Moab’s Peaks and Plateaus Part I
Jason and I couldn’t let fall freeze into winter without taking our traditional outing to Moab. However, my semester’s relentless presentations, papers, and team projects were creating quite an impediment so we chose to go to Moab for only two days rather than our customary three. Two days of fun is better than three days of no fun. You can check my math; it adds up.
We decided, reluctantly, not to take our bikes with us because of our shortened stay. Instead, we settled for two day of hiking in two drastically different climates. We visited the towering peaks of the La Sal Mountains and the deep drops of Canyonlands National Park.
Did you know that Utah’s tallest mountains outside the Uintas are not in the Wasatch Range? Don’t lie, you didn’t know that. The La Sal Mountains, barely east of Moab, contain 12 peaks above 12,000 feet, making them Utah’s second-highest range. Not impressed? What’s it with you and your desensitization to massive mounts? Despite our many trips to Moab, we had never been to the La Sals and that just wasn’t right.
At their lower elevations, the La Sal Mountains felt uncannily familiar and foreign all at the same time with sharp hillsides made scruffy by juniper and scrub oak. At their higher altitudes, the vegetation was more of an alpine standard with patches of aspens and bristly conifers.
We picked a perfect time to visit the La Sals… well, it would have been perfect if our eyes were the overlords of our skin. The aspens were remarkable golden, almost fluorescent, but it was a bit chilly, as in 57 to 42 degrees depending on the elevation and sun’s inclinations.
Nippy or not, we hiked three miles out-and-back along the Cirque Lakes Trail (Gold Basin) to a silty puddle our trail guide called a lake. Hence, the best part of this trek wasn’t its terminus but its lofty views of Mt. Tukuhnikivatz, Peale, and Mellenthin.
Although temperatures were dropping into the low 40s as the afternoon waned, we opted to do one more hike, a short jaunt to Moonlight Meadow. Moonlight Meadow is, well, an alpine meadow. Did you see that coming? We took an easy one-mile out-and-back path to this grassy knoll. At 10,000 feet, its famous aspens had dispatched their leaves already amid winter’s incoming bluster but it was still an appealing wander. Isn’t it odd that trees go around naked at the times of the year when they could use their shady wardrobes the most?
Unfortunately, thanks to our frosty climbs, by the time we got back to Moab my body had decided it was done performing the fruitless task of keeping me warm. I was cold all night. I had to wear a t-shirt, thermal top, and hoodie just to keep the goosebumps at bay.
The following day we got goosed in a different kind of way. More on that next week.