Dean M. Chriss
Delicate Arch, Sunset
(Click image to enlarge)
In the early 1980s I visited Delicate Arch countless times. I parked my vehicle in a
little pull off beside the dusty dirt road where the trail began. The view after
the hot climb never failed to amaze me. It was usually possible to hear the
lightest breeze moving over the rocks, but only if you held your breath. On rare
occasions when the air was still, you could hear your own heart beating. I
always enjoyed the changing shadows as the sun drew closer to the horizon, and
always stayed until after the last golden rays faded from the landscape. Once in
a while there would be a few others sharing the view. In the peak of tourist season
there could be crowds of eight, ten, or even fifteen, but by late September or
October it there was seldom anyone else around. It didn't matter much
because there weren't many and all were there for the same experience.
Craving tourist dollars, the town of Moab and state of Utah began to aggressively promote tourism.
Slick advertising campaigns began putting Delicate Arch on freeway signs, Utah license
plates, and advertisements in print and on television. By the early 1990s this
drew far too many people for the town and nearby
national parks to accommodate, but the greed knew no bounds. Area businesses came up with noisy, smelly and hair raising motorized tours of
nearby public lands that were once quiet, magnificent,
and seldom visited. They built micro breweries, junk shops, and
tourist traps of every description including
the Moab Giants Dinosaur Park, complete with fake dinosaurs. Edward Abbey
once said "Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer
cell". Indeed, the cancer of greed and commercialized tourism finally
consumed Arches National Park and metastasized to every wild and pristine
place that remains in America.
The only thing
one cannot find in Moab today is concern
about the damage inflicted on the national parks and surrounding BLM
lands, and the fact that Moab has also become a horrific, traffic jammed, abomination. Visiting today is as enjoyable as driving through downtown Manhattan at rush hour.
By the middle 2010s there there was sometimes a two hour wait to get into Arches National Park.
Now the park closes when it is full, sometimes by as early as 7:30 AM. When that
happens visitors are greeted by a sign asking that they try again in 4 or 5 hours.
If you are lucky enough to get into the park nearly all of the parking spaces, which were recently doubled
are full. The road to the Delicate Arch
trailhead is paved, as is the enormous and always overflowing parking lot. People must
usually wait for someone to leave in order to grab a parking space.
By 2008 sunsets at
Delicate Arch became known to park service employees as the "nightly melee".
They say it is now attended by "hundreds", all jammed into a place that felt crowded
with ten or fifteen.
I captured this photograph of Delicate Arch on film in late September of 1996
on my last hike to Delicate Arch. It was
but I managed to capture this photograph before photography became impossible
and frustrating due
to people wandering into the scene. On the crowded twilight hike back to the parking lot and in the moving
traffic jam headed back to Moab, I accepted that the place is dead. The arch is still there, the sunset still
makes it glow, but it's just another overcrowded and chaotic ride in the
packed amusement park that is Arches National Park. In short, the place is
still there but the experience is gone forever, and it is pointless to
return. For me, and perhaps others
who knew how special the place used to be, this old photograph brings back