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Trip Report Spring trip to Moab

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In April, we -my husband and I who are in our mid/late fifties and enjoy hiking along with a good meal and bottle of wine at the end of the trail- joined my brother-in-law's family in Moab, Utah for my introduction to the canyons.

Day 1 - We flew into Grand Junction, Colorado from San Francisco via Denver and checked into the Hampton Inn in downtown. While it is a short drive to Moab from Grand Junction (1 1/2 hrs) we preferred to stop over so that we could take our time the next day driving through Colorado National Monument on the way to Moab.

The Hampton Inn was fine for our purposes - clean room, friendly staff, well-located. We had dinner at il Bistro Italiano which was okay to good depending on our choices. The shaved fennel salads came undressed, the bison osso bucco on risotto was fantastic and the pizza had lovely, fresh toppings but a lackluster crust. Service was pleasant and there was a nice wine list.

Day 2 - The next morning we skipped the hotel’s continental breakfast for something more substantial at the Main Street Diner . The diner has cute ‘50’s décor, friendly service, good eggs, cold bacon and unappetizing potatoes. After breakfast we hit the grocery store to stock up on breakfast and lunch goodies for the week and turned our car toward Colorado National Monument where we purchased our annual National Parks pass.

We drove the rim road, stopping several times to take in the views, and walked the Coke Oven Trail . It was well worth the short time (approx. 40 minutes including photo stops) and a good chance to stretch our legs before continuing on. Note: the trial head estimate of 30 minutes each way is very conservative.

We continued on to Moab, with the stunning snow-capped LaSal mountains dominating the distant skyline, and stopped briefly at Arches National Park in order to reserve 5 spaces for the Fiery Furnace Trail for later in the week. From the visitor’s center it is a short drive on into Moab where we checked in at the Gonzo Inn .

My BIL and family are mountain bikers who have been going to Moab from Steamboat Springs several times a year for many years. They say the Gonzo is the best place to stay in town and we took their word for it. The staff is very friendly, the rooms immaculate, the pool/spa area pleasant and the continental breakfast far more complete than standard hotel free breakfasts. It has laundry facilities and is also pet friendly. It is worth it to book a suite for the extra room and the ability to fashion dinner on your own. (Try asking for a ground floor suite on the lawn side. They won’t promise it as room assignments are made the night before, but it is worth noting your preference.) Be advised that the kitchenette (fridge, sink, microwave) comes with no supplies. My BIL and family arrive with a complete set of dishes, cookware, knives and a Weber grill (which they have asked permission to use.)

We met up with the family coming from Steamboat and headed out for dinner at Singha Thai Cuisine on Center Street. It was quite good, and one of the few restaurants in Moab which the BIL recommends.

Day 3 – Canyonlands National Park – Island in the Sky - We discovered that this was “Free National Park Week” after having purchased an annual pass. Oh well, the parks need all the financial help they can get.

We decided to hike the Syncline Loop Trail which encircles Upheaval Dome for 8.3 miles. We hiked clockwise up from the parking area and soon had spectacular views which included the Henry mountains in the distance. The trail then zig zags down a rocky face and at the point where the rock cairns became ambiguous 2 NP Rangers caught up with us and assured us that we were on the correct track. The trail then leveled out and followed a stream bed for quite some time. It was then time to head back up and this is where the trail became difficult for me. The “primitive” section of this trail had a few spots of boulder scrambling that were hard for me and took much encouragement from my husband. It’s not that I am afraid of heights. I am afraid of falling! Once through the bouldering section there is another steep section but it was up a fairly smooth rock face and presented no problem for me. One needs to be in fairly reasonable physical shape and not be afraid of boulder scrambling to thoroughly enjoy this trail. Aside from the rangers, we encountered fewer than 10 people – most of whom passed us by as I was being coaxed up and down the boulders.

Back to the Gonzo Inn for a soak in the spa and a great dinner from my BIL’s grill.

Day 4 – Hidden Valley Trail to the Moab Rim Trail - These trails are not in the parks, but maps can be found both at the Arches Visitors’ Center and the Visitors’ Center in Moab. It works best if you can set up a car shuttle so that this can be walked as a through-hike. The hike begins with a steep section of switch-backs which took us about 25 minutes. It then evens out to a nice level walk between two rock rims before joining a 4-wheel drive track. It ends with the Colorado river in view as you descend a slick rock face for about 2 miles. The entire walk is approx. 7 miles and easily done. We had a child and a dog with us on this track and all were happy.

Back to the Gonzo Inn for a soak in the spa and another great dinner from my BIL’s grill.

