Moab and Two National Parks - 2019
Updated: Aug 27, 2019
April 21-26 2019
My brother Michael called me a few weeks ago and asked if I would be interested in a boy’s trip with him and our Dad to Moab. I said heck yes as I have been trying to get dad out traveling for quite some time. Dad turned 80 last December and has spent very little time outside of his childhood through adult home in Santa Rosa in recent years.
Day 1 - Monday morning I caught an early flight from Santa Barbara to San Francisco so I could meet dad and the two of us would fly from there. Michael will be meeting us in Salt Lake City as he has been traveling in the Midwest for work. I arrived in SFO with 3 hours between flights! Finally, Dad arrived to keep me company! He took the airporter from Santa Rosa and we met in the Delta terminal. Realize that this was a bit daunting for dad since he hasn’t flown in the 21st century so I walked him through what our experience would be through security and beyond. A relative quick pass through security on board, dad was the lucky one that got to sit next to a couple with a 2-year-old full of energy! Grandpa mode quickly turned on and he was fine. Sitting in the row in front of him I overheard him exclaim to the couple that his baby was sitting just in front of them, that’s me! The flight took off without delay and I soon hailed the flight attendant and asked for a headset for dad to help with the noise from his seatmate. Looking back a few minutes later, headset on and entertainment screen blaring his chin was down catching a quick airplane nap.
Upon arrival in SLC Michael met us in baggage claim and we headed to pick up the RAC. Since he’s traveling so much for work now, he has top status and points that he has generously pitched in for some of the air, car and hotel expenses. I remember those perks but don’t really miss the work it took to accumulate them. Its kind of a catch 22 when you travel every week racking up points to use on more travel…sometimes travel is the last thing that you want to do. Fortunately, I was able to save a few perks for use early on in retirement. I don’t miss the status that much, especially what it took to earn them.
It's about a 4-hour drive from SLC to Moab so we were able to catch up and spend some quality time with each other while checking out the scenery along the way. Some amazing open expanses once you free yourself from the traffic of the bustling communities. We arrived in Moab just after dark checked into our “Casita” (2-bedroom unit) at the Hyatt place in Moab then headed into town to grab some dinner. We quickly learned that the streets in Moab roll up not too long after dark, so we scrambled to find a restaurant open. We found Pasta Jays downtown which ended up being one of our favorites for the journey, great pizza, pasta, and salad options. After dinner we stopped by the market to load up on s few provisions sans the beer, only 3.2 in the market we’ll stop by the state liquor store tomorrow to pick up the good stuff.
Day 2 - Today (Tuesday) our plan is to organize a few things for the week then get a noonish start on our adventure through Arches National park. We planned on staying in the park until after dark, so an early start was not necessary. Following breakfast at the hotel, we stopped by Outlaw jeep adventures to reserve a jeep for our off-roading journey tomorrow, hit the state liquor for our beer supply for the week and grabbed sandwiches at Sweet Cravings Bakery & Bistro for lunch in the park. Sweet cravings became our go-to for picnic lunches, but they also have a great breakfast menu too.
Once out of town we entered the park, stopped into the visitor’s center for a quick orientation of the park and a bit of history. Up the hill we go to our first stop, Park Avenue! The park sets the tone right away! The road from the visitor’s center enters alongside massive walls of red stone and sculpture like formations that put us humans in our place among the beneficial few who are privileged to experience God and Mother Nature’s handiwork. The park was quiet compared to some parks I have experienced. Always a place to stop available and very light traffic as we drove between sights. The rocks! Its all about the layers of rock that were put down here over millions of years, layered and eroded that form these magnificent sheer cliff walls and towering free-standing formations that appear as sculpture that some giant has painstakingly carved out of the landscape, some balanced precariously on the edge appearing that a portion may fall or have large pieces crumble off them. Absolutely stunning to see these gargantuan formations and walk among them.
Next to the La Sal Mountains viewpoint, with vistas over the expansive valley and river-carved gorges with the snow-capped peaks of the La Sal mountains in the distance towering at just over 12,000 feet. In addition, you see several of the featured monuments in the park from this vantage point too, Breathtaking. Next up we pass the towering formations of The Organ, Courthouse Towers, Three Gossips and Tower of Babble each fitting of their name in stature and formation. There is a formation visible from the front side of Park Avenue and along the back entrance that appears as a raised middle finger proclaiming the formations irreverence to time and erosion.
