A quick recap of 50 Trail/50 States: We started our tour in the beautiful boreal forests of Minnesota’s North shore along the challenging and diverse Superior Hiking Trail. Our second stop took us out west to what many claim as the Mecca of silent sports in the Sierra Nevada’s—The bodacious oasis that is the Tahoe Rim Trail. To ring in the start of Ol’ Man Winter, our third leg of the trip led us on another Northwood’s romp through Wisconsin’s Ice Age Trail. In this fourth installment of 50/50 we take our Bedouin style journey back out west to the “home on mountain top” that is Utah.
Many will agree that the combination of Salt Lake City and Park City are the primo locations for outdoor enthusiasts. Settled along the Wasatch Mountain Range, peering over a big brackish water hole, how could one disagree? In fact a recent poll released SLC as the number one fittest city in the U.S. followed by Colorado Springs and Minneapolis.
Now down to brass tax. Though you probably thought I was going to label SLC and the Wasatch Mtn. the honorary trail key to Utah, you guessed wrong. Instead it’s time to cowboy-up and head south to the town of Moab to experience a plethora of intrepid and ubiquitous parks and trails that make up Utah’s five National Parks: (Zion, Bryce, Arches, Capitol Reef, and Canyon lands). All located within close proximity, we’ll touch on two in particular near the Moab area that are quite unique. I’m referring to Utah’s Canyon lands and Arches National Park trails. Before we start you better cross the border to grab some real brew, none of that 3.2%skunky wash.
Utah's Canyon Land
The landscape and climate that make-up the Canyon lands/Arches area of Utah my offer a different perspective to each visitor, but the most important part I believe is to come with a clear conscience and most importantly an open-mind. The unseasoned traveler may view this rugged, dry, and unforgiving landscape uninhabitable and hopeless. On the contrary, a seasoned traveler or the weary wanderer will find a resolving yet mysterious sanctuary that is beautiful and lined with possibility. To the aforementioned traveler, I suggest intimately questioning, testing, exploring and challenging your pre-conceived notions of this archaic landscape. Maybe somewhere in the labyrinth of sandstone and gradient sundown’s your perspective will change for the better.
Southern Utah’s character is the result of timeless erosion by way of water, wind and the fluctuating changes in climate, which combined together, are the forces that cause the infamous geological shifting that makes this area so unique. Surreal rock formations span for miles. Spires and minarets delicately tower over the barren rock. It’s as if Salvador Dali and Yves Tanguy were let loose with paintbrushes on the planet Mars. It’s the very landscape that has also captured the surly and non-taxonomist lyricism of author Edward Abbey and all his ventures and raucous.
Off trail destinations: A bit of a caveat regarding this country: Bring ample supplies of water. However here are a few recommended watering holes near the Moab area to quench your thirst: Fiesta Mexicana, Moab Brewery, and Eklecticn Café.
On trail destinations:
Canyon Lands Park- Confluence Overlook: This is where the Green River and the Colorado merge together, in the heart of the park. The trail goes from Big Spring Canyon Overlook toward a vista where you can get a great view of the two rivers. Due to exposure, this is a recommended spring/winter hike. The Confluence Overlook is on the east side of the Colorado. The water is about 1,000 feet below the canyon rim, so watch your step. Once at the top, enjoy the neapolitan colored sunset. This trail section is approximately 11 miles.
Lower Red Lake Canyon: this strenuous 19 mile hike is a good test for the mind and body and if you stick with it, you’ll enjoy the rewards that bud along the way. Through the Needles and down the Colorado River to Red Lake, this is both flat and calm. More than likely you’d find a trashed Caterpillar at the bottom of the river courtesy of Hayduke and the rest of the Monkey Wrench Gang. Making your way to Elephant trailhead, the trail extends west, through Cyclone Canyon and then down Red Lake Canyon. Red Lake Canyon opens up to the Colorado River to an area known as Spanish Bottom. Along your trip keep your eyes peeled for the circling buzzards above your head. Know that they are smarter than you. As you venture on you have the chance to hit some primitive trail that will lead you to Cataract Canyon where some of the best rapids are found.
Upper Salt Creek: Expect 23 miles of gnarly trail encompasses some of the most amazing archaeological sites and arches are found in the Salt Creek drainage. This section of trail runs between the Peekaboo trailhead on the north and the Cathedral Butte on the south. Of all the sections of trails, the Upper Salt Creek voyage will be sure to bring you a lot of surprises. On your trek check out Horse Canyon, an area that contains a unique arch called Paul Bunyan’s Potty and Tower Ruin. Furthermore, one of the most famous features in the area is Angel Arch. An incredible “In Yan Teopa” as the Natives would say up here in the Upper Midwest.
Arches National Park: Delicate Arch- is one of the most iconic arches in the National Park, and maybe anywhere in the world. Located on one of the most synergistic trails within the Park, it spans over 480 feet high. Delicate Arch is disguised in a bowl at the top of one of the park’s famous sandstone fins. The arch is freestanding and majestically alone, standing out against the series of horizontal planes and sherbert colored sun. The trail is rugged and steep, particularly near the end. Keep your eyes open for the pioneer homestead, Ute Indian petroglyphs (dogs, bighorn sheep, and horses), old streambed, junipers and the famous slick rock, which the area is famous for. It reminds me of a macro-view of a North shore agate with its analogous red striations polished by the ecosystem.
Frame Arch is just around the bend, but often times are overlooked to its larger Delicate behemoth. More often than not, Frame Arch serves as the perfect “frame” for photographing Delicate.
Upper Courthouse Wash—is a moderately challenging trail that squanders into the sandstone canyon for which Moab is famed for. The cool water is a nice reprieve for a dip in the summer. Eventually Courthouse trail starts up a plateau that leads to Dead Horse Point, passing Monitor and Merrimac buttes; the Wash than narrows and spirals down to Sevenmile, which serves as a nice side trek. A good choice, for you will be greeted by Ring Arch and swimming hole.
Weather conditions: Expect a nice retreat from the cold winter come spring time with temperate/comfortable weather. Summer can and will be brutally hot and dry. Fall and winter are also ideal times to visit.
Disclaimer: Remember when participating in silent sport activities in any of these parks that you treat them with sincere care and be the best trail custodian you can be. These areas are as fragile as the Dinosaur bones that riddle the area. It’s a beautiful area. Lets try and keep it as remote and beautiful as possible even long after we are gone.
Relevant Links: Moab
Events: Moab to Slickrock 50miler
Moab Red hot 50km
Moab Mountain Biking Trails
To conclude, I'll leave you with this piece from Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire:
Finally a word of caution:
Do not jump into your automobile next June and rush out to the canyon country hoping to see some of that which I have attempted to evoke in these pages. In the first place you can't see anything from a car; you've got to get out of the goddamned contraption and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbush and cactus. When traces of blood begin to mark your trail you'll see something, maybe. Probably not. In the second place most of what I write about in this book is already gone or going under fast. This is not a travel guide but an elegy. A memorial. You're holding a tombstone in your hands. A bloody rock. Don't drop it on your foot--throw it at something big and glassy. What do you have to lose?
Nelson's Marine Bar