in a Blue Moon,” my mother would sometimes say to me,
always followed by a description of some unlikely prospect
Turns out Blue Moons occur with the
exact frequency – or infrequency – my mother
conveyed. One such caught me by surprise when I ventured
for a full moon hike to Delicate Arch in late July, the
second full moon of the month.
Early morning and evening are best for this hike on any moon, but evening
is even more desirable with the prospect of a full moon’s natural
light against long stretches of sandstone and slickrock. This is a three-mile
round trip, accentuated by a strenuous, albeit straightforward, stretch
on what always feels to me to be the “heart of the earth.” In
mid-summer this heart pumps heat, and lines of hikers appear like a perfect
formation of working ants on its surface. In September, one can expect
cooler temperatures and that classic quality of autumn light that makes
blues bluer, reds redder, every color more.
in fact two definitions for a blue moon. According
to the more recent definition, a blue moon is the second
full moon in a calendar month. For a blue moon to occur,
the first of the full moons must appear at or near
the beginning of the month so that the second will
fall within the same month (the average span between
two moons is 29.5 days). In July 2004 we had two full
moons: the first on July 2, the second on July 31—that
second full moon is called the blue moon.
The Other Kind of Blue Moon: An older definition for the blue moon
is recorded in early issues of the Maine Farmer’s Almanac.
According to this definition, the blue moon is the third full moon
in a season that has four full moons.
I planned to take this hike with a
group. Hiking to Delicate Arch on a full moon is a popular
sport. Having misunderstood where to meet, I embarked alone,
and took only mental notes of the sunset behind me, while
anxiously awaiting the rise of a smiling sphere ahead.
It was a perfect night, and I prepared myself by bringing
a flashlight, plenty of water, camera and notepad. Unbeknown
to me, a feast awaited at my destination – for the
eyes, body and soul.
The Delicate Arch trailhead is well-marked, about a 20-minute ride on
Arches national Park’s main road. An old homestead, a worn-but-standing
cabin known as Wolfe Ranch, is the first landmark along this trail. Located
in Salt Wash, the cabin was built around 1898. John Wesley Wolfe lived
there with his family for about 10 years before they returned to their
home in Ohio.
Beyond the cabin is a gentle, if somewhat rocky path leading to the massive
stone that exposes hiker to earth and sky and seems to go on forever.
The path is well marked by cairns, stacks of stone meant to keep hikers
on their path, which these days in Arches are as ornamental as the surroundings.
Many hikers reach the top of this climb
just as they grow tired of it. The landscape at that point
offers a new view, smaller and more winding, challenging
steps, and ultimately a ledge walk with fantastic views
below, but not an arch in sight.
Cryptos (krip’ tose):
The surface of Moab’s desert is held together
by a thin skin of living organisms known as cryptobiotic
soil or cryptos. It has a lumpy black appearance,
is very fragile, and takes decades to heal when
it has been damaged. This soil is a critical part
of the survival of the desert. The cryptobiotic
organisms help to stabilize the soil, hold moisture,
and provide protection for germination of the seeds
of other plants.
it the dry areas of the west would be much different.
Although some disturbance is normal and helps
the soil to capture moisture, excessive disturbance
by hooves, bicycle tires and hiking boots has
been shown to destroy the cryptobiotic organisms
and their contribution to the soil. When you
walk around Moab avoid crushing the cryptos.
Stay on trails, walk in washes, hop from stone
it takes, don’t crunch the cryptos unless
you absolutely have to!
Where is this “Delicate Arch,” made
famous on license plates and business cards throughout
Around a bend, to the right, due southeast is this massive, never aptly
portrayed, illustrated or described Delicate Arch. Familiarity with the
image does nothing to hinder the wonder of its real-life beauty. And
there, poised and surreal, is the full moon.
There too is the group I intended to hike with. It’s comforting
to know the locals enjoy their own backyard and this significant full
moon hiking event. Others are there too, and we stay after dark. Even
with the light of the moon, we use flashlights on the way out.
But not before sitting, chatting, eating.
I’ve hiked to Delicate Arch with a baby on my back, a school-age
child in tow, alone and with visitors from out of town. I don’t
recommend it for very young children who cannot be carried, as they tend
to tire before they get to the “prize.” It is easy to stop
along the way for a break, and even enjoying the Arch itself, taking
your time to get there and back, it is a three-to four-hour trek.
I highly recommend a full moon hike to Delicate Arch for fall.