MOAB, Utah sits just outside Arches, and Canyonlands National Parks where hot summer sand meets the cool Colorado River and is a top vacation spot for historians, sight-seers and adventure lovers alike.
Whether you love to sight see, or seek adventure sports you will not be disappointed here.
Moab has a long and exciting history and has been described as one of the most dynamic vacation spots over the years for good reason.
THE TOWN TOO WILD TO TAME
By Christine Cross
The Ford Explorer lurched forward and tumbled back even closer to the edge of the dirt road, a slick wet fusion of red clay and ice from the first snow of the season. My eyes stayed fixed on the craggy precipice overlooking the Colorado River thousands of feet below, the menacing rim now only inches away from mud-caked tires. My nails dug deeper into the armrest but I didn’t say a word. I didn’t have to. Stark fear was blazoned across my face. And for the first time, I wished we had never bought the four-wheel drive SUV, imagining it, and us inside, plunging end over end and crashing against rocky walls as we fell to a watery death.
A few days prior to finding ourselves at the edge of a cliff we had decided on a whim to take a trip. Hopping a plane was out of the question. Too expensive, long lines at the airport...and I hate flying anyway. So, we decided to drive over to Moab, Utah. Again.
Home of Arches, and Canyonlands National Parks,the tourist town of Moab is a dichotomy. Beautiful and equally inhospitable, it invites and dissuades in the same breath. From the alpine climate of the La Sal Mountains, an impressive 12,000 feet above sea level where snow-capped peaks loom above the blistering floor of a red desert, to the cool Colorado River snaking through parched canyons, it beckons.
Isolation reigns supreme here.
Although more and more Americans are discovering the beauty and adventure around Moab, deserts still lack appeal for some unless hot grains of sand are met by cool lapping waves of a beautiful body of water. But millions of adventure seekers are drawn time and time again to the rust-red deserts of Southern Utah. So we packed a single suitcase, booked a room, and set our alarm clock eager to return to the beauty and adventure Moab offers.
We arrived at ten p.m. the next night and drove down Main street to The Virginian, consistently our motel of choicebecause it is clean and affordable and we could walk to restaurants and shops in town. The Virginian is also a favorite place for Hollywood types when they are filming in the area..But our minds weren't concerned with movies and commercials. We were tired and focused on only one thing after driving all day. Sleep.
The first day was spent touring Arches National Park, hiking a short mile for a picturesque view of Delicate Arch in the crisp morning air and watching a rock climber ascend the sheer face of an impressive monolith jutting above the flat desert floor.
We watched mountain bikers take on Slick Rock the second day and Jeeps tackle trecherous paths we were not equipped to climb. As I said, Hollywood has had a love affair with the red desert’s cast of colorful characters for over 40 years, but even the most imaginative screenwriters would be hard-pressed to have come up with a more rugged version of Moab’s first years.
It’s no wonder directors and producers have flocked to capture the perpetual divergence of the area’s red desert backdrop for every movie genre from westerns to sci-fi movies and television commercials offering adventure, parched throats and "other" worlds.
The dichotomy of the Moab area is hardly new. Around A.D. 750 the Anasazi Indians, or “Ancient Ones” as they are called, moved into the region. Archaeologists and anthropologists thought the Anasazi were simply a peace-loving nomadic culture that moved on or disappeared into a blazing sunset, but recently it has been discovered through petrified human excrement the peace-loving Anasazi practiced a very inhospitable custom… cannibalism.
Nevertheless, the 'ancient ones' adorned the walls of the canyons with petroglyphs and pictographs for us to ponder today so get in your car and take in the art along the canyon walls. Signs along Potash Rd. are clearly marked for petroglyphs as well as three-toed dinosaur tracks. Many of these treasures can be ejnoyed without getting out of your car if you have a hard time walking. Others can be seen by taking one of the many hiking trails in the park or by renting a Jeep and taking a four-wheel trail to the Salt Creek area. (article continues next column)
In stark contrast to the peaceful Mormon towns established throughout San Juan County by their leader, Brigham Young, Moab became known as the town too wild to tame. It was the rendezvous for gunmen and rustlers alike and in 1908 John Riis, one of the first supervisors of the La Sal Forest Reserve wrote that old timers referred to it as “Robber’s Roost”, where “the flash of pistol fire split the darkness…” on a routine basis. The likes of Butch Cassidy and his Wild bunch and the Robber’s Roost Gang were as much a part of the community and environment as the cattle companies they preyed on. Saloons abounded here and Kid Curry shot and killed the sheriff to avenge the death of another gang member but the abhorrent behavior was seen by locals as just that of a “wayward cowboy”.
We wandered to the end of town and into the “world famous” (per the salesperson’s description, and who am I to disagree) Moab Rock Shop. Perusing the store we learned more about Moab’s colorful and richly contrasting history that left its mark not only on her inhabitants but the red-rock landscape.
