The thing was HUGE! It was still miles ahead, but it was magnificent. I'd never seen an arch shaped anything like this one, more tall than wide, and it was way up high, certainly not something you could take an easy stroll up to.

Suddenly the dirt tracks took a nose dive, and so did my van. It had just rained a couple of days before, so the road was soft, with plenty of mud holes and occasional streams going over it. This was one of them.. But the tracks had eroded so badly here that I was not only at a 45 slant downhill, but at about the same angle sideways too. Scary! I knew I couldn't get through this one slow. I'd have to run down this side, through the muddy stream, and up the equally slanted other side fast enough that the van wouldn't have time to tip over before it was back on flat land again, all the time avoiding getting a tire in a rut that would bog it down instantly, and there were lots of them. But for all I knew, I could get stuck forever in the stream even if I didn't flip, and then I'd have the joy of walking the several miles back to Cove to ask for help of the Indians. Maybe they were out to get me anyway, already on my tail, for not getting permission. I punched it, skidded on down sort of sideways, made it to the middle of the stream, then floorboarded the gas pedal to get up the other side. Yeehaw!! I made it! And immediately realized that getting back across later would be a whole lot harder, since the steepest, muddiest part would be all uphill then. Ugh. I wasn't enjoying this adventure at all. But ahead the arch was getting pretty close; after a few more rough spots, I came to another stream, which looked impossible; so I said forget it, I'm not crossing this one. I turned the van around (always park so you can make a quick getaway) and left it.

I don't know if the dirt road ever did get any closer to the arch, it apparently didn't exist for the sole purpose of getting to the arch -- it just sort of went near it on the way off to no telling where else. I started hiking, and naturally the hike was a whole lot longer that it ever looked like it was going to be. I had to cross over three high ridges, and the arch was on top of the fourth. I knew that I had to hurry because the sun was about to go down already, and I wanted some pictures. I'd realized long before that the sun was entirely on the wrong side of the arch to get good pictures, and that I'd have to hike way around to the back to get any sun on it at all.

I can't say the hike was very enjoyable. I had major worries on the brain the whole time. Did anyone notice me coming out here? Were they after me now? Was my van getting raided at this very moment? And most of all, would I ever get back through that gully again?

It was a hard, steep climb up to the arch, but I was in a hurry. I didn't climb up directly through it, I went to the outside of the right leg and peeked over the other side. Straight down drop-off! No way short of a helicopter was I going to get a picture of it from that side! But I saw that if I was careful, I could perhaps creep along the back side of the right leg, hanging on to some bushes, and then climb up and through the arch facing the way I'd driven in from. There was no question of climbing clear over the top of this thing! The legs on it went straight up, and it was enormous, much more so than it had seemed in pictures. I was doing good to even get though it from the back side with no climbing gear (pretty dumb, too), but I did.

Climbing hand over hand, pretty soon I could stand up, directly under the arch, a thousand tons of rock suspended over my head; and when I did, I nearly fell over backwards in surprise! Because there, spread out in front of me, was the most spectacular view I have ever seen in all my life of wandering this world. The sun had just set behind me. A few rocky mountains were glowing red and orange. A nearby cliffside was shining white and yellow. A magnificent river valley stretched off far down below me, all cool green and blue and purple, curving off into the far misty distance. The clouds were big and pink, the sky was red and gold, and even the huge great Shiprock could be seen rising far off on the grey horizon in New Mexico.

It was a beauty almost shocking, a beauty unreal, a scene that could make you weep for the pure grandeur of it all. And nowhere, nowhere in it all for once, could the hand of man be seen; and the hand that did shape this scene, though perhaps having equaled it, had surely never surpassed it elsewhere in its amazing glory.

I didn't want to leave. I wanted to camp out, I wanted to stay forever, I wanted to bring everyone I ever knew to see it. And so I did stay, a lot longer than I should have, since it was getting dark and the van was a long way off.

