Almost exactly three years ago we rolled in the small town of Moab in search of arches, hikes and jaw dropping views. Over the course of nearly a month we found all that and so much more.
This time around we have three weeks to spend in Moab before we need to think about heading north and east. As of today, we’re only about half way through our stay and we’ve already managed to do a little bit of everything.
There’s been hiking, biking and a thrilling scenic drive. There was a week parked at a noisy, dusty boondocking spot, and then half a week (so far) at a much more private, more scenic, and less dusty boondocking site. There has been several trips to the excellent local grocery store, packages picked up, laundry done, and a delicious lunch at the brewery in town. There was a nice stretch days of warm, sunny weather, and then a not so nice stretch of fierce wind, cold and rain. There was family who came to visit us (and are still here!), new friends who joined us on our “almost-secret” boondocking road, and hope for future meet-ups with other RVers who are in town.
The one thing we haven’t done yet is venture into the main attraction that draws most people to the area — Arches National Park. We’re not purposely avoiding it (well maybe a little…it is free week at the national parks after all), but since we did most of the hikes in the park last time, we decide to hit up some new-to-us trails this time around. Starting with a spectacular hike into a hidden valley.
Hidden Valley Trail
If you only have time to do one hike outside of the national park and want to challenge yourself with a steep grade and some rock scrambling that is rewarded by amazing views and really cool petroglyphs, the Hidden Valley trail is the one to choose. This is one of those trails that starts off strong — really strong. As in you get out of the car and immediately start climbing up a steep section of tight switchbacks filled with large boulders.
Thankfully this section is less than a mile, and once you power through the pain you’ll be rewarded with a long stretch of flat valley bordered by impressive rock cliffs.
At around the two mile point the trail climbs up to a rocky pass. If you turn around here you’ll have a completed a nice 4-mile hike. But you’ll also miss the best part. Instead, follow the trail up the pass and stay right at the fork. Soon you’ll be following a trail alongside a tall cliff. Don’t forget to stop and look back from where you came. What a view!
As you climb over the pass notice the massive sandstone fins that dominate the landscape. These are part of the 12,000 acre Behind-the-Rocks Wilderness study area.
About halfway down the path we started to see panels of petroglyphs — lots and lots of petroglyphs.
See why I said you didn’t want to turn around at the pass? This wasn’t even all the petroglyphs that we saw — just the ones I was able to photograph. After viewing the ancient rock art you can turn around and go back the way you came or continue to follow the trail down to the valley floor and then hook back up with the main path that will take you up and over the pass. Or… you could scoot around the cliff to the right and blaze your own path up through the pass. Guess which one we picked?
It took some scrambling, a bit of bravery, and one quick u-turn, but we made it to the top where we joined back up with the trail.
The rest of the hike was an easy stroll across the valley and back down the steep, rocky section.
I later learned that if we had gone left instead of right at the bottom of the cliff we could have seen some ancient ruins and more petroglyphs. Whoops, I guess that’s a good excuse to do that hike again. If you want clear directions and GPS waypoints for both the hike, the petroglyphs and the ruins, check out this post from Road Trip Ryan.com.
Shafer Canyon Road to Canyonlands
After my mom and step-dad arrived late last week we wanted to take them on a grand adventure over the weekend — except the weather was not cooperating with our plans. High winds, cold temperatures, and lots of clouds kept us inside for a few days. Finally on Sunday we decided a long scenic drive was just the kind of adventure we needed. Shafer Canyon Road here we come.
We took this drive last time, and I swear Tim has been talking about it ever since. With so many crazy 4WD Jeep trails around here, it’s nice to find a 4WD road that we could easily drive with our big truck. In fact, any high clearance vehicle could drive this road.
I didn’t take many pictures of the beginning of the road because I was sitting in the back seat. It’s pretty spectacular though. Lots of red cliffs, spires, and balancing rocks. We stopped at the pull-off near where the famous scene at the end of Thelma and Louise was filmed.
All this is great, but the very best part of Shafer Canyon Rd. is last part. For 6 miles the road climbs up a sheer cliff on a series of steep switchbacks. It’s one of those roads that you can’t believe was ever built. As expected, the view was incredible.
Obviously, this is not a road for those with a fear of heights. For the rest of us who enjoy a good thrill, this road is a must drive though. Just look at that view!
For a taste of what it’s like to drive up Shafer Canyon check out this sped up version of our dash cam video. Because the dash cam is mounted in a fixed location it only shows the road in front of us, but gives you a pretty good idea of the twists and turns and sharp drop offs.
At the top of the cliff we entered the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands National Park. The wind was whipping and the temperature at the top a brisk 45 degrees, but we braved a super quick picnic, and then drove over the Grandview overlook where we gazed over the edge.
Someday we’ll come up here when it’s not cloudy This is exactly what the sky looked like three years ago when we visited Canyonlands. In the interest of stretching our legs and getting some much needed exercise after several days inside we followed the one-mile path along the canyon rim.
Once again, just like last time we didn’t do any more hikes around the park. Maybe some day we’ll come up here via the main road and actually have time to do more exploring. It’s still an amazing place even if you only see the main Grandview point overlook.
Aside from these two great adventures, our main activity in Moab has been mountain biking. Despite my initial hesitation (I’m a very beginner kind of mountain biker), we found some trails that seemed like they matched my skill level, and much to my surprise I’ve really been enjoying myself. So much so, that I want to write an entire post about mountain biking for beginners in Moab. But we still have lots more biking to do, so that will have to wait another few weeks. Until then, here’s a shot of our current boondocking spot. More details on that next time…