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Journeys Through America is a nonprofit organization providing educational material for all school-aged children across the country. The program will form partnerships with local school districts to provide children with a new, interactive, educational experience integrating the history of America and its National Parks. Journeys Through America's goal is to foster a fun and adventurous learning environment that will promote altruistic growth within our children and our greater community.

Moab Pt I: Canyonlands National Park

By Nov 3rd 2010 No Comments »

As we departed Capitol Reef NP we continued eastward to the lovely outdoor adventure capitol of Utah known as Moab.  Located just west of Colorado, Moab is a well-known and very eclectic town – a true home base for outdoor enthusiasts alike.  Whether your sport is mountain biking the area’s native slickrock, rock climbing, white water rafting, back-country hiking or even off-roading in your jeep, Moab is THE place to be.

As soon as you enter the city limits, you know you’ve stepped into a whole new world.  In Moab, every vehicle that belongs to a local is a jeep or 4WD vehicle of sorts, and every one of those vehicles is fully equipped to handle the off-road obstacles found in the area.  For this type of local, no road is the best kind of road; which brings me to my next observation of Moab.  Anyone and everyone who either lives in Moab, or visits Moab, enjoys life off the beaten path…which goes to show you how vital a role the outdoors and recreation plays in the lifestyle of a ‘Moaber.’ Hundreds of miles of trails begin or end at Moab: hiking/biking/rafting/you name it, it’s there – and that is why Moab is known as the adventure capitol of Utah.

Because of its location, Moab is an ideal home base and launch pad when visiting two more of Utah’s National Parks: Arches and Canyonlands.  It is centrally located and only a short drive (25 minutes at most) to either one of the parks.

Our plan was to spend two nights in Moab, dividing our time between the two parks.  One thing I was not especially fond of in Moab was the lack of decent campgrounds.  I understand that you’re trying to fit campgrounds into a small city, which will never work in the benefit of the camper seeking a quiet escape, but every campground was the same exact 10×10 grid, one right on top of the other.  So, if you’re looking for that ‘nicer’ campground, stay in the parks or the nearby state parks, or even do some backcountry camping. However, as much as we wanted to experience Canyonlands and Arches, we wanted to experience Moab too, seeing as how we’ve heard so much about it.

We arrived in Moab on the Sunday evening before Labor Day.  Every campground in Moab was packed with travelers and explorers.  We were able to get a spot…a small platform separated by a picnic table on one side, and luckily, an empty campsite on the other.  The back of our site was fenced off, keeping our tent area separate from the private residence behind us.  Needless to say, we were a little weary of our surroundings.  Our fellow neighbors and fellow travelers were all about our age – young adults looking for adventure. It was neat being surrounded by so many healthy and active young adults all in one place.

After 20 minutes of setting up the tent and gear, (remember, we were pros at this point…20 minutes was even 5 too long), we enjoyed a great Mountain House meal and settled in for the evening.

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands is a vehicle-friendly park.  The best (and easiest) way to see the park, which is also the largest in Utah, is by visiting the Island in the Sky district.  Island in the Sky is the most traveled as it is the closest to Moab, and with more than 20 miles of paved roads, visitors are treated to some of the most spectacular vistas in the park.  Additionally, for those with the right equipment (4WD vehicles), you can reach areas of the park traveled by very few people. There are two more districts within the park in addition to Island in the Sky – those are The Needles and The Maze districts.

The three districts are characterized by the unique land structures which ultimately contributed to their names.  The Maze district is difficult to get to, and one of the most isolated and inaccessible areas in the United States. The Needles district, located east of the Colorado River, is named after the red and white rock formations which dominate the landscape – their shape reminiscent of needles, of course.  And lastly, the Island in the Sky district is an expansive and level stretch of land – or mesa – which extends out over the landscape, overlooking the White Rim and the Colorado and Green Rivers. Together, these three districts combine to make over 300,000 acres of unparalleled beauty and the largest national park in Utah.

Our first day was spent in the Island in the Sky district. We spent a couple hours driving the length of the mesa – stopping at the classic attractions along the way such as Mesa Arch and other neat rock formations and overlooks.  On day two we headed south down 191 into the Needles District.  A 30+ mile drive of flat grasslands and meadows eventually gave way to rock spires, arches and unique formations well-suited for an over-active imagination. This was the area that I liked most.

As we traveled deeper into the district I grew ever-more concerned for my car – a small and humble Nissan Versa hatchback – the paved roads quickly ended giving way to inviting dirt roads typically best suited for a 4WD vehicle. Oh well – we were only going to be in the Needles once, right?

We drove as far as we could – well, as far as my car could handle. The roads seemed never-ending, especially at 5 MPH, and I’m almost certain they actually were.  I feel pretty confident that given the right equipment and a 4WD vehicle, you could explore the Needles for days, if not weeks. And with not many people having as much faith and confidence in their car as we did, you are rewarded with few people willing to travel off the beaten path.


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