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VOL. 131 | NO. 175 | Thursday, September 1, 2016


Lance Wiedower

Hiking Red Rock Beauty of Utah


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Crossing into Utah from Colorado doesn’t present a sudden change in terrain.

Southwest Colorado already is in transition from the beautiful Rocky Mountains down to the desert climate of the Southwest. But what it does present is massive wide-open spaces and hints of the red rock landscape of the region, highlighted by Canyonlands and Arches national parks.

The town of Moab sits at the entrance to Arches, and just about a 30-minute drive east of Canyonlands. It’s a good base for visitors to these two parks, but the town of 5,000 has its own charm with a main street filled with shops, restaurants and lodging options.

Before arriving in Moab we stopped in Canyonlands, which is best described as a wilderness of rock. This vast park in the heart of the Colorado Plateau features hundreds of canyons, mesas, buttes, arches and spires carved by the Green and Colorado rivers.

Canyonlands is divided into three districts – Island in the Sky, The Maze and The Needles. It’s not possible to visit all three unless it’s spread over several days; access to the districts are separated by many miles.

Like its name implies, Island in the Sky is a broad mesa between the two rivers that contains views for a hundred miles over the vast canyons and a few moderate hikes to get closer to the vistas.

We didn’t see any of the bighorn sheep that roam this more than 500-square-mile park. But we did hike to our first arch, one of many that populate this corner of Utah.

Speaking of arches, the next day started early with a hike to Delicate Arch, the symbol of Utah and one of the great experiences at Arches National Park.

Late July proved too hot to spend much time in the afternoon exploring Arches, so we started at sunrise and made our way straight to Wolfe Ranch and the start of the 3-mile roundtrip hike to beautiful Delicate Arch.

That hike would’ve been enough to gain an appreciation of the majesty of Arches, but we tacked on a 1-mile hike to Windows, half-mile hike to Double Arch and a short quarter-mile hike to Sand Dune Arch.

Several arches can be seen from parking lots and roadways, so hikes aren’t necessary to gain a better appreciation of the creation of this landscape millions of years in the making thanks to every type of erosion and geologic movement.

Eyeing the arches as they spread across the red rock landscape, it’s difficult to imagine these formations forming over time. It seems like they’ve always been there. But this landscape is impermanent; in fact, while it’s rare, arches do collapse. Thinking about that now it might not have been wise to rest on my back under South Windows, gazing up at the arch above.

We could’ve centered a long weekend visit in Moab and spent a couple of days hiking Canyonlands and Arches. But it was time to drive south to Monument Valley and through the Painted Desert to the Grand Canyon.

Lance Wiedower can be reached at tripsbylance.com.

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