We just returned from the Colorado Plateau area of southern Utah. Having been very fortunate to see many natural wonders on this earth, it’s no idle remark to call this place one of the most incredible I have ever seen. We live in a beautiful place that people come from all over the earth to visit, yet Utah blew my mind. We ended up driving down and taking our high performance mountain bikes with us. The Moab region is the center of the universe for mountain biking. The “Slickrock Trail” is the apex of what can be truly called epic mountain biking. Driving also allowed us to bring all our camping gear so we could camp out to cut costs.Above: After 18 hours of driving and setting up a tent in the dark, we awoke to this vista. Sunrise and sunset bring out the reds in the rock to a point that the world no longer seems real. We decided to start with an easier biking trail to get our legs under us. We drove north to a place called Klondike Bluffs where we could get some easier slickrock experience. Slickrock is a sandstone rock that forms a smooth but undulating pavement as though a storm at sea were suddenly frozen. It is very “sticky” under your tires unlike dirt which loses traction on steep hills. The sticky rock allows you to climb crazy steep pitches at all kinds of angles that make your brain hurt when your eyes tell you it should be impossible. Your limitation is no longer friction but your own strength. Above: Suz and I start up the trail. Trails out on these vast rock plateaus are marked with paint applied right to the rock. The open rock allows you to pick your line in any whimsical way that suits your ability and mood. The usual confines of a single track mountain bike trail down a mountain were suddenly lifted allowing total freedom, limited only by your ability and risk tolerance.
Above: Not a great pic of Suz but you can see the slickrock with its undulating waves, water-worn trenches, and sculpted surface. The shrubs are all growing in carved out bowls in the rock. This rock formed from massive sand dunes along the once gigantic inland sea that stretched across N America. The other big difference riding here is that if you fall, you are falling on rock. There’s a pretty steady stream of broken collar bones, wrists, and legs coming out of this place.
Above: After a lengthy climb, we reached the end of the trail where we left our bikes and scrambled up the rocky bluffs to a lookout. The rock formations look merely imagined they are so foreign. I was in awe with the opportunities to explore the millions of pillars, towers, canyons, slots, cliffs, canyons, ridges, spines and hidden corners and secret places. We scrambled back to our bikes after getting our fill of surreal views and enjoyed a fast ride downhill back on the slickrock.
Utah is a place to carefully plan your sunrise and sunsets as the light is so fantastic. For the evening light we went to Arches National Park and did a few quick hikes.
Keeping with the Indy theme, we also saw “Double Arch” which is also in the opening scene. Though unlike the movie, I discovered there is in fact no cave to be found there. Below is a more distant view (see people for scale!) Strangely, no one was running down the rocks recreating the opening scene for their own amusement.
Above: Centre of panorama is a feature known as “The Three Gossips.” These are a few hundred feet tall and certainly well named.
Above: “Balanced Rock” This 120 foot high rock seems like it has been poorly glued to its foundation by a child giant. Unlike most of nature, the entire Utah landscape has a distinctly anthropomorphic quality to it. Every wall looks like its been sculpted, every odd formation bears the hallmark of intention. The dry and clean desert air gives a clarity to everything.
Above: Suz tries to take in “Turret Arch” one of over 2,000 arches throughout this area.
Above: One of the thousands of narrow canyons. The eroding sandstone makes a wonderful beach floor to many canyons. The colour of the rock is so warm and inviting that I found it not confining or claustrophobic considering how narrow they get. At the end of this canyon was “Sand Arch” (below) and as the light got low on the horizon, it positively glowed.
To end the day, we hiked up Cash Creek to gain a reverse view of the iconic “Delicate Arch.” This arch is the unofficial symbol of Utah as it adorns their license plates and everything else you can imagine. For scale there are some people in the top right corner. In my never ending picture taking, I often was telling Suz to get in the photo for scale. She was starting to feel a bit like a ruler till she realized the being my “ruler” had some good literal possibilities as well.
Above: Driving back to our tent up on the Sandflat area above Moab. A long day nearly exhausting our senses. Sleeping in the tent gave us a keen appreciation of just how cold it gets in the desert. We were in our winter parkas before our flashlights got turned on!