Lee and I had decided to head out for Oregon on Tuesday, and since we wanted to take Monday to button everything up that left us with one more sight seeing day in Utah. It was a little hard to choose what to do with that last day, but ultimately I decided that we needed to see Dead Horse Point State Park. From what we had read and what our friends had told us the views were pretty amazing there, so Sunday morning we headed out. It was another pretty day, and we made the drive towards Canyonlands National Park as Dead Horse Point sits on it’s border. We knew there would be a fee to enter the State Park that our America the Beautiful pass wouldn’t cover, but were a bit surprised that the entrance fee was $15 per car. Despite the fee there was a line when we arrived, and more importantly the visitors center parking lot was completely full. This was a bit of a problem since they didn’t give maps at the entrance booth, so Lee waited in the truck while I ran in, waited in a line of four people, to be given a xerox copy of a map. Ultimately I am not sure we actually needed it, because there are only two places for visitors to park, and the road leads from the visitors center parking lot to the Point parking lot. Thankfully, although the second parking lot was also full, there were numerous picnic table areas close by and we were able to snag a spot there and walk to the scenic viewpoint.
The view was stunning, plus there was a long trail around the rim that we walked part of. Lee really liked walking around near the edge, but for me it lacked the wow factor that we had gotten from our time at Needles Overlook. Add into that the $15 and the crowds, and it was definitely less pleasant for me than other walks we had taken, but it was a pretty view.
We also had a chance to check out the campgrounds, which are $35 a night, but very nice. There was a whole new section that looked brand new, and was big rig friendly, and the sites had water and electric, and there were really good dump stations at each of the two campgrounds. We drove through the two loops, and thought sites 28 and 32 were really good, although you really couldn’t go wrong with any of them. One of the main features of this particular state park are 16 miles of mountain bike trails, which range from beginner to expert, and we saw lots of people out biking that day. Which was part of the problem with limited parking. The bikers parked near the visitor center, and on a Sunday at least it was packed. That being said on our way out we were able to snag a spot and went into the visitors center and took the short hike around the rim to get those views. The best part of that was we finally saw a sign explaining what those large pools of water are and learned they were part of a salt refinery process in Potash.
Since we don’t have bikes and weren’t planning on hiking any trails, it only took a couple of hours to see the park, and feeling vaguely dissatisfied with the experience we decided to head to Potash road. This was another drive that we had read about, and after looking at our maps we realized that Potash Road was also HWY 239 which runs along the Colorado. This drive was really pretty, with steep canyon walls, beautiful views of the Colorado, and again on a Sunday, heavily in use. Turns out there is a section called “Wall Street” which is very popular with local rock climbers and we stopped for a little bit and got some pictures of the folks climbing. I really should stress here that I am amazed by what an outdoor playground Moab is. Because of the terrain and the Colorado river, in the last 7 days we had seen people white water rafting, rock climbing, hiking, biking, ATVing, and off roading. I really can understand the appeal, and the town does a great job of providing infrastructure and support for people in all those pursuits. Pretty impressive really.
There are also lots of tent campgrounds along this road as well as parking and trail heads for the hike to both Corona Arch and Jug Handle Arch which are both on the strenuous side, but the trail heads were seeing lots of use. Corona in particular Lee would like to do on a return visit because that is another one of those iconic arches people photograph all the time. At the end of the paved portion of the road we also saw the Potash Salt refinery which was kind of a cool facility and there was a large ATV trailhead at the end before the road turned to dirt.
We stopped at the Day Use area, and Lee walked over to talk to some folks about the road conditions and this is where we got into a little trouble. The people said the road was in fine shape for a 4×2 so we decided to continue down the road and see what we saw. It was beautiful, although steep, but I did enjoy it until we hit a sign that said Shafer Trail and the road really went to hell. At that point I asked Lee to stop and turn around, because we just didn’t know what we were getting into and we drove back out to look for HWY 145 which goes on the other side of the river.
