Oh wow, Utah!!
Utah greeted us with nothing less than Monument Valley. We could see the incredible rock formations as we drove down the long desert road towards it, but we crossed the border from Arizona just as we got to the park, so it just squeaked into Utah. We were in the middle of a long drive between Page, AZ and Moab, UT so we opted not to do the additional 13-mile drive around the rock formations but rather see them from the road and it turned out to be a good decision – we saw everything we’d hoped for.
The drive from Monument Valley to Moab was long, incredibly hot and quite startlingly beautiful. Red sandstone gave way to giant slanting slabs of rock. Dramatic snow-topped mountains could be seen in the distance. It was stunning. And we rolled into Moab in time for the sunset.
We stayed at the ACT campground, where we rented a cabin-room. The campsite was great and comes hugely recommended. Moab itself is super-cool – it’s outdoorsy and laid-back, full of cafes and restaurants. It’s a real hub for mountain-biking and is nestled between two National Parks, so I was looking forward to our time here.
It was flipping scorching whilst we were in Moab. I know there was a heatwave all over the western US and even in the UK, but we melted here. We had to get up and out super-early to beat the heat, then we’d go back to our cabin for the afternoon before venturing out again in the evening.
We spent one day in Aches National Park. It was, of course, beautiful. We got there early (along with lots of other people) as it’s open 24-hours at the weekend and did the 3.5 mile round-trip hike to Delicate Arch. The Arch was beautiful, even if my husband doesn’t believe in zooming when taking a requested photo.
We loved Sand Dune Arch, which is accessed through some rocks, hidden from sight, and provided cool respite from the heat.
And we loved Skyline Arch and Double Arch, before admitting defeat and going home to cool off.
We spent another day at Canyonlands National Park. Canyonlands is somewhat harder to get your head around. It’s the second biggest park in the US, it’s seriously enormous so they’ve split it into three distinct sections. We explored the most accessible section, Islands in the Sky. We started at a nearby state park called Dead Horse Point, which is where Thelma and Louise drove their car off the mountain at the end of the movie. We did a 5 mile hike round the loop trail and even though we began at 7.30 am it was very hot by the time we got back to our car. It was beautiful though.
I wondered how the park got its name – I imagined a romantic story of how a horse sacrificed its life for its rider. However the reality is pretty grim. A long time ago, cowboys drove wild horses to the edge of the cliff and corralled them in there. They chose the horses they wanted to keep and then rode off with those horses, leaving the other horses corralled at the edge of the world. Starved of food and of water, the horses all died. I know. Spoiled it for me too.
Islands in the Sky is a easily accessible park – one main road, lots of stop-off points to see the beauty. On a cooler day, there were many hikes we would have done but we’d done our baking-hot desert hike for the day so we drove through and stopped to see the key sights. The one thing I wanted to see was Mesa Arch. Pictures I’d seen beforehand made this place look amazing. Reality was still beautiful but somewhat smaller, less fragile and less spectacular than I’d been lead to believe. I was a little disappointed.
In between Arches and Canyonlands, we had a lazy day, trying to avoid National Park burn-out. We mooched round Moab and explored the shops and then chilled outside our cabin reading and playing on the iPad. I’ve taken up cross-stitch, that most uncool of hobbies, lately and I have to admit that sitting there in the shade was rather relaxing.
In terms of running, I have to admit that I chickened out a lot. As we had to get up early in order to explore, I wasn’t up for getting up EVEN earlier to run. So I tended to run in the evening although it was close to 100F even at 7pm. I ran along the pretty Mill Creek Path which was a pleasure although I had a nasty surprise when I was charged by a barking Pitbull as I ran back to the campsite. There was a moment of complete terror when I realised I had nothing to defend myself with and I screamed so very loudly that the dog actually stopped his charge and slunk away! I was a little shaken up after that. The next day I ran on a treadmill because it was 110F/43C and it would have been stupid to run outside.
I have mixed feelings about our time in Moab. I really wish we’d come at a cooler time of year because it’s a great little town and I would have loved to make more of the opportunities here. Also, there is LOADS of outdoors stuff to do (hiking, mountain biking, rafting, jeep expeditions etc) but those things all cost money and we’re on a budget. I also longed to run some of the trails here (check out this article about Moab being a trailrunner’s paradise) but I didn’t want to run them alone or in the heat. So I feel like we could have ‘done’ Moab better! But still…who’s complaining? I’m not.
One of the dangers of this trip is that we get Beauty Burn-Out. I know it happens all the time and not just to us. People become immune to the things they see all the time. We got immune to the herds of bison when we were at Yellowstone a few years ago. We got immune to ocean views in Hawaii. Now we’re finding we’re getting nonchalant about the astonishing views we’re seeing here. All over this part of Utah are incredible, massive boulders of red rock. Cliffs of the stuff. Massive walls of the stuff. And we’re barely looking at them any more!
Which means that it’s time to move on.
In the distance, during our time here, we’ve seen the beautiful grey La Sal mountains over near the border with Colorado. Festering in the shimmering heat here, I’ve found myself looking at them longingly, thinking of how cool the air must be there. I’ve LOVED our time in the red deserts of Nevada, Arizona and Utah but the mountains of Colorado are calling and, as John Muir said, we must go.
Utah, you’ve been spectacular. Colorado, here we come.