We’ve made it to Moab to start the Utah swing of our Epic Adventure. Five parks here: Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce and Zion. Whew. I’m tired just typing the list, or maybe from driving, driving, hiking, driving, photographing, hiking, driving, and photographing.
I’m pretty sure we didn’t fully realize just how much the altitude would impact our trip. We went from 800 feet underground in the Carlsbad Caverns to 7,000 feet in Santa Fe and 8,000 feet on Mesa Verde. We’re getting used to the thin air now, but the first couple days were “breathtaking.” Looking ahead, we’ll be hitting 9,000 feet in some parts of Capitol Reef and staying at 8,000 for the Grand Canyon.
The Parks are massive in all directions. At Arches, umber valleys race for the far horizon, contained on either side by red rock walls whose striated layers reveal millennia of upheaval and erosion, a time capsule of the Earth’s development. At the end of the horizon, the snow dappled La Sal mountains rise even above the sandstone arches. Rock formations are endlessly fascinating as are the agonizingly twisted trunks and branches of the cedar trees. We’ve managed to arrive just as the largest wildflower bloom in years has painted a snowy and richly scented carpet across the valleys.
Canyonlands surrounds Arches on the north, west and south and borders the Bears Ears National Monument to the north. We started in the Needles, south of Arches, where clumps of tall thin rock “needles” reach to the sky. The road winds right next to them, making us feel like ants crawling through a very high pile carpet. There are very few visitors here since the park entrance is sixty five miles south of Moab in an area that time forgot.
Instead of being dropped in the midst of a canyon like at Needles, The Islands in the Sky on the north side of the park gives us the drone’s eye view of the Colorado River as it cuts a path through the canyon. We can see Needles, Arches and the Maze from our 6,100 foot lookout. The Maze is the one part of Canyonlands we won’t be attempting. The entrance to the Maze is over one hundred miles from Moab and it is not for the faint of heart. It’s all off-road high-clearance 4WD (which the Jeep can handle) but there are no services of any kind. No water, gas, cell, toilet—and not too many people. You need to bring everything in and everything (and I do mean EVERYTHING) out, and it wouldn’t hurt to have a satellite phone. In other words, not Tesla territory.
Moab itself is quite the town. Full time residents number about 5,500. Add 30,000 tourists on a weekend and it resembles Cape Cod in August. There is one main drag, Route 191, which is lined by every chain hotel in existence and a few I’ve never heard of (Hoodoo Inn?). It’s also a truck route so traffic is heavy and punctuated by the sound of grinding gears and air brakes. The primary business in Moab is adventure tourism. Route 191 is lined with places to rent a jeep/ATV/OTV/Mountain Bike/Kayak (in red, blue, yellow or orange) or to take a bus tour for those less-adventurous types.
Off the main road, Moab is a very small, funky town. Instead of stop signs they have yield signs at most four way intersections. This works well since there is virtually no traffic off the main road. We’re in a very comfortable B&B about a quarter mile from 191 and it’s totally quiet. There’s a two block shopping section of miscellaneous small businesses, one pharmacy (not a chain) and one large grocery store. No Walmart.
For our dining pleasure, there’s a McDonalds and a Wendy’s, four Thai restaurants and quite a few burger/chicken places with varying reputations. We’d try some of those places but the first night we found a sushi restaurant, Sabaku, recommended by our innkeeper. I know, Moab? Sushi? It’s the best sushi restaurant we’ve eaten at in years. We’ve had the most perfectly prepared Nigori, hand rolls, and tempura with Ahi, Eel, Salmon, Shrimp, Ono, and more. Last night, I had six briny Wianno oysters. They fly the fish in daily. We just eat here every night. Sadly, we leave tomorrow—no more sushi in Utah for us.
At our favorite spot, we are by far the oldest patrons. Everyone living in Moab seems to be from 25 to 35 years old. No one, even the tourists, dresses up, but everyone has extensive tatoos. The four day work week has caught on strongly here. Friday morning we headed to Canyonlands, one Jeep in a tidal wave of Jeeps and SUVs pulling ATVs, bikes, and paddleboards. Parking lots at the trailheads were packed. The town was empty when we returned in mid-afternoon.
It’s Saturday afternoon now. We’re resting up for trek through the wild country of Utah to the next park, Capitol Reef. We’ll be traveling through one hundred and twenty-five miles of absolutely nothing but mesmerizing scenery. Stay tuned!