By Joan Larsen
Reimagine a walk in the park… as we all know that the wonderful feeling we get when we “discover” the incredibly beautiful places in our world that just may take us a few steps off the beaten path — or the paved road. In the Americas, I have kept the national parks in southern Utah as my own private secret for years. That irrepressible yearning for the red rocks returns far too often – and why not? The state is stunning. Once seen, it latches on to your heart forever.
I hate playing favorites, but once seen, Arches National Park exerts its pull with new wonders around every turn on its many trails or its turnoffs on the park road. Trust me: spring and fall beat out summer. Well, unless you are keen to roast to death. Be forewarned. We all need affordable getaways such as Utah offers, but the deep blue skies and the red rock arches – seen nowhere else in the world – are simply unforgettable.
Who doesn’t want to come home with memories that are never forgotten? And, embarrassing as it was, I will share my high- on- the- cliff, life-and-death accident caused by – well, wanting to capture a photo that no one in the world had ever gotten from that angle. What was I thinking??
But first, as often a photo is worth a thousand words, the Fiery Furnace trip at Arches, once taken, will put you in an elite group of very lucky people. Call as far ahead of time from home to the Visitor Center in Moab, Utah, to make reservations, as this is one of the very few trails I have ever taken that require a leader so you don’t get lost. Before you say “no way” and pretend to mean it, know that I am probably older than you are and if I can slip and slide thru tight places, I am pretty sure you can. And if you are old enough to have played “follow the leader” as a child, you know you will not be alone on that trail. Ever.
The Fiery Furnace has you believing that there is nothing you cannot do now that you have returned. You stand around thinking that they will certainly reward you with gold stars. But an early afternoon rest sounds equally good… as you don’t want to ever miss a late afternoon into early evening with its shadows setting off the rocks in ways unimaginable.
Time then for an easy hike up to the state’s pride and joy: Delicate Arch. Each time I return, its beauty later calls me back to see it one more time. It’s Utah’s #1 draw and yet, I have often returned at just the right time when just handsful of people stand or sit on the rocks and dreamily stare.
The walk up? Wide and easy, and just below Delicate Arch, the trail narrows and runs along a steep cliff edge, just to give you a feeling of accomplishment at the top!
My Nikon camera at the ready and the fading light at its perfection, I just needed that one shot with no one else in the photo. Intent and knowing I was high up but standing on solid rock – holding the camera to my eye – I shifted, stepping sideways, forward for a closer shot. I will tell you that this was the very last time I demanded perfection in a photo. Four others, climbing up, were about to spoil my shot. With my camera up and ready, I took a step back to let them pass. I had no idea that I had reached the edge of the cliff. That beginning of a step was into nothingness a long way down onto more rock. And then – like Humpty-Dumpty – I couldn’t be put back together again.
The stranger grabbed my jacket and held tight, pulling me toward him. The man passing me saved my life. I won’t tell you how long I sat as my nerves took over at the side of Delicate Arch. I had been a second from death. Just know you will see no photos of the route going down. The park ranger later assured me that they had had no deaths at the park from someone taking a photo.
That zero record was a fraction of a second from being broken.
Now, you certainly know better than to do dumb things in high places. I will say no more. But do remember: beyond the “must see” sights we constantly hear about, there are layers of secret places in the park yet to be discovered.
As I stand at Arches this Spring, seeing the sun shifting over the horizon and the sky turning the smooth emerald blue of a jay’s eye, I feel I have seen a little bit of heaven.
Truly, Utah’s Arches National Park is not to be missed.
Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.
– Rachel Carson
Writer Joan Larsen has spent a lifetime searching for the most remote places on Earth. But it is the polar regions of our world that she has been drawn back to again and again. She has done research in these lands of ice, and considers Antarctica to be her “other home.”