You’re sitting on a ledge of slick rock in Arches National Park watching the sun go down on Delicate Arch.
Why is it called delicate? Thick rock frames a view of the opposing rock wall like a window. It’s on the edge of a cliff – maybe that’s why it’s delicate? But it’s huge – 50 feet tall by 20 feet wide. If you were to name it, you’d call it something more sensible, like Giant’s Doorway. But you weren’t the first person to see it so you have no right to name it.
And you definitely won’t be the last one to see it, judging by the endless stream of people traversing the 2-mile slick rock trail to the arch. You look back at the parking lot and see the little ants getting out of their cars. Coming, in the hot sun, to see Delicate Arch.
You look back to the arch and notice all the people doing the same thing: taking pictures. Either of the arch itself or of themselves with the arch. And there’s an unofficial line to take these pictures.
You think: isn’t it funny, this is the first thing we think of these days when we see a pretty image. Pictures. You yourself snapped a few pics on your iPhone when you first got there.
What did they do before iPhones and Nikon cameras? Before Eastman Color? This place wasn’t a national park, obviously because national parks didn’t exist. There was no trail tourists could traverse to view it. But people still saw it. Would they have thought: “I’ve got to get a painting of this?” Probably not.
You ponder this sitting amongst the mostly European and Asian tourists at the arch: What did the first human to set eyes on this structure think?
They probably thought of a God. A God that put this arch here for them. The oranges and purples of the setting sun intensifies the rich reds of the rock like some sort of sign.
But you know better. You know no thing snapped fingers to put this here. You know science. You know natural processes.
You watch as the people marvel at what to them will be little more than a postcard in a few days and you contrast this with the ancients who could’ve seen this arch as the center of the Universe.
“Don’t you think it’s funny how no one here is American?” You’re science teacher friend says to you.
“Yea. I guess they don’t have anything like it in Europe.”
“There’s nothing like it in the world! Think about it. There’s the string of events – salt dome collapse, fin creation perpendicular to prevailing winds. All that had to happen for these arches to form.”
You’re still sitting there watching. And you think: “Maybe the first people had it right. God as Nature. Nature as God. Maybe it takes out natural eyes to figure it out.”