Happy Earth Day to you, this April 22nd, 2018. I feel like I experience Earth Day every time I visit a national park. On this occasion, I was up with scads of other people at Sunrise Point in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, watching: the sunrise.
I’ve heard that Landscape Arch and Delicate Arch were – but for a mistake – actually meant to be named the other way. I can understand that (if the story is true), having seen the long tenuous length of Landscape Arch, versus the “sturdier” and thicker curve of Delicate Arch.
Naming conventions aside, it was Delicate Arch I wished to see on my final day in Arches National Park, Utah. That particular landmark, emblazoning everything from t-shirts to water bottles to post cards to advertising campaigns, has been on my bucket list for years. How can anybody visit this park without going to see for themselves this amazing rock formation? It’s not really a very long hike; 3 miles round trip. It is a bit arduous, but not too bad – certainly not bad enough for an arthritic, overweight, out-of-shape gal like me to avoid. And I will tell you right now that this was an accomplishment that was the highlight of my entire vacation.
I’d saved this hike for my last day in the park, having (I hoped) built up my stamina to hiking and higher elevations (by “higher”, I mean anything higher than the 30 feet elevation of the Texas town in which I live) .
I like taking photos of trips and trails and posting them for others to see, because I like to see photos of places I want to visit, so I have an idea of what to expect. Thus, below is a photo travelogue from start to finish of my hike.
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There is a sign pointing to a turnoff along the main road through the park. The sign says something like “Delicate Arch/ Wolfe Ranch”. It’s a little misleading, that sign. You see, not only does that turnoff lead to the parking lot for the Delicate Arch trailhead, but if you drive on a little further past that first parking lot, you will see another parking lot specifically for the Delicate Arch Overlook. That trail is maybe 1/2 mile (straight up) and it affords the viewer a distant landscape vista of the arch.
Many people get the two places mixed up, thinking they are going to the overlook via the shorter route, when they really are taking the longer trail straight up to the arch itself.
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The prime time for photographing Delicate Arch is generally during the late afternoon/evening, and I’ve seen photos of the hundreds of photographers with their spots staked out by tripods, all ready to catch that evening light on the arch. August is extremely HOT during the afternoon and evening hours, so I instead opted to hike in the morning for a couple of reasons:
Not only were the temperatures cooler that morning, but it was overcast, with some interesting clouds. Good thing I brought along my Lee 4×6 .9 graduated ND filter and had a polarizing filter on my Canon 16-35mm lens (the only lens I brought with me for this hike). I’ve learned over the years that I don’t do well carrying a backpack loaded with lots of heavy camera equipment. I also learned during this Colorado/Utah vacation that I was primarily using my 16-35mm wide angle lens far more than any of the other two lenses I’d brought along. So that was the lens I took with me for the Delicate Arch hike. Oh, I also brought my tripod, which served a dual purpose as a hiking stick. I’m not a very sure-footed person, and that tripod was a great stabilizer for me.
Along the trail is the Wolfe Ranch homestead (aka Turnbow Cabin). It’s a small building with a protective screen blocking the entrance, prohibiting both man, woman, and beast from entry. It also takes a little creative angles in order to get a lovely photo of it without the screen door or window. I opted to concentrate the lens on the beautiful wood used to construct the cabin out in what was (and sort of still is) the middle of nowhere.
A slight detour from the trail brings the hiker to a set of petroglyphs (carved into the rock, as opposed to pictographs, which are drawn or painted). The detour trail actually loops around and joins back with the main trail to Delicate Arch, so it’s a worthwhile stop to see some ancient artistry.
This little guy was chomping down on some pistachios left on the bridge. It was so busy with the food that it hardly noticed me inching closer and closer to try and get a cute pic (using a wide angle lens).
Who would have thought there would be such an oasis in the middle of this arid landscape?
Onward via the trail, heading toward that area of pink slick rock. In this photo, it looks like it’s gently sloping upwards. In reality, it’s rather steep.
