Red rock arches toward the deep blue sky of the Utah desert. Fine grains of sand, carried by the wind, collide with the rock to fill the silent landscape with a pulsating hiss.
Around another bend opens yet one more jaw dropping view of surreal lands carved by time and the elements. The scale is hard to grasp, with hundred-foot spires and cliffs in every direction.
The landscape near Moab, Utah, is so profoundly unique it is featured in dozens of motion pictures, so iconic it dominates the Utah license plate and so user friendly that bikers, hikers, campers and motorsports enthusiasts all claim this desolate beauty as a world-class playground.
With two national parks (Arches and Canyonlands) and plenty of room to roam, Moab is a must-see destination for anyone who loves the outdoors. Yet this is a very harsh environment and a place where a little preparation goes a long way. Follow these 11 tips to enjoy a fun and hassle-free trip to an American wonderland!
Water, water isn’t anywhere
Moab is situated in a desert, and accordingly, there is very little water to be had, even at campgrounds. Make sure to bring a large (as in three to five gallon) water container for camping and fill it up before heading off the beaten path. For day hikes, carry at least a couple liters per person for a few hours walking.
Dust IS everywhere
Dust storms plow through the canyon lands near Moab nearly every day. All it takes is a light wind and the fine, grainy sand will be airborne. To cope, be sure to wear sunglasses and button up tents tightly when leaving camp in the morning. Cover pots and pans with lids, close car windows and even consider using a bandana as a filter. But more than anything, expect it and live with it; Moab is a dusty place.
The sun is powerful
Don’t forget the sunscreen, hat and sunglasses. The sun will bake the areas around Moab most days from spring through fall.
Night can be cold
even in the summer, the desert will cool off remarkably at night. Expect cool weather after sunset.
Avoid the crowds
Moab is an amazing place and it draws a crowd. Yet solitude can be found even on busy weekends by getting off the beaten path, walking a couple miles and visiting popular sights at sunrise.
Enjoy Arches at sunrise, sunset and night
Take advantage of the cool air and lack of crowds by visiting Arches National Park just before sunrise or after sunset. The tour busses will be long gone.
Try the winter
Moab gets downright cold in the winter, but the solitude and beauty of the rocky landscape laced with snow is hard to beat. Plan for comfortable days around freezing and bitter cold nights.
Find camping early in the day
Popular Moab campground along the Colorado River fill up early even midweek. Look for campsites before noon, shortly after other campers have vacated for the day.
Have an adventure
Dozens of companies cater to visitors with rafting, biking, climbing, canyoneering, four-wheeling and much more. Take advantage of a guide’s local knowledge and enjoy a new sport or adventure in a breathtaking location.
The desert around Moab is extremely fragile, with topsoil known as a biological soil crust that is actually alive, populated by Cyanobacteria. This crust is easily damaged by footsteps and tire tread, so stay on trails and in dry washes.
Leave no trace
Not only is the soil fragile, but the desert is easily marred by vandalism and litter. Be extra cautious not to damage trees, rock or other natural features and always pack out any garbage.
By Sean McCoy