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Destinations

Feb 11, 2019

Forever Moab

Arches, Canyonlands, Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef…. Five of the most beautiful National Parks in the US are a stone’s throw from Moab, Utah, America’s capital city of extreme sports.

WRITTEN BY

Georges Dutigny

This story originally featured in the Spring 2014 issue of the Outdoor Journal. 

I will never forget Moab, even though we did get off to a bad start, on those first few days there. Alas, Moab itself is nothing more than a small, run-down, backwater town, utterly devoid of charm.  Originally a mining community, constructed after World War II, it was known for its Uranium mines right up until the 1980s. Not exactly a spot you dream of vacationing, even if you are an extreme sports enthusiast.  The architecture is uninteresting, monotonous, boring, without a soul. Even its restaurants are just so-so – what a let down for the taco and red pepper fan in me. In short, Moab the city doesn’t really merit a stop.  And yet, it is known worldwide for the exceptional beauty of its natural surroundings, as well as the infinite number of skydiving, slacklining, trail running and rock climbing sites immortalized by unbelievably talented athletes, in epic movie scenes and most notably, on YouTube.

Driving through Arches National Park, Rangers lead popular walks into this maze of sandstone fins twice each day from April through October. Photo: Apoorva Prasad.

A MILD, WILD, OR EXTREME EXPERIENCE

The thick red cliffs surrounding Moab beckon you to take the plunge as BASE-jumping is legal in most spots. Countless canyons bid beautiful escape, whether by hiking and trail running on foot or by mountain bike. Some of the most difficult bike trails in the US are Slickrock Trail and Amasa Back, the latter ending at the mouth of the Colorado River.  As for the river, whose waters never exceed 10⁰C, even in summer, it offers class 4 and 5 rapids, making it ideal for kayaking and whitewater rafting. And then, everywhere you walk, there will always be that next rock, more stunning than the last, calling out for you to go bouldering: any number of climbing adventures is within reach. When the rock is soft and loose, like sandstone, it can be quite capricious.  Guaranteed to get your blood pumping!

When I think back on my stay in Moab, my blood pressure goes up, my body floods with endorphins and adrenaline. I slip on my trail running shoes, pack my Camelbak, adjust my bike helmet and make sure that my parachute is securely fastened to my back.  You never know. Moab makes you feel like flying! The town is bursting with enterprises ready to accompany you on any one of these marvellous activities. The logical first step in planning a trip is to pay a visit to the office of tourism or to check out the website: www.discovermoab.com.  This will allow you to take in the magnitude of possibility, but also of potential dangers. Remember the movie 127-hours!

Turret Arch in the Windows Section of Arches National Park. In the background, the snow-capped peaks of the La Sal Mountains attain heights of nearly 13,000 feet. Photo: Moab Area Travel Council.

MOAB BASE CAMP

As an outdoor sports vacation destination, Moab gratifies the eyes while invigorating the muscles.  You will sleep, eat breakfast, and have dinner there, but the rest of the time you will get away. If you have the means to pay for a stay in one of the two absolutely amazing resorts, then I highly recommend it.  My preference is Red Cliffs Lodge (www.redcliffslodge.com) because of its warm, familial atmosphere and superior service. Converted to a hotel in 2002, it was formerly a cattle ranch, typical to the region, and is located on the banks of the Colorado River.  Frankly, there’s nothing not to like. All right, maybe the pool is a little conventional, but it was also ranked as one of the pools with the best view in the United States. Whether you are in the pool, your bed, or the restaurant, steep canyons tower all around you. Obviously, it can feel a little enclosed, but that’s inevitable in the area.  Besides, if you borrow a horse, you will be at the summit in a couple of hours. It’s worth noting that the outright finish line for Primal Quest, a very prestigious event and one of the most difficult expedition-length adventure races in the world, was at the hotel in 2006.

Countless canyons bid beautiful escape, whether by hiking on foot or by mountain bike.

Once a genuine working ranch, the hotel has a western themed décor, complete with authentic articles from all over the area.  The owner of the hotel rules her roost with an iron fist and a real sense of showmanship. In the basement, there is a movie theatre and a museum dedicated to all of the actors and movies that have filmed in the region over the years from John Wayne films to Thelma and Louise. Don’t forget the opening scene of John Woo’s Mission Impossible with Tom Cruise, or still yet the notorious 127-hours that I mentioned earlier, the Danny Boyle film with James Franco which is entirely set in Canyonlands, less than 50 km away and Utah’s largest National Park.

For those seeking a bit more luxury, at the price of less local colour, I would recommend Sorrel River Ranch.  Very classy and even more sumptuous, the hotel belongs to a rich family from New York. The villas for rent are magnificent and very cosy.  I don’t have a single complaint about the service in this high-end establishment. It is perfection. You can even bring your own horse (50$ a day) and your dog (100$ room cleaning fee).  It’s a slice of peaceful extravagance in the middle of the Far West, and an ideal couple’s retreat. Hey, what about a honeymoon in Moab? Bring your in-laws. They’ll love you forever!

Cover Photo: The Colorado River’s source is in Colorado but crosses Utah and Arizona while flowing southwest.