Moab. Or as Mireille would pronounce it, Mo-Ab. Small city of 5000 some people in Southeast Utah, the land of Mormons, backwards liquor laws, and some spectacular natural landscapes. Since we’ve moved to the west we’ve always looked for a reason to get out here to take in these sights. Thanks to some early travel by Mom and Pop Grady, having come through Denver the weekend prior for Thanksgiving day festivities, we finally had our opportunity to check it out over the Thanksgiving day weekend, figuring it wouldn’t be quite as busy or quite as hot as it would in the peak months.
Our trip began on Wednesday before Thanksgiving. The kids had off of school, so I took the day off of work and we traveled. Weather was about perfect for a drive - sunny and unseasonably warm, we headed out by 9:30 with our sights set on Utah by mid to late afternoon. The drive was uneventful, though we did find a delicious chicken place in West Vail - the name escapes me, but it had a yellow sign and the food was fantastic. Of course it could have been because I hadn’t eaten anything yet that day and I was famished, but nevermind.
We found the turnoff of I70 about 45 miles into Utah, most of which was without services. Utah is big and empty at that part, it turns out. We were fortunate to have just enough gasoline to make it to a filling station before heading south on Hwy 191 to cover the final 30 miles to our destination, reaching it by about 3:30 local time. After dropping the dog off at his prison location, we meandered our way to our condo at Rim Village, about 10 miles south of town. This three bedroom, two bathroom condo was to be our home base for the next 4 days! We were happy to make it in before dark because things are pretty difficult to find once the lights go out!
Some friends of ours were going to be in town around the same time, so we arranged to meet them for dinner that evening at, where else, Moab Brewery! We met them around 6:30 at the brewery to find that we had a 60 minute wait for a table. No worries, it was a brewery! We could just get some beers and catch up while we waited. BUT, Utah’s primitive alcohol laws thought otherwise! Bars here are cordoned off of the rest of the facility with a strict “Over 21” rule in place, no exceptions. Beyond that, if you did get tap beer in the bar, it was limited to “3.2” beer, or about 4% ABV beer. So while this place made their own beer, they couldn’t make it any stronger than 4%, making it pretty difficult to hit many, well most of the style guidelines for the beers they were attempting to make. It didn’t take us long to find the loophole - if you order canned or bottled beer that restriction was not enforced. But suffice to say, primitive liquor laws!!!
Our dinner was pleasant and without too much incident. Our waitress was new and we did end up having some shenanigans when it came to paying for our meal, including giving her 2 credit cards only to have her return 3! But, by 9:00 we were back in the condo and in bed, sleeping actually. Driving takes it out of you sometimes! Plus, we had a big day the next day.
Day 2 - Arches on Thanksgiving
Next morning, Thanksgiving Day! The plan was to meet our friends at the Delicate Arch parking lot at 10:00. We figured it would take about an hour to get there, so we left a little before 9, much to Ethan’s chagrin. While going through town, we tried to stop to support Jenny’s addiction, briefly stopping at the sole Starbucks in town which happened to be open, but had such a formidable line that she decided she would forego it for the morning.
Arches National Park is about 5 miles north of Moab, so the drive was pretty easy. We reached the entrance, waited in line maybe 5 minutes, then drove right in. Unfortunately we were trending late because the parking lot for Delicate Arch is about 20-30 minutes into the park. It was a nice drive, at least, though it was a little cloudy.
On arrival at the parking lot, we found out that we had a tail light out - darnit! Didn’t want to be in Utah, a strangely dry-like state, after a beer with a missing tail light. Oh well, I’d figure that out later.
Jenny was studying the hiking recommendations on the drive through the park and was a bit spooked by the description of the Delicate Arch hike. It was listed as “strenuous” and recommended that you bring at least a quart of water per hiker. We convinced her that we’d be OK.
We layered up, threw on our backpacks full of snacks and waters, then headed up the 1.8 mile hike from the parking lot to the arch. It was a decent hike. We had a good amount of climbing to do on the way. We also had to traverse many rocks, realizing that these rocks were different than what we were used to. They were “grippy.” We would find out later that the rocks were some sort of sand stone with a surface comparable to 80 grit sandpaper. It was nice to walk on, anyway, since you didn’t really have to worry about slipping!
There were a good number of people on the hike. Most were very friendly, saying “Happy Thanksgiving” or just waving. Some were dressed in weird outfits. Perhaps it’s a thing to get a selfy by landmarks in weird outfits. One person was dressed like a cactus. Another was dressed up like Mario riding on a flying turtle.
The hike ended with about a 1⁄4 mile traverse on some somewhat dicey cliffs which were just wide enough for two people to pass without getting too close to the edge. The landscape on the other side of these cliffs resembled that of the closing sequence of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where Indy and his dad find the Holy Grail.
