A veteran Utah reporter makes a foray into Arches National Park.
Forgive me, Utah, for I have sinned.
It’s a sin so egregious even the Seven Deadly Sins find it despicable. The sordid fact is—and I am now confessing it for the first time publicly—have lived in Utah for 35 years without ever having gone to Arches National Park. For this transgression, I know I should be banished straight to the Gates of Hades. I have, after all, sinned a great sin.
But, luckily, I am also a repentant man—one who strongly believes in the redemption of souls. So, with my salvation clearly hanging in the balance, I recently decided a pilgrimage was in order.
I headed to Moab in search of Arch absolution.
My visit began, of course, with a hike to the iconic Delicate Arch. As the challenging mile-and-a-half trail came to an end, I heard someone in front of me simply say, “Wow!” Wow indeed. After three-plus decades in Utah, I found myself, at long last, face-to-face with this magnificent sight.
Unexpectedly, though, the Delicate Arch quickly called out my name. Specifically, it was calling me on the carpet.
Delicate Arch: “Vanocur! Where on earth have you been? Why has it taken you so long to come say hello?”
Me: “Well, first of all, let me say the pictures don’t do you justice. You’re even more impressive in person.”
Delicate Arch: “Yeah, I get that a lot. Thanks. Now, as for my question about your tardiness…”
Me: “So—and this is going to sound like a bad cliché—my priorities were misplaced. Back when I was on TV, I had a laser-like focus on reporting. I was obsessed with chasing the next big story. But I’ve now had a change of heart. I’m trying to open my eyes and mind to all that life has to offer.
Seeing the delicateness of the arch in person, and later with the Balanced Rock, I was reminded of how precarious and fragile life is. Both for national parks and people. I didn’t mention this to the Delicate Arch, but on the very same day we talked, another beloved arch—Malta’s Azure Window—collapsed into the sea.
Chatting with Utah’s most famous Arch, though, we did eventually get around to its mortality.
Delicate Arch: “You know, Chris, I try to speak to everyone who is kind enough to come visit me. I tell them, as old as I am, I may not be around forever. I wonder, though, if they really hear me. They’re all so busy taking selfies. But I won’t stop trying to get them to listen. My hope is they put down their camera phones for just a moment and truly appreciate the natural wonders which surround them.”
Me: “Maybe I need to learn this as well.”
Delicate Arch: “Ironically, it’s a lesson you once knew. I’ve got some cousins in Montana who are glaciers. They told me you once spent a summer working at Glacier National Park. In fact, that’s the whole reason you moved to Utah. You fell in love with the West. You just needed to be reminded of your passion for the mountains and places without too many people.”
As our delicate conversation drew to a close, I thought about what D-Arch had said. Its message to me and others is, perhaps, to simply listen to your heart. Don’t become too distracted by work or the endless choices offered on the internet. The Arch showed me there is much beauty in the world, but it can be fleeting and we should never overlook it or take it for granted.
It also gave me some final Arch advice:
Delicate Arch: “Chris, it was very nice to meet you. I don’t know if we’ll see each other again, but, if we do, feel free to call me, “Archie.” It’s what my closest friends do. And since we’re now pals, let me gently suggest that you need to get out more.”
Me: “Yeah, I get that a lot.”
Delicate Arch: “I bet. Now, go and sin no more.”
On my final day in the park, I had a picnic in a secluded spot near Devils Garden Campground. I’d been lucky with the timing of my trip. It was in early March, just as the temperature warmed up, but before hordes of tourists arrived. That afternoon, surrounded only by red rocks and shady trees, I had some quiet time to think.
The Delicate Oracle, of course, was right. I had spent too many years thinking about work and news and politics. It was now time to seek out all the wondrous things I had missed. In a sense, by returning to my national park roots, I was rekindling my love affair with the West and the world.
After lunch, as I headed back to my car, my eyes were drawn to my front license plate. I had completely forgotten that I have the Utah plates with the Delicate Arch on them. I smiled when I realized that “Archie” and his park would be coming home with me.
After too many years as a sinner on the mourners’ bench, I had finally found sandstone salvation.