See the couple making their way down from the slick rock?
Pointing the way to Delicate Arch. These artful little rock piles called cairns fascinated me.
On the slick rock, heading up, up, up. That teeny little “blip” near that green dot of shrub is a person way ahead of me.
Looking back toward the parking lot, which is marked by that small swath of blue-green color in the middle of this image, just below the horizon. I’m still trying to find out exactly what mineral created that lovely color. I made the mistake of asking a former geology professor what mineral that might be, and he told me he never saw anything that color out there…..he reminded me he is color blind.
Had I not been fiddling with my water bottle, I should have kept a little closer to those hikers ahead of me in the photo below. If I’d done that, I would not have mistaken a rock pile for a cairn and veered off in the wrong direction. When I looked down a 10-foot drop off to see two real cairns and several other hikers, I knew I’d made a wrong turn somewhere and had to re-trace my steps. It’s easy to re-trace the trail in the daylight, but I shudder to think of how some photographers make it back down at night, after capturing their evening images of the arch.
I saw these little guys and knew I was still heading in the right direction.
Stone steps leading up to a ledge about 3-4 feet wide which wraps around that rock formation for about 200 feet.
Looking back toward some other hikers behind me coming up to the ledge.
The view from the ledge.
Delicate Arch is not visible until rounding the corner of the ledge wall. Then, the destination in sight. Once there, one has to scramble over those rocks you see in this photo in order to gain entrance to the slickrock “bowl” anchored at one end by Delicate Arch.
Delicate Arch is an incredible sight! It’s one thing to look at photos of it, but no photo can convey the feeling of human smallness against the geologic immensity of this rock arch. I gingerly made my way around the sloping slick rock bowl toward the arch and set up my tripod. There were so few people there that morning, and the four guys underneath the arch obligingly moved out of the way to make room for others (like me) who wanted themselves digitally memorialized against that pinky-red sandstone behemoth. I told a couple standing near me that I’d take their photo if they would take mine. My camera was set up on the tripod and all ready for someone to hold down on the shutter button. The cute young couple were thrilled to have someone offering to get their photo under the arch, and I was equally as thrilled that they would do the same for me.
Photographers, take note: I understand that you want people out of the way so you can get your winning image of Delicate Arch, but you must remember that this is a national park – a public place for everybody. Naturally, everybody who makes it up the 1.5-mile trail wants to view in awe (and photograph) this amazing structure. Be nice, be patient, and you should have no issues with your photography. I certainly had no problems being able to photograph the arch from different angles, and if somebody was in the way….well….that’s what the Content Aware menu item on CS5 & CS6 is for.
I met some interesting people while up there, too. A couple from San Antonio, Texas, struck up a conversation with me about my use of the graduated ND filter. As they were leaving, the husband turned to me, remarking that it was a shame it was not a sunny day. I held up my grad ND filter, smiled, and told him that overcast, cloudy days can yield some images every bit as interesting as those taken on a sunny day.
Time to head back down.
Taking a short break resting on Fred Flintstone’s recliner chair.
I made it!!
My last full day inside Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado, began with a spectacular sunrise and continued with a lesson learned.
Because vacations for people like me (a technical support person who has managed to work at the same place long enough to earn 4 weeks of vacation….out of 52 weeks of the year) usually aren’t more than maybe 10-11 days at a stretch (the company would have heart failure if I wanted to take a full two weeks or more off at one time), I generally cram as much activity into each day as I possibly can. Now, I have learned through the years not to push myself – I’m a little overweight, a lot out of shape, and currently reside in a part of Texas with an elevation of 30 feet. Mesa Verde NP has a general elevation of 7000 feet. On one of the cliff dwelling tours I took, the ranger mentioned that it takes about 3 weeks for a body to acclimate itself to a much higher elevation. I’d been there what? Three days?
