One thing for sure, Moab has more going for it, than just the two National Parks. The 40-mile La Sal Mountain Loop road travels from the desert plateaus to the forested covered mountains. As the road winds its way up and down the mountain side, the serene landscapes are spectacular. Before the final decent down use one of the pullovers to enjoy the panoramic views of the Moab area and the Canyon Lands with the mesas carved into the landscape. The finale decent around the swirling switchbacks back to the desert floor leads through the powerful Castle Valley area where the towering mesas provide awesome photography opportunities.
Highway 128 extends from I-70 to just North of Moab to highway 191 which provides some spectacular scenery from desert land to towering red-rock cliffs. Leaving the ghost town of Cisco, the highway passes through 15 miles of open desert land before reaching the Colorado River Gorge where the highway and the mighty Colorado River run parallel to each other for the next 30 miles. As they enter into the narrow gorge passing by the historic suspension Dewey Bridge, the highway and river turns and twists their way through the gorge hugging the walls of the towering red-faced cliffs before finally reaching the Northern section of Castle Valley. As the gorge widens into the valley, scenes from many famous westerns as well as commercials have been filmed in this area. Along this stretch of highway is a viewpoint of one of the grandest views in the West, the red rock spires with the snow-covered peaks of the La Sal Mountains as the backdrop. Leaving the valley for the last 13-miles the highway runs parallel with the river within a narrow section of the gorge which only allows enough room for the highway and river where the towering red-faced cliffs and the river provide breathtaking views.
As the Colorado river flows underneath highway 191, the river runs parallel to highway 279 where both enters into a valley for the next few miles before entering into another narrow gorge. Along this section can be seen petroglyphs, rock climbing, a walking trail to an arch, and photo opportunities of the Colorado River with the cliff walls as a backdrop. After 14 miles the highway turns to graveled dirt winding its way through the mesa’s to Canyonlands National Park.
25 miles South of Moab is a rare occasion where one can see an arch right beside the highway. Wilson Arch was named after a dry pioneer, Joe Wilson. This large Entrada Sandstone arch, stretches 91 feet across and is 45 feet high. The spectacular view from the pull-off frames the blue sky in picture-perfect fashion. The quarter mile steep hike to the arch is over loose sand and rocks with 90-feet in elevation change. The strenuous hike to the elliptical-shaped opening is very rewarding with the scenic perch to take in the fins and formations of the incredible landscape. Sitting underneath the arch offers a lovely view of the graceful lines of this large rock structure, which has been sculpted by wind, water, and time
Just South of Moab is the hole in the rock, not really, it’s a 5,000 square foot home carved into the hard-red sandstone rock by Albert Christensen which began in the 1940’s. For twelve years he dug, blasted and carved into the rock before his family finally moved in, with one room being set as a unique dinner for desert passersby’s. Unfortunately, Albert only lived in the home for five years before his death in the late 50’s. To tour the inside of this rock home is truly amazing. The 14-room home is arranged around huge pillars with shelves carved right into the rock right down to the rock bathtub. Being a historical site, the home is just the way Gladys left it when she died in the 1970’s, Gladys and Albert are buried underneath a small alcove, they called home.
Arches National Park is a wonderland in itself with 1000’s of arches to towering spires, pinnacles and balanced rocks perched atop seemingly inadequate bases. Although many of these features can be seen while driving the 25 miles of the Arches Scenic Drive, the hiking trails provides one a closeup encounter where one can actually enter some of the arches, while the overlooks provides spectacular views of the canyon floor as well as astounding rock formations and arches in the distance.
The Park Avenue one-mile trail, one way descends 320 feet to the narrow canyon floor made of slick rock and loose sand with the towering cliff walls on either side, high above the canyon floor balanced rocks can be found throughout the canyon. The.3-mile roundtrip Balanced Rock trail is best viewed in the early morning when the sun is behind the rock radiating an orangish glow. From this trail off in the distance arches can be seen.