We decided to head toward the back of the park, Devils Island, Tunnel Arch, and Pine Tree Arch then work our way back from there to our sunset destination of Double Arch and Windows Arches. More awe-inspiring beauty along the way, we soon arrived at the Devils Garden trailhead, stopped here for a tailgate lunch then headed out to view the monuments located here. Passing Tunnel Arch, Pine Tree Arch we continued out to Landscape Arch with Navajo Arch and Wall Arch looming in the distance. Standing just underneath the expansive Landscape Arch you get an idea quickly of just how fragile these compressed sandstone formations are. They look like they could break and bring their tons of rock crashing to the ground at any moment. One end of the arch has eroded away to a relatively thin size that amazingly still supports the overall structure. There are a few areas where you can see the remnants of fallen arches which puts this all into perspective. This was a nice easy hike in about a mile each way.
Moving back into the park toward our sunset destination we stopped for the view (and photo ops) at Fiery Furnace and Salt Valley Overlook. Since we were fast approaching sunset, we decided to skip Delicate Arch and Panorama point and come back for them on our way out Wednesday.
After a few additional photo stops we landed at Windows and Double Arch. A short hike up double arch we are again amazed by the formation and delicate balance these monuments exhibit. We were able to hike up, in and under this structure including standing in the arch opening for a view that shouldn’t be missed. Next hiking up to the Windows Arches which aptly named appear to be two framed windows into the sky. Hiking up to South Window and standing in the orb opening the view beyond of the valley, gorges, and mountains are amazing. North Arch is a bit smaller and less trafficked so make sure you walk around the corner to this beauty. Just opposite of these two is Turret Arch standing alone in its own rock formation as if it's guarding the two Window Arches. We set up the tripod and awaited the sunset and stars. They say half of the park is after dark and they are right. The beauty of the changing light and vast darkness that eventually settles in allowing the stars to be highly illuminated without any interference from the light pollution of civilization. It was a beautiful experience. Heading back into town we just made it to Antica Forma for dinner…Pizza again (it is a boy’s trip remember) but we did include salad as well. The pizza was good but not our favorite by far lacking in atmosphere and service.
Day 3 (Wednesday)- Big off-road experience on tap for today! After a leisurely morning, we picked up our rugged steed for the day from Outlaw Jeep Adventures. A tricked-out Jeep Renegade with more off-road accessories on it than our 4-wheeling stomachs could ever utilize, but it looks good! Every Jeep at Outlaw has a name, ours is Fezzik. Headed to sweet cravings to pick up lunch for later then headed out to Potash road and Shafer Switch Backs trail. Following a few miles of tarmac, the road turns to dirt for the remainder of the drive. The trail follows a bench looking down on the Colorado River for most of the trek then up through Dead Horse Point State Park and ends in Canyonlands NP near the Island in the Sky Visitors Center.
The 4-wheel adventure turned out to be one of the best ways to immerse yourself into the deep canyons, gorges, and terrain that make up this area inside and out of the park borders. As we ventured upslope, we passed several potash mining facilities early on where rubber lined man-made lakes filled with brine dissolved potash is allowed to evaporate in the desert heat. Blue dye is added to speed up the process which takes about 300 days. The bright blue color varies in intensity and can be seen from space. Pretty colors indeed but seems like the process is extremely harmful to this fragile desert environment?
Further up the road, we crossed into BLM land with a few specimens of grazing cattle along the open expanses of grass and low-lying shrubs. As we continued to motor through the steep canyons lined with colorful sculpted layers of sandstone, we approached the rim above the Colorado River which has played a key role in some of the amazing erosion that carved many of the area’s features. We stopped at Thelma and Louise point which is where they apparently filmed the final scene of the movie with the car and occupants flying over the cliff. Here we also came across a small group of Ural sidecar motorcycles and their riders. Chatting with them we quickly learned that they were from the central coast Solvang to SLO and had trailered their bikes out so they could spend time riding through the parks. The Ural’s are rugged machines that perform well in these off-road conditions. Looked like they were having a blast!
