Today I’ll continue from Day 5 of my awesome road trip around Utah and Arizona…
Day 5 – Bluff to Moab
The drive from Bluff is similar to the other drives you would’ve experienced so far. Pretty darn awesome. Your drive starts at the San Juan river which cuts through the red rock monuments that have become so familiar.
From here you should head to the Needles District on the southern point of the Canyonlands National Park. The Canyonlands, incidentally, is Utah’s least visited national park. But don’t let that detract from what is a truly fabulous national park. What strikes me is the variety of the landscape. You’ll find all kinds of interesting rock formations, some sharp and jutting, others are more rounded, almost mushroom-like. But it’s not just nature’s influence that makes this park interesting. Hike around the Cave Spring trail and you’ll find an abandoned cowboy camp as well as spooky, painted handprints left by Native Americans. They are more than a little haunting. And if you head there in early March, like I did, you’ll find the park practically empty – no where else will you find such solitude in such a spectacular setting.
Of course, the real star of the show are the Needles: rock spires that, from many points in the park, you’ll find dominate the distance. To get close up to the needles you’ll need to head along the 11-mile Chesler Park Loop.
From the Needles District head back out on to highway 191, driving north towards Moab. Moab is in a truly spectacular setting, not least because overlooking the town is the Arches National Park. If you happened to skip a few of the hikes you might have time to check out one of the many outdoor activities that Moab has to offer. In town you’ll the opportunity to go mountain biking, white-water rafting, hiking, rock climbing, canyoneering or horseback riding. Phew!
Day 6 – Moab to Capitol Reef National Park/Torrey
Today will be an absolutely incredible day because you’ll be touring the Arches National Park. As I’ve said so many times before in this series, you’ll be constantly challenging yourself on what park is the most spectacular and the Arches is definitely a park that throws it’s weight in this debate.
The park is very accessible by car and driving is the best option to navigate your way round. Again the landscape is largely characterised by the bright reddish/orange sandstone that rises out of the Utah desert. And, again, there are plenty of unusual rock formations that will keep you snappy-happy. Not least of these is the Balanced Rock, which literally is a 3577-ton boulder resting delicately above a very weak looking pedestal. But the Arches real selling point is, of course, the arches.
The first of these is accessible when taking the turn off just past the Balanced Rock. At the end of this road is a short trail to the North and South Windows – two very impressive and comparatively solid looking arches. There are plenty of arches around the park (unsurprisingly the park has the biggest concentration of arches found anywhere in the world) but the most famous and iconic of them is the Delicate Arch – which, incidentally, you’ll find on the licence plate of every Utah vehicle. Accessing the Delicate Arch is a 3-mile hike (round trip) and when the arch finally reveals itself, it truly is a marvellous sight. Glorious yet delicate, solitary yet dominant, you’ll feel very aware that you’re standing at the feet of a state celebrity. But it is a celebrity that is worthy of it’s status.
There are plenty of other arches to hike to and once you’ve had you’re fill, head west towards Dead Horse Point and the Island in the Sky district of the Canyonlands National Park. Both offer unbelievable views. While the Arches feels accessible and gives you very specific icons to focus on, these two parks are vast and epic, offering views that stretch down canyons for what seems forever. You might be familiar with Dead Horse Point: it provided the setting for the final scene of Thelma and Louise. If you’ve got time, you can hike some of the trails around Island in the Sky, which are generally short.
Otherwise, head off west on highway 50, turning off at 24 towards Torrey. If you’re up for a spot of camping then why not stay on a campsite in the Capitol Reef National Park? Otherwise, Torrey has plenty of accommodation options on offer.