Arches National Park


“There are the inevitable pious Midwesterners who climb a mile and a half under the desert sun to view Delicate Arch and find only God…, and the equally inevitable students of geology who look at the arch and see only Lyell and the uniformity of nature. You may therefore find proof for or against His existence. Suit yourself. You may see a symbol, a sign, a thing without meaning or a meaning which includes all things.
Much the same could be said of the tamarisk down in the canyon, of the blue-black raven croaking on the cliff, of your own body. The beauty of Delicate Arch explains nothing, for each thing in its way, when true to its own character, is equally beautiful.”
– Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire, 36

I am beginning to conceive of the American West as an ocean floor that rose up with a great quake and brushed the ocean off its shoulders. Creatures began migrating in, first from the northwest, and second from the east. I’m part of the latter migration.

This time of year in this part of Utah, the temperatures top out in the thirties and forties, and the lows hover around zero. I miss the luxury of sleeping in my tent, but the first night in Moab I fall asleep at 9:00 and sleep for eleven hours.

The next morning, I meet Moab’s Arches National Park. In this funky, brilliant landscape you can imagine any origin story for earth. You would want your pet fish to live in a tank that looks like Arches–red rock spires and towers and arches and slabs. On the walls of pink rock, you can see the influence of water in its living, moving form. Rocks continue to change.

Because of the same snowfall that kept me in Flagstaff for three days, I do not hike any long trails — Arches only has one long trail, anyway — but on one of the short ones, I chat with a middle aged couple inside a double-arch. They escaped Iowa’s caucuses, which took place two days prior, in favor of natural beauty. They had done the caucuses enough times. The husband had his knee replaced in 2015, like the man with whom I hiked to Grinnell Glacier in Montana’s Rockies (and like my mother).

A knee replacement, it would appear, is the bionic preventive for a mid-life crisis. It is a reminder of the freedom that comes with inhabiting a body in the America of today; the side effect is a surge of adventurousness. When we get far enough from our everyday lives spent in uncomfortable positions, we realize how little we actually need to stretch our bodies: a set of crampons on the soles of our boots, perhaps, is enough to facilitate us giving our attention not to the fleeting emotion of politics and finance, but instead to the eternal nature of the crisp winter air circulating under the arches — to (in Abbey’s words) “…compel us into a reawakened awareness of the wonderful — that which is full of wonder.”

You can read more about Edward Abbey’s ideological heritage in The New Yorker or in his books — I quite liked Desert Solitaire.

Originally published at on February 24, 2016.