It’s dawn in mid-summer. We’re driving slowly through Arches National Park just outside Moab, Utah. No other car is in sight. Billowy, lavender clouds drift overhead and turn incandescent as the sun rises.
To the west, enormous sandstone towers and pinnacles loom in the semi-darkness, their colors shifting by the minute from purple to rose to fiery red. We remembered the words of the late Edward Abbey, a park ranger and writer who once lived near here: ”Wilderness is not a luxury, but a necessity of the human spirit.”
We had arrived in Moab the previous afternoon and planned to spend several days in the area before ending our 8-day western road trip in higher, cooler Telluride, Colorado, only two hours away in the San Juan Mountains.
Space doesn’t allow us to describe every site in the park, but we’d be remiss to omit Delicate Arch, a 60-foot-tall freestanding sandstone marvel. Known to local cowboys as The Schoolmarm’s Bloomers, it’s the park’s most widely recognized (and publicized) landmark. If you’re in good shape (it’s a strenuous, 3-mile hike to the arch’s base and back), it’s worth the effort. Other places not to miss include Balanced Rock, The Windows, Double Arch, Fiery Furnace and the Devil’s Garden.
Three other places outside Arches National Park are worth visiting before you leave the Moab area. Both Canyonlands National Park and the lesser known Dead Horse Point State Park feature western panoramas as stunning and epic as Arizona’s Grand Canyon. Additionally, the River Road (otherwise known as Route 128), just north of Moab, ranks among the most scenic drives in America. When actor John Wayne was asked why he and director John Ford made so many movies in this area, he replied, “Because this is where God put the West!”
After several days exploring the canyons and monuments around Moab, we drove to Telluride to escape the heat. This former mining town, set in a box canyon, lies at the base of forested mountains that tower over the main street. Telluride’s historic district features 19th-century buildings and landmarks, including the still-in-use Sheridan Opera House and the must-visit Telluride Historical Museum. This small but informative museum housed in what was once a miner’s hospital dates to 1896.
Telluride was a destination for hippies in the 1970s. Film stars and other celebrities followed their lead and, over the years, the town evolved into an upscale resort. During our visit we discovered so much happening, we wished we could have stayed long enough to take it all in: hiking, biking, white water rafting, cultural events and festivals, and much more. In our three days there we met welcoming, unpretentious people –locals and tourists alike–and a laid-back, live-for the-moment atmosphere that was, perhaps, a throwback to hippie times.
From the arid deserts of Utah to Colorado’s forested mountains, our western road trip had taken us to some of the most beautiful and fragile environments in America. It was a journey that inspired us to ponder where we might drive next. Most of all, it reminded us of the importance of preserving Nature’s special places.
From east or west coast airports, fly to Montrose, Colorado, then rent a car to drive to Telluride or Moab.
- Useful web sites: National Park Service (nps.gov); Telluride (telluride.com).
- Consider purchasing an America the Beautiful pass for access to all the national parks. With the pass, you can enter the parks free of charge in perpetuity.
- Arrive in the parks in early morning or late afternoon to avoid crowds and capture photographs when the light is best.
- Favorite restaurants in Moab: The Jailhouse Café, the Broken Oar, Moab Brewery, Sunset Grill.
- Favorite Telluride restaurants: Allred’s Restaurant, The Chophouse at New Sheridan, The Butcher & Baker Cafe.