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The Travel Episodes

MOAB, UTAH: WHERE ADVENTURE BEGINS

Westworld

Ever­y­thing in the small town of Moab evol­ves around outdoor activi­ties. During the high season hund­reds of thousands of visi­tors are pulled in by the spec­ta­cu­lar nature. Dirk Rohr­bach set out to explore.

Hiking, rafting, canyo­nee­ring and, of course, moun­tain biking. With what should I start with, having just five days? So many opti­ons. Moab is a para­dise, whose beauty captures ever­y­body as soon as you pull off Interstate 70 and turn south on High­way 191. Here, nature show­ca­ses the most spec­ta­cu­lar desert land­s­capes ever sculp­ted by a crea­tor. Bright red rock forma­ti­ons, thousands of massive, surreal sandstone arches, deep, cool canyons carved by the emerald green Colo­rado River in milli­ons of years.

I just can’t let go of the camera in my hands! 

This is not my first visit to the area. I’ve been here before, just passing through on my way from Colo­rado to Alaska. It was the end of May, the start of the tourist season, when thousands of visi­tors flock daily into the small town. Arches Natio­nal Park itself, at the gates of Moab, draws more than 1,5 million people annu­ally. Almost ever­y­body comes by car or RV, trying to squeeze through the main street during the day. After only a short night camping along the Colo­rado I fled back then. Now the premi­ses are much more promi­sing. With peak season being over there is still a lot going on, but it feels a little slower paced. Howe­ver, this week could become quite turbu­lent again. The annual Moab Ho-Down is set, a color­ful festi­val all about moun­tain biking. The experts are testing their skills with various races and compe­ti­ti­ons and fans can try out the world-class trails and cele­brate with movies, a commu­nity ride and camp­fires.

 
 

 
 
But first, I want to explore the canyons. Michelle is my guide. «Those walls over there, glea­ming in the sunshine, are called Wall Street. One of the easiest and most acces­si­ble clim­bing areas around here.» She points across the Colo­rado, where the road worms its way between steep rock walls and the river. «We got some petro­glyphs right here to our left.» I can’t really see the pain­tings passing by in the car but will check them out on my way back later. Shortly after, we are pulling into a small parking area. It only took us fifteen minu­tes to get here from down­town Moab.

Adven­ture is within reach ever­y­where.

Ours for now is called Hypa­tia Canyon, a four mile long hike through rocky canyons and over petri­fied sand dunes to three rappels. Michelle has been here many times. «Ever­y­time it’s diffe­rent. New wild­flowers are bloo­m­ing, something’s turning yellow, leaves are falling off. It has just rained, so everything’s gree­ner. Where the sunlight hits the rock chan­ges with the season. The tempe­ra­tures change with the season. You notice diffe­rent colors. Do you see that white stripe up on the rock there? That’s a layer of limestone. Normally this used to be a really dry area with those sand dunes ever­y­where. And then there might have been a couple hund­red thousand years where it was much wetter, there’d actually be a lake here. And then all the animals living in the lake died, crea­ting sandstone at the bottom. Every time I’m surpri­sed by some­thing.»

During high season Michelle guides up to ten groups per week into the canyons. «There are defi­ni­tely days when you feel tired. The sand feels a little deeper, the pack feels a little heavier», she jokes. But the people often are super-psyched about being out here, and that is conta­gious.

 
 

After one and a half hours we are approa­ching our first rappel. The trail until there has been steep, rather clim­bing over rocks than walking on a trail. But now we have reached a high plateau, where the view takes my breath away, even without the physi­cal exer­cise. The sun beams from the deep blue, cloud­less sky onto the red rock fins, that are reaching all the way to the hori­zon in gentle verves. In all direc­tions narrow canyons are tren­ching the rock. Colo­rado moun­ta­ins are shim­me­ring from a distance. We deeply brea­the in the clear dry air, pausing for a moment. Speech­less.

«This is a 130 feet drop down there», Michelle breaks the silence. A few wind-beaten juni­pers are lining the rock edge, where we want to rappel from in just a few minu­tes. Exactly across, the giant Teard­rop Arch swings across the canyon. We can hardly see the shady bottom, where we intend to land on. While Michelle starts prepa­ring the ropes, I take off my back­pack she gave me, scrat­ched from many tight canyon walls. I put on the helmet and clim­bing harness and slip into the working gloves from the hard­ware store. They will protect the hands from heat caused by fric­tion of the lines while rappe­ling. Michelle anchors the lines at one of the juni­pers. «I would guess it’s a couple of hund­red years old. Maybe you think it’s not that big, but the root struc­ture is twice as big as what we see here. There are roots growing into all the little crev­as­ses around us. This guy is not going anywhere», she tries to calm me down after the rope is connec­ted to my harness and I slowly start to shift my weight back­ward, my heart poun­ding. In small steps I now start to walk towards the rock edge, noti­cing how all the muscles seem to harden. Weird feeling. And a plea of the basic instinct that I trust­fully hand over to Michelle as she secu­res me while I tumble into the unknown. 