After rounding the last little bit of rock, the cliffs turned into a more open rock shelf on top of which stood the Delicate Arch. Very impressive site, to be sure! I’d say the only downside to it was how many other people were there.
We settled in about 100 yards away from the base of the arch to get some water and eat a snack, and to take a LOT of pictures. Jenny and the people we hiked with decided they were going to get closer to see if they could find a better angle for pictures. The kids didn’t really want to go, so I sat with them. While we were sitting there, they decided they wanted to eat the sandwiches we had packed for the day (we’ve learned our lesson through the years). I had a sudden inspiration to try out the new “Portait Mode” on my new phone. With that, “Grady’s Eating Sandwiches at Landmarks” was born.
The hike back was uneventful and much easier. We stopped to see some petroglyphs along the trail, then stopped at the base to use the rest-room facilities before heading out to our next hike. In the rest-room, I encountered this sign…
You know that they’ve had problems in the past which necessitated they have this sign made and displayed!
After Delicate Arch, we headed deeper into the park and did the very short “Sandstone Arch” hike. It was tucked away inside a large rock enclosure, so really an interesting hike. Quinton, Ethan, and I did a little climbing which took Quinton and I a little outside our comfort zones - Ethan was fine.
The climbing and Sandstone Arch complete, we got back in the car and headed to the furthest reaches of the pavement in the park, the Devil’s Garden. This had the promise of a lot of hiking trails and many arches. We decided we’d only do the close ones, since it had gotten pretty cold and windy, and we were pretty pooped out from our prior hikes.
First up was the Tunnel Arch - not super impressive. Next was the Pine Tree Arch, which actually was pretty cool, and last we saw the Landscape Arch, which was quite big and impressive. On reading the text on the arch, we found out that in the 90s, several hikers were resting under the arch when they heard cracks and saw some rocks falling. They high-tailed it out of there as quickly as they could, just beating a 12+ foot slab of rock collapsing. They have since closed the trail that goes underneath this arch, so we could only view it from a distance - our pictures make it look kind of small, which is weird since it was the biggest span we saw on the whole trip!
After hiking back to the car, we decided we’d go back to the condo, get cleaned up, and then head into our friends’ hotel for some swimming. We capped the evening off at our condo with pizza, beer, wine, and appetizers - a traditional Utah Thanksgiving Day Meal! Not too many complaints this night on going to bed - that’s for sure!
Day 3 - UTVs and Corona Arch!
Day three promised a new adventure. We had reserved a UTV, Utility Terrain Vehicle, for a three hour tour. The morning looked promising - brilliant sun and blue skies, with a temperature promising to approach the mid 50s. Should be fun!
We started out similarly to the prior day, but had a little more time, so we drove down the road to where Heinz was staying and “checked him out” to take him for a walk. While we were there, a farmer was hanging out near a cattle pen and asked us to keep Heinz away because a calf had just been born less than 2 hours prior and the dog scares them. Quinton and Mireille got to get a little closer and check him out, though. They thought he was cute, but Mireille didn’t like how bad it smelled!
After a quick walk for Heinz and some breakfast, we headed over to Moab Tour Company, or some similarly creatively named company, by 10:30 to sign our rental agreements and get acquainted with the vehicles.
UTVs are everywhere in Moab. We had seen them on trailers and on the road all over the place since we got there. Clearly people enjoyed having them, and it appeared to us that people might come to Moab specifically to enjoy them. UTVs, in case you haven’t looked them up by now, are a lot like ATVs, but are more like a car, have seats for 2-6 passengers, and are usually street legal (I’m not sure about that, but the ones we rented were). So they were kind of a cross between a car and an ATV.
We split up into two vehicles. I would drive the vehicle with Quinton, Mireille, and Jenny in it, and Ethan would ride with our friends and their daughter. During our orientation, Lisa, our tour guide informed us that this area had upwards of 5000 miles of offroad trails used for UTVs and 4 wheel drive vehicles. She also told us that she would be taking us through some terrain that we would be nervous about traversing, but that she wouldn’t take us on anything that she didn’t think we could do or on anyhthing where we wouldn’t be safe. The most ominous direction she gave was what to do in the case that the vehicle was going to roll. You will be fine, she said, as long as you don’t put your hands out of the vehicle. Rolling can sometimes happen, but these things are designed to keep you safe in a roll! Gah!!!
After our instruction, Lisa took us through town to a small highway to get to the recreation area, the start of our tour. The trip there was pretty chilly! We were going up to 35 miles per hour in an open air vehicle, and it was only in the low 40s at the start of the trip! Soon, however, we made it to the trails, pulled off to make sure we all switched to 4 wheel drive, low, and off we went!