The parking lot at the end of the Windows road provides two excellent hiking trails. The 1-mile round trip Windows trail contains a half-mile loop which leads to three magnificent arches. To the East is Turret Arch where one can climb the steep cliff wall and enter into the arch with spectacular views of the canyon. Further around the trail is South Window Arch which sits high up a slick cliff wall. Last but not least is the North Window Arch where an easy climb allows one to enter into the arch, where rock formations can be viewed behind the arch. On the opposite side of the parking lot is the.5-mile round trip Double Arch trail. From a distance these arches appear to be one inside of the other one when actually one is located just behind the first one, just much smaller. An easy climb allows one to enter into the first arch and a much stepper and difficult climb enters into the second arch.
Driving Delicate Arch road down into the canyon is the 3-mile round trip trail with an elevation change of 480-feet to Delicate Arch, the only free-standing arch in the park. A few hundred feet into the trail, one will pass historic Wolfe Ranch built in the early 1900’s where a family lived in an underground home before building a slightly bigger home next to it above ground. Here a short side trail leads by a wall of petroglyphs. At the end of Delicate road is an overlook of Delicate Arch for ones not wanting to hike the trail.
The.3-mile round trip Sand Dune Arch trail is a wonder in itself. After a short walk the trail enters a small wooded section then passes through a narrow trail through towering cliff walls where the cliff walls widen to about 25 feet where deep loose brown sand covers the canyon floor, fit for any beach. In between the cliff walls are serval short rock formations where kids climb to the top and jump into the soft sand. Watching the children play gives one the feeling of being in a narrow and long sand box. About 200-feet in is the spectacular Sand Dune Arch with the base sitting on the sand floor.
To get a close-up view of the Skyline Arch, one must hike a.4-mile round trip over rocks and loose sand. Along the trail are rock formations, Junipers, and desert vegetation. The arch is at the top of the cliff with rock formations on both sides.
Arches scenic drive ends at the Devils Garden section of the park, where the Devils Garden Trail is located, the longest and most difficult hike in the park. Only seasoned hikers take on this challenge. Part of this trail takes one to Landscape arch, the longest arch in the park with a span of 290 feet. which is a 1.6-mile round trip hike over a smooth walking path with small elevation gains.
With the Green and Colorado Rivers running through the Canyonlands National Park and no bridges over either one, the park was divided into three sections. One must do a lot of driving to experience what the park has to offer, with most of the park doable by back country roads only. The Needles district is 35 miles West from highway 191 with most of this a very scenic drive with the highway winding around the base of mesas and through the valley with towering mesas along both sides of the highway. 12-miles in, one should stop at Newspaper Rock where 100’s of Petroglyphs have been carved into one large boulder. The 6.5 miles scenic drive inside the park has several overlooks and ends at Big Spring Canyon Overlook. The hiking trails range from.3 miles to 11 miles. The.3-mile level loop trail leads to a pueblo ruin set back in a small alcove used for storage. A 1-mile dirt road ends at the Cave Spring hiking trail. This.6-mile loop travels under sheer rock where a historic 1800’s cowboy camp still remains to the top where prehistoric rock paintings can be viewed. The.6-mile Pothole Point loop travels over uneven slickrock with excellent views of the needles.
Island in the Sky district is about a 40-mile drive from Moab where the Grand View Point scenic road is a 12-mile drive one way across the top of the mesa with overlooks of scenic views of the canyonlands and ends at Grand View Point overlook where a vast and dreamy landscape emerges with views of the towers, gorges, and plains tells why Utah is such a beautiful State. The Shafer Canyon overlook has awesome views of the Shafer road as it winds its way down the mesa into the canyon floor. The candlestick Towers overlook provides excellent views of the cliff walls where rock spirals can be seen towering above the canyon floor. Buck Canyon overlook provides scenic views of the Colorado River gorge and views of sweeping vistas of mesas.
Along the way is upheaval dome road with a side road which leads to an overlook of the Green River winding its way through a gorge to merge with the Colorado River. At the end of upheaval road is a.8-mile round trip steep hiking trail to the top of a mesa where a crater can be viewed which is believed to be formed from a meteorite impact. The half mile round trip hiking trail to Mesa arch is well worth the effort. The arch sits right on the edge of the cliff wall where views of the canyon floor are spectacular.