Initially we had a really hard time finding 279 which ultimately it turns out is called Kane Creek Blvd in the GPS. Despite the fact that it was literally on the other side of the river, to access the road we had to drive pretty far into Moab and ended up making a right at the McDonald’s. This road was much rougher, and more importantly, narrower, and we saw lots of ATV’s on trailers heading out. We also saw a group of homes built into the cliffs and caves on the left side as we traveled down the road, which was pretty interesting, and made me think that at some point this was unclaimed land and people had homesteaded it.
Ultimately the road turned to gravel, but since we were seeing lots of small vehicles we kept going, despite the very steep drop-offs. I have definitely learned on this trip that I am not a fan of narrow gravel roads with steep drop-offs, and this one was really freaking me out. Finally Lee found a small parking area he could turn around in and my nerves at that point were pretty frazzled so we headed back. As we were headed down we came face to face with a Class C, who despite the multiple warning signs against it was going up the road. Lee stopped and talked to the guy who said he was following a friend and never been on the road and Lee told him, he personally wouldn’t take the rig past the big parking lot that was coming up. The guy thanked us and we kept driving down and I breathed a sigh of relief when we made it back on pavement.
So now we were both vaguely disgruntled and Lee really didn’t want to end Utah on such a low note. The problem with having such an amazing time in a place is that not every experience can be extraordinary, and you want to end on a high note. We both knew that wasn’t really realistic and trying to push it had got us into the last two drives, but Lee gave it one more shot and we stopped at the Moonflower Canyon trailhead. We had no idea what we were getting into, except there was a reflecting pool at the end, but we started walking and since we could see the canyon end knew it shouldn’t take that long. Once again the trail wasn’t very clear, but we met a family with young kids along the way and they pointed us in the right direction. It turned out that this little canyon was truly an oasis in the middle of the desert. There were really large trees back in there and it was shockingly green after so much desert, and before long we made it to the reflecting pool.
Afterwards, we decided to treat ourselves to Chinese food, but the place I wanted to go appeared to be out of business and the sit down restaurant in town was crazy expensive. Ultimately we decided to try a Thai Restaurant which was half full at 5pm and although the food was good, it was pretty noisy in there.
After having dinner, I am sad to say that I am not a huge fan of the town of Moab itself. I’ve gone to both grocery stores, gotten a haircut, ate in restaurants, and met some people that grew up there. It’s definitely a resort town, and although I appreciate supporting local businesses, needing to travel 1-1/2 hours to get to a large “chain” grocery store is a bit much. The prices in town are inflated, of course, and it is definitely geared towards the tourist more than the regular people. All that being said, the real problem is the way the town is laid out. It is two sides of a main street and the businesses are pretty packed together and it is definitely not big truck friendly. I overheard a guy who was living in the area talk about “coming to town” and he said he avoided it as long as possible and when he did, he ran all his errands on one side of the street and then went back and did the other side and then got out as fast as he could. I can definitely see that. It’s a shame, because when we first arrived I was thinking, oooh, this could be our ultimate place, but I definitely think it falls in the great place to visit wouldn’t necessarily want to live there category. I did love, love the outside of town though. My advice would be to completely stock up on everything you need prior to rolling in, so you only needed to go into town if you wanted to, not because you have to.
Although we ended up on a bit of a down note, we have absolutely loved our time in Utah and are particularly excited because there is so much left that we haven’t done. Since this is between Oregon and Texas and the weather is really nice in October and April, we definitely will be coming back and spending more time here. I really thought that our time in Alaska had ruined us to some extent for anything we would see in the lower 48, but Utah, in a completely different way, contains the same vastness, wildness, and beauty that we loved about Alaska, without the need to drive 4,000 miles to get here. Seriously, if you haven’t been you really should come. Everyone should experience this place at least once in their life. But either bring a 4×4 or be prepared to rent one!
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