Utah Road Trip: Moab & Arches National Park

I’ve just returned from a trip to the American Southwest visiting my friend, Sharmaine, and I have lots of photos to share! We spent 5 days road tripping around Utah and Arizona, exploring a couple of the national parks, hiking, camping, and spending many hours on the road rocking out and singing (badly) to all of our favorite tunes. I can’t even remember the last time I went on a real road trip. Honestly, it’s the way to go if you’re going to visit this part of the country. Most of the big sights are spread out in remote areas, so the only way of getting between them is by car or RV/camper. We did see quite a few tour buses every now and then, so there is that option. But there’s nothing like being behind the wheel yourself, driving mile upon mile of endless open roads through barren emptiness, but all still beautiful in its own way. Since every place we went to was so different and unique, I’ve decided to split the trip up into different posts.

We started out driving to Moab to check out the area since it’s famous for so many recreational opportunities. It’s a neat little town–definitely a tourist hot spot though. The streets are lined with outfitters, adventure travel vendors, art galleries, restaurants, and other small shops to wander through. It’s rather small and you would think it would be one of those towns that would shut down after 5pm, but we were surprised to see that businesses stay open pretty late. Lots of people pack into the bars and restaurants when the sun goes down after spending a day out in the desert heat. The city is located in a valley surrounded by high red cliffs and sandstone formations, making it the perfect destination for sightseers, photographers, and adventure junkies. In fact, the region’s unique topography has gained it the reputation for being the mountain biking and 4-wheeling capital of the world. Rafting, climbing, canyoneering, and hiking are other popular activities here. It’s also the closest city to Arches National Park, where we spent most of our time.

Arches is a relatively small park compared to others, but it’s home to over 2,000 sandstone arches and other incredible natural features rarely found anywhere else. The most famous one, Delicate Arch, is the most well-known. It’s iconic to Utah as it can be found on just about every license plate. It’s definitely a must-do when visiting the park. The best time of day to see it is at sunset, when the sandstone glows a brilliant orange/pink color, contrasted by the dark outline of the La Sal Mountains in the background. If you’re gonna go, get there early. The parking lot fills up quickly in the late afternoon.

Just as the sun was starting to go down, hordes of hikers and photographers started arriving and the place got really crowded. Lots of Asian and European tourists, which surprised me since I wouldn’t have thought Utah to be such an international destination. Whatever you do, do NOT get anywhere near the arch once the so-called “golden hour” begins. One guy started walking under it, only to be yelled at by hundreds of people in different languages. Poor guy–it was pretty funny though seeing people’s reactions. Here’s a video my friend took of that recaptures the drama (LOL at the guy sitting next to us who got really intense):

Another notable hike in the park is the Devil’s Garden Loop, which crawls 7.2 miles through a maze of towering sandstone formations. Landscape Arch (which is supposedly the longest natural arch in the world) and Double O Arch are the two main features here, although there are tons of other hidden gems along the way worth exploring. We were so glad we came in October, because seriously this would be one long, hot walk in the summer (or freezing cold in the winter). It was still almost 80 degrees, but with a refreshing cool autumn breeze it was pretty much perfect conditions. We did the whole loop in about 4 hours, taking a few detours here and there. If you do make it to the end, take the primitive trail back. It’s more rugged than the main trail and it takes you near some not-so-well known features.

I had read somewhere that one should spend 5 days at Arches to see everything. While there is a lot to do here, you can probably take a tour of the whole park in just 2 days. That’s how long we were there and we managed to see just about everything (and we weren’t even rushing). If you have the time, don’t limit your stay in Moab to Arches. There are a lot of other opportunities within a 10 minute drive of the city–Canyonlands National Park (to the south, which we didn’t have time to visit) and the Sand Flats Recreation Area are two other places worth checking out. Since Arches only has one campground that is often completely booked for a good portion of the spring, summer, and fall months, we opted to camp at Sand Flats just north of town. It’s a really neat area–everyone goes here for mountain biking/jeeping/4-wheeling. Plus, if you’re travelling on a budget, it’s way cheaper to camp here than most other places in the region. We grabbed a really nice spot next to a large sandstone hill for just $10 a night.

Thanks for reading! I’ll post the next leg of the trip to Monument Valley in a few days.

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2 thoughts on “Utah Road Trip: Moab & Arches National Park

  1. Pingback: “One Last Hike” | The Crossroad

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