An Ode to Moab

“Hey dude! How’s the desert treating you?” asked our friendly neighbour, looking a little like Bon Jovi meets a wizened 1960’s flower child. He looked us carefully up and down, sussing out just what type of Moab visitors we might be.

Some people come to Moab’s desert to drive through Arches National Park, stopping to take photos of magnificent sandstone features and do short but satisfying hikes to the bases of awe inspiring arches and natural stone bridges.

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The lineups to get into Arches each day were insanely LONG!
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They stop at amazing lookout points to take in the sheer size and scale of vast places, like Dead Horse Canyon.

They love the drive through this breathtakingly beautiful landscape from the comfort of their air conditioned vehicles, rolling along a smooth carpet of asphalt that unfurls before them, stopping and viewing canyons and rock formations at picturesque roadside turn-outs to their hearts’ content.

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The drives here, like this one, along the Colorado River toward Fisher Towers can be very beautiful.

Some come to hike through the desert landscape, marvelling at the sand, the rock arches and mounds, the dwarf-like juniper forests, the cacti shapes and the tenacity of the extremophile animals, vegetation, cryptobiotic soil and microbial life that call this harsh environment home.

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Those pools you see on the surface of the rock are home to the most amazing extremophiles. These critters can be baked by the sun, nearly boiled in their pools, dried out for weeks and frozen… and yet still live and thrive.
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There are a lot of Prickly Pear Cacti here… and even a bike trail named after them!

Some come to paint the incredible palette of the desert here: the rusts and coppers, the magentas and soft purples, the dark charcoals and light greys, the teals, sages and emerald greens, the oranges and the burnt umbers, the soft beiges and tans… and all those wonderful golds. The colours meld together so beautifully in the harsh desert light.

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Just look at the shapes of the clifftops in the distance… rising up like petrified sand dunes, dissected by the snaking Colorado River, with the beauty of the snow-capped La Sal mountains in the distance.

With fascinating shapes that lie in the rock pillars and towers, in the rolling waves of sandstone, in the skyward reaching stone arches and in the awkwardly twisted shapes in the dwarf forests of juniper, there is plenty of inspiring subject matter to paint and sketch. There are the contrasts of prickly pear cacti and the smooth, rounded mounds of sandstone, the jagged piles of fallen rock rubble and the massive, yet smooth cliff faces.

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The colours in this terracotta landscape create such a beautiful artist’s colour palette.

And then there is the artist’s conundrum: how to capture the sheer scale of the landscape in a way that does not overstate it, making it seem trite and trivial.

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Off in the distance you can see the massive Colorado River snaking between gigantic cliffs, while the towering mounds of slickrock take up the foreground in this shot.

Taken at a local café, these paintings capture the patterns, lines and curves of this landscape in captivating, imaginative ways.

Some come to marvel at the depth and breadth of the numerous canyons of the area. With names like Dead Horse Point State Park and Horse Thief Canyon, you just know that there are intriguing stories to hear, and a wild west persona to experience. The canyons are cut deeply into the high desert plateaus and are astonishing in their breadth, depth and scale. Some argue that they’re best experienced on horseback (and there numerous outfitters ready to accommodate).IMG_2517.jpg

Some come for fossil hunting, searching out the fish fossils and the famous dinosaur tracks and bones of the area. And some come to rock hound, searching out copper and uranium treasures, searching for those delicate desert roses and marvelling at the way manganese creates a dark varnish on the stone of the cliff faces. They do this all while tromping about and exploring, first hand, the impact that salt has had in moulding, shaping and sculpting this landscape.

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Fossil & dinosaur hunters scouring the landscape for remarkable finds.

Some come to see and wonder at the ancient rock art, their imaginations captured by the Native American history of the area. The intricacies of some of the paintings, and the alien nature of some of the body shapes leave lots to the imagination.

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The pictograph art in the area is plentiful and amazing. Some are painted on the rock face, such as this “intestine man…”
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…. and some ancient petroglyphs are chiselled into the rock’s black varnish, telling stories and perhaps providing maps.

Some come to explore the glory days of the wild west, or the second gold rush time, brought on by the discovery of uranium here around the time of WWII. Uranium is still mined here to this day.

Some come to peacefully raft down the mighty Colorado River…IMG_2840.jpg …while others get their thrills jet boating up its course. Some come to zipline through the slickrock and skydive into the desert, catching their adrenalin rushes through the air rather than on the water or rock. Others come to peacefully pass through in hot air balloons.

