Our turn to be tour guides – Moab, UT

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After catching a ride over Moab’s famous red rock fins and being chauffeured on dirt roads by friends, it was our turn to be tour guides for our BFF’s from California.  Vic and Pam made a road trip to Moab to hang out with us for a few days, and since we’d explored the area prior to their arrival we were confident we could show them around.

Just down the road from Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, and surrounded by stunning scenery, Moab offers so many outdoor activities that it was only a matter of prioritizing the “must-see” items on their list.

Like many tour guides, we met our guests early to beat the crowds – especially since it was Centennial Week (here are the free national park entrance dates for 2016).  Arriving early allowed us to get good parking spots and to avoid some of the obnoxious folks who seem to think they own the place.

Arches National Park

Pam, Vic and Steve at the Park Avenue viewpoint in Arches NP

First up was a visit to Arches National Park.  It has the largest concentration of natural sandstone arches in the world, 2,000 and counting.  Complementing the arches are mind-blowing arrays of towering spires, fins and balanced rocks.  This was our friends’ first visit to the park, and we gladly took them on an end-to-end scenic drive.  After all, this is definitely a place we never get tired of!

Arches National Park

Approaching Courthouse Towers

Salt Valley- Arches NP

Free-standing fins formed by erosion created a scenic backdrop at Salt Valley

We drove to several of the most accessible arches, and hiked among others as we continued along the scenic route:

Delicate Arch

Delicate Arch – the one on Utah’s license plates

Windows Arch

At Windows Arch

Landscape Arch

A friendly conversation near Landscape Arch, which at 306′ long is the longest natural rock arch in the park

Our next destination was Canyonlands National Park.  This park is so huge and diverse that it’s carved naturally into three districts; Island in the Sky, The Maze and The Needles.  We took the scenic route into Island in the Sky, which is the most accessible and easiest to visit from Moab.


We viewed multiple canyons stretching across the horizon, about a hundred miles distant. Being a clear day, we caught a glimpse of the Needles and Maze districts in the distance. What a fantastic place to enjoy with our friends!


Each viewpoint afforded us different perspectives of the stunning landscape, and capturing their scale in photos is totally impossible.

Monument Basin

Vertical fractures in the sandstone have caused these rocks to erode into step-sided walls, columns and pinnacles

Island in the Sky is a broad mesa wedged between the Colorado River and Green River, both of which have deep, excavated canyons.


Taking in an almost incomprehensible vista


Close to the mesa’s edge is White Rim, a continuous sandstone bench 1,200′ below.  It’s a hard layer of white sandstone that forms a sharply-defined rim above the lower level canyons.  Another 1,000′ beneath that rim are the Colorado and Green rivers.  The views are quite striking:

Green River

The meandering of the Green River in the distance

We ended our day at Dead Horse Point State Park, watching the sun cast shadows into the canyons and onto the La Sal mountains:

Dead Horse Point State Point

The late afternoon sun casts my shadow as three weary travelers enjoy the view

On our way home we captured a pink cast over the La Sal mountains:

La Sal Mountains

One of the must-do activities for Vic and Pam was a rafting trip on the Colorado River.  We arrived on a chilly morning to float along a 13-mile stretch that paralleled scenic Hwy 128.

Colorado River

Colorado River on a gray day

We cruised past Fisher Tower and Castle Valley as our guide Richard gave a geography lesson and entertained us with stories about the river.  He told us about a 60-pound redbone hound dog named Blender that lived on a ranch alongside the river.  Blender sat on the shore and watched the river all day, and when he spotted a raft of tourists floating by he would jump in the water and swim to the raft, hoping to get a snack for his efforts.

Rafting the Colorado River

The happy rafters


On a short hike by the river, Richard educated us about Moab’s Monument Valley

Moab's Monument Valley

Moab’s Monument Valley

On another day we completed two hikes on the list, Negro Bill Canyon and Corona Arch.

The boys went on their own to hike the 4-mile Negro Bill Canyon Trail.  According to Steve, the trail winds along a stream and through an oasis of Cottonwood and Willow trees that are cut off from the desert above by towering sandstone cliffs.  The reward at the end of their hike was the sixth-largest natural bridge in the U.S., Morning Glory Natural Bridge which spans 243′.

They stopped to watch folks rappelling down behind the bridge:

Morning Glory Arch

Hanging out at the bridge

Steve got a great butterfly capture during their journey:


While the boys hiked, Pam and I went into Moab for a little shopping and breakfast at the local cafe, Love Muffin.  I had a healthy (and pricey) breakfast – warm Quinoa!

