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Moab Day 2–Island in the Sky at Canyonlands National Park

September 19 . . . our 30th anniversary! And how wonderful to celebrate it exploring the stunning scenery around Moab. Our destination for the day was the Island in the Sky area of Canyonlands National Park. Canyonlands is quite large, and actually has three separate regions. Island in the Sky in the north, Needles to the south, and the Maze to the west. Each has its own distinct personality and types of land formations. You could spend an entire vacation just exploring Canyonlands and not make a dent in it.

Over coffee and another wonderful breakfast at our new favorite, Jailhouse Cafe, we planned our day trip to Canyonlads. It’s a short 32 miles from Moab to Island in the sky. Arches is only eight miles away, and it’s amazing to me that there are so many completely different geographic areas so close to Moab.

Shafer Canyon Overlook

Our first stop in Canylands was Shafer Canyon Overlook. Just a few miles past the park entrance, it provides stunning views. In the picture, the overlook is in the very center of the picture. We hiked the short distance out there. It’s unbelievable to me that there aren’t any railings along the edge of the overlook because it’s hundreds of feet down in some places, and you can walk right up to the edge of the drop-off. This was the one of many challenges to my acrophobia during the week.

Looking from the outlook, you could see a road that criss-crosses across the steep cliff. I couldn’t imagine being crazy enough to drive on that road with its sheer drop-offs. Bill, on the other hand, was determined to figure out a way to do it. And later in the week, we actually did. More about that in another posting.

Next stop was Mesa Arch. People climb up on top of this arch. From this view, it’s only about 25 feet above the ground. But on the other side, it drops down hundreds of feet.

Mesa Arch

Incredible views through Mesa Arch

View from the top and side of Mesa Arch

Upheaval Dome

We got back in our pick-up, and drove about 20 more miles to Upheaval Dome. This is a collapsed cinder cone, with a new greenish lava dome in the middle. It was a quite short, somewhat steep hike up to this view. The air was starting to get a little warm, so hiking uphill was not so enjoyable.

View from Green River Overlook

Driving back to the main road, we stopped at Green River Overlook. From here, you can look down into the plateaus above the Green River, which eventually flows into Grand Canyon. It’s hard to describe the other-worldliness of being up high on a plateau or mesa, looking down hundreds of feet at another layer of plateaus that are hundreds of feet above the Green River. It’s a little mind boggling, but gorgeous. We experienced this phenomenon throughout the day, and it’s really something I couldn’t get enough of.

Next, off the the grand finale of the park: Grand View Point Overlook. This area has stunning views that can be seen a short distance from the parking area. But you can also hike out along the edge of the cliff for a few miles, all the while looking hundreds of feet down to plateaus with their own unbelievable formations of needles and other rock structures.

View from Grand View Point Overlook

In the picture at right, just beyond the edge of the rocks in the foreground is a drop off of a few hundred feet. Then the plateaus below feature their own drops into deep canyons. These canyons have needles, fins, and other steep protrusions that are all a few hundred feet tall. It’s all unbelievably majestic.

You're really, seriously walking out there?

We hiked along the edge of the cliff for a few miles, and then back again. It was getting quite warm, so we took our time and enjoyed the scenery.  Bill had no qualms about getting right up to the edge to enjoy the spectacular views, scaring the crap out of me on numerous occasions.

Please . . . can't you step away from the edge?

After a day of hiking in the heat, we were pretty tired. We headed back to Moab and spent a few hours exploring the shops, restaurants, and brew pubs.

An adrenaline rush (for both of us)

For our anniversary dinner we went back to Jeffrey’s Steakhouse and Ghost Bar. We enjoyed our dessert there so much the night before that we wanted to try a full meal there. We weren’t disappointed. I had a filet mignon that just about melted in my mouth. What a perfect way to end our anniversary day. And we have plenty to look forward to in the days to come . . . quadding north of Moab, hiking in Devil’s Garden in Arches, a desert sunset ride in a Razr in the Hell’s Revenge area of Sand Flats recreation area (the 4-wheel drive headquarters of the world), the Needles region of Canyonlands, and a sunrise hike to the picturesque Delicate Arch in in Arches.

