We all have our own idea of paradise. For Edward Abbey, the late author and environmentalist, the canyon country around Moab was “the most beautiful place on Earth.”
Moab, a small town in southeastern Utah, lies near the Colorado River, surrounded by awe-inspiring red rock terrain. My husband, Jim, and I first visited here 24 years ago. We became enchanted by the area and have returned at least once a year ever since.
In our earlier journeys, we’d often leave after work on Thursday and drive six hours to get there. Once we arrived we’d set up our tent in darkness so that we were ready to mountain bike Moab’s famous trails the next morning. On Sunday, we’d head home, already planning our next long weekend.
Through the years our accommodations included tents, a yurt, motels, cabins, condos and finally an RV. When we bought a motorhome in 2002, Moab was our first destination. We met friends at a primitive Bureau of Land Management (BLM) campsite on the Colorado River east of Dewey Bridge. To celebrate the occasion, they surprised us with live Maine lobsters for dinner. It was a memorable introduction to RVing.
Moab is an RV-friendly town. RVers can choose from 25 BLM campgrounds in the Moab area for boondocking or from 13 RV parks with full hookups. Moab’s peak months are April through October. During that time, and particularly on weekends when there are special events, RV parks are often filled to capacity and reservations are advised. While individual campsites are not reservable at BLM campgrounds, seven campgrounds have sites that are reservable for groups.
Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park are all located within a short drive from Moab. Arches, five miles north of Moab, contains the world’s largest concentration of natural sandstone arches. More than 2,000 arches are located within the park’s 76,518 acres, along with other sandstone formations such as balanced rocks, fins and spires.
The easiest way to see the park is to drive the 36-mile round-trip scenic road. For a closer look, explore viewpoints within the park. Better yet, take a hike. Some of the trails are short and easy; others are longer and more primitive. A late afternoon or early evening hike to Delicate Arch affords the best lighting and is a three-mile round-trip hike.
Edward Abbey’s experiences as a seasonal park ranger at Arches are described in his classic book “Desert Solitaire.”
Published in 1968, this book is still relevant today, stressing the importance of preserving our natural resources. He writes eloquently about the beauty of the desert. It’s easy to understand why he wrote, “May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view.”
With more than 300,000 acres, Canyonlands is Utah’s largest national park. The Colorado and the Green rivers divide the park into three districts: Island in the Sky, the Maze and the Needles. Each district has its own entrance. Island in the Sky is closest to Moab and therefore the most popular. It has 20 miles of paved roads and more than 15 miles in hiking trails. If you hike five miles into Druid Arch, start early for the best lighting.
Canyonlands’ 100-mile White Rim Trail, with its steep and rugged terrain, provides a challenge for experienced mountain bikers and four-wheel drivers (ATVs are not permitted). Most visitors complete the entire loop in two to four days by four-wheel-drive or by mountain bike. Campsite reservations and backcountry permits are required.
Dead Horse Point State Park is 32 miles from Moab. The view from Dead Horse Point is “one of the most photographed scenic vistas in the world,” according to the Moab Area Travel Council. From the overlook 2,000 feet above the Colorado River, the effect of 150 million years of erosion creates a staggering view.
Sunrise and sunset are the best times to photograph the sandstone formations around Moab. We stopped by the Moab Information Center on the corner of Main and Center streets for some photography suggestions. They gave us a list of sunrise and sunset viewing ideas with driving times from Moab to each location.
Even though I’m not a morning person, a Moab sunrise is worth getting up early. When we arrived at the Windows Section in Arches 30 minutes before sunrise, we were the first car in the parking lot. We walked to the east side of the North and South windows and waited for the sun to peek out. The sandstone formations glowed with intense colors when the first light appeared.
Moab attracts people passionate about outdoor activities. Whether it’s mountain biking, golfing, four-wheeling, ATVing, rafting, technical climbing or hiking, this area provides the perfect weather and terrain for people serious about sports.
The world-famous Slickrock Bike Trail was the reason we initially visited Moab. Motorcyclists developed the trail in 1969, identifying the 12-mile route with white dashes and dots painted on rocks. Called “slickrock” by early settlers whose metal-shod horses found the sandstone difficult to cross, the opposite is true for mountain bikers. The knobby tires hold tight to the coarse rock surface, allowing riders to ride up and down ridiculously steep hills.
