Delicate Arch

by Cheshire Dave Beckerman

Back in Brianís bedroom a thousand miles away in San Francisco, the wall calendar was still stuck on July. But it was now October. The national parks, such as Yellowstone and Yosemite, that appeared on the other pages were pretty, but he had seen photos of them before.

The July page had taken him by surprise. At first he didn't even believe it was a real place. It could have been a scene from one of his favorite science-fiction movies that took place on distant planets. The ground was a color he had never seen before. It was not quite red but not quite brown either. It reminded Brian of the color of rust, except that it seemed to glow.

In the center of the photograph there was a rock formation. It was the same color as the ground. The way it sprang up out of the ground like an upside-down U, Brian thought it looked like an arch. He laughed to himself when he saw the photo caption, which told him that the name of rock formation was Delicate Arch.

"I guess it really is an arch," he said to himself. The caption said Delicate Arch was in Arches National Park, in the eastern part of Utah.

It looked to Brian like Delicate Arch had been carved or built by someone, but the caption said all the arches in the national park were formed naturally. They had been formed over millions of years and were made of sandstone, which is also called slickrock. The caption said the ground seemed to glow because the photo was taken at sunset.

Brian thought the name of the arch was just right. The arch looked small and thin as it sat on top of the big, wide landscape. It looked like it was about his height. He thought if he stood under it he would be able to reach over his head and touch the top of the arch with his hands. He wondered what the slickrock felt like.  

He liked the photo on the July page so much that when August rolled around, he discovered that he didn't want to turn the calendar page. If he needed to see a date in August, he would lift the page up and then let it down again so that he could keep looking at Delicate Arch. Even when September came he was still looking at the glowing arch.

Now it was October, and Brian finally decided he had to see the arch for himself. He drove two days to get to the town of Moab. Moab was the closest town to Arches National Park even though it was five miles away.

Brian decided to hike to Delicate Arch in the late afternoon. He wanted to see the same glow he had seen in the photograph. As he drove through Arches National Park, he saw many different types of rock formations. They had different names: The Three Gossips, Balancing Rock, The Windows. They all had that same science-fiction red-brown color. He parked his car where the trail to Delicate Arch began. He took his camera and water bottle and started walking down the trail. He was surprised to see that the trail was made of concrete, not slickrock.

All of a sudden the concrete trail came to an end, but Delicate Arch was nowhere in sight. The slickrock went off in many directions. Without the trail, how would he know how to get to the arch?

Brian saw some other people walking on the slickrock. They seemed to know where they were going. He watched them walk past a little pile of rocks that were stacked neatly on top of each other. They looked almost like they made a pyramid.

He noticed there was another pile of rocks a little farther away, and another one even farther. He saw a park ranger and went over to her. "What are those?" he asked her.

"Those are cairns," she said. "We use them to mark the trail so that the landscape isn't changed too much."

Brian thanked her and followed the cairns. The slickrock, just like its name, was slippery. A couple of times Brian's feet almost slipped on the little pebbles that were everywhere. They were like tiny marbles.

After about a mile, he finally saw the arch. It was the same view he had seen in the photograph. The sun was beginning to set, and Delicate Arch was glowing brilliantly.

What surprised him the most was that the arch actually didn't seem so delicate after all. It was huge! When he walked over and stood underneath it, it seemed like it was a hundred feet high.

He lay on his back under the arch as the sun went down. As night fell, stars began to appear. The night sky was cloudless and moonless. Since the lights in Moab were so far away, the only light Brian saw came from the stars. That night, Brian could see more stars than he had ever seen before. The sky was lit as brightly as if the moon had been out.

Delicate Arch was no longer a glowing red-brown. Now it was black compared to the bright, starry sky. The photograph in his calendar had come to life and changed right in front of his eyes. As he made his way back to his car, he used the starlight to see the cairns. He knew that he would finally be ready to turn the page when he got home.

Comprehension and Discussion Questions

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