We were so excited to get out to Utah to spend a whole week with the Garland family! John’s sister Carolyn lives out there so his parents and brother flew out and we all met for a week of fun in the Moab area. This was an absolute highlight of the summer. Here’s the lowdown on our week:
Salt Lake City
We all met up in Salt Lake City. John and I beat the rest of the family there by a few hours so we got to tour the city with Carolyn and her BF Nick. We had a great time catching up with them and seeing what this cool little western city has to offer. Check out this amazing sunset view from the state capital building:
The following morning we drove to Moab, about three hours south of SLC, where we spent an entire week exploring the great outdoors. Moab is home to two National Parks, even more State Parks, and lots of other awesome outdoor opportunities. We rented an awesome house in a funky, very southwestern-looking Moab development which made a great launchpad for our activities throughout the week.
We spent our first full day in Moab at Canyonlands National Park. Most Canyonlands visitors enter at the Needles district (south of Moab) or Island in the Sky district (north of Moab). We drove about an hour to check out Needles first, which is barely visited compared to other Moab parks. We did an awesome but absolutely grueling hike 12ish mile hike along the Elephant Trail to Chesler Park that led us through incredible rock formations and offered stunning views of this area of the park. The heat made it especially tough, but we agreed it was worth it by the time we finished.
North: Island in the Sky
The Island in the Sky area of Canyonlands is only about 6 miles away from Arches National Park, so it gets more traffic than it’s southern relative. We did the popular half-mile hike to Mesa Arch for some photo opps and cruised around the park in the car to check out some of the viewpoints, like the intuitively-named Grand View Point and Green River overlooks. It was WINDY the day we visited so we didn’t make it too far on other hikes, but we had some laughs about it and enjoyed our time in Canyonlands.
Arches National Park
We spent several days throughout the week hitting what’s arguably Moab’s most popular attraction: Arches National Park. There are so many really fun and funky arches, many of which can be easily seen from accessible viewpoints. We had a blast roaming around the park and making our way around some of the most popular formations.
There are some other really awesome sections of the park with short hikes past awesome arches like The Windows (1 mile loop), Balanced Rock (.3 mile), and Double Arch (.5 mile). It was nice to fill the day with shorter hikes to see many different parts of the park; we spent a few days bopping between sites like these.
While there are lots of cool things to be seen by just wandering the park, there were a few standout Arches experiences that no park visitors should miss! They are:
Delicate Arch may be the park’s most well-known formation; in fact, you’ve probably seen it featured on the Utah license plate! The arch is only accessibly via a moderate 3 mile hike that takes you up a steep rock face and along a pretty narrow ledge before arriving at the viewing area. Folks with a fear of heights may not love it, but even our acrophobes seemed to think it was worth the visit.
Perhaps the most memorable part of our time in Arches was spent in the Fiery Furnace. This area of the park is only accessible to visitors who apply for a permit or who sign up for a ranger-led tour (we did the latter). The name is kind of a misnomer – The Fiery Furnace it’s actually more shaded and cool than other areas of the park – but the deep red color of the rocks and the strangely-shaped peaks make it look fiery from afar.
The hike requires some special maneuvers like jumping, squeezing through narrow passageways, and shimmying across gaps. We were all a bit curious about how strenuous this hike might be, but ended up finding it to be easier than some of the others we’d done during the week. The “obstacles” were all demonstrated by our expert guide Allie and we had no problem following her lead. This was a great way to see a secluded area of the park and learn more about Arches from a fabulous ranger!
Arches at Nighttime
As of June when we were in Arches, there is a lot of road construction happening and visitors are only allowed in the park past on Friday and Saturday nights at 7pm. When Friday rolled around, John, Brian, and I decided we’d love a chance to see some stars in the park and make our first attempt at some nighttime photography. We had a great time messing around with the camera settings and were excited to get a few shots that give you a sense of just how many stars are visible from Arches! They’re definitely blurry but we’re excited to work on the nighttime photos.
Dead Horse State Park
Visitors to Moab should definitely get outside of the National Parks and check out some State Parks in the area, especially Dead Horse! The name is weird, but the park is fantastic. Like it’s National neighbors, it has amazing views of canyons and rivers but is slightly more off the beaten path. We had a wonderful time here.
La Sal Mountains
After a few days of roaming around scorching hot Moab, we decided to investigate the snow-capped mountains we’d been seeing in the distance. The thought of getting to a colder place was unbelievably appealing so we day tripped it out to the La Sal mountains. While we didn’t get to a high enough elevation to come in contact with any snow, we did get some cooler air and nice shade and had a great day exploring a totally different part of Utah. The drive up and down the mountain definitely isn’t for the weary (think curvy dirt roads hugging sheer cliffs) but it is undoubtedly an unforgettable adventure.
White Water Rafting
One of the most fun parts of the whole week was a rafting trip down the Colorado River. Most of the rapids were a class 2 or 3 but we had a handful of 4 and 5s that gave us a good adrenaline rush. It was nice to spend a day on the water and learn a bit more about Moab from our local guide.
When John’s mom told us she signed us all up for a sunset jeep tour, I assumed we would be going on a leisurely ride around town. That ended up being FAR from the truth, but in the best way possible. Apparently, jeep tour = slow motion roller-coaster ride. These things go on crazy terrain at angles I didn’t know were possible for cars. We regularly approached sections of the ride that I thought we’d surely go around but nope, the jeeps can go right over rocks that look like walls. These photos and videos can’t do it justice, but check them out anyway. This was an absolute blast.
Bottom line: Moab was so great. John’s mom planned us an incredible week and we had so much fun hanging out with the Garland crew. It was a great place to slow down our road trip, hang with family, and explore this awesome corner of the USA. Moab, see you again someday!