as I trusted the sandpaper stone, I scurried around with what was a [very] false sense of confidence. I felt like a superhero being able to walk and run on 45-degree slopes without sliding to the bottom of the bowl.
Below is a reverse view of the bowl.
The first item on the Delicate Arch agenda was to get a picture of me inside the arch. Being scared of heights, Peter pouted and refused to do anything but sit high up on the rim of the bowl so I was at the mercy of a stranger to get the photo that I so desired. That tiny white spec is me!
There were approximately 20 people at the arch when we arrived and everyone was very respectful of taking photos. I felt that there was a shared understanding that we all woke early so that we could get people-free photos of the arch or photos of the arch with only those people we wanted in the photos. Everyone took turns and no one lingered inside or around the arch for too long. That short timeframe was an America we all hope for and want back – one in which its people are kind and respect one another.
The kindness and respect, however, was short-lived. Within an hour of our arrival, there were three times the number of people and no one gave a damn if they were lingering under or near the arch too long and fucking up photos for literally everyone else at the arch.
After my “under arch” photo, I sprinted to the rim of the bowl, grabbed the cameras and climbed up to what can only be described as my perch; a perch that everyone was jealous of and wanted to be seated on. One guy asked me to move and I kindly refused – I got up at 4:15am for that perch and, therefore, it was mine!
Two people offered to take photos of me because they “knew what it was like traveling alone and hardly ever getting photos of oneself”. I didn’t tell them that I was not traveling alone and that my scaredy-cat husband had descended to the bottom of the bowl and instead smiled and said, “It’d be great if you could take a photo of me!”
I love the photo taker’s shadow in the photo below. He was so close to the edge of the stone. One foot backward and he would have fallen off the stone to his death.
I sat on my perch for over an hour waiting for the sun to rise high enough in the sky to light up the arch. It was absolutely freezing cold and I was wearing almost no clothing. I’d left my long sleeve shirt (aka “jumper”) in my backpack with Peter when I ran to the arch for my “under arch” photo and did not think twice about putting it back on after I grabbed the cameras and headed for my perch.
It was very boring on my perch as I patiently waited for the sun to slooooooooowwwwwwwly rise. I passed the time by working on my modeling and selfie-taking skills. At some point, I noticed a green tuft growing on the top of the arch and then spent 20 minutes perfecting this stupid photo and giggling to myself.
An hour and 15 minutes after technical sunrise, I left my perch. I wanted very badly to see the arch in a rich gold but snot was streaming down my face and I was afraid I was going to get hypothermia so I left my perch.
Almost immediately after leaving my perch, I bumped into an older gent from Australia. He and I got to chatting, I think mostly because he was worried about my health. He asked, “Where is your jumper? You look frozen!”
We chatted for a little bit and whilst we were chatting, Peter was taking photos of the arch from the bottom of the bowl. On the left side of the photo below, there are two people standing high up on the ridge with only the sky in the background. The left-most person is the Australian and I am the person standing on the “triangle” stone to the right of the Australian.
Coincidentally as Peter was photographing us, I was photographing Peter at the bottom of the bowl.
When Peter and I reconnected on flat land, he recited the conversation I had with the Australian word-for-word. I was absolutely stunned by what he was telling me because Peter and I were nowhere near one another when the conversation took place. I knew that the bowl was a natural amphitheater but holy shit that blew my mind.
If I could visit Delicate Arch all over again, I’d still choose to visit at sunrise to get photos of the arch without a hundred brightly dressed strangers in the background but I’d go into the visit with the understanding that the arch color will be a muted red/taupe color and getting great photos of a glowing arch is not possible at that time of day.
If we had more time at the park, I would have revisited Delicate Arch at sunset. The landscape of the park differs greatly based on the sun’s position in the sky. As I mentioned in a prior post, it would take a week of exploring the park to understand the best time of day to take photos at all of the major arches and monoliths.