Nobody can appreciate the cliché of Delicate Arch like a St. Louisan. Saarinen’s Arch sits on the banks of the Mississippi like a giant billboard for the concept of The West—the high modern Manifest Destiny.
The utter miracle of its construction, by which I do not mean the engineering feat (though surely it was that) but its brazen modernity in a place in love with 1904 (a subject for another day) has spawned a fantastic range of St. Louis metro logotypes. Arch this, arch that. Although after living near the thing for more than fifteen years now, I will say that that the object/building transcends the cliche of its image. It really is something to behold, especially in variable weather conditions.
The same is true of Delicate Arch, which as a factual matter is decidedly premodern. The geology of the Colorado Plateau is an interesting subject, to which I may return at some point. But from a cultural perspective, Delicate Arch is plastered all over everything.
Two days ago I made the hike to Delicate Arch, which was not especially challenging though there is a net gain of 480 feet from the trail head to the arch. It’s gorgeous, of course, not least because the arch is part of a huge sandstone fin that sticks out into the sky against a backdrop of older sandstone below it across the canyon, another ridge beyond that, and then the La Sal mountains in the far distance.
But what I found most interesting as a subject was the transformation of the geological formation into a backdrop for photographs. People took turns walking up to stand beneath the arch as their friends waited to snap the I was here! shot. The light was going, so I had to work quickly to get the information down. From the beginning I wanted to try to get a panoramic view of the scene. I worked left to right in successive spreads. The first is at the top of the post, showing the arch and some of the people. There were more—a clump of them to the left that I didn’t have time to describe.
The middle section includes a group of people below me working on getting their shots of a middle distance view of the scene. The cast rotated. The rock features here are really abbreviated. I would have liked more time to work the space out, because it was quite dramatic. There is a sort of basin cut into the rock, producing a deep divide between the ledge the photographers are standing on and the rock beyond. Sort of like a third of a bathtub.
The last section is the most abbreviated, because I was running short on time if I hoped make the hike back to the trailhead in anything other than total darkness. (Very close, as it turned out. Only a quarter moon provided illumination for the last half-mile.) The ribbony passage in the upper left is the road in, the end of which marks the trailhead. There’s an indication of a bus in the lot. The crowd at the hike terminus came in part from a group of young people from New York and New Jersey who had been traveling the country all summer in that bus. This, I gathered, was their final stop. They were all over the place, and left ten minutes ahead of me to hike back. Lots of drama, including debates and rebukes about where they could and could not climb aroung. There was a ranger attached to the group who seemed a little exasperated.
Of course all of the backstory information I got about the crowd I gathered through listening as I worked, somewhat frantically, to get the drawing in.
In the next post I’ll put together the panorama of the three spreads.