These things are insane!!! She took us over big rocks, sand areas, over “cliffs” that looked to be straight down, up very large rock structures that were 100+ feet high and looking to be 45 degree inclines or better (they probably weren’t but they sure seemed it). Quinton and I had a mantra that we kept repeating, “trust the vehicle.” Any time we thought it couldn’t do something, it did. It was a lot of fun! I started to understand why people were so obsessed with these things.
After a short break, Ethan and Quin switched spots in the vehicles so Ethan could sit in the front. Much more of the same - good fun. After another break, I convinced Ethan to drive! That’s when the fun started!!! Actually he did really well. He bottomed out a couple of times, but he started driving when we got to a more technical area. Jenny didn’t seem amused, but he did great!
All in all, we did three hours and about 20 miles of trails. It was pretty insane just driving in that terrain, but it was even more insane to see what other people were willing to do with their vehicles! I saw a bunch of Jeeps, Hummers, Land Rovers, all driving over this crazy stuff! I could never imagine driving a car through this stuff - but a UTV!
Not everybody was all that impressed with these little vehicles. Mireille was fed up with wearing the helmet and all the bumps, and Jenny thought it was fun, but didn’t want to drive. I could see doing it more often, though!
Our tour ended around 2:30, so we decided to take the opportunity to drive out to the trailhead for the Corona Arch. This trail was similar to that of the Delicate Arch, but with far fewer people. Oh, and it was free - i.e., not in a national park. Despite that, the 10 or so mile car ride off the beaten path definitely cut down on the number of people there.
We traversed the 1.5 mile trek over rocks, up ladders, and over train tracks to reach the Corona Arch with about 30 minutes left before the sun went down over the rocks. It was pretty spectacular. I probably took over 100 pictures. Sadly, we hadn’t packed any sandwiches, so I had to substitute apples and oranges for my new photo theme.
We finished the evening by cleaning up and meeting at the Blu Pig Bar B Que restaurant where we waited for almost 2 hours for a table, taking shifts in the bar while the kids waited in the gift shop… Utah’s liquor laws are frustrating!!! By the time dinner ended, we were ready for bed!
Day 4 - Canyonlands National Park
We awoke liesurely on Saturday. The kids were worn out from a lot of activity the prior three days, so we told them it would be a pretty low key day. We started the day by going to give Heinzy a little walk again, then went back to the condo to collect the rest of the family for our day. As we were getting in the car, Quinton said, painfully, “What? You said no hiking today! Why are you bringing the snack bag?” He was referring to the backpack that we always bring with snacks and water to make sure we avoid any biologically induced “events” while we are out and about. He really didn’t want to hike today!!!
We started out by getting Jenny her Starbucks fix while the kids and I went to repair our burned out taillamp at a local auto-parts store. After 30 minutes, both of our goals had been reached, and we were free to explore the more interesting parts of our day.
At first we just walked around downtown a little bit. Our friends were hanging out down there prior to leaving for Denver, so we met them to say goodbye, and Ethan managed to find the first $13 breakfast burrito I’ve ever encountered. It did look delicious.
As we were downtown, the weather started turning as the clouds rolled in. It got cold and started to rain! Nevermind, though - we were heading to Canyonlands National Park, abuot a 45 minute drive from Moab.
Canyonlands is most likely very impressive when it is sunny, but today it was cloudy and a little sultry. Still, we managed to find some cool short hikes to see the “Mesa Arch,” one of the arches that are synonymous with Utah. We also pulled off on many overlooks to see what I’m told is the origin of the Grand Canyon. Very impressive, though again, would have been more impressive if it had been a little nicer.
We did manage to get some pictures of Grady’s eating sandwiches on vacation. Enjoy.
All told we only spent about an hour in the park, mostly driving. We then headed back to the condo, rested a bit, then went out for dinner, EARLY this time!!! We were back in the condo by 6:00, in stark contrast with many of our prior encounters eating out in Moab!
Right now I sit penning this blog post, watching the weather and the road conditions. A crazy winter storm ripped through the mountains starting Friday night. At 9:00 our friends texted us to inform us that they were still ddriving, some 9 hours later, on what is normally a 5-6 hour drive. It looks like the roads are going to clear up for tomorrow, so we’re hoping for good fortune!
Moab, like most of our family vacations, was a blast. The UTV ride was amazing, and visiting the various arches was incredible, particularly Corona Arch! I can’t help but think that this place would be better off if Colorado annexted it, however. Unleash the brewery to make for a better experience there and throw a dispensary or two in there and you have some really nice vacation conditions! That said, I can see what draws people to this place. It’s a little laid back, the outdoor activities are plentiful and unique, and the people seem pretty friendly for the most part. We may come back one day…