Day 5 – Arches N.P – Devil’s Garden We walked the entire loop of this trail, which includes a “primitive” section. If I were to do it again, I would not include the primitive section. There was one extremely exposed section where we had to descend a rock fin and leap to another. Again, my husband had to do a lot of coaxing and afterward told me that he wondered if a portion of the trail had been rerouted as it was an abnormal amount of exposure.

This trail takes in Landscape Arch, Double “O”and many others, all worth the little side trips to see. Take the spur out to Dark Angel, not for the site itself, but for the view on the way back to Double “O”. From there you can double back to the trail head rather than continuing the loop on the primitive trail.

Back to the Gonzo Inn for a soak in the spa and dinner out at Miguel’s Baja Grill. The lamb tacos, carnitas tacos, lamb m.o.a.b. (mother of all burritos) were all tasty. The steak fajitas rated an “ok.” We tend not to eat fish in the desert, but fish tacos were on the menu as well.

Day 6 – Arches N.P. – Fiery Furnace Trail and Delicate Arch The Fiery Furnace requires a ranger led tour or a day use permit. There are 2 tours a day and it is worth the $10 tour to see this incredible pocket of Arches N.P. It turns out that the Fiery Furnace is a bit cooler than the rest of the park as the rock fins are so close together. There were points when we were stopped that we had to pull on our jackets. While the tour time is 3 hours, you are walking nowhere near that amount of time. There are many stops along the way for ranger talks. It is not a difficult walk, but you need to be reasonably fit in order to have the strength to boost yourself up in places. I thought this walk was a piece of cake, and I have already proved myself a timid hiker. I was apprehensive when I learned that we would need to chimney, but it was a sideways, not vertical, chimney and it was only about 15 feet. It was frustrating to be in such a large group (25) and now that he has been guided twice, my BIL and family feel comfortable getting a permit and going it alone the next time. It is a truly magical spot. Go if you can get a spot on the tour.

The trail to Delicate Arch is mostly uphill - the bulk of it on smooth rock - but it is not long and the rewards are many. I had no idea from the pictures of the arch that it was atop an enormous smooth bowl of stone. Again, go if you can.

We finished the day at Double Arch which is just off the parking area. I was babying new blisters and just couldn’t force myself to do the easy walks to Window Arch.

(Note: I have never had blisters, but was fitted with wider boots this time around. My foot slid forward too much on steep downhill sections of trail, causing the blisters. So… if you are fitted with wide boots, make extra certain that your heel is snug enough in the boot as well. I spent the rest of the week using “New Skin” on the blisters and lamb’s wool padding in the toes of my boots.)

Back to the Gonzo Inn for a soak in the spa and yet another gourmet dinner from my BIL’s grill.

Day 7 – Canyonlands N.P.We woke to a prediction of 70% chance of thunderstorms so we switched our plan of driving to the Needles section and stayed local by going back to the Island in the Sky. We began by driving out to the Grand View Point Overlook. It was very windy and cold, but a ranger was setting up to give a talk so we figured we should stick around to learn something. By the time she was finished the sun had taken some of the chill out of the wind and we enjoyed the 1 mile Rim Walk before heading to Murphy Point. By this time, around noon, the wind had picked up to the point that visibility across the canyons was severely limited, wind gusts blew sand so hard that we joked about getting free dermabrasion, and we could see rain circles all around except directly overhead. Even under these conditions, we enjoyed the walk, the wildflowers, and the soft, level trail.

Back to the Gonzo Inn where we had to bring the dining table back inside for the first time all week. Our turn to make dinner.

Day 8 – Canyonlands N.P. – Needles – the Confluence TrailThis ranks as one of my favorite day hikes of all time. The terrain was varied, the wild flowers were lovely, at times we were up high with views in all directions, and at other times we were dwarfed by the rock formations above us. The turnaround point is 1,000 feet above the confluence of the Colorado and Green Rivers. Due to the color differences in the rivers you can see them merge – stunning! It’s too bad that this 11 mile trail is an in-and –out, rather than a loop. If you have the time, I recommend this walk.

We stopped briefly at Newspaper Rock on the way out of the park. This can be quite a quick stop and is worth the few minutes.

Back to the Gonzo Inn where we had to eat dinner at Eddie McStiff’s so my nephew could see a family friend who is a waiter there. Stick to the salads and burger.

Day 9 – homeward bound - We had breakfast at the Love Muffin Cafe to fortify us for the day of sitting in the car and on airplanes. Well worth the calories. Other dining notes: Milt’s Stop and Eat an old time hamburger stand with great malts. We missed it this trip due to our long hikes, but the mountain bikers in our group said it was as good as ever.

We drove the back way out to I-70 along the river on scenic Byway 128, making note of trailheads we want to hit next time. We were in Grand Junction in under 2 hours, grabbed a quick lunch at Rockslide Brewery before our flight to Denver and then back to San Francisco.

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