I am not an adventure traveler at all. In fact, friends have tried to get me to go camping for years and my response has always been a solid NO. But in the last few years Chris and I have traveled through Europe and the Caribbean a lot and I was aching for something different. I had seen pictures of the Arches in Utah in a magazine a while ago so on a whim and kind of last minute I searched flight options and saw a direct flight from Washington to Salt Lake City so with a click of a mouse we were on.
We arrived in Salt Lake City at night, got our lovely Subaru Forrester rental and set off on the road. Moab is about 4 hours from SLC but I figured we’ll make some headway if we get to Provo that first night plus I was curious to see Brigham Young University. Chris and I used to have this travel game where we would take pictures in front of colleges and universities in the cities where we visited. We used to play it a lot before Victor was born so I figured we can start again.
In Provo we spent the night at the SpringHill Suites which I highly recommend – it is a total modern jewel among the handful of motels on the same street. The studio apartments had a pull out couch for Victor and a separate sleeping area for us and there was a huge bowl of lollipops in the lobby which in Victor’s book made this a super-cool hotel. Wish we could spend more time there but we were up early in the morning (the only time when I wake up at 7 am is on the West Coast because of the time difference), got a case of water for the road and then made a quick stop at Brigham Young University to take a photo with the sign.
It was still quite early in the day but we managed to find a couple of guys, dressed in their short-sleeve shirts and long pants (no short shorts or short skirts are allowed on campus, same goes for coffee and sodas as well as beards, believe it or not) to take our picture and decided to take a short drive through campus.
I’m not sure what I expected, this being the largest Mormon university in the US, I semi-expected to see women dressed in long dresses and hair covers walking between wooden huts, but the campus is very modern and green and at least from the looks of it was just like any other American university. But no time to linger, as we had a long drive ahead of us.
We set off on I-15 towards Moab and I had to literally pry Chris’ hands off the wheel when we saw a large sign “Las Vegas – 320 miles”. I guess if you continue south on I-15 you will eventually get to Vegas, and we are somewhat addicted to that city, but we turned on I-191 and pretty soon were the only car on the road. The scenery was lush and green and you could see snow-capped mountains in the distance.
After a quick pee-pee stop at a gas station, Chris saw a sign on a little wooden shack selling home-made jerky and came back with a pack of Venison Jerky. Now, in my college days, I could spend a day only on a pack of beef jerky and while its nutritional value is questionable I do agree there is some sort of wicked pleasure in trying not to break your teeth while chewing the salty crunchy pieces. But the venison variety just wasn’t my thing…next time we can try elk
We were definitely not in a hurry and Chris, after driving every day in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Beltway was just ecstatic to drive on a completely deserted road so when we saw the billboard for the Pinnacle Brewing Company, just off the exit, we decided to make a lunch stop there. It was a cute little restaurant with an outdoor patio and the food was all right but a brewing company it was not. But Chris was happy to find a whole assortment of Utah-brewed beers and Victor was happy to run around the yard while we ate lunch so all in all it was a worthy stop.
Shortly after passing Price, the scenery started to change from the sort of deserted plain to the orangey-red colors that we were here for. The rocks around the road started getting taller and bigger, the formations more and more interesting and the colors deeper and deeper orange.
About an hour later we saw the sign for Moab and quickly found our Sleep Inn hotel. Now, even though we usually stay in Sheraton and Marriott hotels (yes, my job has spoiled me), Moab is really not a Marriott-type of place. The highest on the totem pole of options was the Hampton Inn or the La Quinta but both were sold out on the nights we were there so the Sleep Inn it was. The Sleep Inn is not a bad hotel and during our college days we have stayed in many of them but never paid more than $60-$70 a night. Well adventure comes at a price and I guess if you are in Moab and you are too spoiled to sleep in a tent or RV (which is where almost everyone else stayed) you have to pay over $150 a night for a Sleep Inn. Oh, well, at least we had owr own bathroom and shower.
By that time the sun was already blazing hot so we figured it would be best to spend some time at the pool and wait for the temperatures to cool off a bit. Around 5 pm we made our first foray to the Arches thinking we would start slow and see some of the really easy ones. I have to say that the Arches National Park is one of the best organized and most convenient for any level of adventure. There is a long winding road with parking facilities near almost all of the Arches.
From the parking there are marked trails to each arch but also great biking facilities as well as on-site camping (again, not my thing). As we were creeping up the step road past the entrance of the park I was getting giddy with excitement seeing all the great stone formations along the road. When you get to the top and are surrounded by all this it almost feels unreal, like you have entered another universe.
Our first stop was the Balanced Rock, only half a mile hike from the parking lot. The Balanced Rock is one of the most popular formations in the park and the size of the top rock is about the size of three school buses. It is amazing how it just sits perched on top of the smaller rock and Chris and I took about 100 pictures of it from every angle (this being our first sight in the park) while Victor just happily ran around the perimeter of the rock and climbed any smaller rock in sight.
Now, this is one of the things that makes this a perfect trip with kids, even little ones – the freedom to run around, climb, dig, just roam and enjoy nature.
There are few animals that live in the park but they are mostly of the cute bunny variety; the only dangerous one is the rattle snake who apparently is very shy and the only people bitten by it are those who tried to catch it. I did keep my eyes out for a possible rattlesnake attack and I tried to come up with a plan what I would do if we see one (nothing short of screaming for help came to mind) but all we saw were some geckoes.
Next stop was the Sand Dune Arch. I had read online that this is the perfect place for kids because it is really like a huge sand pit. The Sand Arch is located at the very end of the Arches road in an area called Devil’s Garden. All the rocks there look very different from the rest of the park because they are just massive lumps interconnected together, almost like the formations inside a cave but on the sand.
Sand Dune Arch is an easy short walk from the parking lot but one of its coolest features is that the entrance to the path is through a very narrow opening between two rocks.
Once you are past it you see a huge sandy area and the Arch itself is on top of a sand dune.
The thing that I loved about Arches is that we eventually hiked to almost all of the arches in the park and very rarely did we see any other people on the trail except for the Delicate Arch trail (more on that later). It is almost eerie at times to be by yourself with this vast natural wonder around you but also helps you to get grounded; there is some kind of a calm feeling about hiking there.
Of course Victor loved the Sand Dune so he buried himself in it, dune surfed and just ran around while Chris and I took a million pictures again. We could hardly pull Victor away but it was getting late and we wanted to see if we could get to one more arch before dark.
The Sand Dune Arch shares a parking lot with a longer trail leading to the Broken Arch and even though I was not able to find much info about it online we decided to give it a try. The path is about a 2-mile loop but it goes mostly through a flat field full of low desert plants and cacti.
At the end of the trail is a short climb through rocks but it was actually a perfect distraction for Victor. When we got to the Broken Arch the sun had already set on that side of the park and we were the only visitors. This is a great arch because you can climb right underneath it and if you manage to pull yourself to the top of several large rocks you are right under the arch and literally on top of the world.
We sat there in silence and then we screamed “we are on top of the world” and we really did not feel like going back. But it was getting late and we’ve had a long day. Back at the parking lot of the Devil’s Garden the last rays of the sun were shining on the rocks and the burnt orange colors were like nothing I’ve ever seen.
On the drive back everyone was quiet and exhausted but happy and after a quick dinner of fish tacos at Cabo Grill (where Chris discovered Mexican Pepsi tasted exactly like the Bulgarian Pepsi from our childhood and managed to purchase most of their available supply of it) we were in bed by 11 pm and slept like babies.