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About Utah: A toast to the arch less traveled

Published: Monday, Aug. 19 2013 1:00 a.m. MDT

Delicate Arch in Arches National Park near Moab, Utah, May 17, 2006.

Ray Grass, Deseret News archives

KOLOB ARCH — There’s the famous arch, the pretty one, the popular one, the one next to the cool town, the one on the license plate, the one that launched a zillion photographs, the one people flock to from all over, the one they diverted the Olympic torch route under.

Then there’s this one, the antithesis of Delicate Arch, tucked away in the other corner of the state, in a forgotten part of Zion National Park, hard to get to and harder to see once you get there.

Kolob, the arch less traveled.

On a whim, my wife and I saw Kolob Arch last weekend. To be fair, my whim, not hers. We were in the southern part of the state and, always on the lookout for things to write about Utah, I noticed a reference that according to no less an authority than the Natural Arch and Bridge Society, Kolob Arch is, at 287 feet – almost an entire football field! – the world’s second longest arch. Located in the isolated northwest corner of Zion National Park just east of the I-15 freeway, it’s named after the planet that according to Mormon scripture is nearest the throne of God. We should hike to Kolob, I said.

Visiting an arch was not without precedent for us. When we’re in Moab we sometimes hike to Delicate Arch. This would be like that. That last sentence constitutes entirely the pre-trip planning.

There are, it turned out, several reasons why Delicate Arch is on the license plate and Kolob Arch isn’t.

Among them: Delicate Arch is 1 ½ miles from where you park your car. Kolob Arch is 7 miles. The hike to Delicate Arch is uphill, then downhill. Kolob Arch, just the opposite. When you get to Delicate Arch you can see it, walk around it, lie down underneath it if you want to. It’s impossible to take a bad picture of it. In contrast, you can’t get within a quarter-mile of Kolob Arch and even then it’s hard to pick out. It is situated in front of a mountain painted the same color. It’s an arch in camouflage. Ansel Adams would have taken one look and fled.

It’s a pretty good workout just to get there. The last half-mile requires some bushwhacking up a narrow, rocky streambed. I’d show you a beautiful photo of my wife negotiating this stretch but when I asked if I could take her picture she said, “Yeah, if you want me in a worse mood than I already am.”

Which brings up the point that you also need to take a lot more water with you when going to Kolob Arch. We (I) figured we had plenty at the start, but six bottles of Costco water can only get you so far. The problem is the downhill-uphill nature of the trail. We’d used three bottles when we got to the arch, so far so good, but a combination of the heat, the ascent on the way back, tiredness and being really thirsty left us a tad short of the finish line. About two miles short.

On the last uphill stretch I was already in my mind starring in an episode of “I Shouldn’t Be Alive.” Kerri, who was handling the adversity considerably better than I was — she could still talk — wondered if maybe she should shoot ahead and bring me back some water.

But then, thankfully, and with all due respect to some amazing scenery traversing the Kolob Canyons, came the by far best view of the entire hike: our Subaru in the parking lot.

In record time we consumed all the water we (I) had neglected to pack in the backpack, plus a warm Diet Dr. Pepper. Then we drove the 20 miles to Cedar City and, in what I considered a more or less perfect tribute to the arch less traveled, drank some more.

Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Mondays. EMAIL: benson@deseretnews.com

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