It technically may be spring, but with temps ricocheting back and forth between springtime and winter, my thoughts are already turning to the canyons and mesas of the desert. It’s time to swap skis for the hiking shoes and the mountain bike very soon.
Back in the day, heading to the desert meant packing up the trunk of the ’65 Fairlane with enough macaroni and cheese to last a week, loading up the cooler with two cases of beer, and a dog-eared copy of an Ed Abbey novel. My mountain bike had 12 gears, my car had three, and there was no cell reception in or outside of Moab because there were no cell phones. Going to the desert meant getting away from it all, away from Civilization with a capital C. Sleeping was done under the stars, on the slickrock, next to the scorpions and rattlers.
Today, things have changed. I am now the proud owner of a pickup camper (1989 Skamper model), a 4wd pickup with five gears, and a mountain bike with 27 gears, although I am not sure what the extra 15 gears are for. The camper has a stereo with an iPod port, features running water, a fridge, lights and a blender, of course. Our rides are now plotted with a GPS, and there are a surprising number of places where cell reception is available. Microbrews are made and served in Moab, much to the chagrin of Brigham Young.
Given all of these changes, it’s getting more and more difficult to get away from it all. To top it off, Moab has become a motorhead Mecca, featuring Jeep rallies, rock crawlers, ATV rentals and hordes of solid guys named Bubba driving huge diesel pickups hauling trailers filled with gasguzzling toys. In short, it has been discovered. And then some. With this in mind, those looking for some peace and quiet might want to steer clear of Moab. Really, anywhere that there are no roads and people will do, but some are more scenic than others.
For the intrepid trekker, Canyonlands National Park is right around the corner from Moab. The most accessible region of the park is the Island in the Sky District, west of Moab, about an hour from town. The Island in the Sky is the high plateau area making up the triangle between the Green and Colorado Rivers, home to the famous White Rim loop ride. The Needles
District of the park is southwest of Moab, heading toward Monticello.
This district features thousands of sandstone fins and spires (the
“needles”) that make a complicated labyrinth of trails, all spectacular
and mystical. The most challenging section of the park to visit is the
Maze District. This district lies on the opposite side of the Colorado
and Green rivers from Moab and is accessed by driving a couple of hours
on dirt roads from the west. Once you are in this section of the park,
you can take the Flint Trail down into the Maze itself. A map and
compass and GPS will be handy if you expect to make it back alive; there
is a reason it’s called the Maze. If you have the time for an overnight
trip, hiking all the way down to the confluence of the Green and
Colorado rivers is a worthwhile journey, if for no other reason than to
watch the greenish and reddish waters join, merging and swirling
should be noted that hiking is the norm in most areas of the park.
Mountain biking is permitted in certain locations, on certain trails and
roads. In general, if the road is a Jeep track, then you can ride your
bike. Otherwise, it is best to check with the park rangers to find out
about regulations. As in any National Park Wilderness Area, mechanized
travel — including mountain biking — is forbidden.
All of this is pretty
stunning country, but let’s face it: it’s a National Park.
Yes, it’s wild, but it’s
not uncharted territory. If you are looking to really get away from it
all, you will likely have to head farther away. Pick a direction, and
print out some maps (or not!) and start walking. Taking the path less
traveled, one might head south from Moab toward Monticello and Blanding.
From there, the more creative and adventurous might keep wandering
south into the less-traveled canyon country of southeast Utah. Fish
Creek. Owl Canyon. Grand Gulch. Escalante. These are some of the
well-known haunts, but there are thousands of others, farther away, less
accessible, more remote. I cannot divulge names of these locations,
being sworn to secrecy, but I can say that the adventure just begins at
the edge of the proverbial map.
For those of you who are still holding down a real job
in this economy, you probably can only spare a week away for the desert
jaunt. Having made this journey over the years, I would offer a few
one location and stay there for a few days. This will not only mellow
you out, but you will get to know the area better and truly explore
every side canyon.
means not only bringing enough food and a first aid kit, but also the
knowledge of what to do should things go awry.
Travel with a good pal, a
significant other, your loyal canine companion, or all three.
Bring some good books, a
drawing pad and camera. Capture the essence of the desert.
biking, backpacking, yoga and playing fetch with your dog are all
Finally, in the spirit of Edward Abbey, the foremost
proponent of offthe-map jaunts, make certain that most of your time is
spent outside the confines of your automobile. Although driving through
Canyonlands National Park or Arches National Park provides a snapshot
view of some spectacular scenery, the real beauty lies beyond, hidden in
the labyrinthine canyons accessible only by the most primitive form of
travel: your feet.