Even if it were not so conveniently accessible, southeastern Utah's Wilson Arch would be a treasured goal of most any "arch fiend," those who would otherwise hike for miles to catch sight of it. Fortunately for everyone, this giant eye-shaped puncture in the salmon-orange sandstone is RIGHT THERE, just off U.S. 191 about two dozen miles south of Moab.
Familiarity and proximity mean Wilson Arch is often taken for granted, despite its beauty. Hundreds of cars, trucks and buses zip by every day - John Wood of the Utah Department of Transportation pegs the average daily traffic along this stretch at 3,175 vehicles - most slowing not at all. One vehicle in 50, maybe only one in a hundred, will stop at the pullout.On a recent morning, a bike-laden van did so and a family - Mom, Dad, two girls and a boy - climbed out. Dad took a quick snapshot of the rest of the clan standing a few feet up the sandy slope, Wilson Arch arcing in the background, framing a clear-blue late-winter sky.
"Hey, glad you came?" the father asked his son. The family then clambered back into the van, and they were off.
Some passers-by do work in a short hike up to the arch. There are trails of a sort: steep tracks in the sand, scrapes on the angled slickrock. Bits of litter are scattered about, from an old Polaroid canister to a left-where-it-fell piece of green candy on a stick. A few too many have scratched names - foreign and domestic - and sentiments into the soft rock below the arch itself, a bane of easily reached and unsupervised landmarks, though such behavior is against the law.
"Danni plus Joe," says one. "Mic," says another. Often there's a date.
On the eastern side of the portal, the side opposite the highway, vandals have annoyingly spray-painted a couple of messages. One is a huge hand with fingers conveying the long-established "peace sign."
This arch, notes a Bureau of Land Management sign posted beside the highway pullout, is named for Joe Wilson, "a local pioneer who had a cabin nearby in Dry Valley." The sign proceeds to explain the process that creates such phenomena:
This formation is known as Entrada sandstone. Over time the superficial cracks, joints and folds of these layers were saturated with water. Ice formed in the fissures, melted under extreme desert heat, and winds cleaned out the loose particles. A series of free-standing fins remained. Wind and water attacked these fins until, in some, the cementing material gave way and chunks of rock tumbled out. Many damaged fins collapsed like the one to the right of Wilson Arch. Others, with the right degree of hardness, survived despite their missing middles like Wilson Arch.
Though this arch has not achieved the renown of some of Utah's most famous national park spans, because of its handiness many a computer-oriented tourist has put it on the World Wide Web. You'll find the arch, for instance, on "Jeramy's Picture Pages" (http://php.iupui.edu(tilde)jtownsle/pictures.html) and among Rick Duim's "Images from Utah" (http://www.duim.com/vacation/index3.html).
It is among engineer-artist Sven Knudsen's striking photographs on a site called "Roadside Views" (http://www.ninfinger.org/(tilde)sven/pix/roadview.html). "These are almost literally shot from the side of the road during my travels," he admits.
And that pretty much describes how difficult it is to catch a good glimpse of Wilson Arch.