The Hike to Delicate Arch: A Distinctly American Experience
ARCHES NATIONAL PARK, UTAH- As far as National Parks go, Arches is one of the most accessible for those unable or unwilling to engage with the terrain around them. There are two or three roads that crisscross the park, so most of sights worthy of note are easily accessible by motor vehicle…you can simply drive up to the designated lookout, get out of your car, (leaving it running, as many people choose to do), take some photos, admire the scenery, jump back in your ride, and be on your merry way.
Delicate Arch, however, one of the most famous natural structures in Utah, requires a fairly strenuous hike—should you wish to see it up close. For a young, able-bodied male like myself, it’s not that bad. There’s no urgent need to bring water, or hiking poles. But for many of the tourists there just for the day—the elderly, those dressed in jeans and Sperrys, folks unwilling to break a sweat—this hike presents a bit more of a challenge. Scrambling over rocks, you’re forced to get yourself dusty. It’s hot, it’s windy, and there are periods of shade where the temperature drops drastically. It’s a hike that requires a baseline of physical fitness, and a tolerance for minor discomfort—seemingly obvious requirements for visiting a National Park.
Yet the beauty of Arches is that it is accessible to all, giving everyone the chance to experience just one of America’s treasures. This little doozy of a hike is truly special because there are people visiting from all over: license plates from California, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and Maine litter the parking lot. People flock to Utah from all across the U.S. to see Delicate Arch, this sandstone sculpture crafted by Mother Earth, slowly carved by millions of years of rain, snow, sleet, and wind, and a measly mile and a half hike isn’t going to stop them.
Joining the cavalcade of Americans making the trek are busloads of elderly Asian tourists, groups of fifty or more sticking tightly together, couples, mostly, paying little heed to those around them. I passed an Asian gentleman who wished me good morning, and I thought it was the greatest thing, because Americans—we smile and nod at each other, irritatingly frequently. It’s what you do when you’re on these little hiking trails…you pass people on your way out, you pass people on your way back, and you smile, nod and say good morning to everyone. On a hike like this, it becomes readily apparent that this is a practice limited to our culture, since you’ll pass groups of foreigners that don’t engage you the same way someone from Minnesota will. It made my morning when the elderly Asian man took the time to smile, and wish me good morning.
This short hike is a fantastic opportunity to people-watch, because you see everything from the aforementioned busloads of Asian tourists to a young, tanned, fit, shirtless, couple sporting matching LA Dodgers hats taking photos of each other. Yet what struck me as the most distinctly American visitors of them all were a unique couple: an older gentleman—in his early fifties, sporting an alternative style, a pierced ear, and long hair, accompanied by a young female companion who appeared to be Filipina or Indonesian; certainly of South Asian descent—and who was wearing a hijab. She had her iPhone out, and was busy taking photos of Delicate Arch (if there’s a single common theme amongst us visitors, it’s that we are all constantly taking photos). Visible underneath her garb was a pair of Merrell hiking boots—a smart move, considering the hike.
To me, there’s no better representation of our great country than seeing so many different people come to Arches, to go on this mile and a half long hike to lay heir eyes on this ancient wonder of the world. Sweaty clothes be damned; we’re all in this together. The diversity of visitors is fascinating—from the scores of Asian tourists on a pre-paid trip to single males like myself, we all have an abiding interest in experiencing the desert, and I saw no greater symbol of the tolerant and welcoming nature of our culture than the young Muslim lady and her partner. She’s accompanied by a companion who by all outward appearances doesn’t share this common cultural heritage—but that doesn’t stop the two of them from having a grand old time in one of America’s most scenic National Parks. Seeing the two of them take a selfie together—well, there are few scenes more American than that.