The cliffside views of the Colorado River far below along this stretch are stunning and allow you to see the powerful deep canyon erosion this mighty water flow continues to carve on its journey to the sea. Up ahead is Gooseneck where the river makes a 180-degree turn, then up through more beautiful canyons and open plains. The Shafer switchbacks then take you on a climb high up the canyon wall with amazing vistas of the territory you just covered on the way up. At the end of this trail, pavement is once again the surface of choice once you enter the park roads where most of the visitors drive through to see sights from a distance. When you reach the top, you are greeted by a vast high plain landscape differing greatly from the canyon land recently traversed.
We stopped at the Island in the sky visitors center and had lunch with a view of the sweeping high elevation landscape. We journeyed through the park out to Grandview Point where we took a hike along the rim of the canyon, literally on the edge of the abyss and enjoyed the spectacular vistas of the different layers of rock and canyon formations at dramatically varying altitudes dropping through the canyons and gorges. We were fortunate to be here at a time when the skies are crystal clear allowing spectacular detail to be seen across the 35+ mile expanse. Were at 6,000 feet here and look out to the 12,000 foot peaks of the La Sal Mountains, White rim sandstone some 1,300 feet below, the Colorado River canyon, Monument basins steep-sided walls, columns, and pinnacles, the Abajo mountains 35 miles southeast at 11,000 feet, The needles colorful sculptured rocks with arches, canyons and needle-like spires some 12 miles south and the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers in the distant canyons.
Day 4 (Thursday) – Our last day in Moab as we make the trek back towards Salt Lake City. We start the day with a quick trip back through Arches NP to catch a few sites we missed previously. The vistas were equally as stunning as the first time we entered the Park. We ventured out to Delicate Arch and captured a few photo perspectives as we approached the viewpoint. Time didn’t allow us to hike all the way into the arch, but we managed some pretty amazing views by walking around the viewpoint area. Next, we stopped at Panorama Point to take in the vast open landscapes from this perspective. We’re in awe of the vast open space and nature carved sculptures and gorges this park offers. Back on the road now for the 4-hour drive to our next destination, Park City Utah. We decided to make Park City our base camp for tonight as its convenient to the SLC airport and our morning flight out. Along the way, we viewed more of the open spaces and formations of layered rock and enjoyed watching the thunder clouds build in the background. Stopped in a small mostly deserted town of Green River to grab a quick bite before continuing the journey.
Once we were near Provo, we turned up the hill toward Sundance and Heber. Stopped at Bridal veil falls alongside the highway. The falls were flowing strong and the hillside filled with people who ventured up the steep trail for an extreme close-up of the bottom portion. Next, we stopped in at Sundance so Dad and Michael could see the quaint resort. If you haven’t been it’s a destination on its own tucked into the base of the rugged Mt Timpanogos. The small village includes a year-round resort for skiing, hiking and mountain biking, two restaurants, conference facilities, accommodations, and other venues. Fun area to spend the day regardless of the season. Back on the road again passing Deer Creek Reservoir, making a left through Heber, passing Jordanelle reservoir then into Park City.
We checked into the hotel and ventured out into the small town to check it out. Having been here myself on several occasions the bulk of the main street hasn’t changed that much except for the revolving door of changing restaurant and retail names on the door. I was really surprised at how quiet the town was. Although the resorts have closed and its “mud season” in between winter and summer, there were very few people around. We stopped in No Name Saloon for a drink and shared the space with about 5 other patrons and double that number of employees. We walked up and down Main street looking for a restaurant for dinner, hard to do during the slow season around 9 pm, as many are either closed for a few weeks or closed earlier than their posted hours. We ended up at Wasatch brewery at the top of Main Street and had a nice “pub” dinner. On the walk back to our hotel we passed a whopping 10 other people out on the usually bustling main street, very surreal to see the town so dead!
Back in the hotel, Mike set up the TV so we could view our massive number of photos from the week. Some amazing sites captured but still hard to duplicate the in-person experience.
Day 5 (Friday) – morning trip down to SLC airport for our return. I am flying with Dad to SFO then he will catch the airporter to SR and I will catch another flight to SB. Michael will fly to SD from here. Sad that this trip was over, but it was a great one. Haven’t had the chance to spend time like this with Mike and Dad and so glad that we did. We all agreed to make this a regular thing now, so I asked Dad where he wanted to go next. He said the Pacific Northwest was something he wanted to experience, the Cascades, Mt Hood, Mt Rainer, Mt St Helens, Olympic NP are a few of the options. Looking forward to our next trip together.