Millions of years ago bone-crushing dinosaurs roamed the lushly tropical state, depositing their remains in the lavender Morrison layer of rock for twenty-first century weekend Archaeologists to dig up on daytrips. We were amazed at the collection of rocks, bones, fossils, and crystals strewn about in chaotic order. The owner happened to be there and we asked where we could dig for dinosaur bones. “There’s fossils all over these hills but you aren’t allowed to remove them anymore. The government won’t let you," he told us.
We left the store just in time to take in a spectacular sunset atop Island in the Sky, a plateau overlooking a small canyon at the Green River overlook. We passed two buck- deer grazing languidly on the side of the road, and parked fifty feet ahead of them. They hardly took notice of us even though deer hunting season wasn’t far off.
Turning on Bocelli’s 'Sogna' we and sat back in our car seats, ready to be entertained by nature’s wonder. Once again Utah’s dichotomy didn’t disappoint us. As the cumulus clouds gathered in the western skies and the orange sun dipped peacefully into the mountains a cavalcade of lightning shafts split the northern and southern skies to a thunderous roar and I knew I had to return to this formidable, spiritual land of unforgiving sun burning across the banks of the cool rushing water of the Colorado River.
It was our second day when we decided to take Shaefer’s Trail, the back road off Potash road to Island in the Sky. Steve had been chomping at the bit to put the Explorer into four-wheel drive and I was just as excited but my enthusiasm was laced with concern. There were still patches of snow on the ground, and the deep red dirt had turned to sticky mud in many places.
The climb was a cake-walk for the first ten minutes. Then the road narrowed and became slippery so we put the Explorer into for-wheel drive. I was ok. Steve was having a blast. The trail snaked around the mountainside, home only to sure-footed mountain goats spotted occasionally, and we marveled at the scenery.
The temperature began to drop. Instead of thawing, the ice and snow from the night before were hardening, and what should have been a pleasant, yet adventurous ride was becoming increasingly dangerous. The SUV began slipping, sometimes closer to the rocks on one side, sometimes closer to the edge of the precipice on the other.
My heart was in my throat by now. We couldn’t go forward, and the road was too narrow to turn around. Steve patted my hand and assured me he had things under control, but I knew he wasn’t as sure as he tried to make me believe. I smiled and nodded. Did I mention I’m terrified of heights? Yeah, I am.
Steve told me to get out of the car to guide him while he tried to turn the SUV around. He was being nice. He didn’t really need me to get out.
I watched him maneuver the car, slipping and sliding back against the rocks and again closer to the edge of the cliff until my stomach was tied in knots and blood was pounding in my head. And yet, lucky me. Feet planted firmly on terra firma I could only imagine how he felt.
Several long minutes later, that felt like an hour, he had the Explorer turned around and we were heading back down the mountain to the safety of the red desert floor, a feeling of exhilaration and relief coursing through our veins. We didn't pass any other dare-devils on the ride down the mountain.
"We'll have to come back again and finish this," Steve promised.
There were a few more adventures that trip, breathtaking sights we feasted on, unique hikes through other-world landscapes and the augur of unearthing the remains of creatures that lived millions of years ago. Spiritual journeys beneath the setting sun to cleanse our souls and fill us with wonder and deference to a higher power.
Edward Abbey was right. This red desert, angry and serene, sublime and deadly at the foot of majestic mountains with contrasting spires of stone, endless sky and water is one of the most beautiful, awe-inspiring places on earth.
There are plenty of places to see in Moab, a top choice for adventure vacations . You can take in the action from the comfort of your car or live as dangerously as you choose. Last week (Nov. 2010) we took another trip to the area, stayed at the Virginian Motel again (they have same beds in high end hotels so we sleep well there) and drove up to Onion Creek. The road follows the Colorado River just outside town, north.
Don't miss Canyon lands, Island in the Sky and more! Moab is a destination point you will want to return to over and over again.
Visit and Enjoy!
KAILUA, KONA HAWAII
The town of Kailua Kona has been a favorite vacation spot for our family over the years.
Hawaii isn't just a beautiful place to look at, it is a hot bed for outdoor activities. Located about two miles north of the airport, the Kona Coast State Park's trio of tranquil beaches cater to swimming, kayaking, picnicking and snorkeling. We've done all of them. It's possible to spot Hawaiian green sea turtles among the arches and caves of the offshore coral reefs on land as well as snorkeling offshore like we did on afternoon. We also saw a small group of dolphins resting on white sand hundreds of feet below. Very cool.
Surfers congregate here in the winter for the big surf. If you like to snorkel, scuba dive or surf this is a great spot for adventure vacationing.
On the road towards the other side of the Island where the rain gods frequent around Hilo, spend an afternoon at the volcanoes, black sand beaches and small unique towns. We happened to be there during a festival in a small town tucked back in the hills. Deciding to infuse their small economy with a few greenbacks we ate lunch at one of the concession stands serving plates of local cuisine. I think it was cat but can't say for certain because I didn't see them actually skinning one. Although the town was suspiciously void of felines. Chalk it up to a colorful memory you can share with the grandkids I guess