May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view.Edward AbbeyEssayist, Author, Conservationist
Moab is a straight 378-mile shot down I-70 from Denver. The morning we left, we opened up the back cooking galley and geared up the teardrop trailer cooler/freezer with sandwiches, snacks, breakfast food, coffee, beer, and carnitas. Our luggage fit nicely in the cabin of the teardrop and with a little firewood stacked in the front storage bin, we were off.
I’ve always loved the shot across Colorado on I-70. Keystone, Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, Vale, Beaver Creek, all flew by as we stared out the windows at the early spring snowdrifts, wishing we had a little extra time to stop for some runs. By lunchtime, we were ready for food, so we made the stop into the infamous Shooter’s Grill in Rifle, Colorado just outside of Glenwood Springs. If you haven’t heard of this place, this is all you need to know: Every one of the waitresses wears a gun strapped to her side like Wyatt Earp as she serves oversized Chicken Fried Steaks (pretty damn tasty ones at that) and iced teas. We were hoping for an afternoon beer, but you know—alcohol and firearms don’t mix well, so we soaked our hunger in gravy and fried goodness and headed on.
Once you get through Grand Junction, you come to your first test as a traveler en route to Moab. Take I-70 to 191 (the fastest route) or go south at Grand Junction and hook up with 128, which follows the Colorado river, beautiful cliffs, and happens to be the entry way to some of the finest BLM land you’ve ever seen. Remember the crooked, winding, lonesome path? Yeah, we didn’t think it would be found on 191 either, so south we turned.
What a magnificent drive—proud cliffs rise on either side of the road while the Colorado snakes through the canyons, leaving great stretches of river where the reflections of the canyon walls project upon the still water as it cuts its way through the landscape. Ready to get out and explore, our only option until we found our destination was to stare out of the window at these reflections and ponder what the next couple of days would bring.
We were looking to get away and had done some searching though satellite images and found what we thought might be a promising section just above Upper Onion Creek Camp Grounds. We arrived, and after a pretty drive along the Colorado, we decided to test our luck and head up to what amounted to a jeep trail to see if we could find the “perfect” spot and wound up in exactly that. In The Yosemite, John Muir writes, “everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.” Well it’s a good thing we packed tortillas in the galley of the teardrop because nature had the rest of Muir’s requirements in spades.
After backing the teardrop along the side of a small cliff to break the wind, we settled into our spot for the night. The Denver Outfitters OverRoam tent that rides on top of the teardrop and the Tepui tent that rides on top of the Land Cruiser were both up in less than 5 minutes. We lit the fire, mixed cocktails on the galley deck, and let our playlist, which was piping through the teardrop’s Bluetooth, accompany our dinner prep before we headed out for photos and a hike. The barren, red landscape is breathtaking in this area as deep canyons splinter off like veins running through countryside. If you are looking for solitude, this is your spot. Dinner under the Milky Way and some acoustic guitar around the campfire made for one of the best evenings I’ve spent outdoors in years.
Solitude is easily achieved in the quiets of this place. With the rising red sandstone monoliths and the snow-capped La Sal range competing with the sweeping canyons and rising sun, conversation certainly isn’t priority one. We bathed in the views all morning as our coffee percolated and we ate breakfast burritos. After enjoying a leisurely bit of hiking and relaxing, we decided to head into Moab proper and take advantage of our reservation at Dead Horse State Park, but Pearl, the resident four-legged passenger, decided she would stay for a while and tried to keep us from packing. After a battle of wills, she hopped into her spot in the Land Cruiser, and we were off. We eased out of the jeep trail, found our way back to 128 and lumbered into Moab.
It’s easy to tell what the culture and economy thrives on when you first pull into town. Jeep, Mountain Bike, and RV rentals are everywhere. The town is very modest with several places to eat and gas up and a handful of hotels. Though the town isn’t highly stylized, the desert personality can still be felt in every spot we visited. For lunch, we decided on Fiesta Mexicana, where we had wonderful service and great food. I suggest the Fiesta Grande platter and a margarita. Outside of the restaurant, stuck to a pole, a giant lizard with a fedora and a Hawaiian shirt decorates the sign to The Gonzo Inn. Being fans of Hunter S. Thompson, we decided we had to take a closer look and found about what you would expect: A freaky little desert hotel, which, according to the clerk, hosts Thompson’s widow at least once a year. Now this is how I pictured Moab!