I risk glancing down into the deep, unvei­ling like a scary black throat below me. 

Now, I become even tigh­ter and refo­cus on the rope in front of me. Keep it tight, release it, step by step. The closer I get to the bottom, the more my tight­ness vanis­hes. I finally reach the bottom. Made it! The adre­na­line still pumping through my veins. I can feel the rush as I look around, watching the play between light and shade in the canyon, obser­ving how the sunrays first graze the arch and then touch the fine, red sand next to me. Let’s do it again! Right away!

«I like the idea that it’s got all these twists and turns, obsta­cles up and down, you never know what’s around the corner», Michelle raves about canyo­nee­ring after rappel­ling down to me. Next, we slide across the rock into a small, waist-deep pool of ice cold, muddy water. Then the canyon widens, the leaves of cotton­wood trees rattle in the breeze as the sun dries us while we conti­nue hiking. 

 
 
 
 
In the next hour we will crawl over a wedged trunk through a small gorge, plunge into anot­her pool and rappel two more times, the last one being a stun­ning 100 feet drop, levi­ta­ting. Then my first adven­ture in the outdoor para­dise ends. And I alre­ady realize, that it doesn’t take much to hopel­essly fall in love with this place.

«I like the commu­nity here, that always supports each other. There’s always some­body ready to climb. There are so many things to do here.» Michelle still sounds exci­ted, even after many years living in Moab.

«And then looking at the scenery around you, the colors, red rocks, blue skies, green trees, the snow on the rock. Out here there’s plenty of open space, that’s part of why I moved here. And I like the fact that it’s a small town. It’s cool that people travel a long distance to see what we have to offer.»

 

* * *

BY MOUNTAINBIKE THROUGH THE CANYONLANDS

To The Colorado River

My next adven­ture starts in Canyon­lands Natio­nal Park.

Deli­cate Arch is probably the most photo­gra­phed rock arch in the world, the super­star among the many natu­ral wonders in Utah. It’s displayed on the most popu­lar license plate of the state and in every tourist brochure. One could not have placed this land­mark at a more spec­ta­cu­lar spot: 60 feet tall, free-standing, on the edge of a natu­ral rock basin. No wonder many visi­tors to Arches Natio­nal Park are craw­ling across the slick rock in one line like ants to have their picture taken directly under­ne­ath, after an hour of hiking. If you’re looking for little fewer crowds, try Canyon­lands Natio­nal Park with only half as many visi­tors per year as Arches. But that’s still roughly 750.000.

 
 

 
 

«I picked this parti­cu­lar tour because there’s a fair amount of down­hill, which means not a lot of peda­ling. And that was very, very attrac­tive!» Bob Mathe­son makes no secret, that he would like to keep the physi­cal chal­lenge limi­ted in order to be able to enjoy the sensa­tio­nal views better. We are six this morning, four moun­tain bike novices and two guides. One will steer the support vehi­cle, the other will guide us on the bike. A final brief look, first on the map then on the scenery. Amazing! Wish I was a poet, poten­ti­ally finding a few more elabo­rate words to describe it in a more eloquent way. One of the most spec­ta­cu­lar and dange­rous roads winds through the canyon directly in front of our eyes: The Shafer Trail.

Just a few days ago it almost became the fate of a trucker trus­ting his GPS more than his common sense. In one of the many switch­backs he maneu­ve­red his eighteen-wheeler nearly into abyss. Hence, we start extre­mely cautious down­hill, trying to control the speed on the rough trail by brea­king inter­mitt­ently. Glenn, who like Bob hails from Canada, does this in such a vigo­rous way, that his disc brakes run hot shortly after and guide Brian needs to extin­guish it with water from his drin­king bottle.

 
 

«I love deserts so I landed in Moab», Brian confes­ses, a gang­ling, always cheer­ful tall man, during the short break. «It’s clean and orderly and so quiet, too.»

