MOAB — A desert sunrise can be deceptive.

The sun often appears to retreat beneath the red rock horizon after the initial glow illuminates the morning sky.

Frank Arrowchis intends to watch the radiant orb closely Monday as it casts its first rays through the hollow of Delicate Arch in Arches National Park.

In a ceremony passed down for generations, the 65-year-old Northern Ute in full buckskin regalia and war bonnet will wave an eagle wing to bless the Olympic flame and those who carry it through Utah to ignite the 2002 Winter Games.

"We have to do it when the sun starts to peek up," he said.

The dawning of a new day has significant meaning in Native American culture. Said Arrowchis' wife, Glenda: "The sunrise is the beginning of anything that you do."

As the orange sun rises over the snow-capped La Sal Mountains, Arrowchis will grab a handful of dirt to symbolize humans' connection with mother earth. He will point sweet sage in four directions, asking peace. He said he will thank the Creator for blessings and ask him to protect torch runners, the first of whom is his granddaughter Stephanie LaRee Spann.

Spann will take the torch and bless herself with the dirt. The tall, athletic Taylorsville High School junior will then start the Olympic torch relay in Utah on its circuitous route to the opening ceremonies Friday at Rice-Eccles Stadium. She'll have only one concern as she jogs across the red sandstone bowl.

"I have a problem. I sometimes stumble over my own feet, so I'm afraid I might trip and fall," she said.

But the 16-year-old soccer player expects to have a "neat experience," especially because she and many members of the Arrowchis family will see their father and grandfather perform a sunrise ceremony for the first time.

"This really kind of puts the frosting on the cake for me," said Arrowchis, who along with Glenda are the parents of seven children and 14 grandchildren.

The torch relay today will parade through the Windows section of Arches, including Double Arch, and Balanced Rock. Mountain bikers will take it to Moab.

An AirMed airplane was scheduled to fly the flame in an FAA-approved lantern to Monument Valley where Navajo tribal members will carry it in the southeastern-most corner of Utah. The plane will then deliver it to Bryce Canyon National Park for cross country skiers and snowshoers to hoist. The relay also will stop at Zion National Park before heading to St. George for an evening celebration.

A rancher in the tiny outpost of Whiterocks on the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation in eastern Utah, Arrowchis learned the sunrise ceremony by watching and listening to his father, who is a medicine man and tribal elder.

"It's just something handed down, and it becomes part of you as you're growing up," he said.

Arrowchis does not the conduct the ritual lightly. It has deep spiritual meaning to Northern Utes.

"It's real," he said. "For us it's real anyway."

The ceremony is not unlike one performed in Olympia, Greece, last November when the Olympic flame was kindled with a ray of sunlight. An actress playing the role of a high priestess placed the fire on an altar and petitioned the gods on behalf of those who will relay it to Salt Lake City.

Arrowchis, a member of the Northern Ute tribe's Whiteriver band, said he hopes the ritual conveys something special to the world and to the Olympians who have dedicated their lives to being at the top of their sports.

"I feel like we need to present ourselves the way they do: the best of the best," he said.

Arrowchis said he doesn't know how he was selected for the event. He received a call one day from Forrest Cuch, the state's Indian affairs director, asking him to help launch the relay in Utah.

A humble, soft-spoken man, Arrowchis has an adventurous side. He has ridden bulls and broncs and raced sprint cars and snowmobiles, once wrecking so badly he was laid up for three months.

When he's not slinging 65-pound bales of hay for his 300 head of cattle, he and his wife of 47 years are tooling around on a custom-made Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

Dubbed "The First American," the hog features a Native American motif adorned with turquoise and gold plating. The bike once won the people's choice award — in a car show.

Glenda Arrowchis serves as map reader and navigator on their excursions because as Frank Arrowchis concedes "I get lost. I'm not the best Indian scout there is."

She also describes him as a "clown" and a prankster. She can always expect a snowball down her back after the season's first snowfall. "I should have learned by now," Glenda Arrowchis said.

Although Frank Arrowchis has reached retirement age, he's not inclined to slow down. He's afraid of slowing down too much and getting old.

And when the sun eventually sets for him, it will be on the Uintah Basin reservation where he has spent all but three years of his life.

"For me, it's kind of God's country because I don't have to fight the big-city traffic and things," he said. "I was born there, and I'm going to die there."


E-mail: romboy@desnews.com