The Short Version
- Six hour Drive from Flagstaff to Moab
- Slept at Delicate Arch in Arches National Park (3 mile round trip hike)
- Primitive Loop Hike (8 mile) at Devils Garden in Arches National Park
- Drive to Double Arch, Balanced Rock, Fiery Furnace Viewpoint, Parade of Elephants
- Bouldering at Big Bend Bouldering Area
- Moab Brewery
- Slept at Mesa Arch Trail-head in Canyonlands National Park
- Dead Horse Point State Park
- Peace Tree Cafe for Lunch
The Long Version
Before moving to Flagstaff I tried to move to Moab, Utah. Many people I met in Boulder and Chicago recommended Moab over St. George and even Flagstaff when I posed them with the question of where to go. Boasting a tagline like “With cosmic hiking, biking, climbing, jeeping and whitewater rafting all within a breakfast burrito’s bike ride, Moab is nucleus to various breeds of outdoorists” on the city’s website it seems like a no brainer. Unfortunately, due to my procrastination the living situation didn’t work out so of course the first week after moving to Flagstaff I had to make a weekend trip 6 hours up the road to Moab (with minimal planning).
Friday, October 13th: Moab is located in the canyon country on the eastern side of Utah and is basically desert all the way down to Arizona. This made the drive from Flagstaff pretty straightforward. Not many cars accompanied me on the two lane highway and I had cell service about half of the drive. Starting with a full tank of gas is not necessarily required but not a bad idea for piece of mind as some stretches are pretty desolate. A hundred miles or so of the drive is ‘open range’ which for those ignorant like me mean that livestock can roam freely in these areas, roads included (pro tip, hit a cow or horse in an open range area means you will pay for your car repairs and damages to the cow or horse). About 4 hours into the 6 hour drive (right before getting to Monticello) I pulled onto off onto a random side street and stopped at a dirt road leading into the desert. I channeled by inner Aron Ralston and starting running into the desert for a little exercise. The dirt road quickly turned into a dirt trail (then into a dirt riverbed?). This might sound stupid but it really wasn’t that dramatic (it was only 75 degrees or so, summer might have been a different story). I ran 3 miles into the desert following the base of ridge line taking in the barren scenery then turned around and followed my steps out. I would say there is nothing wrong with anyone looking to get a little run in around this area to do the same. Pull over anywhere and start running, you might find something you’ve never seen before…like this guy…
Moab is a small city surrounded by massive red canyon walls. There is basically one main street lined with restaurants and stores. The food and drink scene is worth checking out if time permits but i’d say that it should be far from the priority when traveling to Moab. Once I reached the city I grabbed an un-noteworthy dinner and headed to the Village Market to stock up on bananas and trail mix.
With only a couple days to spend and a lot of things to see I decided capitalize my time by spending the night in Arches National Park (45 minutes from downtown Moab) so I could immediately start hiking in the morning. If I am going to sleep in the park might as well sleep at the most iconic arch in the park, so that where I headed (time check: 10pm). The park if pretty straighforward, one paved road that cut through the park with a couple of side road leading to other arches landmarks. The park is open 24 hours on Friday and Saturday (closes at 7 on the other days) and apparently is free if you go late enough (not sure after when its free, but i got there after 10pm). Delicate Arch is the most popular arch in the park and was my destination for the night. A 15 minute drive through the park led me to delicate arch trail-head and parking lot. The trail to the arch is about 1.5 miles with slight climbs, pretty easy effort wise, however, with a lone headlamp I learned its not straight forward to navigate at night. A obvious path leads into a somewhat obvious path with leads into an open ascent up some a slick rock formation. This is where I started wondering the first time. I basically kept walking ‘up’ and made sure not walk off a cliff (didn’t know if there were cliffs to walk off or not…). Fortunately, there were multiple pairs of people walking back from the arch (on the real path) so I could act as a fly and meander towards the lights in the horizon. In essence, for 45 minutes I would walk in a direction until i saw someones flashlight in another direction then I would walk in that new direction until they passed and i would start the process over. The ‘path’ picks back up a couple hundred yards from the Arch (and this was the first time I saw Cairns, wished they showed up earlier…). I was the only person at the arch when I finally reached it (ran into it more like). The arch is on an elevated ridge but I wasn’t sure high elevated. High enough that my flashlight would not reveal the bottom which makes finding a place to sleep more interesting. I found a cubby between a one of the rock faces and a boulder which blocked half of the wind (and it was very windy). This location was not entirely flat and the slick material of my sleeping bag made me question the decision but I jammed myself beside the rock so only my legs would slide. I ‘sleep’ for a couple hours before the sliding woke me up. I relocated to a flat spot between two rock faces where I ‘slept’ for a couple hours before being turned into a Popsicle because it was basically a wind tunnel. Decided sliding is better than hypothermia and went back to my cubby. Dawn finally came after hours of intermittent sleep to revealed the surrounding landscape that had eluded me during the night.
