Forty miles south of an absolutely barren stretch of I-70 on the Colorado-Utah border sits the unlikely adventure travel capital of the Southwest desert. What Moab, Utah lacks in vegetation (seriously, if you can find something other than cheat grass and sage brush, our hats are off to you), it makes up for in the sheer volume of red-rock activities local adrenaline junkies have dreamed up. We came to Moab with one thing in mind: to summit Ancient Art Tower — but our free days were easily filled with stunning hikes in Arches National Park, exceptional sport climbing and bouldering along the Colorado river, and more than few local craft beers and wines.
Moab is a classic Southwest boomtown. A small trading post and farming community grew into a massive uranium mining operation in the heyday of nuclear weapons. Today, rather than for missile silos and uranium mines, Moab is known primarily for its red rock landscape. The town has drawn everyone from John Wayne to Dean Potter, and after our first night at the Red Cliffs Lodge we found the combination of river oases and sandstone towers kept pulling us deeper into the desert landscape. The lodge and Castle Creek Winery (tell the sommelier we sent you and try the chenin blanc) sit on a beautiful gooseneck riverbend 14 miles east of town and enjoy views of excellent rafting, climbing and the occasional base jumper. It was an easy choice to make this our headquarters for the trip.
SUSHI IN THE DESERT?
You might think that seafood and the landlocked deserts of southeast Utah don’t mix. You’d be wrong. We stumbled into Sabaku after a long day of bouldering and climbing, bringing more desert sand in with us than the chefs probably would have liked. The combination of local ingredients and regular overnight fish deliveries sets Sabaku apart from every other restaurant we had the chance to visit. The creative sake cocktails — everything from a sake-tini to sake-rita — were a great addition to the locally flavored specialty rolls (trust us, try the Delicate Arch and Devil’s Garden rolls). Sorry about the sand.
Heading into Moab, be prepared for “downtown” to vanish after just a few streetlights and stop signs. Main Street is an eclectic collection of outfitters, restaurants, gear shops and more than a few tourist traps hawking the requisite wall magnets and t-shirts. If you’re careful though, a few hidden gems are easy to find. The Love Muffin Café became our morning ritual (although I wouldn’t recommend that carnitas breakfast burrito right before a long day of climbing; you just can’t hold some things in). A more fitting daily travel “snack” can be found just a few blocks down the road at the Moab Brewery. Their egos are still a little bruised after the excellent amber ale and hefeweizen weren’t included in Malted Madness, but they forgave the editors for never having had the pleasure of sneaking a brew or three past the park rangers for a sunset hike in Arches.
If you’re searching for tips on the best climbs or need to pick up a piece of gear you forgot — it always seems those pesky Tevas disappear when it’s time to pack and reappear after we’ve acquired yet another pair — we recommend GearHeads. With an entire wall dedicated to climbing gear and free purified water for any customers, the spot became our daily stop-in to search out that elusive last gadget. If your adventure involves more time spent on two wheels enjoying famous trails like SlickRock and the Porcupine Rim, you’ll be pleased that there are bike shops on every corner. The best option, though, is Poison Spider Bicycles. They’ve been around since 1991, and their rental services, group rides and shuttles to popular riding spots reduce the complication of planning an epic ride so you can enjoy your team getting worked over on red rock singletrack.
At the end of the day, it was easy to crack open a tall boy from the Moab Brewery, admire a sunset along the Colorado River and forget the outside world for a few minutes.
When we weren’t climbing or exploring the local restaurants, most of our time was spent in Arches National Park. Spring in the Park is the perfect time to explore some of the more strenuous hikes without worrying about the oven-like temperatures (areas aren’t called “The Fiery Furnace” and “Devil’s Garden” without good reason). We timed our visits to try and hit sunset at some of the most picturesque — and often hardest to get to — spots in the Park. The trail through the Devil’s Garden Loop is not particularly hard for the first mile or so, but once you’ve made it past the biggest attraction, Landscape Arch, it’s more or less a rock scramble through seven miles of harsh desert; we did it mostly in the dark, which was hairy. Easier hikes to Delicate Arch and the Windows and Double Arch areas are just as rewarding, although you may end up getting photo bombed by buses full of tour groups.
At the end of the day, it was easy to crack open a tall boy from the Moab Brewery, admire a sunset along the Colorado River or through the views of Arches and forget the outside world for a few minutes. That is, at least until the desire to Instagram every last desert sunset caught up with us.