“Your Favorite Morning on Public Lands”
Season 2, Week 1
September 13, 2018
Join us on Twitter with the hashtag #NatureWritingChallenge to discuss and share the topic Thursday at 8:30 CST. This post was created in one hour specifically for this challenge.
I have a number of memorable mornings on public lands, but nothing quite like the morning I experienced a few weeks ago at Arches National Park. I’ve referenced the hike to Delicate Arch in my Hike 28 post, but I plan to visit why this was so magical for me and my range of feelings before, during, and after.
It was mid-August in Utah so we were expecting warm temperatures and moderate to heavy crowds in Arches National Park the weekend we were there. Our plan was to see as much of the park as we could in the day and a half we had, as well as what we could see at Canyonlands or the surrounding areas. I pitched the idea of starting a hike in the dark, very early in the morning, to Delicate Arch and my best friend Molly was totally on board because she’s just that kind of friend. I hadn’t hiked to Delicate Arch since 2010, and I didn’t really remember much from the hike except there was a ledge and then you were at the arch. Oh, I do remember Delicate Arch being much bigger in person, which shouldn’t be a surprise but was for me again on this visit.
A quick back track… We arrived via plane in Salt Lake City on Friday afternoon, from our home cities, and drove down to Moab Friday evening. We ate and drank at the Moab Brewery and then found our Airbnb just outside of town. Our plan was to wake up at 4, head to the Delicate Arch trail and hike up for the sunrise. We entered Arches about 4:15 AM Saturday and noticed some rain. The rain seemed to get more intense as we drove through, but we parked at the trailhead anyway and waited until about 5 AM. There were a few other people waiting it out, and eventually the rain let up as the light started to increase. People from a car that had came in and parked next to us headed out on the trail. We were not feeling as ambitious, as the sky wasn’t clear and we didn’t really want to end up wet for the whole day, so we headed back towards the entrance. The radar came up as cell data returned and we felt the right choice as the rain showers weren’t done for the immediate future. We had breakfast at the Moab Diner and decided to just enjoy the park all day and try again the next morning.
Sunday morning came and we were determined to make this happen. The weather was dry, the air was mild, and the parking lot was mostly empty. We were excited, this was happening! We strapped our headlamps on and ensured we had what we needed in my backpack, and hit the trail. I had downloaded the topographic map to my phone as well as had a screenshot of it, per the advice of Jenny the Trailhead. Luckily, thankfully, we didn’t really need the map. Since 2010, they had installed signs (though, if they were there in 2010 they were not in my pictures or memory) the whole way up. I had mixed feelings about the signs, still do, but they were helpful and steered us in the right direction when I was accidentally steering us in the wrong direction. I have a lot to learn about maps and directions, despite having a love for maps and directions.
The first portion of the journey was a well manicured, well built hiking trail that took us up a series of switchbacks to the open rock face that we’d continue onward and upward next. Being out there, under the stars in the early morning was pure bliss. Hiking in the dark was a new and exciting treat for both of us and something I want to incorporate into my rotation more often. Having an “unknown” factor due to limited sight and not remember the trail from eight years ago really heightened any excitement level.
As we scrambled over the (what I assumed) to be red rocks, we made it to the next portion on the journey and it was a little confusing for a second. The area, though mostly level, dipped through a low area and then quickly turned right to ascend towards Delicate Arch. I got confused and led us a bit off course but Molly corrected us and got us back on track. The morning light was getting brighter and we had reached the point where headlamps were not necessary any more. The excitement of the darkness was gone and replaced with the excitement of being nearly there. I was sweating buckets at this point, but it was worth it so far.
The final dash was an incline along a rock wall, essentially a ledge, that ended with our first view of Delicate Arch. The ledge was probably the easiest part, for me, and one of my favorites because I thoroughly enjoy walking on the edge of something. My heart was racing, my shirt was sweaty, and my mind was thrilled at the ledge and first sight of the arch ahead. We were one of the first few groups up there, second or third, and had our choice of spots to watch the sun rise in the distance. The sky was hazy, from what I assume was wildfire smoke out west, and the sunrise was quite unique because of that. More people made their way up, but it never felt too crowded. Some people may have lingered too long in front of the Arch or made dangerous choices, but everything seemed fine overall. When we got up to relocate, away from the main “entrance” for hikers, I fell. For a moment I thought I was going to die. It was a cartoon style fall, feet out from under me, nearly kicking Molly in the head, and I blacked out for just a second as my back hit the ground. My head was safe, and I had fallen into an area that wouldn’t have allowed for rolling off the cliff. I was embarrassed, but okay, and off we went to get a better seat and a closer look.
This whole morning had been a dream, and we had just started our day. After the sun was up and the people count multiplied exponentially, we decided to head down. Seeing the trail for the first time in real light was weird and wonderful. The views we missed and the little sights along the way were impressive and spectacular. Seeing your path and footing really helped as we descended the rock face, which was pinkish red, and getting to the car as the parking lot was filling up made us feel victorious in a way. We conquered this trail, had this experience, and it was only breakfast time for most. At the parking lot, we passed people who noticed Molly’s Western Michigan University shirt. We stopped to chat and learned they were also from Michigan and about to hike up to the arch. We recalled our experience, gave some pointers, and made sure they had water.
I left Arches feeling accomplished and inspired. I knew I could do the hike, but actually doing it and experiencing it made all the difference. Hiking under the stars and seeing that first light in an amazing setting was phenomenal and something I’ll never forget. If you’re going to Delicate Arch, I highly suggest doing it in the morning to avoid the head and avoid the crowds. People are fine, it’s expected, but why not see it before they arrive if you have the ability and time? One final thing… if you go up to Delicate Arch, OR ANYWHERE ON PUBLIC LANDS, leave no trace. Pack out your trash - this includes orange peels and sunflower seed shells. There were SO MANY seed shells up at the Arch. For more information on how to enjoy nature without destroying it, visit the Leave No Trace (LNT) website.