Moab is one of my favorite places on planet Earth, well the entire Solar System really. Jason and I just made our biannual trip to its weather-sculpted plateaus and untouched deserts that feel a bit like home to us…a home with an infinite crawl space. We spent three days seeking out adventure in its unexplored routes and novel crevices. Seek and ye shall find fun, or so I hear.
The hype surrounding the White Rim Trail has always made Jason and me curious…and skeptical. This 100-mile-long 4WD road below the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park could possibly be the most popular scenic ride anywhere. Between the 4WDs, dirt bikes and mountain bikes, it apparently becomes a crammed freeway during peak season. Experiencing the marvels of “peaceful solitude” alongside throngs of people? No thanks. That’s why Jason and I thought we’d give this famous path a try while the nature-obsessed hordes were absent thanks to the nearness of winter. We only saw a couple of 4WDs and a handful of bikers our entire day on the rim. Hallelujah for November!
We accessed the White Rim via Mineral Bottom Road, hopping on our bikes right before this path plunges to the actual bottom of Mineral Bottom over a series of gnarly switchbacks. We sped past the remains of four or five cars that had probably dived over the side of this narrow thoroughfare many years ago. Unsettling. Once we finished our descent to the river, our journey became practically effortless. White Rim is neither technically challenging nor physically difficult, apart from the brutal climb necessary to emerge from its bottom. In fact, I would venture that it’s the easiest trail we’ve ever done in Moab.
Was it worthy of all the hype? Not really. Towering plateaus with odd-shaped crowns encircled us and the Green River nonchalantly sprawled out at our feet surrounded by a halo of yellowing leaves but, as ideal as that setting sounds, the scenery was not any prettier than some we’ve witnessed at other less-acclaimed locations. With the seclusion we enjoyed that day, this ride was well worth it but would it be worth it in the presence of an endless caravan of tourists bent on experiencing the “wilderness”? Absolutely not. There are plenty of gorgeous places around Moab where you can enjoy nature’s exquisiteness without nature’s plague, AKA man.
Thanks to the time change, we only had enough daylight to bike a little over 20 miles of the White Rim but, with the 1000-foot ascent out of Mineral Bottom squished into a fraction of a mile, we got a hardy workout anyway.
Our second day in Moab is traditionally our hiking day. We give our sore butts a brief breather and use our feet for something besides pedaling. This time we packed our hiking day with not one but two adventures. First, we hit the infamous Portal Trail. Why is it infamous you ask? For starters, it’s one of the most dangerous trails in the world and has claimed the lives of three bikers. This route is a thousand feet up from the valley floor and right, and I mean right, on the edge of a 200-foot cliff. A three-foot ledge between the precipice above and the precipice below is all you’ve got to travel on and, believe me, it’s not much. It was scary enough just walking it, I can’t imagine the level of derangement necessary to consider biking it. The views of the Colorado River, too far below, were amazing but I found myself hugging the path while those precarious heights made me a little woozy. Beauty and terror: sounds more like your typical dating scene than a leisurely trip down a little portal.
After our 5-mile trek through the Portal of Death, Jason and I went on a different kind of adventure, the secret kind. False Kiva, so named because its origins are unknown, is a round stone structure built in a remote cave in the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park. Don’t bother looking for a trail to it on your park map, you won’t find one. While the 1.6-mile route to the kiva is pretty well-marked, the debate on whether to disclose the exact location of this archeological site has never been resolved and so it remains semi-concealed. We had a great time wandering the hush-hush path to this cave and photographing its cryptic kiva. Nothing makes something more fascinating than a secret.
Our last day in Moab we decided to divert from the beaten path even more than usual and take a little-known 4WD trail up to an obscure viewpoint overlooking the Book Cliffs. The Book Cliffs are the longest continuous escarpment in the world, traveling through a hundred miles of Utah and Colorado. The path we rode to “view” them was a little less than six miles total but it was so swathed in loose stones that it took us three hours to complete this outing. Although the panoramas of the Book Cliffs from the overlook were splendid, we found the unnamed precipices that the overlook itself was located on to be more interesting. We paused for an awesome snack break on their brink above Salt Valley’s beautiful desolation. What a nice, although rocky, little jaunt.
Moab, our favorite nature-made playground, again proved itself superior to any manufactured monkey-bars. We tired ourselves out pedaling its rimmed plateaus, discovered a few of its guarded secrets and witnessed some of its greatest dangers. It’s hard to cram that much intrigue into three days but somehow we managed.