The little town of Moab has a surprisingly long and interesting history.
Since its settlement in 1878, the town has often been at the center of conflicting interests and played a part in many of America’s pivotal moments. Even its name, which refers to a Biblical location in present day Jordan, was petitioned several times by early residents who claimed the Bible lists Moabites as idol worshippers who practice incest. Moab’s location near the Colorado River has always been important. Moab was originally settled because it was the site of the crossing for the Old Spanish Trail. Even then, repeated Native Indian attacks made settlement difficult. Through the years, Moab has hosted a Japanese Internment camp during WWII, seen the boom and wane of the uranium mining business, been the backdrop for numerous Hollywood movies, and joined in on the next economic movement: tourism.
Moab’s incredible scenery and enthusiasm for outdoor adventure sports draws in millions of visitors every year. For this, Glenna and I decided to head to Utah for our 1 year anniversary trip. From Denver, it was a little over a 5 hour drive. We pulled in late after work on a Wednesday night and slept in our car in a campground along the Colorado River.
Arches National Park
The next morning we woke up early and headed into the #1 attraction in the area… Arches National Park. This was my third visit to the park famous for containing over 2,000 sandstone arches. While originally designated as a National Monument, its publicity grew, in part, due to the publishing of Desert Solitaire. In Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey writes an autobiographical account of his two seasons as a ranger in Arches, all the while ranting about various environmental issues. It’s a fantastic book and an interesting read considering how popular the park has since become.
Near the entrance, we walked the Park Ave Trail that runs alongside a sandstone fin of the same name. The trail led us to a viewpoint of the Three Gossips and the Organ, two other impressive sandstone formations. We briefly stopped at balanced rock before circling the Windows on a nice loop. En route we spotted a fury little jack rabbit.
Then it was on to the park’s most famous arch, the one seen on almost every Utah license plate: Delicate Arch.
The arch is an incredible display of nature; rock, carved by wind, rain, and snow perched in such a place it creates a perfect frame for the mountains miles away.
Sadly, crowds had gathered and a line formed to take a picture underneath the arch. We sat alone atop a rock outcropping, peacefully admiring the beauty of the scene. Wandering around the bowl that had been scraped clean below the arch, I managed to get across a canyon and see the arch from the other side.
Hungry from our busy morning, we picnicked and basked in the warm Utah sun. We finished the day with a long hike through Devils Garden, passing Landscape Arch and several others, spending the afternoon scrambling slick rock and navigating canyons. The paved roads may have brought crowds to the park, but Arches remains a special place where, with a little effort, you can still find solitude.
Canyonlands National Park
We spent the night near the Needles area of Canyonlands National Park, sharing a campfire with some nice people from Colorado. The next morning, we entered the park and headed out for a long day of hiking.
The 13 mile loop led us from the Squaw Flat campground deep into the unique sandstone carved region. We followed cairns through dry washes, sandy scrub meadows, and over slick rock. Passing under huge painted spires, we entered Chesler Park, a wide open grassy meadow surrounded by sandstone formations. It was an oasis in the middle of the geologic chaos that occurred all around it.
Midway through the loop we started on a memorable section called the Joint Trail. It led us through some tight canyons before dumping us back into Chesler Park. With tired legs, we finished the loop and spent the night in the campground hovered over a nice, warm fire.
Dead Horse Point State Park
In short, the park is named such because cowboys used the place as a natural corral for wild mustangs, leaving behind the undesirables to die of dehydration while staring at the Colorado River 2,000 feet below. Maybe it’s a bit tasteless, but those horses did have one helluva view!
Hiking the 9 mile loop gave us many different vantage points of the surreal landscape.
Island in the Sky
Nearby, is the other section of Canyonlands: Island in the Sky. We paid a visit to another well known rock formation called Mesa Arch.
While sunrise shots are incredible, the arch itself has none of the flare of Delicate. We moved on to a hike that is well-known, but not officially endorsed by the Park Service. Called False Kiva, the 2 mile trail takes you midway down a canyon to an incredible alcove. Inside are remnants of a Native American kiva, hence the name. It is a truly amazing place!
Before we left the park, we stopped at the Green River Overlook and gazed out on the sculpted landscape as the sun’s waning rays gave a glow to the sandstone.
The next day, we returned to hike the loop around the Upheaval Dome. While it doesn’t include any impressive views, it was a nice tramp through a mostly untouched desert. Following cairns, the trail made quite a descent into a dry wash, which we followed until ascending out of the canyon miles later. Looking up at the huge rim above was very reminiscent of being at the Grand Canyon.
On the way out, we had a look at the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers from Grandview Overlook.
It’s amazing how much these rivers shape the entire West. Back in Moab, we grabbed some burgers from The Atomic Burger Company. They served up beef and buffalo burgers of the best variety. Delicious! We walked town some, before retiring to our campground for a good rest.
The Slickrock Trail
Our final day in Utah was spent shredding some trails on a pair of mountain bikes. We didn’t pick any old trail either. No. We rode THE trail in Moab. The one that put it on the adventure map… The Slickrock Trail.
Ten plus miles of tough climbs, steep descents, and everything in between. The trail is located in the Sand Flats Recreation Area just above town. It’s a $5 entrance fee and also hosts a campground as well as several 4×4 trails. With some standard rentals from Chile Pepper Bike Shop, we drove the 10 minutes or so, unloaded the car, and were off. The trail has a 2.3 mile practice loop, which we used to get acquainted with our bikes and the slick rock surface. Then it was on to the main loop.
The entire area consists of petrified sand dunes, meaning the whole trail is ridden over slick rock. Contrary to the name, however, the rock has a similar texture to sandpaper and provides great grip for bike tires. With us being newbies to the sport, this was Glenna’s very FIRST time EVER, the trail was definitely above our skill level. But with that said, it was doable, even for us. It just meant we had to dismount and walk sometimes. As a complete guesstimate, I would say we rode about 80% of the trail and had to walk the other 20%. Some of the climbs were just too damn steep. And honestly almost everyone I came across had to dismount at some point. While I wouldn’t recommend the trail to anyone, I would suggest it if you are athletic and able to cover 10 miles of pretty difficult terrain.
There is a reason this is one of the most famous trails in the world. It was one of the best experiences of my life!
The Colorado National Monument
After our ride, we followed the Colorado River out-of-town, taking the UT 128 north past towering sandstone walls. A pit stop at the Castle Valley Winery proved very fruitful. Celebrating our last night in style, we cooked brats over the campfire and drank wine straight from the bottle. The next day we delayed going home by killing several hours in Colorado National Monument outside of Grand Junction.
It was a nice park that I had overlooked on several occasions before. Then it was time for the final drive home. So long Utah… until next time! And many thanks to my amazing girlfriend for an awesome Anniversary trip!