Life on the Road – April Part 4: Moab

The beautiful Calf Creek Falls – a quick hike off of Hwy 12

With Kanab, Escalante, and the whole of the Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument in our rearview, we spent the next couple days making our way North and Eastward, picking off some short dayhikes along the way to our next destination of Moab, Utah. Moab is a mecca for desert outdoor adventures, hiking, biking, 4x4ing, rafting… the list goes on. Of interest to us were the many mountain bike trails around town and the two National Parks in close proximity – Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. We set ourselves aside an entire week to hang out around town, including a couple days of library time to do some research and planning. Moab has tons of public lands open for camping nice and close to town that make it a very easy home base for campers like us. We had a solid week of activities lined up, and were excited to stay in one place for an extended period again.

On our way to Moab, we camped for a night in the San Rafael Reef and did a hike the next morning in Crack Canyon, which pierces through the Reef.

Crack Canyon was one of the more “involved” canyons we have hiked to date – as in there were quite a few boulders we had to climb down and then back up on our way out. Here is Cory tackling one of the boulders!

Our first highlight of the Moab area was Arches National Park. Arches has a staggering number of natural rock arches, some daunting in size, some intriguing not in size but in form. Our chosen hike was the Devil’s Garden Loop, which passes through the highest density region of arches, including passing by the longest arch in the world; Landscape Arch. We set off very early in the morning, and hiked the more remote “primitive loop” for the first half of our hike, probing out into the desert fins far from the throngs of crowds that were only doing the short trip in to see Landscape Arch. Alex had a faint memory of some hidden rock art she’d seen on one of her visits as a kid, hidden near our loop hike. We poked around for an hour or so in the area, and had nearly given up, when our efforts were rewarded. Just out of sight from the beaten path were many huge walls covered in Petroglyphs (rock carvings) of many people, of snakes, and of long horned sheep. We marveled at them a good while, enjoying the solitude of our secret find; people who know of their whereabouts are generally tight lipped, a measure to help preserve these ancient but delicate remains. Rock Art is a window to people’s ancient past in these desert lands, giving a small view into the way they perceived the world and things that they valued, worshipped, or feared. It was a real treat. We took our photos and our memories, and a special knowing that we were of the few that would ever visit this special place in the park.

Landscape Arch.

Some shots of the sandstone fins and other arches on the Devils Garden trail. Pictures #2-4 are of Private Arch and picture #5 is of Double “O” Arch.

Just a few snaps of the walls of rock art we found!

After our visit to the petroglyphs, we returned via the more developed trail that passes by the majority of the arches; stopping for photos along the way, but trying to maintain pace to escape the building heat. We made it back to the van for a late lunch, then waited out the worst of the afternoon heat in the shade before doing another short evening hike to Delicate Arch. Delicate Arch is famous and unique for a couple of reasons – it stands much taller than it spans wide, and it stands relatively alone; the fin that it formed from has all been weathered away at either side. These unique features make it incredibly photogenic, which also leads to it being exceedingly popular. We enjoyed sunset with a few hundred of our closest friends and somehow managed to grab a couple shots without other people in the frame.

Delicate Arch with the La Sal Mountains in the background.

Following our day of adventure in Arches, we took a couple down days to get chores done, and got in a short ride in the Klondike Bluffs trail network just North of Moab. We also splurged to spend a night in an RV park in town, allowing us to experience a bit of Moab’s nightlife and visit the famed Moab Brewery without having to drive – the Moab Especial Wheat Ale is particularly good. With a couple days of rest and full provisions, we left town again in the direction of the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park, both of which were on our list. During our planning we had read that Dead Horse has an excellent and fairly new mountain bike loop that we were keen to check out. Turned out that all the good reviews were spot on! We spent a morning riding the loop, following the cliff edges around to the many different view points. The trails were a great mix of mellower bedrock traverses, technical climbs, and flowing sections of dirt single track. Alex and I both had tons of fun riding it.