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Moab Day 1–Arches National Park

We started the day in Moab with a delicious breakfast at the Jailhouse Cafe. This quickly became a favorite place, and we ended up coming here a couple of times throughout the week. Built in 1855, the building was a private residence and county courthouse.

One of the rooms has foot-thick adobe walls and was used as a jailhouse  in the early days.

We were able to eat outside on the patio.

After breakfast, we immediately drove the three or so miles from Moab to Arches National Park. Ever since reading Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey in the mid-1990’s, I’d wanted to visit this area. His vivid description of the park and its beauty and its ecosystem intrigued me. The park didn’t disappoint–it was all I’d hoped for and much more. Much, much more.

As you drive up the hill into the park, red sandstone cliffs flank one side of the road. A steep drop-off flanks the other side. Once you round the first corner, you are presented with an unending playground of red rock formations of all shapes and sizes. There are many, many places to pull over to take pictures and take short or long hikes. This place really caters to all comers, regardless of your fitness level or the level of adventure you’re looking for.

Balanced Rock is one of the more famous formations in the park. It is here that Edward Abbey lived in his trailer as he stewarded the park for a few years in the mid-1950’s. There is no sign of the trailer now, but you can envision what it must have been like to live here, in solitude much of the time.

Driving the 18-mile road to the end of the park, you can see rock formations of all types. These are many of the spires (or needles, as they’re sometimes called) that we saw.

Just a mile or so past Balanced Rock is an area called The Windows Section. It has several arches. You can see them from the parking lot, but it’s fun to hike up to them. It’s a short quarter-mile hike to Double Arch in The Windows Section. The only problem is it’s all up hill, and it was just starting to get hot by the time we did this hike. Notice the people at the bottom of the picture to get an idea of the size of this set of arches.

On the other side of the parking lot and up another (hot) hill there are three other arches. One of them, Turet Arch, is actually a formation with several interesting aspects.

We drove further down the road through the park, in continual awe. We started to realize we couldn’t stop and hike at each sight. Sigh. Too much beauty for one day! We took the turn off for Wolfe Ranch because this is where you find Delicate Arch, which is the arch that graces Utah’s license plate. By this time it was very hot, and someone we chatted with in the parking lot told us it was a steep uphill hike to get to the arch. But there are viewpoints from near the parking lot. We decided to take a short quarter-mile hike to one of the viewpoints today, and come back to hike directly to the arch early on another day when it was still relatively cool. we were able to zoom in and get a fairly decent picture. Again, notice the (small) people to get an idea of the size of the arch.

Next we stopped at Sand Dune Arch. To get to this arch, you hike between “fins,” which are tall, narrow, well . . . fins. It was shady and cool in between them. Ahhhh . . . relief from the heat for a moment.

Here’s another view of the fins near Sand Dune Arch. Later in the week, I found myself hiking on top (yikes!) of fins similar to these in an attempt to get to some arches we hadn’t seen. I don’t handle heights well, and was scared beyond belief. More about that frightening, unexpected experience in another post.

By the end of the day, we were hot, tired, and ready for refreshments. We headed back into Moab and spent the evening visiting several shops, and had drinks and snacks at various watering holes and restaurants.

We ended up having a delicious dessert at Jeffrey’s Steak House and Ghost Bar. Probably the nicest restaurant in Moab, Jeffrey’s features fine cuisine, including Wagyu beef. We headed upstairs to the Ghost Bar, where we had a nice visit with the owner and heard stories about how the Ghost Bar got its name. We enjoyed a wonderful dessert. Homemade lemon ice cream on a homemade crunchy, chewy, carmelized lemon  crust. Light and refreshing, a perfect ending to the day.


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