«It’s like an open text­book of geology», his colleague Dave adds. «Diffe­rent layers present them­sel­ves quite nicely. We’re looking at 250 million years of depo­sits here.» And they don’t always shine red. Some shim­mer in a dark blue or gree­nish way and belong to the so-called Chinle-layer bearing uranium, that was exploi­ted on a very large scale prima­rily in the 1940s and 50s. «That’s where we find the dino­saur fossils, as well», Brian reveals when we resume riding. We briefly stop at a petri­fied femur along the road and then roll down on a strai­ght that leads directly into the hori­zon. After a 1200 feet drop we now need to get out of the saddle for the first time. Our first ascent follows the Colo­rado River mean­de­ring through the canyon 400 feet below us. On the left the mesa-plateau of Dead­horse Point State Park thro­nes, offe­ring the best view of the180-oxbow which the river is conduc­ting here.

In 1990 Ridley Scott was shoo­ting the last scene of one of the most success­ful road movies of all time right there. Susan Saran­don and Geena Davis played the best friends Thelma and Louise, who were chased by the police and stee­red their Ford Thun­der­bird over the cliffs.

We are having lunch where the two were racing into death at the end of the movie.

 
 

«It’s gonna be what we call a Rim-Tours-Deli-Sandwich!», Dave explains. After unfol­ding chairs to relax he is prepa­ring a little feast and arran­ges a small buffet on a camping table. «We have some really good tater chips, fruit, cookies, all that good stuff.» Dave came to the area in the 80s for moun­tain biking. When he was offe­red a job in a local bike shop, he didn’t hesi­tate and left his home, Ancho­rage, Alaska, to move to Moab. «I can ride my bike for a much longer period of time on world-class trails, that’s why I stick around.» Bob and Glenn arrive, visi­bly exhausted from the last ascent to ‘Thelma & Louise Point’.

The list of movies filmed in and around Moab is long, going back all the way to the 50s, when John Ford was shoo­ting his legen­dary westerns here star­ring John Wayne. Later TV produc­tions follo­wed, like the series ‘West­world’ and block­bus­ters like ‘Indiana Jones’, ‘Mission Impos­si­ble’ and ‘Star Trek’, but also flops like ‘After Earth’ with Will Smith and ‘The Lone Ranger’ featuring Johnny Depp. Brian spot­ted both of them during the filming from a distance. «Michael Schu­ma­cher used to come to town to ride the Slick Rock Trail back twice a day before his acci­dent. He was easy to spot, he had the Colnago-Ferrari moun­tain bike back when carbon was ooh-lala», he remem­bers.

After lunch our two guides switch roles. Brian hops in the vehi­cle, Dave joins us on his bike. The trail now chan­ges its profile, no more long descents; it goes up and down, not in an exhaus­ting way but noti­ce­ably. Bob and Glenn fall back while Dave and I ride next to each other talking about life in Moab. It is ‚super­fan­tastic’, Dave claims, but it also has its chal­len­ges. «Seems like ever­y­body I know has two or three jobs. Housing and stuff can be chal­len­ging, but almost every night you get a killer sunset!»

Moab shares the fate of many natu­ral para­di­ses. Ever­y­body wants to live where it’s beau­ti­ful, inclu­ding the super­rich, and even if it’s only for a weekend or a short vaca­tion. They can afford a luxu­rious home, that remains empty most of the year, and boost the property prices. Seaso­nal workers with their income from salary and tips can’t keep up. But that deters nobody.

« I get to ride my bike every day, it’s a healthy life­style, out in the sun. Awesome!» 

 
 

 
 
«We’re heading towards the potash mine area», Dave points out. «You should be able to see their evapo­ra­tion ponds right over the hill here.» The mine is one of two remai­ning in the US exploi­ting potash to produce ferti­li­zer. «It was esta­blished in 1965 and employs about 200 folks, defi­ni­tely making its mark on the economy.» Before tourism star­ted to boom in the 90s, mining was the most important indus­try in the region. We follow the tall mesh wire fence sepa­ra­ting the mine area from the trail, climb a few hund­red feet for the last time and then gently roll over rough gravel down to the Colo­rado River. There our little moun­tain bike-adventure ends, after about 20 miles total. «I am a little bit tired but very happy»! Bob rejoices upon arri­val, right after putting his feet in the cool Colo­rado River water. And Dave adds:

«Anot­her great day at the office, can’t wait to do it again! I love my job!»

* * *

THE MOAB HO-DOWN

Party, Race, Filmfestival

Even though Cali­for­nia is viewed gene­rally as the birth­place of moun­tain biking, the pros found their Eldo­rado in Utah.

