During the western leg of our road trip in the fall of 2016 we spent our time in Utah exploring the Wasatch Mountains and Zion National Park. We really wanted to make sure we made it back to see Arches and Canyonlands National Park in Moab, and our spring Colorado/Utah Loop Tour seemed like the perfect time. From Dinosaur National Monument it was only about a 3 and 1/2 hour drive down to Moab.
Our first order of business was to find a campsite and get set up. I turned to the trusty Campendium website to see what our options were. I came across Horsethief campground on route 313, about a 20 minute drive from Moab and basically right in between Arches and Canyonlands. The campground had mountain bike trails weaving through and around it. It really reminded me of the Flintstones and I expected Fred or Barney to come flying around a corner in their foot powered cars. For $15 a night the location was perfect. We selected a site with a big bush in an attempt to get a bit of a break from the sun and heat. A slight downfall was the only bathroom option was a pit/vault toilet and there were no showers. I desperately needed one after Dinosaur not having one either and several warm days of hiking. I sorely missed the Cramper at that moment. I bravely walked over to the pit toilet and opened the door already terrified of what smell might greet me, and was surprised to find a pine tree. You know the little green car air-freshener kind. And it was spotless inside. Whoever was in charge of keeping up the bathroom at the campground should get a gold star! One predicament down. Next, how and where to shower? We brought our solar shower along and it was definitely hot enough to use it but there really wasn’t anywhere private enough. I had looked online and discovered we could use the showers at the aquatic center in Moab for $5. We needed to grab some groceries and wanted to check out the town anyway so into Moab we went. I had a shower and while it was good I opted to let Ryan rig up the solar shower at camp the next time. It’s amazing what can be done with a tall truck, the rain cover for your tent, and truck doors that open backwards. Privacy issue solved.
Moab is a really cool town. Lots of funky shops and restaurants sprinkled with the typical McDonald’s and grocery store chains. The scenery is gorgeous red rocks and everyone is really tan. We spent our first full day exploring Arches National Park. Arches is called Arches because it is home to over 2,000 natural stone arches. Some of these arches are insanely huge and some are really tiny, but they all count. As far as National Parks go, Arches is on the smaller side and can easily be seen in a day, especially if you want to do small hikes. There are lots of great long hikes too if your prepared with lots of water for the high desert climate. We drove to the end of the scenic drive and then worked our way back stopping to hike the Broken Arch Trail, the Double Arch Trail, the Garden of Eden, and other famous Arches. Mother Nature really did some fabulous work here! All day I felt like I was in some massive sculpture garden. It amazed me all the different ways the wind and time have carved not only the arches but the pillars and giant balancing rocks too.
After a full day at Arches we went back to our camp and did a couple loops on our bikes around the trails there. Once the sun started to set the temperature really started to cool down and was perfect for an evening bike ride. As I was sitting around the camp I was treated to the sight of a huge jack rabbit bounding out of a bush. It was so big I thought it was a baby deer at first and then saw the back legs were definitely rabbit legs. That night we awoke in our tent to the sound of rustling outside. I knew I wouldn’t sleep until I had verified nothing was trying to eat me, so I popped out of the tent with a flashlight looking for the intruder. It ended up being just the wind but I’m so grateful it woke us at 3:30am because the night sky was the most amazing one I have ever seen in my life! There was no light pollution and the stars were so bright and plentiful they covered every inch of the sky. I could see the Milky Way with such depth and clarity like never before, it was truly mesmerizing. I told Ryan to come out and we just stared up at the night sky.
The next morning we set out for Island in the Sky Visitor Center. Canyonlands is divided into four areas: Island in the Sky, the Needles, The Rivers, and the Maze. The canyons and rivers make it really difficult to visit all four areas in a single trip so we picked the area closest to our campsite to explore. The Island in the Sky area is a primitive high desert climate and has some daunting trails and overlooks on the edges of the canyons. We hiked along the Great Rim Overlook trail. The canyon views go on forever. Even though it was a shorter trail, there was no shade and the heat from the sun was pretty intense. We found ourselves rationing our water and stopping frequently for breaks on the way back. My sunscreen was a distant memory for my skin by the time we reached the parking lot again and I earned a nice sunburn on my shoulders. It’s always a good reminder to be really prepared when you set out on any trail no matter how short it is or how good of shape you are in. The elements can easily wear you down. The most amazing thing to me, besides the beauty of the canyons, was the vegetation that grows there. Small trees and shrubs and vibrant cactus flowers dot the landscape. Mother Nature always finds a way to cut through the rock and beautify the landscape. If we make it back to Canyonlands again I really want to do a back country 4-wheel drive trip on White Rim Road. It is this crazy road that goes down into the wilderness of the canyon. It would be awesome with a group of people to really get away from civilization and into the desolation of the canyon. It’s popular for mountain bikers too, but the thought of climbing out of the canyon by bike makes me think I don’t need that particular adventure on my bucket list.
So glad we decided to visit Utah again, it’s such a beautiful and diverse state. There are still some areas I would like to explore there and I really want to get back to Zion sometime. One day was not enough there. If you head to Moab make the time to see both Arches and Canyonlands. Pack your sunscreen and plenty of water and enjoy the adventure and beauty of the high desert!