So, I planned a single tour every day I was in the park (4 full days plus the half day upon my arrival). Ok, one day I had two tours, but who’s counting? It worked well. I’d be pleasantly tired, with the good feeling of having gotten my exercise and accomplishing what I wanted to do and see for that day.
On this last day, my goal was to take the Petroglyph Rock hike. I really wanted to see those ancient Puebloan rock carvings. It’s just 2.8-miles round trip…..2.8 miles of narrow, primitive, rocky, STEEP, rocky (did I mention that already?) trail. Had I not pulled a calf muscle a couple of days prior, and had I not been a dumb ass and brought along my backpack with extra camera, and extra water (in addition to the heavy camera around my neck, and the water bottle in one of my camera vest pockets), I might have made it through the hike. Maybe…..
When I started out, I met a worker who was thinning the brush alongside the trail. He warned me of a black bear sighting between markers 20-22 (there are 34 trail markers along that particular hike).
Ok folks, pretty much every single photographer I have ever met would sell their soul to photograph a bear in the wild.
I have seen first hand just what a bear’s claws can do to human flesh; one of my bosses in a previous life had been attacked by a grizzly and I not only heard his story, but also read the news clippings (and saw the photos) of his injuries. Bears make me verrrry nervous. Especially if I am hiking alone. I know several photographers who hike solo who have no problems with bears, and maybe they won’t ever have any problems. All I know is that I don’t want to meet up with one by myself.
There I was, talking loudly to myself, huffing and puffing and slowly taking all those steep areas and squeezing through those tight passages (you know the kind: sheer cliff face on one side and volkswagon-sized boulder on the other). Then, my calf muscle twinged and I felt a short, sharp stab of pain. Uh oh. I was already nervous about the bear, and now this.
After negotiating a particularly steep, narrow climb, at marker 17, I decided enough was enough. I still have Arches National Park to visit during this vacation, and more than anything, I want to see Delicate Arch for myself. Hmmm. Such a choice. Continue on that effing trail to see rock carvings, or rest up in order to manage the hike to see Delicate Arch?
I turned back.
During my initial hike up there, my gut feeling was not good – I have learned to trust my gut feeling more as I get older, and the more I hiked toward the carvings, the worse I began to feel – and this was not just a physical issue , but a psychic issue as well . The moment I turned back, I felt a great relief wash over me. No, I wasn’t the least bit disappointed that I hadn’t made it through the hike, and no, I didn’t feel like I’d failed at anything. It was just one of those days. They happen.
This feeling was reinforced when I met who I can only describe as an angel sent to help me understand the lesson at hand, in the form of a little German lady about my age or so, wearing shorts, hiking boots, hat, and carrying walking poles.
“Did you manage to crawl over the boulder?” she cheerfully asked. Hmmm. Which one? I’d seen, hiked past, and squeezed between a lot of large boulders, but I had not yet needed to climb over one.
I explained to her my decision to turn back because of my calf muscle. She smiled and nodded. “Yah, I do this hike every year, and every year, I begin to have more and more problems. I may not be able to do this hike next year.” She went on to explain to me that she comes out to the park and does a number of hikes during which she measures how she is feeling this time compared to the previous years. I told her I was recognizing my own limits and she nodded vigorously. We both laughed about at least getting some exercise on this day, and then went on our separate ways. I just can’t imagine our meeting to have been a mere coincidence.
I do understand now that I have limits and I am learning what they are. No matter how much I would like to be able to hike and scramble hither and yonder over multitudes of primitive trails like others my age can do, I simply cannot achieve that without some measure of pain, and at what cost? It’s a Petroglyph Trail vs. Delicate Arch choice.
So, this vacation of mine is not only a photographic paradise, but now also a good learning lesson. As a photographer, I find I am actually able to live within these limits and still capture awesome images without having to hike to the hinterlands if I cannot physically do so. For those of you photographers out there who may have the same issues as I do, well, there ya go. Know your limits, abide by them, and have fun taking pictures within those limits. It can be done.