Porcu­pine Rim, Captain Ahab, Dino-Flow or The Whole Enchil­ada are names of legen­dary trails in and around Moab. There are more than 100 total and growing because the trail system is constantly being expan­ded. At the end of Octo­ber, the moun­tain bike scene gathers here for the annual Ho-Down, a bike and film-festival with various races, jump contests, movie nights and costume parties. «Now we star­ted focu­sing on having it be a fund­rai­ser for our local bike park.», says Tracy Bent­ley, who crea­ted the festi­val in 2006.

Tracy origi­nally came to Moab from Missouri in the late 90s and runs the Chile Pepper Bike Shop, one of the largest in town. «The park has begin­ner to expert-level jump lines, there’s a skills area and a pump track», she explains, the reve­nue from the Festi­val is used for main­ten­ance and to finally build a bathroom faci­lity. «We’ve also given some of the money we’ve raised to the BLM, the Bureau of Land Manage­ment, to do some trail survey and for new trail deve­lop­ment.»

 
 

 
 

A commu­nity ride across town kicks off the festi­val, with several dozens of riders, many of them disgui­sed and alre­ady tipsy. «Moab has become a pretty artsy commu­nity», Matt Hebberds thinks, one of the riders. Matt is an icon, a member of the Moun­tain­bike Hall of Fame, who moved to Moab from Cali­for­nia in 1990 and owns a company offe­ring tours.
«When I moved here, there was like four bikers. And since that time it has just expan­ded with bicy­c­lists, activists, artists. It has defi­ni­tely become a really cool commu­nity.» And most ever­y­body in the indus­try doesn’t look at the others as compe­ti­tors but as part of the commu­nity connec­ted through the love for biking and the outdoors. That is espe­ci­ally true for the parti­ci­pants of the races over the weekend.
I borro­wed a bike from Tracy, the race track is only acces­si­ble by foot or bike. It is Satur­day morning, perfect condi­ti­ons, plea­s­antly cool, the sun shining proudly from the fami­liar steel-blue sky. And I fail right away.

The trail is too chal­len­ging, my skills as a moun­tain bike novice too botched. 

 
 

 
 
To prevent a fatal crash I dismount and proceed by foot pushing the bike. After a steep half-hour uphill I reach the finish area for the first stage of the race. Almost every minute a rider cros­ses the blue ribbon on the trail, that marks the time measu­rement. «It’s my first race ever!», confes­ses Dustin from Denver, who has just arri­ved. «It was fun. It’s a fast tech­ni­cal, so as long as you keep your weight back, you’re usually pretty good.»

I alre­ady get dizzy just watching. Around 60 riders have joined the race this year, Andrew and Brody being most likely the youn­gest. They are twelve and eleven years old, both from Aspen, in Colo­rado as well. «It was an awesome course. I cras­hed and hurt myself on the chin. And I bent my bars down a little. But I like the exhil­ara­tion!», Andrew beams. «I kinda got lost and couldn’t find the trail. But it was good», Brody adds. They star­ted moun­tain biking at the early age of three and want to become pros, of course.

«Moun­tain biking brings me closer to God. Being able to ride is a good way to commu­ni­cate with him. And spen­ding time in God’s crea­tion is just amazing!»

Joshua Barnes, 26, from Grand Junc­tion, Colo­rado, wants to become a pilot. The races provide a good excuse to run as fast as he can, he says. Now Kris­tin cros­ses the finish line, comple­tely out of breath. Years ago, she came as a tourist from Florida to town but now lives in Moab and works for one of the outfit­ters and in a restau­rant. «It was the people, the beauty, the endless recrea­tion. I’ve been to a lot of places and keep looking for the next place to move. But there is no better place than this one. Don’t be telling too many people!» she jokes, adding, ever­y­body is happy here, because they’re getting to do what they want all the time.

In fact, over the past days I actually have only met people appearing extre­mely rela­xed and content. Maybe that’s the magic of Moab, irre­sis­ti­ble like the beauty of nature and the urge to constantly wanting to be outside to not miss anything. What the heck! I just need to come back to Moab for more of the nume­rous possi­ble adven­tures here. 

 

* * *

Recommendation & Info

Getting there: You could start the jour­ney in Salt Lake City or Denver, catch a small plane to Moab or take a rental car. 

Reise­ver­an­stal­ter: CRD in Germany offers bike trips to Moab and the area. 

Best travel time: spring, fall and winter.

Tip: The Natio­nal Parks in Utah are open in winter as well. During that season there’s only a few visi­tors and you can have the spec­ta­cu­lar land­s­capes almost all to yours­elf.

