Don your cowboy hat and head to Moab, Utah, for adventures John Wayne-style
Head Out West
Gazing down from the overlooks of Utah’s rugged terrain, it seems as if a giant knife cut out chunks of rock to form rivers and serratededged canyons. The odd stone formations and arches that stretch for miles are tinged in orangey red. One can’t help but wonder: How could such natural beauty have been created? The architects were the sand, water and wind.
Located in the southeast corner of Utah, Moab may be small with a population of only 9,000, but surrounding this tiny town are national and state parks, where adventure seekers find rock climbing and river rafting, hiking and mountain biking. Those with a penchant for extreme thrills head to the daring jeep trails, like Hell’s Revenge, with its 90-degree slopes. And if you just want to relax, a sightseeing drive will leave you gaping at the stunning formations as you scour the landscape for bighorn sheep. Southern California visitor Lanee Lee sums up her visit to this part of the country: “Moab, with its sci-fi rock sculptures and red dirt playground, is like the Disneyland of the outdoors.”
Canyonlands National Park
Deep, really deep, canyons are the attraction at Canyonlands National Park. Your first stop should be the Island in the Sky, a 1,000- foot mesa with a grand viewing pullout, from which a panorama of red rock pinnacles and flatlands interrupted by jagged-edge canyons mesmerizes visitors. “People like this more than the Grand Canyon because it is small enough to get your head around it,” says Marian DeLay, executive director of the Moab Area Travel Council.
For hikers, the most picturesque trail (½ 1/2- mile round trip) is to Mesa Arch. Sitting on the edge of a cliff, the low arch stretches about 50 feet. At sunrise, flashes of light appear, turning the crescent-shaped rock a shimmering, golden red. A breathtaking scene, the array of pinnacles and buttes in the blazing, morning sky is the reward for earlier risers. “Sitting under the Mesa Arch in the Island of the Sky District and looking out at the strange and wonderful
rockscape is nothing short of a religious experience,” DeLay elaborates.
Sand Flats Recreation Area
Daredevils head to the Sand Flats Recreation Area, home to the Hell’s Revenge Trail—a roller coaster experience that’s more a thrill ride than a leisurely scenic outing. The best way to do Hell’s Revenge is in a Hummer with a guide and driver who can safely navigate around the sand flats, over bumpy roads and through canyons. They have a wealth of information to share about the area’s plants and geology, including dinosaur tracks, and are always forthcoming with tips. “Never drive on an angle unless you know what you are doing and even then you should question yourself,” says guide/ driver Eric Thompson about the challenges, like rock ledges and steep climbs that motorists face on this trail. Even though he likes to rev the engine when taking the sharp curves, almost as if he were a teenager, he preaches safety first.
Rather than flying up rugged crags in a Hummer, many folks prefer checking out the memorabilia at the movie museum
SITTING UNDER THE MESA ARCH IN THE ISLAND OF THE SKY DISTRICT AND LOOKING OUT AT THE STRANGE AND WONDERFUL ROCKSCAPE IS NOTHING SHORT OF A RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE.
—MARIAN DELAY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE MOAB AREA TRAVEL COUNCIL
tucked in the Red Cliffs Lodge, located outside the park. Years ago filmmakers discovered the Moab area, which has been used as a backdrop for many movies, including John Carter, 127 Hours, Star Trek, Stagecoach and City Slickers. John Wayne came here so often to film Westerns, the Apache Hotel’s Room 20 became his Moab home. And remember, the Mission: Impossible ghost protocol scene when Tom Cruise was T-boned (tied to the side of a canyon wall) and when Susan Sarandon drove over the Grand Canyon in Thelma and Louise? Those scenes were shot in the area.
Dead Horse Point State Park
This park got its name from the wild mustangs that once roamed the mesa. Legend has it that around the turn of the 20th century, cowboys used to corral them on the neck of the point. One time, they left the horses there. The mustangs died of thirst, which was ironic because 2,000 feet below, the mighty Colorado River slithers like a giant snake around sculptured, lavender and pink bluffs. No doubt the park was named Dead Horse Point State Park after the unfortunate incident.
Views of the river, where rafting is a favorite pastime, are reason enough to visit this park. You can book a rafting trip with outfitters in Moab.
Arches National Park
Some 2,000 arches stand tall in Arches National Park. Rock configurations resemble windows, a parade of elephants and even people, such as the Three Gossips formation that looks like three talking heads. Balanced Rock appears as if some giant lifted up a boulder and super-glued it atop a hoodoo
(odd-shaped rock left by erosion). However, most people are familiar with the iconic Delicate Arch, shaped so that it frames the scenic canyons beyond.
The hike to Delicate Arch, even for nonhikers, is worth the grunt. Take water and a jacket before starting out on the three-mile, round-trip journey to the park’s superstar. Weather can quickly change from very hot to chilly, and winds are sometimes wicked. The trail starts at Wolfe Ranch, now just an old shack. Petroglyphs, bighorn sheep rock art, decorate the walls just ahead. The hike continues over smooth rock as it ascends 480 feet. You’ll find yourself huffing and puffing your way up the steeper climbs, but the surrounding beauty makes it all worthwhile. The winds blow stronger near the top. Then, after rounding a corner, the 287-foot-high Delicate Arch looms. Height, solitary stance and the way it frames the La Sal Mountains makes onlookers just stop in their tracks. “Due to its immense size and stunning beauty, when you see the Delicate Arch for the first time, expect to gasp or giggle—or both,” says DeLay.
Most visitors only spend about two days in Moab; however a five-day trip is recommended if you plan to explore the area’s different parks. Each day in the Moab area becomes more amazing.
For more information, contact: Moab Area Travel Council, 800- 635- 6622, discover moab.com. A travel junkie, Roberta Sotonoff writes to support her habit. Her work has been published in more than 80 domestic and international newspapers, magazines, Web sites and guides.
MOAB, WITH ITS SCI-FI ROCK SCULPTURES AND RED DIRT PLAYGROUND, IS LIKE THE DISNEYLAND OF THE OUTDOORS.
Deposits of sediments by oceans, lakes, streams and wind-blown sand dunes over millions of years have created the layers of rock in Dead Horse Point State Park.
Sunset-gazing lookout points in Canyonlands National Park, just outside Moab, are easily reached by car via scenic paved roads or by foot on hiking trails.
From top: Sand Flats Recreation Area boasts almost 40 miles of jeep trails; with a little imagination you can see why this rock formation in Arches National Park is called a parade of elephants.