But I had to leave. I slipped and skidded down the steep front side of the ridge the arch rose from, almost running. I didn't need to get lost, but there sure wasn't any path to follow. There were several ridges to cross, with a stream bed usually between them. The sun had been down for some time, and I felt worried -- I couldn't even see the van from the arch, much less from down here in these gulllies. I knew I was going back a somewhat different way than I came, but I was hoping I'd cross my path somewhere, and eventually I did; or at least, I saw a footprint in the mud. Wonderful. It was mine.

I found out that following your own footprints is no easy thing. As soon as the land would rise and get drier, no more footprints. I'd cross the ridge, descend to the next little wash, and hunt and hunt till I found my prints again. Many times I was tempted to just forget about the tracks and strike out in what I hoped was the right direction. But as dark as it was getting, I knew if I judged wrong, I was in bad shape. But if I patiently kept up the search for the elusive footsteps even though it seemed slow and time-consuming, and restrained the urge to just forge on ahead, I knew I would arrive there eventually; and it's much nicer to hike slowly with assurance than quickly with doubts, as the sky got darker and darker.

The van was fine, no one had been around. Now the scary part was ahead, getting back over the deep wash. I bounced down the road a bit, turned around for one last good-bye to the arch, and immediately had to jump out of the van and race up the nearest hill with my camera. Nature was staging another of its spectaculars! Though it was nearly black in the direction I was headed, back beyond the hills high behind me the sky had gone fiery red and the black silhouette of the arch was right in the middle of it all. I sat there till the show was over, then took off again, knowing the rest of the trip would be in the dangerous dark.

And then there it was, the part I dreaded. What if I really didn't make it through? I wouldn't even be able to sleep the night in the van if it was stuck at some crazy angle. Right now I was already at some crazy angle, and found myself leaning far over in the seat in the opposite direction as if that would really keep the van from toppling on over, with two soggy, narrow, lumpy tracks no wider than the tires to try to follow, with dropoffs beside and between them; I couldn't do it slow and careful though, it had to be fast or I'd slide and roll. Down in the ditch I went. Made it! The van straightened up on the more level spot at the bottom of the slant, but I had to brake immediately because of the stream across it. I got my wits together and then went for it. You can't really gun a 4-cylinder van too much, but I floored it anyway. It didn't go too well, not as well as I wanted. I had a bit of sliding and fishtailing going on, but I got on through the muddy water. Two parts down, now the worst part to go!

It was the opposite of the first time -- the wet narrow tracks going uphill at that absurd angle made it like trying to drive up a double slanted tightrope. And this time it didn't go well at all. More than once I lost all momentum, had to slide back down and scratch off again. More than once I felt the hopeless feeling hit, "We ain't going to make it!" -- and then something would catch and I'd get up a bit higher. It wasn't a clean and smooth tightrope walk at all. I was scratching and slipping and sliding and scared. This was no grand adventure by any means, it was just plumb wretched.

And then I was out. I let out a screech that gave me a sore throat for two days. It was over! All was well! Nothing left but to drive on to Cove and out to the highway. Home free! Whoopee! Yahoo! Yeehaw! I was happy. I bounced along in the sagebrush with an easy mind, the burdens lifted. I poked in a cassette, and the serene music of Mozart for some reason seemed perfectly in harmony with the ancient Navajo countryside. My mission was accomplished, now I could relax, with a whole night of easy travel ahead of me. Except suddenly the road just dropped off; I skidded to a halt -- a whole wide river was right in front of me! I sure hadn't come this way. No problem, I hoped -- the road had forked a ways back, and I took the bigger fork, hardly even thinking about it, but the other proved to be correct and soon I was bouncing on my way again. Mozart suddenly changed into a bellowing bass opera singer who was just totally out of place with this ancient Indian countryside, but I let him bellow on, figuring it would just add a bit more craziness to the whole nutty adventure.

And then slam!! The right front end fell into a hole so deep the wheel didn't even touch bottom.