For the first time since the onset of the pandemic, Niecie and I got the opportunity to escape on a socially distanced vacation to the rust-red canyons of Moab, Utah.
This wasn’t our first pilgrimage to the Jeep mecca. We’d visited once before a little more than four years ago. But unlike our last visit, we wouldn’t be taking our Jeep off road — much, and we’d have our 1-year-old AmStaff mix, Toro, along for the ride too.
This was his first major outing, and the first time he’d ever spent the night away from home. Thankfully, our quiet and dependable pooch proved well prepared for the adventure.
While the better part of two days would be spent traversing the six-hour journey from Denver to Moab and back, we spent most of the middle three hiking.
Here are some highlights from our trip.
Our first stop on our journey was to fill our tank and let the pup stretch his legs. We pulled off in Georgetown, Colorado, a small village nestled among the rockies.
With the morning sun just rising over the peaks, I couldn't help but drag my fiancé a few miles down to a recreation area, popular among fishers, to snag a few pics.
While the fires to the north and the somewhat inopportune positioning of the sun threatened to suck the color and contrast from my photos, a healthy dose of dehaze in Lightroom seems to have done the trick.
Pinyon Trail, Sand Flats Recreation Area
On our first full day in Moab, we set off to find Grandstaff Canyon and the Morning Glory natural bridge. Sadly some bad directions took us into the Sand Flats 4x4 recreation area.
Since we'd already spent the $5 entrance fee, we decided to make the most of our misfortune and see what Sand Flats had to offer. While Niecie's Renegade, with its skid plates and low gearing, could have easily embarrassed many of the lifted and heavily modified Jeeps on some of the lighter 4x4 trails, she quickly nixed it.
Instead, we found ourselves exploring the Pinyon trail. We didn't know it at the time, but this would become a theme throughout our time in Moab.
The Pinyon trail is a rather short trek that seemed the perfect introduction to Moab for Toro. Unfortunately, by the time we found the trail, the sun was already high in the sky.
Despite the poor light, we were rewarded roughly half a mile into our hike when three powered paragliders zipped right overhead, their bright sails lifting my spirits.
Corona & Bowtie Arch Trail
Niecie, Toro and I were back at it by 5 p.m., after a brief midday siesta. We needed to time our hikes carefully to eke out the best light.
This evening, we were exploring the Corona and Bowtie Arch trail, which is located right off Potash Road. We'd been down this way four years ago on an expedition down the Shafer Trail, but we'd never found the time to stop and explore the surrounding area.
With the sun just dipping below the distant horizon, its rays painted the canyon walls crimson. However, as the sun dipped further out of sight, the brilliant crimson, tinged by the beginnings of blue hour, faded to a gorgeous magenta.
The hike itself proved to be a fairly easy one, but if any of us noticed it was Toro. Our eyes were constantly pressed to our viewfinders framing our next shot.
Never much of a photographer, Niecie had taken to carrying my Canon EOS-1, preferring to frame her shots on Kodak Ektar 100 and Ultra Max 400.
The Ultra Max was a recent addition to my pack after discovering I'd forgotten most of my film in the fridge back home. Thankfully, while stopped in Grand Junction, Colorado, I found half a dozen rolls of Ultra Max on sale at a Walgreens.
Most of the hike took us along slick rock ridges with the occasional outcropping of cacti. These, Toro discovered, were not to be disturbed after finding the barbed spines embedded in his paws and snout. Once removed, he gave the prickly vegetation a wide berth.
Sadly, our hike was cut short when we rounded a bend in the trail and came across the ladder described on AllTrails. Had it just been Niecie and I, we could have easily scaled the 12 feet up the rock face, but with a deep ravine just below, the idea of hoisting Toro up seemed a dubious proposition at best.
With the light fading, we made the decision to head back, as not to retrace our steps by starlight, but not before making some friends along the way.
As we turned back, we spotted a group of three trying to negotiate a selfie. I offered to help, and they returned the favor. We had more in common than an appreciation for photography. They also heralded from Denver.
Fisher Tower Trail
Having learned our lesson the day before, we set out on our next hike more than an hour before sunrise.
We arrived at the Fisher Towers trailhead just as the first tendrils of light began to flicker out over the horizon. Our timing couldn't have been better and the canyon hike looked to be equally beautiful.
Unfortunately, not far into our hike we discovered much of the trail snaked along a cliff side. Just as was the case the night before, had Niecie and I been hiking the trail alone, we could have managed. However, we feared that our pup might lose his grip and tumble off onto the rocks below.
Before the sun had crested the canyon, we made the decision to explore the area for a safer trail.
Richardson's Amphitheater Loop
Not five miles down the road, we found what we were looking for.
The 2.9 mile Richardson's Amphitheater Loop begins on the cacti and sagebrush pocked desert floor before zigzagging across a dry creek bed and back along the craggy canyon walls.
The low-hanging sun lit the desert floor in a golden aura. As we descended deeper into the canyon, the sun filtered through the early morning air in brilliant rays that cast long and harsh shadows across the outcroppings.
The trail itself was an absolute delight with the first and final thirds traversing a largely flat desert floor. The middle third, however, could pose a challenge for some travelers, especially during the rocky ascent out of the canyon. Having said that, this trail is by no means difficult and most people should have no trouble whatsoever.
An easy hike with stunning views is always a winner in my book, and overall, this hike now ranks among my favorites.
Grandstaff Canyon & Morning Glory Bridge
Our final hike brought us to our original destination the day before: Grandstaff Canyon.
We'd spotted the trailhead on our way back from Richardson's Amphitheater and decided that would be our next destination.
We hit the trail around 4 p.m. only to discover that we should have arrived an hour or more earlier, as most of the trail snaked along the canyon floor. Light, it turned out, would quickly become a problem.
The 4.5 mile out and back isn't particularly difficult, but it is easy to get turned around with all the creek crossings. Oh, be sure to pack some shoes or sandals you don't mind getting wet and sandy too.
The good news is the hike is actually quite varied. Early in the trail is quite sandy, but rocky outcroppings and a couple of cliff scrambles are not far beyond.
It was while scaling up a rock face, Toro managed to hurt himself. Faced with the craggy wall of rocks, he launched, his paws reaching their intended destination but without the necessary momentum to carry him forward. He landed in Niecie's arms, but not before bruising his leg. But like a billy goat, he was seemingly unfazed by the accident and happily scamped along to Grandstaff Canyon's main attraction.
At the rear of the canyon is a natural land bridge. The sight of our destination was worth the soggy feet and bruises sustained on our journey there.
Niecie and I spent several minutes here, our camera's shutters firing in rapid succession. The whir of the film advance echoing back along the way we came.
Hiking by starlight
The trek out proved to be far more harrowing than the hike in. With the light fading quickly, we soon found ourselves walking by starlight. Trails, obvious by daylight, seemed wrong now, and we found ourselves backtracking repeatedly in our attempt to regain the trail.
It seemed there were multiple trails carved into the canyon, or perhaps in the dim light, they had been rendered unrecognizable. We pressed on, checking frequently that we were still following the creek. By the time we emerged from the canyon, the night was black as pitch. We'd made it and learned a valuable lesson: never take light for granted. I've since added a headlamp to my pack.
More to come
This is just a taste of what we experienced while hiking our way through Moab. We'll have more photos to share once we get the film back from the lab. Hopefully, they all turn out.
What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below:
- Do you enjoy hiking?
- Have you ever been to Moab?
- If so, what trails did we miss?
- Would you like to see more posts like this one?
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