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Jetboats speed up the Colorado River while in the far distance, we watched a climber summit that little jagged finger of a rock tower between the two distant cliffs.

Some come to climb, pitting their fingers, fists and bodies against the incredible cracks in the sandstone cliff faces. Cracks that might one day, a millennium down the road, become canyons. They shimmy up “chimneys” and they climb to the top of massive stone finger formations to balance, at quite a height, on a platform of rock no bigger than a chair seat.

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The ultimate climber van… see the holds on the side?

Some come to do canyoning, scrambling over boulders, rappelling down waterfalls and plunging into pools in the deep recesses of narrow slot canyons. Yes, even in the desert.

IMG_2615.jpgOne of the most popular reasons people come here is to drive jeeps, dune buggies and dirt bikes on sandstone that rises up out of the desert, like rolling waves of petrified sand dunes. Known as slickrock, the sandstone is anything but slick. It is grippy and textured. These people are here to pit man and machine against nature, to do the impossible on the steep and rugged terrain.

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If you look carefully, you can see the sandstone rifts and ridges across the canyon. This is what people come to ride and play on… and they climb the finger tower rock formations, like the ones seen here, closer to the foreground.
And some come for the Most Outrageous American Biking

They get their thrills from tearing through the desert at great speed on curving singletrack trails with terrific flow, plunging into sand traps, thumping down bouldery drops, hurtling down the impossibly steep slopes of that slickrock and powering up the sandblasted and scoured mounds of sculpted rock, traversing their slopes at impossible angles.

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THIS is what you get to ride on!

Those last someones would be us.

As a post script… while we might think MOAB stands for Most Outrageous American Biking, there is a Mexican restaurant in town that serves pillow-sized burritos, named “Mother Of All Burritos” on their menu. We might’ve enjoyed those and their margaritas too…

If You Go…

  • Moab is a busy town, especially around “Jeep Week” when the jeep enthusiasts descend on Moab in droves to ride the slickrock in massive convoys. This occurs in the week leading up to Easter, every year.
  • The Moab area has been carefully developed with multiple users in mind. Jeep trails rarely share their paths with bikes. The trail areas have been developed separately, for the most part. Sometimes their paths do cross, or bikes need to travel along the dual track jeep ways for short periods of time… we have found (both times that we’ve been to Moab) that jeep users are very respectful of bikes and conscious of the dust they kick up and the effect that has on the lungs of riders. I distinctly remember a long uphill slog we did once where an entire convoy waited at the base, behind us, turning their engines off until we’d summited the hill. We’ve never felt pushed by the jeeps.
  • Know that if you go during Jeep Week, everything will be busy. The restaurants, the grocery store, the gas stations…
  • That being said, Moab is increasing in popularity due to the wealth of things to do and see and experience in the area. So book early, even outside of Jeep Week. There are plenty of hotels, some bed and breakfast spots and a few Air BnB places in town.
  • Try to find a place with some kitchen facilities as the restaurant scene, while plentiful, is crazy busy…. even at 9 pm there are lineups. You might want to just eat in, after a long day on the trails. Know that the grocery store is crazy busy, but it has plenty of checkout counters open, so it’s not too unpleasant to shop there.
  • The Moab Brewery has great food and terrific craft beer. However, like the town of Canmore, Moab is suffering from a labour shortage… it is hard for people who make service industry wages to live there affordably. As a result, the brewery, when we were there, was understaffed and had to have many of its tables empty, despite a lengthy line up at the door.
  • Learn where the traffic lights are and use them. It is very difficult to turn left onto Main Street at many times of day.
  • Campsites in the area can be very, very basic. There is a terrific rec centre in town that campers go to for the showers.

9 Comments on “An Ode to Moab

  1. Great memories come to mind, and smiles envelope my face -as I look at your photos and read your stories. We’ve always used tents and trails when visiting southern Utah, there’s always been space available in state parks or BLM lands (beautiful spots, some 20 yds from the banks of the Colorado River) and grand overlooks in the state parks -the key variable always being adequate supplies of potable water. Thanks for the memories, Sheri… and the new ideas!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Looks like you guys had so much fun in Moab. You weren’t kidding about shortage of accommodation. I couldn’t get RV sites for all the time I want to be in Moab. So we will have to do some boondocking in BLM land while we are in the area.

    Liked by 1 person

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