Utah: Arches National Park
July 10, 2016
by Brian Baek
Balancing precariously between boredom and restlessness, I curiously peeked out from the passenger seat into the grey wilderness that surrounded the highway at 7am. I was un-optimistic about this place.
“What could deformed rocks and weird shrubbery offer me anyways?” I thought, “Utah is known for their mormons and their basketball team not for their fun and thrilling experiences.”
To add insult to injury, I was tired, lazy, and, most of all, not in the mood to hike 5+ miles across the decrepit Utahan land.
I knew much about Arches before I arrived. It’s easy to Google information on one of the most iconic national parks. I learned Arches National Park is one of the most famous national parks in the United States and is on the Colorado River around 6.5 km north of this mountain biking, tourist town, Moab, Utah. In April of 1929, this area was named a National Monument and then on November of 1971 was redesiginated as a National Park. It was once home to the Fremont and Ancient Pueblo People as well as Spanish and Mormon missionaries. The park’s poster child is the 20 meter tall, geological masterpiece known as the Delicate Arch (pictured above). Plastered on postage and license plates, this landmark is probably most recognizable from the 2002 Winter Olympics torch relay when the Olympic torch passed through the arch right before the opening ceremony at the Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah.
It’s easy to Google facts about this place; however, there’s no way to Google what I was about to experience here.
The Journey (feat. Tall Blond Guy)
When we parked at the entrance in the morning, the air was frigid and the park was in a tranquil slumber. As I woke up from my haze and energized myself, the park did the same. The sun finally turned on and nature finally clocked in to do her job: astound us. The first thing I noticed when I walked across the park was the openness of the park and the freedom I felt walking though it. I quickly befriended a group of hikers along the trail and the tall, blond man, who appeared to be the leader, began talking to us about the sereneness that surrounded the place. He had been here multiple times and proclaimed that every square inch of this place has something to offer. The beauty of it is that you can stop anywhere and rest because you can live a new moment in that spot that no one else in the place can live.
“Good.” I quietly thought to myself, “That means I don’t have to hike as much I have to.”
His words were grandiose and quite frankly foolish in hindsight but his words made sense at the time. Although I was cynical of this place at first, I had to agree this place was amazing. Visually, the place was astounding due to all the contrasting colors, unique shapes and different textures. Every breath you took from the fresh mountain air felt like your first. I continued to follow my new hiking companions and the group’s leader continued to express his spiritual connection to the place.
“The best sight in the entire park is The Arch” he advertised “You stop and wonder and as you look through The Arch. It’s as if you are looking into the eye of the architect, God, himself.”
He was referring to the previously mentioned Delicate Arch. I was intrigued and kept listening. He told stories of how the cowboys rode through these lands and how this place has given universal insight to all who enter. We marched on and admired the sparrows flying, the lizards scurrying and the flowers being flowers.
I felt as if we were embarking on an epic journey to the Delicate Arch.
After passing a stream, the group decides to rest and we sit on some rocks. We pull out our water bottles and snacks. Ironically, I do not want to rest. At this point I was eager to complete our journey. We didn’t walk all this way to stop and stare. I become inpatient and ask the leader how far away the Arch is. To my surprise, they laugh at me and they inform me that they are headed to see the Klondike bluffs on the other side of the camp. The Delicate Arch is the other way.
I was appalled and disappointed. It was like if you went to a Maroon 5 concert and everybody around you is hyping up how amazing Maroon 5 is live but then all that is played are Maroon 5 cover bands. I didn’t come to this park and walk all this way to see any old rock or cliff. I departed from my friends and the leader tells me to follow the trail, be safe and open my mind for grace of God.
If I were to be completely honest, the reason I joined a group of hikers was because I had no idea what I was doing. I can easily get lost and get myself into a situation similar to James Franco in 127 hours. After twenty minutes of exiling myself, I realized this was a bad idea. There were at least 4 things that could kill me. Dehydration, starvation, exhaustion and disorientation all worked to tear me down but I did not stop. It’s not that I didn’t find the rest of the park worthy enough. It’s that I had to see if this journey can open my mind and my eyes to the world around me.
After walking for some time, I found myself on the Delicate Arch Trail. On the trail, you reach this large rock structure and in the middle of it lies a small arch. I climbed my way to this arch and peered through. I gave my eyes time to focus since the light on the other side was much too bright. Through the frame of this rock arch I saw my final destination. I’ve made it.
I trudged past the rock barriers and found myself looking at the main attraction (the Maroon 5 to this Maroon 5 concert, if you will). The way the hiking leader described this arch was ethereal. He made it seem like this structure was put here by God himself.
I thought I would experience what 18th century English romantic poets called “the sublime.” I believed I could have what Stephen Greenblatt called “a realm of experience beyond the measurable that is beyond rational thought, that arises from the terrors and awe-inspiring natural phenomena.”
One look at the arch up close and you realize that it was just a rock. I took a step back and breathed in. I looked into the arch. Nothing. I did not have that transcendental moment I traveled all this way for. The words “eye of the architect” rung in my head. For 15 minutes, I was looking into his eyes wondering why he won’t look at me back.
Looking through the arch, what I did experience was the vibrant blue sky, the hypnotizing geology and the complete ecstasy you feel after making it to the climax of your journey. I had made it all this way without water, food or proper directions. I may not have become transformed from this experience but from the dull, Mormon land of Utah I learned that the best adventures come from the ones you persevere for.
Now if you’re planning on going to Arches, remember there’s not much else to do there except hike, camp and take pictures. I recommend anybody who loves nature and the feeling of fresh air to look into going here. Since Utah has many other national parks such as the Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks, I would plan an entire week’s trip traveling to many of these captivating landscapes.
Here’s a list of things I recommend you bring to this trip:
- Lots of water– try to bring around 2-4L
- Food/snacks– I would say the typical jerky and trail mix to keep your stomach busy as you walk.
- Hiking boots/shoes– Although I walked through the place just fine in my Nike’s, my feet were beaten and exhausted afterwards
- Jacket/Coat – It gets cold in the morning and in the evening. During the summer, I would imagine it would get pretty hot so use your best judgement.
- Friends – So you don’t have to join a cult-like hiking group with a charismatic leader.
- An open mind – It may be just Utah but if I were to be bitter about being in Utah the entire time, I would not have had as good as an experience as I did. Remember at any time you can stop and admire what’s around but the best journey’s come from willfully charging through the unknown.