The Delicate Arch at Utah’s Arches National Park is, as its name suggests, a rather fragile natural arch.
Park rangers have, over the years, considered multiple ways to maintain the sandstone arch, which is depicted on Utah license plates and has withstood thousands of years of weather and erosion.
Perhaps none are so outlandish as a plan to cover the parts of the 60-foot arch in plastic, a scheme dreamed up by rangers in the mid-1900s as part of The Delicate Arch Stabilization Project.
Park Rangers at Arches National Park in southern Utah have dreamed up multiple ways to keep its Delicate Arch (pictured in winter) standing
Officials once considered covering a vulnerable leg with plastic and even devised a scheme ‘to ring the weak point of the weaker leg with a concrete collar’
The project began in 1947, after park custodian Russ Mahan observed the arch’s ‘eroded condition’ and passed his concerns on to Arches’ regional director, who in turn passed the concerns on to National Park Service officials in Washington.
NPS officials spent years dreaming up ways to save the arch – including spraying its vulnerable parts with a silicone epoxy plastic and even a scheme ‘to ring the weak point of the weaker leg with a concrete collar’.
Park officials even requested samples of silicone blends from different manufacturers in an effort to test whether the scheme would work.
But, per a 1956 park memo, ‘several of the chemicals had proven unsatisfactory, because exposure to the weather had caused them to turn white, or scale off, or both’.
Park ranger Jim Stiles uncovered a park document called The Delicate Arch Stabilization Project and published his findings on his blog
And so the scheme was called off – in part, because the park faced larger concerns.
The park’s superintendent, Bates Wilson, wrote in a memo from the era: ‘The increasing desire of fools to carve their names in public places has reached the highest level possible in Arches at Delicate Arch.’
The bizarre plot was uncovered by park ranger Jim Stiles, who researched old memorabilia during the winter off-season and published his findings on his blog, the Canyon Country Zephyr.
Stiles was struck by a passage from Desert Solitaire, a memoir by novelist, essayist and ardent environmentalist Edward Abbey detailing his time as an Arches ranger in 1956 and 1957.
The passage reads: ‘There have been some, even in the Park Service, who advocate spraying Delicate Arch with a fixative of some sort – Elmer’s Glue perhaps or Lady Clairol Spray-Net.’
Stiles wrote on his blog: ‘When I first read that passage by Abbey, I thought he was kidding; I learned, over the years, to take some of Cactus Ed’s “facts” with a grain of salt. The idea of spraying Delicate Arch with a fixative was too ridiculous to be taken seriously.’
Park officials even went so far as to request silicone samples to test them, but found that ‘several of the chemicals had proven unsatisfactory, because exposure to the weather had caused them to turn white, or scale off, or both’
Stiles became curious about proposed methods to keep the arch standing after reading a passage from Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire that reads: ‘There have been some, even in the Park Service, who advocate spraying Delicate Arch with a fixative of some sort – Elmer’s Glue perhaps or Lady Clairol Spray-Net’
Wryly, he added: ‘This, of course, was before my decade of employment with the federal government.
If nature runs its course, the Delicate Arch will of course fall eventually. In 2008, for example, the nearby Wall Arch collapsed.
Arches National Park covers 120 square miles in southern Utah and receives 1.5million visitors annually. Its most well-known attraction, arguably, is the Delicate Arch.