Moab, Utah, is a small resort town that has its share of tourist attractions: small shops, restaurants, galleries, craft breweries and the like. Further, it is surrounded by stunning red rock landscapes that alone make this a desirable vacation destination. But the Arches and Canyonlands National Parks along with the cool waters of the Colorado River make it one of the most sought-after destinations in the American Southwest. The town bustles for those wanting to experience the outdoors. The main street is lined with guide services, outfitters, jeep, ATV, raft and bike rental shops. The town just buzzes with activity and it is contagious, it’s almost impossible to relax here when there is so much to see and do.
Arches National Park
Of all the National Parks I visit in Utah, Arches is my favorite. The park is compact enough that there is a lot to see in a short time but also spread out enough to support long hikes when I so chose. I enjoy the 1-3 mile hikes that have something as a destination. Arches Park provides just that. The hikes are a bit hairy at times, requiring scrambling over rocks and traversing narrow ledges (fins) at dizzying heights. In this litigious era, I’m surprised you can be so free from guard rails and warnings. I gladly accept the responsibility for my own safety in exchange for the unspoiled views the park offers.
Though an arch is just the end result of water, ice and underground movements of ancient salt beds, each arch has its own unique personality and becomes easily recognizable from the next one. There are over 2,000 arches in the park and I only see a small fraction of that but never tire of seeing a new one.
Canyonlands National Park
The vastness of Canyonlands National Park is immense, similar to a smaller Grand Canyon. It is 527 square miles in size and consists of three distinct districts: Island in the Sky, Needles, and the Maze. The Islands in the Sky district is a mesa that rises 1000 feet above the terrain below it. It is the most visited district and offers a single road that dead ends at Grand View Point outlook.
While there is the notable Mesa Arch in Canyonlands, mostly viewing stops highlight huge canyons and the Green and Colorado rivers that created them. I drive the Island in the Sky route and keep noticing a road below (White Rim road). To traverse the canyon from below can take up to 2 days. I wish I had time for that as it looks like a totally unique experience. However, logistically its just not possible this trip. To see more of Canyonlands, I opt for an aerial tour instead.
I find a bit of a surprise in the Needles district in Newspaper Rock. The aptly named sandstone wall is etched with petroglyphs dating back over 2,000 years. The Navajo refer to it as “Tse’ Hane” or “Rock That Tells a Story. Man if those walls could talk…Otherwise, we can only conjuncture as to the story they are trying to tell.
Arches and Canyonlands in 5 1/2 Minutes
Every morning for a week I was in one of the parks. Though I see much of what I wanted to see I can easily spend another week exploring these two parks not to mention the Dead Horse Point State Park that is nearby.