August 17, 2012
Following a hot, muggy sleepless night at Horsethief Campground, we woke up at 5 AM and drove 35 miles to hike Delicate Arch in Arches National Park. The drive to Arches was pretty scary since it was still pitch black and there were no lights on the roads or highway. Driving through the park to get to the parking lot was equally terrifying since we had to drive up switchbacks that climbed 400+ ft and then go down into the valley all in the dark. When we arrived, we filled our Platypus water bladders, packed some food, and started our hike around 6 AM, just as the sun's rays were starting to illuminate the red rocks around us.
From the parking lot, we walked past some very smelly pit toilets that were basking in the desert heat and then hit the trail. The first half mile of the 3 mile roundtrip hike consisted of a well-maintained gravel trail, a deserted cabin, a bridge crossing, and a side loop trail that took us to some petroglyphs. We checked out he abandoned Wolfe Ranch cabin that has weathered the desert air since the early 1900's. After a quick detour to admire the hardy goat petroglyphs that were carved by the Ute Indians hundreds of years ago, we were back on the main trail and focused our energy on getting to Delicate Arch.
The gravel trail went up some switchbacks, climbing 60+ ft, then continued on to a red sandy dirt trail. The red trail then brought us to a huge mound that looked like molten lava or Jabba the Hutt. However, this was not Jabba the Hutt and instead was slickrock. The slickrock mass didn't look large or overbearing from the far away but as we got closer, it turned out to be a formidable pink/orange blob. The blob's 30 degree angle incline and the escalating 75 degree F morning temperature didn't make the hike too comfortable nor fun. With only rock cairns to lead us up the slickrock blob, we ascended and tried not to get lost. We hiked straight up the right side and then turned left on the ridge at the top.
From the ridge, the trail led us through a sandy "desert oasis" with green shrubs and little pools of toxic-looking water. Once we emerged from this area, we were met with another expanse of slickrock with cairns on the right and left sides and ended at a cliff edge. M and I were thoroughly confused until we went to the right side and found some stairs carved into a rock wall. The stairs led us to a ledge that was carved/blasted into the side of the rock wall. Around the bend, as the sun was getting brighter and the clouds were breaking, we saw the long queue for Delicate Arch. There were about 8 people waiting ahead of us while 4 more were busy snapping pictures of themselves in front of the arch. We took some pictures of the arch and figured that seeing the most iconic arch in all of Utah was good enough for us so we turned around and made our way back to the parking lot. M and I still had a 7 mile hike to start in another part of Arches National Park.
In summary, the hike to Delicate Arch was fun, fast, and way too popular as is everything else in Arches National Park. It is best to start hikes early so you can take advantage of the cooler weather and hopefully avoid the crowds. If there is rain, it might be in your best interest to not hike on the slickrock trails as they will be very slippery. Furthermore, Delicate Arch is listed as a strenuous hike so make sure you are fit enough for this challenging but short hike. There is a shorter, easier hike where you can view Delicate Arch but you will not be able to walk up to it. All in all, Delicate Arch was a great hike and well worth it.
Delicate Arch Hike
|1.5 miles one way from the parking lot to Delicate Arch (red pin). Map taken from Google maps.|
|Wolfe Ranch cabin, Arches National Park|
|M on the bridge, looking back at the Wolfe Ranch (in the back, on the right), stinky pit toilets (back on left) , and parking lot.|
|Surprised to see a Great Blue Heron in Arches National Park.|
|Petroglyphs at Arches National Park|
|Looking back at the parking lot but can't see it anymore since we went over a series of switchbacks.|
|Hadrurus spadix (Black Back Scorpion) I didn't see the scorpion on the trail but M saw it and stopped me from stepping on it.|
|Trail winds to the left then swings right, leading us to climb over the ridge in the background|
|Trail is very nice and well-maintained at this part, then changes and swings to right.|
|Trail now changes to red sandy dirt, will swing right then go up slickrock|
|Trail is now slickrock, climb up slickrock mass|
|Slickrock mass...Jabba the Hutt|
|Closer look at slickrock, go straight then hike ridge going left|
|Stairs that were cut into slickrock. Arches National Park|
|Slickrock, Arches National Park|
|Sign and cairns at the top of slickrock mass. Arches National Park|
|Another view from top of slickrock ridge. Blue in middle right of the picture is where parking lot is. Arches National Park|
|"Desert oasis" area after the slickrock ridge.|
|Some stairs to Delicate Arch. Arches National Park|
|"Desert oasis" area, looking back at the hike. Over the orange hill is the slickrock ridge. Delicate Arch hike.|
|"Desert oasis" area. Follow trail then go right.|
|Follow cairns, steps will be on the right and then follow the ledge.|
|Stay to the right. Delicate Arch hike|
|Go up stairs and go left. Stay on ledge.|
|Pass this gorgeous knot arch on the way to Delicate Arch. Arches National Park|
|Ledge on the hike to Delicate Arch.|
|Around the bend from previous picture. After this bend is Delicate Arch.|
|M wearing Delicate Arch. Arches National Park|
|Delicate Arch, Arches National Park|