A delicate matter

When hiking to view Delicate Arch, the Park Service stresses the importance of carrying water, staying on the trail, wearing appropriate shoes, and leaving no trace. What it never mentions is that hikers should keep snide remarks about the throngs of other hikers to themselves. I wanted to say something to the woman heading up a steep incline with her newborn infant joggling in a sling against her chest, and to the parents of a towhead without a hat running full tilt along a crest of slickrock, and to the couple passionately making out in the narrow slip of shade along a rock face, but I didn’t.  Instead, I just grabbed my water bottle and sucked it up. 

Since I’m not in Arches National Park right now, I thought it might be appropriate to touch lightly upon some of the impulses I suppressed while sharing the rock, so to speak, with more than a few of my fellow aliens – judging by the otherworldly ways in which we conduct ourselves. 

Let me start by mentioning the intensity of the human voice.  In my opinion, sports arenas are the proper venue for shouting, screaming, yelling and generally letting loose at decibel levels that shatter the natural world. The one-and-a-half mile route from Wolfe Ranch to Delicate Arch is not a marathon, or any other kind of sporting event. Folks set their own pace with a goal (not to be confused with a score) of reaching the most recognizable and popular arch in the park, just to see its magnificence. Nobody wins if their voice gets there before their body. 

Another matter worth pursuing now that I’m feeling more free to express myself is the difference between petroglyphs and graffiti. Both are accomplished by carving on soft sandstone walls with a hard instrument, and each is fostered by the human desire to more-or-less permanently prove historically that we were here. The difference? It’s more than just the amount of time that has passed between the carving and the glyph’s discovery. 

In early April, a hiking spot near Sand Dune Arch had to be closed by park officials because too many of the more than 1 million annual visitors defaced the rock surfaces with their personal cries for permanence. Contributions like the initials AL + BF scratched inside the shape of a heart give banality a bad name. Nothing the ancestors left behind on rock walls bears any testimony to their personal egos. No BF deal to them, but for some reason, the selfie of our culture continues to assert itself.

I would recommend hikers just focus on their pedoglyphs along the trail – namely, the personal tread patterns imprinted in the soft dirt, when there is enough dirt to snatch the ghost of their stride from the bottoms of their feet.  Maybe with this, the urge to leave our mark on the earth would be fulfilled. 

Much of the trail to Delicate Arch traverses rock. Its surface has been scoured by weather for eons, long before humans, or aliens, ever found their footing in the earth’s ecosystem. The Park boasts more than 2,000 natural arches in its catalog, carved by the pointy tip of time. Geology doesn’t chew gum and spit it out along the trail. It doesn’t leave sweatshirts hanging on convenient tree limbs, or toss empty plastic water bottles in the shallow indentations where rainwater pools. These are the manifestations of a manifest destiny.

The parking lot, like the bottom of an hourglass, will continually fill with vehicles until every designated space is occupied, as a stream of visitors heads up the trail and eventually back down. The Park Service (not to be confused with any kind of valet parking service) recommends that if a particular lot is full, visitors should return at a later time, which is not what happens when people pull in, unable to find a place to park. They begin to circle the lot like petroleum-based buzzards, or they stop and idle their air conditioners, waiting for someone’s time to expire.  

And if a person should be so lucky as to reach the informal amphitheater where Delicate Arch occupies the center stage, a crowd of resting figures will likely never notice that one more creature has arrived. A hundred cameras will be loading that arch, pixel by pixel, onto their memory cards. Children will be chasing the chipmunks that scamper and hide in the rock crevices, having figured out how this barren landscape often yields tasty morsels of non-chipmunk delicacies. The sun will trace its own illusion of a massive arch from one horizon to the other, heating the rock surface along the way, reminding everyone that time is light, or energy, or atoms, or some absurd derivative of all the forces beyond anyone’s control – including human behavior.

David Feela


In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

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January 26, 2024
Paper chase

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January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows