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Utah's Red-Rock Playground
Photograph by Cary Wolinsky
Soft clouds sail over the hard-rock beauty of the Courthouse Towers in Moab's Arches National Park.
By Miki Meek
"This is a landscape that has to be seen to be believed, and even then, confronted directly by the senses, it strains credulity," wrote the late Edward Abbey, who was famous for his essays and fiction about the American Southwest.
Delicate sandstone spires and jagged mesas streaked with shades of orange, purple, and vermilion overwhelm the strange and stunning landscape that surrounds Moab, Utah.
Hoping to establish a mission, Mormon pioneers first attempted to settle this area in the 1850s and named it after a Bible kingdom on the edge of the Promised Land. But when the mission went bust, along with agriculture and mining, Moab became a sanctuary of a different sort.
Since the 1980s, this part of Utah's red-rock country has been a mountain-biking mecca for those who want to tread their fat tires over the slickrock terrain. Surrounded by several national and state parks, Moab is also a popular base for rafting, hiking, sightseeing, and other outdoor activities. About 1.5 million people visit annually.
When to Go
The best time to visit Moab is in the spring or fall when temperatures in this high desert area are comfortable and mild.
Salt Lake City International Airport is the closest major airport, about 240 miles (390 kilometers) away from downtown Moab. You can also charter a flight into Moab from Salt Lake City on Salmon Air (1-800-448-3413).
Walker Field, a smaller airport in Grand Junction, Colorado, about 120 miles (190 kilometers) away from Moab, is another option. United Express/Air Wisconsin (800-241-6522), Skywest/Delta Connection (800-453-9417), and America West Express/Mesa Airlines (800-235-9292) all fly into it.
Your first stop in town should be the Moab Information Center, a comprehensive resource for information on lodging, tour operators, activities, restaurants, and more. The gift shop also features a wide selection of guidebooks, maps, and videos. (Main and Center Streets, 435-259-8825 or 800-635-6622)
Where to Stay
Sorrel River Ranch Resort Hotel
Located below dramatic red mesas, this luxury resort has spectacular views of the Colorado River and Arches National Park. A few of the activities available on site include horseback riding, kayaking, and hiking. (Hwy 128, Mile 17, 435-259-4642 or 877-359-2715, $149-$399, Stay@SorrelRiver.com)
This hotel has a pool and hot tub. Pets are allowed, and most rooms have a refrigerator and microwave. (182 S. Main St., 435-259-7141, $49-$139)
Sand Flats Recreation Area
Home of the famous Slickrock Bike Trail, this site has 110 campsites open year round on a first-come, first-served basis. Bring your tent or RV and, more importantly, your own drinking water. (From Moab, go two miles [three kilometers] east on Sand Flats Road, 435-259-2444, $8 per car, per night)
What to Do
Arches National Park
Millions of years of weathering and erosion sculpted more than 2,000 natural rock bridges in this park. Standing 45 feet (14 meters) high and 33 feet (10 meters) wide, Delicate Arch is one of the park's most scenic sites.
Canyonlands National Park
Explore Anasazi ruins, rock art, cliffs, and spires in Utah's largest and least developed national park. To cover more ground in this raw backcountry, take an airplane tour with Slick Rock Air Guides like photographer Cary Wolinsky did for his Moab assignment. A one-hour tour is $99 a person. (www.slickrockairguides.com/flight.html, 435-259-6216 or 866-259-1626, email@example.com)
Dead Horse Point State Park
Take in sweeping panoramas of Canyonlands and the Abajo, Henry, and La Sal mountains from a 2,000-foot-high (600-meter-high) overlook at Dead Horse Point. The park's visitor center also features an exhibit on the region's complex geological history.
Newspaper Rock Recreation Site
American Indian petroglyphs, some 15 centuries old, cover a sandstone wall at this site.
Monitor and Merrimack Trail
A good run for beginner and intermediate bikers, this 13.4-mile (21.5-kilometer) loop, which includes an extension route, will take you past sandstone towers and a hiking trail that leads to a dinosaur fossil bed.
Gemini Bridges Trail
For a moderate ride, check out this trail. It offers 13.5 miles (21.7 kilometers) of long descents and scenic views of natural arches.
Slickrock Bicycle Trail
Experienced riders can take a rollercoaster ride on this 9.6-mile (15.4-kilometer) loop. To get a feel for the slickrock, first try the 2.2-mile (3.5-kilometer) practice loop.
White Rim Road
Only for the hard core, this famous 100-mile (160-kilometer) trail runs through Canyonlands National Park. Several outfitters offer three -to four-day guided tours.
Rent or buy bikes, gear, and clothing. (94 W. 100 North, 435-259-5333, 888-304-8219, firstname.lastname@example.org)
This outfitter offers half-day to multiday guided rides on seven different trails in the Moab area. (1233 S. Hwy, 435-259-5223, 800-626-7335, email@example.com)
Rafting and Kayaking
Another way to enjoy canyon country is on the whitewaters of the Colorado River or on the gentler Green River. Rafting season runs April through September. Most Moab river-trip companies can arrange one- to three-day trips or rentals.
Canyon Voyages Co.
Rent kayaks, canoes, and rafts or take a guided tour. (211 N. Main, 435-259-6007, 800-733-6007, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Join up to five-day river excursions. (378 N. Main St., 435-259-8594, 800-874-4483, email@example.com)
Easter Jeep Safari
Four-wheel enthusiasts roll into town and take to the trails for this event from March 19 to 27, 2005. If you plan to attend, fill out registration forms early. (435-259-7625)
Moab Fat Tire Festival
Mountain bikers ride, party, compete, and give demos at this festival from October 27 to 30, 2005. (435-260-1182)
The Other Half Marathon
Join other runners in a race along the Colorado River on October 23, 2005. (435-259-4525)
Moab Folk Music Festival
Some of the best folk singers from around the country congregate in Moab for a weekend of outdoor and indoor performances from November 4 to 6, 2005. (435-260-2488)
Where to Eat
Buck's Grill House
Dine on buffalo meatloaf, prime rib, blackened catfish filet, and other excellent entrees at this top-quality steak house, known for its warm Western atmosphere. Open for dinner. (1393 N. U.S. 191, 435-259-5201)
Center Café & Market Bistro
Enjoy excellent service and tasty upscale seasonal menus at this Moab favorite. The market also sells cheeses, homemade breads, olives, and gourmet takeout. Open for lunch and dinner. (60 N. 100 W., 435-259-4295)
Get a jumpstart on your day with omelets, waffles, pancakes, and other morning fare. Open 7 a.m. to noon daily. (101 N. Main St., 435-259-3500)
Try organic international cuisine and rich desserts at this truly eclectic café decked out in funky decor. Open 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. from Monday to Friday, and 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. (352 N. Main St., 435-259-6896)
Grab a sandwich, burger, or burrito after hitting the trails. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. (5 N. Main, 435-259-8004)
Fat City Smokehouse
Stop in for Texas-style pit barbecue. Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner. (100 W. Center, 435-259-4302)
Take home a vast array of rocks, minerals, dinosaur bones, and other fossils. (600 N. Main St., 435-259-7312)
Back of Beyond Books
Browse through an impressive collection of books on natural history, science, geology, Western history, and American Indian history. You'll also find first-edition books by Edward Abbey. (83 N. Main St., 435-259-5154 or 800-700-2859)