Christmas Arches

Christmas Arches

My alarm rang out from somewhere inside my sleeping bag, forcing me to squeeze through the layers until it stopped making a racket. I slipped the elastic band of my headlamp over my beanie and the little red light provided just enough space to see what was right in front of me. All I needed. As my feet made their way from their hiding spot in the bottom of the sleeping bag, I whisper-spoke at Jesse and Genevieve in the other tent. “Let’s go! We have a sunrise to catch. C’mon, its Christmas morning!” I set to breaking the campsite down, one of my favorite routines. Everything has a place and depending on the day the routine is just different enough to keep it interesting. I cranked Jenny up to make sure she would be toasty by the time we were ready to load up for the short drive into Arches.

From here on the banks of the Colorado, just outside of Moab, we were in a race against the rising sun. Racing the sun is such a certain competition, it’s like knowing just how fast you have to go to beat your competitor—except this one helps you all along the way as it starts a slow rise. The other two were quiet throughout the process of breaking camp. I did not have any luck converting them into morning people during the course of our trip, unfortunately.

As we pulled through the gate of Arches National Park, the darkness shrouded the elegant and bold character of this unit of the Park Service. We peeled through the curves and out of the valley that houses Park headquarters. Two cars drove through the curves in the road ahead of us. We were not going to have any trouble making sunrise at this rate. We were right on time. I was astonished to pull into the Delicate Arch trailhead to find that there were only three other cars there. The holiday morning must have kept most people at home, I assumed. After a brisk frenzy of stuffing warm things and camera gear into my backpack we left the parking lot at a sporty, but sustainable pace. My morning-sluggards of a brother and sister, naturally, were not so pleased with any pace at all.

We were in a race with the sun!


We rounded up the final icy-outcrop of slickrock to be greeted by the amphitheater that is home to one of the best known of the park’s 2,000 documented arches, Delicate Arch. We were the first people there on this Christmas morning. When I was here last, there were eighty or a hundred other people sharing the sunrise. It was magical to see that place without other people.

Jesse was less pleased with the result of our efforts. He mumbled out “well, I guess we could have gone my pace and still made it here on time for the sunrise.” He was grumpy. Genevieve, on the other hand, quietly accepted that the early morning effort might have been appropriate. She quietly tiptoed to a perch where she could take it in.

Within a few minutes of taking our post, sunlight cracked over the mass of the San Juan Mountains to the east, breaking through the clouds and immediately giving warmth to anything it touched. My heart was filled to the brim; ruddy with love for this place and these people. Even if Jesse was still sitting grumpily in the shadows. To each his own, I supposed. Genevieve and I scampered around the layered rocks catching as many perspectives of this place as we could. Slowly others were making their way into the amphitheater, so we were losing the privacy we had taken for granted earlier.

After the sun had made its fullness known over the landscape, I suggested we make the walk back to the parking lot for breakfast. Eggs & pancakes on the Coleman were in order; an ideal meal on this fine Christmas morning.


The rest of the day would be spent exploring other pockets of Arches, and the nearby Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park. After that, we made miles for Bryce Canyon. A full-on blizzard and heavy fog made the drive a little more than we had bargained for, and a motel room necessary for a little morale.

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