IN­SIDER’S GUIDE

Backpacker - - Contents - By Elis­a­beth Kwak-Hef­feran

MOAB, UT

It’s prime time in the desert, but that doesn’t mean you have to share. A long­time lo­cal dishes his fa­vorite hikes, views, and tips for soli­tude.

No other trail town is as syn­ony­mous with desert par­adise as Moab: Within easy strik­ing dis­tance of Arches and Cany­on­lands Na­tional Parks, the Bears Ears buttes, and acres of empty Bu­reau of Land Man­age­ment land, the town sits at the heart of A-list canyon coun­try. You can’t keep real es­tate like this se­cret for long, though, and in re­cent years, parts of the wilder­ness have be­come down­right crowded. The good news: There’s plenty of re­drock utopia to go around—if you know where to look.

THE IN­SIDER

Mike Coronella has spent the last 15 years fer­ret­ing out Moab’s se­cret spots. As both the owner of lo­cal out­fit­ter Deep Desert Ex­pe­di­tions and a vol­un­teer with Grand County Search and Res­cue, he knows al­most ev­ery inch of the canyons and moun­tains around his home­town, and quite a bit more to boot: He’s also the co­founder of the 800-mile Hay­duke Trail through south­east Utah and north­west Ari­zona.

EASY DAY TRIP

With a high rock art-to-ef­fort ra­tio but a low num­ber of hik­ers per mile, the South Fork of Seven­mile Wash adds up to a Coronella fa­vorite. There’s no of­fi­cial trail on this BLM land, so just fol­low the sandy bot­tom up to 5 miles (one way) be­tween canyon walls lay­ered like phyllo dough. From the un­marked trail­head on UT 313 (near 38.6492, -109.7222), wind past pet­ro­glyph and pic­to­graph pan­els, keep­ing your eyes peeled for hu­man fig­ures, geo­met­ric shapes, and bighorn sheep adorn­ing the desert var­nish. (Leave all rock art undis­turbed, of course.)

QUIET OVERNIGHT

A ge­o­logic mys­tery lies in Cany­on­lands Na­tional Park’s Is­land in the Sky Dis­trict: a 3-mile-long zone of wildly tilted rock lay­ers that don’t match the rest of the park. “Ev­ery­thing is turned in­side out,” Coronella says of the area, called Up­heaval Dome. The the­o­ries about its ori­gin in­volve a me­teor im­pact or a layer of an­cient salt ris­ing to the sur­face. Form your own ideas on the 8.3mile Syn­cline Loop, which traces the canyons around Up­heaval Dome, ca­reen­ing up and down cliffy switch­backs and wind­ing through boul­der­fields. Camp at the Syn­cline site and save time to tour the in­ner dome on the 1.5-mile spur. “Day­hik­ers never go in there,” Coronella notes.

WILD WEEK

Ready for a big bite? Tackle the 50-miler from Cathe­dral Butte to the Col­orado River in Cany­on­lands’ Nee­dles Dis­trict. The point-topoint route show­cases canyon coun­try’s finest, from rock art pan­els to sand­stone arches to stri­ated hoodoos. “It’s an as­ton­ish­ing se­ries of canyons, drainages, and ridge­lines with huge views,” Coronella says. From the trail­head on the dis­trict’s south­ern bor­der (37.9500, -109.7062), drop into Salt Creek and spend two days ex­plor­ing a re­mote canyon rich with ru­ins and art pan­els (like the famed All Amer­i­can Man). Camp at the Salt Creek 1 camp­site, then near the spur to An­gel Arch. Next day, head west into Lost Canyon, a se­ries of slick­rock benches over­look­ing deeper chasms, and camp at Lost Canyon 1. Con­tinue west among Ch­esler Park’s pil­lars, toss­ing in the short side trip to Druid Arch en route, and sleep at Ch­esler Park 1. Head north­west on Lower Red Lake Canyon Trail to spend the last night in the open zone be­fore fin­ish­ing on the banks of the Col­orado, just south of its con­flu­ence with the Green River. Hop a pre­ar­ranged jet­boat shut­tle (texs­river­ways.com) back to Moab (there’s no other way out).

COUNTERPROGRAMMING

Shhh: There’s more to Moab than the desert. The lonely La Sal Moun­tains rise south­east of town and see a frac­tion of the traf­fic the canyons do. For top-of-Utah views, head for 12,645-foot Mt. Mel­len­thin via Gold Basin, a 3-mile (one-way) as­cent through aspen stands, then ev­er­greens, then open talus. You’ll tag Pre-Lau­rel Peak and Lau­rel Peak be­fore swing­ing north­east and ne­go­ti­at­ing steep scree slopes to the top. There, you’ll find vis­tas ex­tend­ing into Col­orado’s San Juan Moun­tains and Utah’s Hen­rys.

STARGAZING

Coronella main­tains that the ce­les­tial show is ex­cel­lent “ev­ery­where” in the Moab re­gion, but, when pressed, he rec­om­mends the 360-de­gree view from the La Sal Moun­tains View­point in Arches Na­tional Park. “The stars here are sur­real,” he says.

PHOTO OPP

Cany­on­lands’ White Rim Road is pop­u­lar with driv­ers and moun­tain bik­ers, but with just 20 camp­sites along the 100-mile route, soli­tude is guar­an­teed if you score a per­mit. Gun for the Labyrinth area (pic­tured), ap­ply­ing as many as four months in ad­vance, to en­joy a pri­vate vista over the Green River.

TRIP PLAN­NER

SEA­SON March to May and Septem­ber to Novem­ber PER­MIT Re­quired for back­pack­ing at Cany­on­lands ($30/group; reser­va­tions rec­om­mended); canyper­mits.nps.gov INFO nps.gov/ cany; nps.gov/arch; www.fs.usda.gov/man­ti­lasal

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