Even though I could have technically fallen off the ridge during the night, gotten lost on the hike and was very cold throughout the night I was never really in any danger. Seeing millions of stars speckled throughout the Milkyway above one of the most famous arches
in the world that I had all to myself was well worth the risks.
Saturday, October 14th: After watching dawn chase the stars away and coat the coat the everything in a reddish-yellow hue I hiked backed to my car and drove to the end of the park which is named Devils Garden (the hike back was much easier during the day). Devil’s Garden has two hiking routes: a short hike that goes to various arch observation points and a longer 7 mile loop that traverses some of the surrounding canyons before meeting back with the shorter trail (the longer trail is called the Primitive Loop, it is called a strenuous hike but is really not bad). Pro-tip if you do the primitive hike, go right when the main trail splits between the the primitive loop and the landscape arch lookout (picture). Most people would say this is dong the loop backwards but doing it this way you get the monotonous desert part of the trail done first and save the scrambling, arches and lookouts for the end.
Apart from the primitive loop hike and delicate arch hike the majority of park’s highlights can be hit via a driving tour. I would recommend seeing double arch (picture), balanced rock, Fiery Furnace Viewpoint, Parade of Elephants and whatever else catches your attention during the drive.
Another un-noteworthy meal in Moab (although the Polygamy Porter from Salt Lake based Wasatch Brewery is pretty good).
This area is home to world class mountain biking, canyoning, trad climbing, jeeping and rafting. If i had more time ( or more so conducted more planning) I would have partaken in some of these activities, but i settled for checking out the bouldering scene. One of the main bouldering areas is the Big Bend Bouldering Area across the street from the Big Bend Campground on River Road. A 15 minute drive from Moab will lead to this boulder field with 50+ problems ranging from V1 to V11 right next to beautiful red rock canyon walls. There were 6 or so people bouldering when I got there and they were more than willing to introduce me to some problems when I revealed I had never been there before (or even bouldered outside). I Had a blast playing on the rocks for hours until it was dark (even though I royally sprained my knee on a awkward heel hook. One pop is bad, so two pops must be worse). After I left people were still bouldering with flashlights and headlamps.
There is one micro brewery in Moab (amply named Moab Brewery) which is where I ended up for dinner. It seems to be a popular spot and is overly crowded most of the time but is worth checking out (more so for the beer than the food). It is located conveniently next to the grocery store I stocked up on trail mix the previous night so i did the same in preparation of sleeping at a Arch round two.
Apart from Arches National Park there is Canyonlands and Dead Horse national park located near Moab and are in close proximity to each other. There are an extensive amount of hiking routes and points of interest in Canyonlands but one of the more popular spots is Mesa Arch. Since I didn’t have a lot of time for hours of hiking on Sunday I decided to sleep at Mesa Arch then head to Dead Horse in the morning. The drive to the arch trail is simple and the trail itself is less than half a mile but it was close to freezing when I got there. I Decided my 50 degree rated sleeping bag wouldn’t fair as well as it had the previous night and so I stayed cuddle up in my car for the night.
Sunday October 15th: With my sprained knee and the near freeing morning temperature I didn’t get up to see the sunrise over the Arch as intended, but I made the easy half a mile hike shortly thereafter. A red glow was still cast on the arch but it would have been much more owe inspiring if I was there earlier. The arch was not as big as I expected, but it was still magnificent in the sense that in that it was an overlooking window to miles of canyon landscape.
From the Arch I drove 20 minutes to Dead Horse Point State Park (NOT Dead Horse Ranch State Park) which is back towards Moab. The park is open 6am-10pm and costs $15 per vehicle. I planned to do the 5.2 mile Dead Horse Loop Trail that is a rim trail along the Colorado (an abundance of mountain bike trails that go into and around the Canyon for those looking for mountain biking). However, my sprained knee was not having any of that. Instead I followed the paved road to the end of the park which is where Dead Horse Point Lookout is located. This is not a hike so it is well suited for travelers looking for an easy spectacular view. It is a park and walk over the lookout. There is a short wall at the main lookout area, but one can easily hop over this to sit on the rim of the Canyon. This was most likely best landscape lookout that I encountered during this trip.
Dead Horse was my last planned stop. If I was physically able and time had permitted I would have tagged on some nearby hikes such as Chesler Park Loop Trail (Canyon Lands) or the Fiery Furnace Hike (Arches). I settled for one last meal in Moab at a place called Peace Tree Cafe, which turned out to be the only noteworthy meal I had in Moab. Their quinoa scramble was delicious. Saved the best for last I suppose.
Moab is fun area and undoubtedly worth a visit. However, I am glad I did not end up living there. From my perspective it is a well suited for weekend trips or longer vacations, but not ideal if you have to work during the daytime when all the exciting outdoor activities occur.