It was advertised as an early winter 10k in the mild, dry Utah desert—a respite from the snow and smog already threatening to settle on Salt Lake City.
And as our little group pulled into Moab, the town's famous red rock walls soaring above us, it seemed we were going to get just that.
By the time the starting gun fired the next morning, however, snow was flying and the streets were ice-covered. We slipped and slid through for six miles. It wasn't until we were defrosting after the race, however, that the snow started in earnest. So much for that mild desert trip.
Fat flakes fell through the rest of the day and night—making Moab's annual Christmas parade a little more authentic than locals were accustomed to. In the morning, as we faced a long haul home on bad roads, we were struck by the possibility of one quick detour. Arches National Park is ultra-convenient to Highway 191, and we figured this was a unique opportunity to see the heart of red rock country all decked out in white.
Our goal was the most famous natural arch in the park, if not the world—Delicate Arch—and fortunately, the main road to it had opened to vehicles just prior to our arrival at the park. Which isn't to say this would be the leisurely stroll that the summer crowds were used to. The trail was a naked slickrock slope that leaned toward a sizable cliff. Slickrock is ancient sandstone which when dry has a grip famous among mountain bikers and off-roaders. Once wet, however, it lives up to its name. In this case, a misstep could have meant a multiple-mile slide through rugged draws and small ledges back toward the trailhead.
In this case, a misstep could have meant a multiple-mile slide through rugged draws and small ledges back toward the trailhead.
We relied primarily on vague memories of the route from prior visits as we broke through shin-deep snow. Our progress was stymied multiple times as we hit pitches of slickrock with grip like a greased wall. We'd all been to Delicate Arch enough times to remember the narrow 200-yard-long ledge that funnels hikers around the final corner before the big viewpoint. As we chuckled about the bluebird conditions and the bizarre nature of the whole scene, we wondered whether we might get turned around a stone's throw from our destination by a final, as-yet-unseen obstacle.
We needn't have worried, though—the ledge was wider than we remembered, probably because it wasn't full of two-way tourist traffic for once. As we turned into the bowl to find a view not many have seen. Based on the unblemished snow ahead of us, it was clear no one had yet laid eyes on the arch this morning.
Delicate Arch was shrouded with twinkling white layers, and the La Sal Mountains in the background shone under a blue-white patina. In the profound, snow-buffered silence, we mugged for pictures and enjoyed that rarest of tourist experiences: complete and blessed solitude.