A short drive out of town lands you in Dead Horse State Park, which is a spectacular place. Teeming with mountain bike trails, scrub brush, crooked trees, and great hiking trails, the park rests against its main attraction, which is of course the view of the Colorado River as it horseshoes through the immense canyon the park resides upon. A quick Google image search will yield the views accessible about 200 yards from our campsite. The spots are nice and fairly secluded and spaced from one another. They were very quiet during our stay and have some of the best tent pads I’ve seen. There is a windbreak and patio set up over the picnic table, which is a nice feature for families and tent campers needing shelter from the weather.
After dropping the trailer at the site, we decided to go exploring. Canyon Lands came up since it’s only about 35 minutes from Moab, and we will definitely spend some serious time there next trip, but with Eric, our resident and extremely talented photographer, in tow we opted for Arches National Park, and it didn’t disappoint. Side note: This park would be a great choice for children and the elderly because the trails are well maintained and very accessible, and you can hike all the way to the foot of the arches and even get inside of them for a close-up with a little extra work.
After a day of hiking the trails, taking photos, and climbing around the arches, we finally got to eat Jason’s famous carnitas tacos, and they didn’t disappoint. The cooking galley has two burners to cook on and we put them to use as we made an assembly line for the taco bar. After taking a few minutes to set up the rooftop tents and pop-up camper, we had the Bluetooth speaker on low, setting the vibe for our cocktail hour. Another night in the arid region sitting around the fire only made us all wish we had another couple of weeks to explore this area, and I would suggest spending as much time as possible here.
The teardrop galley makes preparing eggs and coffee infinitely easier than traditional camping. With our breakfast, we moved a little slower and drank an extra pot of coffee or two that morning, as cocktail hour seemed to expand a little too late for us the previous night. Our reservations were over, and we had to begin making our way back to Denver. We strategically planned to break up the roughly 6-hour drive by stopping in Glenwood Springs for a more “civilized” night of steaks and a hotel with a warm shower. So we struck camp, and hiked our way out to Dead Horse Point one more time to take in the views and breathe in the air.
We decided on the more direct route back to Glenwood Springs, which as it turns out (not surprisingly) is gorgeous as well. We slid into town, checked in, parked the trailer, and decided to head down to what makes Glenwood Springs famous—the Springs. You have two options in town: Glenwood Hot Springs Pool and Iron Mountain Hot Springs. The former is the oldest and largest spring. Imagine an Olympic sized pool with a smaller pool stuck to the end. The latter option is a more chic/spa-like spring that serves drinks. We opted for the Glenwood Hot Springs Pool since it was walking distance from our hotel, The Hotel Denver. The springs were a bit overcrowded, but nevertheless a welcomed respite from desert camping.
The Hotel Denver is a great spot with some interesting history. We were impressed with the accommodations and its proximity to the nightlife area and rows of restaurants. We made reservations to Co. Ranch House that turned out a great dinner; we all ordered the Surf and Turf, which was wonderful. After dinner and a few bottles of wine, we made our way down for a nightcap at Doc Holliday’s Tavern, and it turned out to be a great choice. Good music and a super friendly staff made for a fun end to a quick and fruitful trip.
After checking out and eating breakfast in the hotel’s coffee shop, we were headed east back towards Denver. The ride back allowed enough time to begin to reflect on the lightning-quick trip we just experienced.
Moab is a special place. If you have ever spent any time in or around the desert climate, you know how the wide-open space and air can both heal you and make you realize your insignificance, sometimes simultaneously. But I think that’s what brings people to Moab. It’s a test of your courage and mettle on some of the gnarliest off-road trails and mountain bike single track in the country. It’s a winding trail with windswept bluffs. It’s the time you get under the lonesome starlit sky at night. And like Abbey says, it leads to the most amazing views. But it doesn’t take long to realize those views are as much inward as they are outward. If you look hard enough into the Martian red reflections of the cliffs floating down the Colorado, you might actually get more than you bargained for and see yourself.