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Hiking Happenings September 2004

Blue Moon Hike to Delicate Arch
by Carrie Switzer

“Once in a Blue Moon,” my mother would sometimes say to me, always followed by a description of some unlikely prospect or event.

Turns out Blue Moons occur with the exact frequency – or infrequency – my mother conveyed. One such caught me by surprise when I ventured for a full moon hike to Delicate Arch in late July, the second full moon of the month.

Early morning and evening are best for this hike on any moon, but evening is even more desirable with the prospect of a full moon’s natural light against long stretches of sandstone and slickrock. This is a three-mile round trip, accentuated by a strenuous, albeit straightforward, stretch on what always feels to me to be the “heart of the earth.” In mid-summer this heart pumps heat, and lines of hikers appear like a perfect formation of working ants on its surface. In September, one can expect cooler temperatures and that classic quality of autumn light that makes blues bluer, reds redder, every color more.

I planned to take this hike with a group. Hiking to Delicate Arch on a full moon is a popular sport. Having misunderstood where to meet, I embarked alone, and took only mental notes of the sunset behind me, while anxiously awaiting the rise of a smiling sphere ahead. It was a perfect night, and I prepared myself by bringing a flashlight, plenty of water, camera and notepad. Unbeknown to me, a feast awaited at my destination – for the eyes, body and soul.

The Delicate Arch trailhead is well-marked, about a 20-minute ride on Arches national Park’s main road. An old homestead, a worn-but-standing cabin known as Wolfe Ranch, is the first landmark along this trail. Located in Salt Wash, the cabin was built around 1898. John Wesley Wolfe lived there with his family for about 10 years before they returned to their home in Ohio.

Beyond the cabin is a gentle, if somewhat rocky path leading to the massive stone that exposes hiker to earth and sky and seems to go on forever. The path is well marked by cairns, stacks of stone meant to keep hikers on their path, which these days in Arches are as ornamental as the surroundings.

Many hikers reach the top of this climb just as they grow tired of it. The landscape at that point offers a new view, smaller and more winding, challenging steps, and ultimately a ledge walk with fantastic views below, but not an arch in sight.

Where is this “Delicate Arch,” made famous on license plates and business cards throughout Utah?
Around a bend, to the right, due southeast is this massive, never aptly portrayed, illustrated or described Delicate Arch. Familiarity with the image does nothing to hinder the wonder of its real-life beauty. And there, poised and surreal, is the full moon.

There too is the group I intended to hike with. It’s comforting to know the locals enjoy their own backyard and this significant full moon hiking event. Others are there too, and we stay after dark. Even with the light of the moon, we use flashlights on the way out.

But not before sitting, chatting, eating.

I’ve hiked to Delicate Arch with a baby on my back, a school-age child in tow, alone and with visitors from out of town. I don’t recommend it for very young children who cannot be carried, as they tend to tire before they get to the “prize.” It is easy to stop along the way for a break, and even enjoying the Arch itself, taking your time to get there and back, it is a three-to four-hour trek.

I highly recommend a full moon hike to Delicate Arch for fall.


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