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It is the most widely-recognized landmark in Arches National Park and is depicted on Utah license plates and on a postage stamp commemorating Utah's centennial anniversary of statehood in 1996. The Olympic torch relay for the 2002 Winter Olympics passed through the arch.
Because of its distinctive shape, the arch was known as "the Chaps" and "the Schoolmarm's Bloomers" by local cowboys. It was given its current name by Frank Beckwith, leader of the Arches National Monument Scientific Expedition, who explored the area in the winter of 1933รขโฌโ1934. (The story that the names of Delicate Arch and Landscape Arch were inadvertently exchanged due to a signage mixup by the National Park Service is false.)
This arch played no part in the original designation of the area as a U.S. National Monument in 1929, and was not included within the original boundaries; it was added when the monument was enlarged in 1938.
In the 1950s, the National Park Service investigated the possibility of applying a clear plastic coating to the arch to protect it from further erosion and eventual destruction. The idea was ultimately abandoned as impractical and contrary to NPS principles.
The Delicate arch is reachable by heading into a small pickup trail down the entrance path entering the park.
Delicate Arch is formed of Entrada Sandstone. The original sandstone fin was gradually worn away by weathering and erosion, leaving the arch. Other arches in the park were formed the same way but due to placement and less dramatic shape are not as famous.
Hiking to the Arch
Delicate Arch is located at the end of a moderately strenuous, 1.5 mi (2.4 km) hiking trail from the parking area at Wolfe Ranch. Taking thirty to forty-five minutes each way, the round trip is slightly more than 3 mi (4.8 km) long and the Arch is completely hidden from view on most of this trail.
The first third of the hike is through rugged, brushy terrain and gains slightly in elevation. The middle third of the hike is along the face of an exposed slickrock outcrop and is strenuous due to the gain in elevation, but offers better views of the geology in the salt valley. Cairns (piles of rocks) have been placed by visitors and park staff to roughly suggest the otherwise unmarked trail to the top, yet visitors tend to wander all over the huge expanse of completely exposed sandstone.
The latter third of the trail is the most rugged, nearing the top of the plateau. The Arch is not yet visible, and the trail runs around outcrops, through washes and between stands of twisted brush and trees. The trail may be easier to follow, but meanders as parts become muddy and difficult to walk through. During the 2004 fall season, the trail clearly followed the left (northern) side of the plateau, and brought visitors along a narrow shelf nearly 150 ft (46 m) above a dry wash.
The arch comes into view suddenly around a corner in the trail and frames the La Sal Mountains to the southeast. The immediate area around the Arch offers views of the southern expanse of the park, and has unguarded cliffs plunging one hundred feet or more.
Nature photographer Michael Fatali started a fire under the arch in September 2000 to demonstrate nighttime photography techniques to a group of amateur photographers. The fire discolored portions of the sandstone near the arch. Fatali was placed on probation and fined $10,900 in restitution to the National Park Service for the cost of cleanup efforts.
In May 2006, climber Dean Potter made the first recorded free solo (no ropes or protection) ascent of this formation. Climbing Delicate Arch was not explicitly forbidden under the rules in force at the time. It was understood, however, that the named-arch formations should not be climbed. The Park Service has since closed the loophole by disallowing climbs on any named arch within the park year-round. Slacklining and the placement of new fixed anchors on new climbs is also prohibited. Controversy erupted when photographs taken after Potter's climb appeared to show damage caused by a climbing technique called top roping. Potter has stated on several occasions that he never top-roped the Arch and no photos exist of Potter using a top rope setup on the Arch. It is possible that a previous climber had top-roped the Arch leaving the rope scars.
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- Delicate Arch Trail Moderate Trail
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