I lived in Utah for a year and never visited Arches National Park until I moved out of state – literally during the drive as I left Utah for my next state of exploration. In fairness, I could be at Zion National Park in less than an hour, the north rim of the Grand Canyon in just over an hour, and even cruising to Bryce Canyon National Park took less time. (Yes, southern Utah is a cornucopia of spectacular scenery.) So even though I wanted to explore the odd red rock sculptures, distractions of nature waylaid me. When I did finally stop early on the morning, Pompey, my newest travelling companion, prevented me from hiking any of the dog-free trails. Nonetheless, we made our way to the iconic Delicate Arch and then proceeded to work our way forward to the entrance.
Delicate Arch, so named not for its tenuous perch, but rather the craftsmanship of nature in creating it, poses into an iconic image not just for the national park, but for the state of Utah itself. (Aside: I always chuckle that a constant issue of contention among Utah residents is the quantity of federal versus state/private lands, yet this federal site represents the state on everything from entrance signs to its license plates. Discuss amongst yourselves.) My time in Utah was quickly drawing to a close, literally by a few hours, and if I wanted to maximize my experience among the thousands of arches, I needed to prioritize my visit. I reached an observation point where the Delicate Arch basked in the glow of sunrise and made the cut of the handful of final sites I enjoyed before moving along.
It’s funny how what I think will be breathtaking gets usurped by the smallest of objects. This morning’s air fills with bits of moisture crystallizing in the cold, bright light as the clouds float aside. The developing flakes of ice move sideways, as if lifted off of the branches of trees and deposited against my skin, for one, and onto the cool objects around me. They materialize and sparkle in mid-air. When they do encounter an object, unlike my skin, to which they adhere, they create a collection of cronies that glisten and dramatically alter even the most bland of surroundings.
Imagine the contrast of these delicate ice crystals, metamorphosing from the invisible droplets around me, against the rugged, red rock of the Delicate Arch. Suddenly the mammoth opening in the distance does not impress me as much as the designs in front of me. In an hour, these tiny flakes adhering to the wooden fence rail and each other will vanish. Thousands of tourists are entering the park today to hike the distance to the impressive stone formation, and nearly every one of them will miss the delicate designs of ice. The ages spent carving this stone structure delighted me in their gradual grandeur, but nature can create and erase wonders just as remarkable in mere moments. Even in these fleeting hours as I vanish from Utah, these delicate ice crystals likely disappear before I do.