ARCHES NATIONAL PARK — On a morning fraught with symbolism, Utah's Olympics welcomed the Olympic flame to state soil here Monday morning at the base of Utah's oldest icon.

Not Karl Malone. Delicate Arch.

As an elder from the Ute Tribe tossed red Utah dirt to the four winds, another Ute elder chanted a prayer to Deity and passed the Olympic torch to his granddaughter, a high-school soccer player, who got the flame started on its 1,050-mile run through the state named after her tribe.

Like the ancient Greeks from whence the Olympics come, Utah has not forgotten its roots.

One hundred million years ago, give or take, Delicate Arch was formed. Ten thousand years ago, give or take, came the Pueblos and Anasazi, clearing the way for the Utes and other modern Indian tribes.

As the 2002 Winter Games arrive, where better to begin than the beginning?


Monday's symbolism didn't stop with the arch and the Utes.

In its own microcosmic way, Operation Delicate Arch portended what is to become of us the next 17 days.

Great days are upon us, it's true. A worldwide viewing audience of 3.5 billion is on the edge of its sofas. Crowds are descending upon us. But nothing will be quite as simple and easy as it was.

Write that down.

Get used to security. Get used to traffic. Get used to doing things the hard way. Get used to people telling you, "You can't get there from here."

I took my family to Moab for the Delicate Arch ceremony — only to discover that they needed to be on a shuttle bus the next morning . . . at 4:30! . . . and by the way, the shuttle was full.

The Olympic Games are going to be tough on us non-planner types.

Not to mention us night people.

It got worse.

I was then told I needed a special media pass if I wanted to go to the base of the arch for the ceremony — and the Deseret News had already used up its quota.

Wherever Edward Abbey is, he had to be enjoying himself.

Anyway, we all ended up improvising. My plan was to drive myself to Balanced Rock at 5:30 Monday morning and then take a media shuttle to the Delicate Arch trailhead, where I would proceed to the public viewing area — a place "not quite at the base of the arch."

Everyone else's plan can be summed up with the phrase, "Don't wake us when you leave."


Three or four officious park rangers, two security stops, a policeman who said we had the wrong dashboard placard, and a brisk hike later, there I was, seeing the historic ceremony, sort of. I watched along with about 500 other insomniacs from about 1,000 yards as what looked be a Ute elder in full headdress passed off what looked to be a torch to what looked to be a high school soccer player, who took off down the trail.

Then the sun rose. Magnificently.

It all took about five minutes.

As the crowd quickly dispersed, I looked back at the arch. It was in solitude again, as it has been through most of its 100 million years, left only to watch as the people hurried back toward their shuttle buses and the guaranteed traffic jam that would follow.

I don't want to spread any false myths, but it kinda looked like it was smiling.


Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to benson@desnews.com and faxes to 801-237-2527.