Warm Quinoa

Organic Rainbow Quinoa served warm with agave, fresh fruit, almonds and almond milk

Finally, we drove to Corona Arch and hiked over slickrock to see the awesome formations and landscape:

Corona Arch

Slickrock landscape

Corona is a partial free-standing arch connected to a sandstone cliff on one side, while the other end stands freely upon the slickrock:

Corona Arch

Steve and Vic under the 140′ x 105′ foot opening of Corona Arch

Bowtie Arch

Bowtie Arch was an added treat on our hike

Best Buds

Best buds take a break

We tried to make sure Vic and Pam’s short visit was fun without being too harried.  With so much to see and do in the Moab area, the choices can be overwhelming on a short visit. Regardless, it was great to see them again and we enjoyed spending time together and being their tour guides.


Next up:  Arches and canyons from a birds-eye view


Dirt Road Driving with John and Pam – Canyonlands NP

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After our exciting 4-wheeling slickrock adventure, we were fortunate to enjoy even more travels on some rough dirt roads around Moab with John and Pam (Oh the Places They Go).  Our Honda CRV can’t handle some of those roads, and John and Pam, who we have hiked with several times, offered us a ride in their Jeep so we could experience some great areas of Canyonlands National Park that few people get to see.

Canyonlands NP

The dirt road route we followed is in red – Photo credit: BLM

Long Canyon-Shafer Road

The plan was to drive on Potash Road, then turn right on Long Canyon Road and ascend through Pucker Pass.  Their Jeep was the star in this section, as all passengers got out to see it climb through a rough area.


The ladies pose near the first challenge


Pucker Pass

Waiting for Steve to run up the hill to be the spotter (well, actually to take a photo)


I think John was whistling a tune as he navigated big dips in the road – he made it look easy

Once at the top we took a look around:

Long Canyon road

The view of Long Canyon with its fins, and the La Sal mountains in the background

When hanging out with John and Pam, a hike is always included in the plan – and that was fine with us!  Our trek followed along the canyon rim within Dead Horse Point State Park. The park is situated 2.000′ above the Colorado River, with breathtaking views of canyons, mesas, buttes and the river all around.

Dead Horse Point State Park

A fantastic view on a perfect day

The hike along the east and west rims was easy, and we stopped often to enjoy the vistas from every angle:

Dead Horse Point State Park

Pam points to the switchback road we’ll be following down from the mesa

Shafer Road

Another look at Shafter Road

Dead Horse Point State Park

Not a bad spot for our lunch break

Below was a study in geology.  Millions of years ago deposition, erosion, weathering and volcanic activity created this spectacular topography.  Mesas, canyons and buttes were sculpted, and the Colorado River carved its path deep into the ancient rock layers on its way to the sea.

Canyonlands National Park

Spectacular panorama of the Colorado River meandering through Canyonlands

Canyonlands NP

These boys are living on the edge

After the hike, we began our descent on Shafer Road, a series of long and stunning switchbacks:

Shafer Road

Going down a very steep Shafer Road

After a few miles we passed beneath Dead Horse Point State Park, and above the Colorado River.  This road has been used in countless commercials and movies, and it’s easy to see why:


Shafer Road

The arrow points to where we had enjoyed lunch at Dead Horse Point overlook

Goosenecks of the Colorado River

Goosenecks of the Colorado River – we were probably 500′ above the river here

During this drive we couldn’t ascertain exactly where the famous last scene of Thelma and Louise was filmed, but we knew it was nearby.  John and Pam subsequently confirmed the location and drove back with Dave and Sue on another day.  Click here for that story.

As I was busy taking pictures of the surrounding sculptured pinnacles, buttes and tall canyon walls, a small flower begged to be acknowledged.  While taking this picture I heard the Jeep’s horn honk, and I knew it wasn’t John but rather my dear hubby signaling me to get on with it.

Evening Primrose

Evening Primrose


Canyonlands NP

Darth Vader – or a floppy-eared dog – kept a close watch on all travelers

The dirt road passed the evaporation ponds of the Potash plant, an indication that we were nearing paved roads after our scenic desert crossing:


It was a long and enjoyable ride on our guided dirt road tour.  Although they have driven here before, John and Pam were willing to share this beautiful scenery with us that we would otherwise have missed.

Canyonlands National Park

Thank you John and Pam!


Next up:  Our turn to be tour guides!