Fierce Green Fire: Breathing the air of adventure–part three

Delicate Arch. The culmination of a brisk hike up 1.5 miles of slick rock, this is the well-deserved ambassador of Utah, and provides a seminal moment in any trip to Arches National Park. Photo by Jonathan Hicks

Editor’s note: The following is the third in a three-part series. Part one appeared in the Feb. 10-16, 2010, issue, and part two appeared in the Feb. 17-23, 2010, issue.

By Jonathan Hicks
Staff Writer

Arches National Park was exactly how Abbey had described it. He called it simply “the most beautiful place on earth,” and as I stared up at red rocks unlike any I had ever seen, I was hard pressed to argue. We arrived only a few hours before sunset. It was enough time to learn where the approximately 20 miles of internal road would lead us, and inspire us to wonder about what lay beyond the perch of pavement. It would be just more than three hours before the sun fell below the canyon line. That was enough time to fall in love. Actually, no, it was more than that. It was the feeling when you have found true love; when you realize you are standing next to your soulmate. It is the feeling of wanting to shout out loud how alive you feel and never wanting to be anywhere else. It is realizing that you will think about them every second you are apart. It is the notion that you want to introduce and share them with everyone you love, and all at once keep them entirely to yourself. Like true love, it happened fast and with little warning.

The hues of the rocks shifted with the fading light. Reportedly, the coldest Arches NP had been in years, this place was frozen and devoid of movement. Still, there was no question it was very much alive. The landscape had a steady, progressive breathing pattern, and its mood seemed to change with every moment and cloud that floated by. I was transfixed. Never more in my life have I found myself wishing that the sun would never set.

We would spend about 48 hours at Arches. To say that two days is not long enough to explore 77,000 acres is a gross understatement. That said, we made the most of our time, hiking mile after mile, continually seeking out new arches and rock formations. The trails were rather primitive. Kicked up by every size and style of boot, the bright red sand settled atop equally brilliant white snow. Each footpath was a tapestry of color and texture, a reward for the small number of visitors who dared set foot here outside of tourist season.

Not surprisingly, though, I found nothing made by humans that could compare to the sculptures created by nature. Delicate red sandstone had been carved out by thousands of years of weathering. I am inclined to suggest that the wind and rain imitated Michelangelo and Rodin. Then again, as I picture Landscape Arch, or Delicate Arch in my mind, there is little doubt it was artists who emulated the elements. If the evening news were one’s only knowledge source, we would no doubt label rivers and monsoons as destructive; Arches NP was the reminder that they create as much as they destroy.

In two days, I saw sunrises, sunsets and fog in the air. But most of all, I saw myself—happy. In two days, I felt rain, snow and sand in the wind. But most of all, I felt alive—truly. Two days. Two incredible days.

I missed Arches within moments of leaving. Even now, as I write weeks later, my heart hurts as I ponder when or if I will step foot again in that magical place. I contemplate the same questions as Abbey. Near the end of Desert Solitaire, he pondered: “When I return will it be the same? Will I be the same? Will anything ever be quite the same again?”

I plan on finding out.

From the Mar. 10-16, 2010 issue

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