Dean M. Chriss
Delicate Arch, Sunset, Landscape Photograph by 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 in number, 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 crowded 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 fond memories.