Once my favorite Moab ride, the 15.6-mile Porcupine Rim starts with a moderately strenuous climb, offers an amazing view of Castle Valley at the Rim, then tests technical skills and courage on the steep, rocky downhill. We’ve since discovered we can have just as much fun and not hurt nearly as much afterward on rides such as Gemini Bridges, Klondike Bluffs or Flat Pass.
Moab’s terrain appeals to four-wheelers as well. The Easter Jeep Safari is one of the biggest events of the year, attracting four-wheeling enthusiasts from all over the country. Red Rock 4-Wheelers of Moab organizes the rides for this nine-day happening. Each day they lead about nine trail rides, with the exception of “Big Saturday,” when up to 30 groups ride 30 different trails. Trail difficulties range from easy to nearly impassible. Seeing is believing. On YouTube.com, search for “Moab Easter Jeep Safari” to watch videos of Jeeps climbing what I would have thought was impossible. If you plan to visit during this time make your camping reservations early.
Even if your dinghy vehicle is better suited for black top than slickrock, you can still join in the four-wheeling fun. Several companies offer Jeep and Hummer tours, ranging in length from two hours to multiple days. At Moab Adventure Center, professional guides operate Hummers customized with raised seating in the rear for optimum passenger viewing. You can also rent Jeeps, ATVs or motorcycles.
Just as our accommodations have changed over the years, so have our activities. We still mountain bike, but we spend more than half of our days on the golf course. Moab Golf Course is one of the prettiest courses I’ve ever played. The well-maintained fairways and greens are surrounded by red cliffs and boulders. If you plan to golf during high season, reserve your tee times before you arrive.
Hideout Golf Club in Monticello is about an hour’s drive south of Moab. It’s a beautiful, uncrowded course with plenty of hills and trees. Each time we’ve played there, we’ve seen more deer than golfers. Since Monticello is several thousand feet higher than Moab, the temperatures can be a refreshing 10 to 15 degrees cooler during the summer months.
If you visit in the summer, you can expect temperatures in the 90s to over 100 degrees. Fortunately, there’s more than one way to cool off. The La Sal Mountains rise 20 miles southeast of Moab, with 12 peaks above 12,000 feet. It’s the perfect spot for hiking or biking on shaded trails and dirt roads, or for trout fishing in the mountain streams and lakes.
When the hot sun beats down, the cool river starts to look mighty inviting. We’ve joined a rafting trip and paddled a canoe on the Colorado River. There are plenty of options, with about 20 river guides and outfitters to put you on the Colorado, Delores or Green rivers in a raft, kayak, canoe or jet boat. Rafting trips in calm waters are suitable for everyone from 40-pound youngsters to seniors. If white-knuckle white water is more your style, there are several companies that take trips in Cataract Canyon. Snowmelt from the Rocky Mountains in late spring churns up massive Class IV and V rapids. Rafting trips range from a couple of hours to multiday excursions.
Canyonlands by Night and Day, a tour company in Moab for 47 years, offers tours by water, land and air. Its signature tour is the Night Show, which features a cowboy-style Dutch oven dinner and a slow flat-bottomed boat ride up the Colorado. The show starts after dark when stories about the area’s formation and history are told using lights, shadows, music and narration. This unique history lesson about the Native Americans, Catholic conquistadors and Mormon pioneers unfolds on the canyon walls.
One surefire way to beat the heat in any charming resort town is to browse in the air-conditioned stores in the shopping district. Moab is no exception, with plenty of shops selling T-shirts, souvenirs, jewelry, clothing, sporting goods, books and art. One of our favorites is Hogan Trading Company on Main Street. It’s easy to recognize, surrounded by Lyman Whitaker’s wind sculptures. These kinetic works of art — made of copper, steel and stainless steel — dance in time to the wind, whether it’s a gentle breeze or a heavy storm.
In addition to the year-round scenery and seasonal outdoor activities, there are numerous special events to entertain visitors. Whenever you go and whatever you do, you’ll find plenty of activities to entertain you and keep you coming back for more. Even after 24 years, we can’t get enough. Maybe next year we’ll stay longer.
For More Information:
Arches National Park
Canyonlands by Night and Day
Canyonlands National Park
Dead Horse Point State Park
Moab Area Travel Council