Some snaps from a few of our many mountain biking days around Moab. Photo #1 – Top of the Klondike Bluffs. Photos #2-4 – Dead Horse Point State Park.

As we put away the bike gear and got in the van to go to Island in the Sky the sky turned sour, dark clouds rolled in threatening rain and lightning. We decided to chance it anyways, as weather can roll out as quickly as it rolls in, but when we got to the Island in the Sky visitor’s center the sky fell. The rain was torrential and the forked lightning was all around. We rather enjoyed the spectacle from inside the visitors center, but when we tried to time a lull in the storm to run back to the van we got drenched, and it put an end to any ideas we had about going for a hike that day. The weather info that we got at the ranger station didn’t look too promising either, so we decided to make back closer to town and to lower ground for our camp. We were glad we did, from our camp that night we watched another electrical storm pass over and got another healthy helping of rain.

Moody views off of Island in the Sky in Canyonlands National Park

Thunderstorms rolling through our camp outside of Moab right at sunset! Wild skies over Arches National Park to the East!

With our time in Moab nearing its’ end, we spent one more afternoon tucked in at the library getting our plans together for the coming weeks and our New Mexico leg of the trip. On our last day in Moab Alex set me loose for a solo mountain bike ride around the world famous Slickrock Trail. Not so much a trail as a route marked out on the undulating slickrock domes, Slickrock was originally a trials motor bike loop. As such, it is full of some of the steepest, punchiest climbs I have ever encountered on my bike, and the tenacious grip provided by the slickrock (slickrock is anything but slick, at least when dry) allows it all to be ridden up or down – if you have the legs and the lungs to do so. I pushed hard on the whole loop, and by the time I got back to the van I was completely spent, it was one of the most physically demanding rides I’ve ever been on, but the effort was well worth the experience.

After my ride on Slickrock, we said goodbye to Moab and made our way South towards the Needles district of Canyonlands NP. Our plan was to get a lengthy hike done the next day, but unfortunately the weather did not cooperate. We got chased out of our hike by rain and the threat of lightning less than half way into our loop. To be honest, my legs were grateful for the shortened trip after the beating I gave them the day before.

A gloomy day in the Needles district of Canyonlands.

With the weather continuing to be uncooperative we decided to keep moving towards New Mexico, in hopes the cycle would break if we went a little farther South. Our last stop in Utah was in the Valley of the Gods; often referred to as “Little Monument Valley” because the landscape is so similar, just not quite as massive. Valley of the Gods is also far less traveled, more remote, and doesn’t have any entrance fees – all good things in our books. We found a gorgeous camping spot along the road right beside a massive, lonesome rock formation, and had enough time for a beer and a game of cribbage before lightning struck too close for comfort. It seemed that these storms were just inescapable. We puttered a little further along the road and pulled off into a more sheltered area just before the rain started coming down in sheets. A little note on Utah backroads: Most of them have a bentonite clay base, and when that clay base gets wet it takes on the consistency of greasy peanut butter. We were about half way along one of these clay roads when the rain started falling. We spent a slightly nervous night in the van, watching an utterly massive electrical storm pass by to our South – the entire sky would light up with great sheets and forks, and the thunder seemed to never end, a dull roar as if a jet liner was continuously doing flybys in our vicinity.

The Valley of the Gods living up to its name!

The storm lasted most of the night, but as morning broke the clouds cleared and a hot sun quickly started drying the land back out. We gave the roads a chance to lose some of their moisture, then finished the drive through the Valley of the Gods and made our way down into New Mexico. So ended April, and here ends this post.

Stats for April:
Kilometers Driven: 3,066 (6,815 Total to Date)
Kilometers Hiked: 159.6 (182.5 Total to Date)
Kilometers Biked: 115 (142 Total to Date)
Provinces/States Visited in April: Arizona, Utah (2)
Total Provinces/States Visited: Washington, Oregon, Nevada, California, Arizona, Utah (6)

A final stop in Utah – Goosenecks State Park. We parked Ferris and walked up to the edge of the cliff to be greeted by this!

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