Helpful links: 

Moab’s Website
Utah’s Website
Utah on Face­book
Down­load Moab’s free travel guide

Canyoneering- / Hiking- / Climbing-Tours: 
Moab Cliffs and Canyons
253 North Main Street
Moab, Utah 84532
cliffsandcanyons.com

Moun­tain Bikes / Road Bikes / Premium Bikes / Hybrid Bikes for rent: 
Chile Pepper Bikes
702 S Main St #2
Moab, UT 84532, USA
chilebikes.com

Guided Moun­tain Bike Tours: 
Rim Tours
702 South Main Street
Moab, Utah 84532
rimtours.com

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An Episode by

Highway Junkie

Dirk Rohrbach

Dirk Rohr­bach is a travel­ler, photo­gra­pher, jour­na­list and doctor. His live travel repor­tage is award-winning, and he also blogs stories of his expe­ri­en­ces around the world, writes books and campai­gns to preserve the languages of indi­ge­nous Ameri­can peop­les. Over the last 25 years he has travel­led inten­si­vely in North America, and is curr­ently navi­ga­ting the Yukon in a canoe. Dirk shut­tles between America and Europe, without resi­ding perman­ently in either.

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  • Gerlinde Schrock on 26. März 2018

    Dieser Bericht ist so geschrie­ben, da bekommt mann sofort lust seine Sachen zupa­cken .Ein Traum die Natur.:-)

    Reply
  • Marcel on 1. April 2018

    schö­ner Bericht. gut geschrie­ben. Weckt gleich das Fern­weh :)
    Gruß Marcel
    http://www.mein-Mallorca.org

    Reply
  • Bodhi Wilczek on 3. April 2018

    hervor­ra­gend und span­nend kommen­tiert

    Reply
  • Stefan on 16. Mai 2018

    Ein wirk­lich toller Bericht! Wir waren letz­ten Sommer in dieser Gegend und abso­lut begeis­tert! Auf unse­rer Reise von Alaska nach Chile war die Gegend um Moab ein abso­lu­tes High­light!

    Herz­li­che Grüsse aus Mexiko

    Reply
  • Walter on 27. Januar 2020

    Zoom­ing down a moun­tain on a bike defi­ni­tely isn’t for me, but I like looking at photos of it! Nice work!

    Reply
  • Samir Sarkar on 10. April 2020

    Nice Post, thanks for posting, Very infor­ma­tive post about Arches Natio­nal Park, Moab. Very nice photo­gra­phy, your post is full of adven­ture, Keep Posting, I will defi­ni­tely wait for your next Blog.

    Reply
  • hossam on 10. April 2020

    epic post thanks for sharing

    Reply
  • James Davies on 28. April 2020

    Great arti­cle!

    Reply
  • Mo Othman on 4. Juli 2020

    Very pretty post. Stun­ning photos. Great tips. I don’t what also to say. Amazing

    Reply
  • Bhavya on 4. Juli 2020

    this is such a fun post, enjoyed reading your jour­ney

    Reply
  • Neil Bose on 17. Juli 2020

    Very nice post and some amazing pictures I think you can consi­der to come to India. We have a lot of amazing places here. Sundar­ban Natio­nal Park

    Reply
  • Karen on 20. Juli 2020

    I love this website — such an inte­res­ting and beau­ti­ful arti­cle. We did a moun­tain biking adven­ture through Moab over ten years ago and it was one of the coolest things we did in this area. Such a unique place in the world and to get away from the tourist track and expe­ri­ence it with active travel is the best way!

    Reply
  • Nil on 26. Juli 2020

    omg! I can’t imagine its real! thanks for nice sharing

    Reply
  • Tim - Expat Services Switzerland on 19. August 2020

    Toller Bericht und traum­hafte Bilder.

    Reply
  • Viajes Elan on 9. September 2020

    Hello,
    Great post, I love nature and enjoy land­s­capes. As for being able to do bicy­cle routes … I have to get in shape, from what I am seeing it is a respect­ful option to travel and live the desti­na­tion you are trave­ling to.
    Thanks for sharing

    Reply
  • Nailambi Gpseh on 14. September 2020

    Thank you so much for such a beau­ti­ful and infor­ma­tive arti­cle. Neora Valley Resort you can find about exotic loca­ti­ons of india here.

    Reply
  • Spencer on 13. Oktober 2020

    I didn’t make it to Moab, but I went to Green River back in 2004. I loved the arid scenery there. I also saw one of the best sunri­ses I ever saw back then. It was awesome.

    Reply
  • Jesus on 16. Oktober 2020

    Outstan­ding arti­cle, really inspi­ring! I loved the pictures! We hope start travel­ling „normally“ as soon as possi­ble, we need it! Have a great day! =)

    Reply

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Antarctica