Into the west – Part 4: Moab, welcome to Jeep heaven
“We’re going to Jeep heaven,” kept running through my mind as we departed from Devils Tower on the third day of our journey west.
We were on our way to Moab, Utah, and I couldn’t wait to get there. There was only one problem, Moab was 11 hours away and because of this I was certain before long it would slip to 15 hours or more.
The sun was shining and temperatures hovered around 60 degrees as we left the vastness of Wyoming. The sun didn’t last. Only a few hours into our drive, a few drops of rain turned into a wall of water.
We drove for hours through what seemed like an endless rain storm. Sometimes it would abate for a few minutes only to return with a vengeance.
When we reached Colorado and entered Denver the conditions went from bad to worse. Entering the city the rain began falling in torrential sheets leaving large puddles of standing water on the interstate.
We barreled on through the standing water, our tires’ deep treads making easy work of slick roads. Others weren’t so lucky. Left and right, cars were going in the median, the ditch. Many drivers had pulled off to the side of the road to wait the storm. All around people sped past us at 80-plus miles an hour. They’re suicidal, I thought to myself as Niecie drove on.
She said she’d never experienced standing water like that before.
Fog soon replaced the the rain as we climbed up the mountainside and out of Denver.
Actually, it wasn’t fog at all. It was the thick cloudbank that only a few short minutes ago had dumped rain on us. Despite these treacherous driving conditions, people continued to speed past us at excessive speeds. To make it worse. Many hadn’t turned on their headlights.
After about half and hour of white-knuckle driving, we broke through the fog bank and Niecie and I each breathed a sigh of relief. It seemed that the worst of it was over. We were wrong.
Snow, yes snow, soon replaced the heavy fog that had plagued us on our way into the mountains. Somehow, we’d managed to find ourselves in a blizzard. I was no stranger to driving in winter weather. Where I grew up, snow storms and blizzards weren’t uncommon as late as June, but this was something else entirely.
Welcome to Moab
After 13 hours, we arrived in Moab about 9:30 p.m., the bad weather had put us way behind schedule. Worse, every hotel and campground was fully booked up for some unexplainable reason. Who knew Moab would be such a popular place on a Monday night?
It was almost after midnight when we found a room at the Red Cliffs Lodge. They had one cabin available and had heavily discounted it in hopes of filling it and we were all too happy to fill it. It wasn’t cheap, but after more than 3 hours of searching on top of 13 hours behind the wheel we didn’t care.
Waking up in Moab was among the most surreal experiences on our trip out west. We were shocked to discover the lodge we’d stayed at the night before was on the bank of the Colorado River, flanked on either side by the crimson canyon walls. We hadn’t seen any of it when we’d come in the night before.
Still groggy from the prior day’s travels we ate a hearty breakfast at Denny’s. It wasn’t ideal, but I think Niecie would have killed me if I’d complained after what we’d been through to get here.
Down potash road
After a brief visit to the forestry service and Moab visitor center to pick up a few maps, we set out to explore one of the many trails that Moab has to offer.
Based on the advice of the forest ranger, we decided to explore a segment of the Shafer trail, along Potash Road. She told us that it was a light off-road trail that would take us up into the canyons surrounding the outskirts of Canyon Lands Nation park.
Moab is famous for trails like Poison Spider, Hells Revenge and Fins and Things, but we didn’t want to get ourselves stuck with limited funds, thousands of miles away from our families.
The Shafer trail seemed like it would offer us a nice scenic trail to get some obligatory off roading in before too late in the day. I mean who goes to Moab in a Jeep and doesn’t go off-road?
Before you can get to the Shafer Trail you have to take a short trip, 15-miles, down Potash Road. After about 15 miles the trail transitions to a loose dirt track. Note, on a lot of maps, including Google Maps, the Shafer trail will show up as a continuation of Potash Road.
Potash Road is named for, potassium nitrate, commonly referred to as potash, which is harvested from massive blue evaporating ponds located along the trail.
The Shafer Trail
Looking at the map we’d purchased at the visitors center we decided to make a trip up to Goose Neck just before the trail entered Canyon Lands and then ride back out. We’d get a view of
The Shafer trail is also one of the most accessable light off-road trails Moab has to offer. We could probably have taken on a slightly more challenging trail like Fins and Things, but we had a long drive home and didn’t want to risk it.
According to clerk at the tourist center, you don’t really need a four-wheel drive vehicle for the trail but high ground clearance is a must.
By my estimate anyone with at least eight-inches of ground clearance and all-wheel-drive could confidently enjoy the beautiful vistas and canyons this trail has to offer. You could get by it in a two-wheel-drive truck or full sized SUV with a bit of practice, but I’d hate to get stuck in any of the deeper mud puddles left behind after that morning’s rain shower.
For what the Shafer trail lacked in difficulty it made up for in shear beauty. I’d highly recommend anyone visiting Moab take the opportunity to explore this trail.
Behind the wheel
During our drive along the Shafer Trail, Niecie took the opportunity to proved her off-road prowess easily tackling some of the more difficult sections of the trail. She may not be a big fan of off-roading, but she’s pretty good behind the wheel.
A video posted by @adventure_bent on
Our ride down Potash Road and the Shafer Trail isn’t one we’ll soon forget. Moab’s extensive network of trails, beautiful vistas and iconic red rock canyons will lure me back for years to come.
I’m already planning a week long expedition out to Moab next May with my little brother Morgan. We hope to tackle the 100 mile-long White Rim Trial.
Arches National Park
Our last stop in Moab was to Arches National Park. Arches is home to some of the most unique geologic formations in the country. I was thrilled to go hiking here. I’d wanted to visit Arches National park for years, and now I had my chance.
Arches National Park has some of the best overlooks and hikes the region has to offer. Located right on the northern edge of Moab, there was no way I was going to miss this opportunity. Unfortunately for us, we arrived pretty late in the day and we didn’t have as much time to explore as we might have liked.
We missed seeing more than a brief glimpse of the arches during our drive through the park.
We did hike down the Park Avenue trail near the entrance of the park. The trail flows along the canyon bottom and get some beautiful shots along the way. The mile-long hike down the trail wasn’t all that bad. All around us balanced rocks, massive fins and monolithic rock formations surrounded us.
Temperatures hovered in the high 70s perfect hiking conditions in the dry desert air. The altitude didn’t effect us as much as I thought it would.
We probably benefited from visiting in late spring. Moab can be unbearably hot in the summer months.
We’d been told to look in the pools of standing water for glimpses of long dead sea creatures. The remains of these creatures are now captured in the soft sandstone of the canyon floor and are made visible by the rain.
The hike out of the canyon proved to be a lot more difficult task than the hike down. Huffing and puffing in the thin evening air, we reached the trail head and returned to the car. It had been a good hike.
The end of a journey
Leaving Moab wasn’t easy for me. Niecie may have been ready to move on to the next part of the journey, but there was something special about this place. I felt a connection to Moab that I can’t fully explain. I wished we could have stayed at least another day or two in this land of red rock canyons and slick rock trails. There was too much left to see. It was the end of our journey west and I hadn’t had my fill.