Lost & Found on the Trail to Delicate Arch

Arches National Park Delicate Arch
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It’s raining. The wet desert smells like soaked stone and creosote.

After all the things I’ve worried about over the last year, all the fears and doubts, all the insecurities and crises about what I’m doing with my life, trying to structure empty days, not knowing how to move forward, or who to ask for help, or what to do to learn and grow, this seems simple: a landmark in mind, a goal, a trail.

Arches National Park - Delicate Arch Trail-10I can’t quite make out the path as it leads over the humping backs of red rock hills into wind-swept gullies full of sand and gnarled juniper trees, but I feel the instinct to move forward. I trust myself to go in the right direction, even if I may not be following the same footfalls of those who came before me. It doesn’t matter how I get there. But I know I will.

Today in the moody desert as I walk alone in the cold light of dawn, this trail to the Delicate Arch in Utah’s Arches National park feels more like a metaphysical journey into my future. It’s something about the way the ominous clouds keep shifting overhead, and that I’ve forged ahead and found myself in a desert alone. It’s this funny gut instinct that tells me to go uphill and towards a destination that I’ve never seen, and don’t know how to find. And how I feel lost, but so sure of where I’m headed at the same time.

Arches National Park - Delicate Arch Trail-12Every now and then I find a cairn marking the path.ย The stacked stones rArches National Park - Delicate Arch Trail-8eassure my way, but they are few and far between, sometimes spread wide across the swayed stone shelves. The rain is soft. Wrapped in the warm air of August, the drips lick my shoulders and bleed into the red stone below my feet. The wetness is comfortably cool. I push myself onward.

I pass a rabbit that hops between bushes and warily eyes me. I watch the silhouettes of skeletal sage turn from menacing shadows in the distance into mere clusters of fragile limbs as I approach. The dangers of this desert are mirages of my own fears. I keep moving.

I find a set of stairs that takes me to a shelf of stone that leads into the sky, and I’m on the edge. The air is thick now. The weight of the clouds, the rain on my skin, the heavy anticipation, and all the other things from my life I’ve piled into this hike.

And suddenly, I’m here. It’s the iconic arch. It seems bigger in person, the few hikers in my frame look like twigs, almost invisible on the rock, and it’s so quiet and calm here. It’s surreal.

I move closer. I sit on the rough sandstone and stare at the marvel in front of me. The thing that took so long to form, that’s still changing as the years pass and rains fall and storms roll through. It’s incredible.

I watch for a long time. The three hikers who beat me here this morning snap a few final photos and leave. Now it’s just me and the stone, my flesh and its bone, and it’s significant somehow, this communion. I don’t know. I guess it’s reassurance. This marvelous thing, this natural wonder, it took so long to become. But now it’s this. And yes, it will crumble, one day it will fall, but for now, look at how it stands so tall with such grace.Arches National Park - Delicate Arch Trail-13

My group meets me here. We take our own photos, clamor over the steep stone, and walk beneath the arch. We spread our arms under the dark sky and graze our fingertips against the red rock. We breathe it all in.

Then, we hike back down the trail together in the rain.

In the few days since the hike, I keep thinking about what it was like to feel myself on that path moving forward, alone, through the wet desert into a wild but promising unknown. This is my becoming. And although I feel uncertain a lot of the time, I have to remember to trust my instincts, to push forward on the unmarked path, to have grace in the unexpected storms, to stand tall and let the rain soak in and shape me.

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Have you been here before? Has one of your journeys taken on meaning beyond that of the physical journey to mean something more for your life? Tell me in a comment below!

4 Comment

  1. Olivia says: Reply

    I’ll be driving through Utah on my way to Colorado soon– definitely want to stop by Delicate Arch!
    Olivia recently explored…That Time I Almost Let Tourists Ruin My HikeMy Profile

    1. Arches National Park is incredible if you’re in that area, and Delicate Arch is definitely the most iconic place to visit. It’s quite a trek, but so worth it! You should check out Canyonlands National Park as well if you have time (It’s right across the highway from Arches). There are viewpoints right off the park’s main roads and the scenery is unbelievable! It would make an awesome pit stop on that road trip ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for your comment!

  2. Chris says: Reply

    Hailey, this post … wow. Just … WOW. I loved it. I found your blog thru searching on reddit for any tips on Moab, and voila–there you were. ๐Ÿ™‚

    We’re heading down there tomorrow, coming back Monday at some point. Not terribly worried about when we leave, so we may be down there almost a full day. We’ve done Delicate, but that was two Julys ago, when it was about 100. That was all kinds of bad ideas glopped into one.

    Anyway, thank you for your incredible post. It really resonated with me, and I thought you’d like to know. You definitely have one more follower.
    Chris recently explored…End of an Era with a Very Odd HorizonMy Profile

    1. Wow, thanks for your wonderful comment! In this virtual world of anonymous readers I don’t get a lot of feedback, so I really appreciate when people take the time to send a message – especially if what I’ve written resonates with them. So, THANK YOU!

      I hope the weather cooperates for your Moab trip! I can’t imagine hiking to Delicate Arch on a 100 degree July day, it was challenging enough on a cool rainy morning. October should be a perfect time of year to explore and photograph Moab’s incredible parks. I hope you have a great visit!

      Thank you again for your comment, and for following along. I don’t always know what I’m doing around here, but it’s nice to hear from readers and fellow travelers who’ve been where I have in life and around the world.

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