I had seen on Instagram so many pictures of southern Utah and absolutely fell in love with how beautiful it seemed. I realized there are quite a few national parks all within a few hours’ drive of each other and decided I HAD to figure out how to get down there and explore. Once my mind gets fixed on something, it doesn’t really want to let go.
After months of thinking about it and realizing how far the drive is (16 hours from my house in good conditions), I discovered an opportunity. I had three days available to make the drive down and back in April of last year. My plan was to bring my dogs and find somewhere just to sleep in my car for the two nights I would be on the road. I had no idea what I would wind up doing or where I would go exactly, but I was determined to go.
I decided I’d drive to Salt Lake City and spend the night at a rest stop there, then head down the Moab the next morning, giving me most of the day to figure out where I would set up camp (aka park my car) and explore the area. Before starting my trip I was fortunate enough to meet a woman through a group on Facebook who was going to be in the Moab area at the same time I was. She mentioned her family had a campsite booked and an extra tent pad for me to use since they were bringing a trailer. I jumped at the offer – I’d rather sleep in my tent than the back of my car in a random parking lot.
I packed my dogs, my tent, pet and human supplies, etc. and hit the road. The drive to Salt Lake City went smoothly. I met an old friend from high school for a beer and some dinner then crashed in the back of my car at a rest stop on the freeway. The next morning I woke up early to head to Moab, filled to the brim with excitement. The campground I was kindly invited to was located just outside the town, in between both Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Dead Horse Point State Park is where I would lay my head. Not exactly a welcoming name, but free is free.
I drove to the site but the people I was staying with were off mountain biking so I set up camp and wandered around. I could not believe the absolute beauty of the area. The view from my tent was stunning. The orange rock was such a contrast to what I’m used to in the northwest. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. The campground was along the edge of a canyon with a trail along side it so I took my dogs for a walk, waiting for my hosts to arrive.
When I finally got to meet this amazing family (who must all be as crazy as me if they invited a total stranger to stay with them) I felt so at home. Their daughter even commented that it seemed like we already knew each other. And thankfully they’re dog lovers and were so happy to meet my two dogs. After a bit of conversation we took off in their truck to go explore Dead Horse Point State Park.
I couldn’t believe the amazing view of the canyons carved out by the Colorado River. But the story of why it’s called “Dead Horse” is a very sad one. I was told that the point we were standing on was the reason the park got it’s name. It is very high up and getting up to it you are surrounded by very, very deep canyons on both sides. In fact, near the top it gets so narrow I don’t know if two cars could drive side by side. After that it widens a bit and at the top it provides a spectacular view for miles and miles. Cowboys used to herd wild horses up to this point. They would block off the only escape and then select the horses they wanted to keep. After bringing down their new possessions they would block the others up there to die. The “undesirable” horses had a choice – they could either stay on the point and die of dehydration or they could jump off and fall to their deaths. Such a sad story at such a beautiful place.
After getting simultaneously depressed and stunned by such a sad story and beautiful view, we headed over to Canyonland National Park. Our first stop was Upheaval Dome. There is a crater in the ground with a weird, greenish dome bulging out of it. Scientists have different theories about what is causing this to happen, but whatever it is, it was so neat to see.
We spent a good part of the afternoon exploring then went back to camp. After so much activity I decided to go into Moab and get dinner, allowing them some alone time. They offered to keep my dogs with them in their trailer so that I didn’t have to leave them in the car. Downtown Moab is about a half an hour drive from the campsite and on the way is the entrance to Arches National Park. I was excited to go by and see it, and hoping that maybe I could pop in and check it out before it got dark. But as I drove by I saw an incredible line to get in to the park. Hours long, at least. Hundreds of cars backed up at the gate waiting to enter. In my mind I thought I’d never get into Arches with a wait like that. Then I got a bit depressed that I had driven all this way and wouldn’t be able to see the place I was most anticipating. Nevertheless, I had dinner at some little restaurant in town (after maneuvering crazy tourist town traffic), and then went back to the campground.
Upon my return, I mentioned to the family what I had seen. They told me an insider secret: the gates are only manned at certain hours, so if you get up early enough you can get in without a wait. I was so relieved! I knew immediately that I should head off to bed and get up early to make it into Arches before starting my long journey home the next day.
I awoke, got dressed, and headed off to Arches very early the next morning. I was immediately glad that I did. On the drive to the park I witnessed an amazing sunrise – one that everyone should witness. In fact, I told my dad (who’s a pastor) that if you want someone to believe in God you should have them drive through southern Utah at sunrise. The picture above doesn’t do anywhere near justice to that spectacular morning.
When I got to the entrance of Arches National Park I was able to drive right in. The gates weren’t manned and there were very few cars heading it. I was so excited! I remember passing through the gate, and then winding up and up and up the edge of a canyon until finally I was at the top. Everywhere I turned were spectacular view, rock sculpted by wind and time into amazing shapes that didn’t seem possible. I meandered through the park knowing the only specific stop I wanted to make was at Delicate Arch – you know the one. It’s THE ONE. And I didn’t have much time because I wanted to at least make it to Boise that same day. But I couldn’t help but stop and take pictures at every turn. All of it took my breath away.
There are two trails for Delicate Arch – one is a short hike (maybe a half mile out and back) to a viewpoint, and the other is a few miles round trip to the actual arch. I thought the viewpoint would be good enough since I was in a hurry. I was very wrong. Don’t bother with the viewpoint. It is so far away from the arch that people look smaller than ants. It is not worth it. Do the longer hike and see the arch up close. Delicate Arch is HUGE.
After Delicate Arch I headed down to the now-manned gates. I stopped in the visitor’s center and bought my park pass, which I didn’t have in advance and wasn’t able to purchase when I drove in. I went back to camp, packed up, said goodbye to my new friends, and began the 16 hour journey home. I was so sad to leave and still wish I had more time down there. I think about Moab almost every day. That place is very special.