We continued our trip north through Utah, passing through charming desert towns like Mexican Hat, and close to more canyons like the Canyonlands, as we meandered towards the unassuming Utah hotspot, Moab.
Monument Valley had marked the end of our semi-organised schedule that we’d mostly kept to on the road trip so far, and now we were running on fumes and spontaneity. It meant that if we wanted to hit up a national park, fantastic. If we want a lazy day? That’s fine, too. Our only concern was getting to Yellowstone before it shut on November 5th, and we were making good time.
Because of our route, it made sense to make sure we got to Arches, our second of Utah’s five national parks. I’d seen photos of Delicate Arch, but that was all I knew about the national park, and while I was keen to visit, I didn’t consider it unmissable.
We arrived in Moab mid-afternoon, and immediately warmed to the town. In fact, we found a really fun looking motel, and decided to check into it! Unfortunately, being winter, we did not make use of the pool, but admittedly it was nice to sleep in a bed instead of the car after almost a week of camping.
Plus I knew we were on to a winner when this was on the reception counter!
The nice thing about Moab is it had that very small-town charm that I feel could have been down to how quiet it was. There were very few tourists at this time of year, and it kind of felt like we were discovering it as it should be, not how it probably normally is.
Unfortunately, this also meant that a lot of places were shut. I had planned to get lunch the following day from the brilliantly named Love Muffin – only to find that it closed before midday (and between that and free breakfast at the motel, you know I’m gonna be filling myself with the freebies!). Several shops and cafés were shut up for the winter, but what we found instead were local shops, interesting art galleries, and an absolutely delicious food stall that we just stumbled across – that had we had all the regular options, we may not even have noticed.
I also found a common theme throughout the town – upcycling. As soon as we walked into Moab Made, a local gift shop with tons of quirky art, I immediately fell in love. It was full of weird, abstract structures made from whatever the makers could get their hands on.
Further down the street, I noticed these photo frames in a window, made from bike chains. And don’t even start on the statues! My favourite was this tornado decimating a house, although the guitar is fantastic as well.
However, the main reason we had stopped here was for Arches National Park, so the first thing we did was drive to the park, about 10 minutes away.
And here’s where I plead my ignorance, because I had no idea what to expect.
ARCHES IS AMAZING.
And it’s not all about arches!
The drive begins with an insane incline alongside a cliff towering above you. It was so cool that we forgot to film it or take photos (we literally came back the next day to do this!).
Once it levels out, you’re faced with amazing rock formations in all directions. The photos don’t do it justice – these were TOWERING.
And ever so scenic with Colorado mountains in the background.
It’s not what I expected at all. By the time we got to the trailhead for Delicate Arch, I wondered if we were setting ourselves up for disappointment. If everything else was scenic anyway, was this actually going to be special?
The Delicate Arch hike isn’t hard – but I can see why it would be in summer. There is no shade AT ALL, until the very last part along a ridge. If the heat is turned up, it would be tough, and once again we found ourselves feeling grateful that we had chosen to visit in winter.
Finally at the top – and still no shade:
AND THEN FINALLY, SHADE:
The hike didn’t take long – about 45 minutes or so, I think – and I snatched my first glimpse of the famous arch through a hole in the cliffside adjacent to it.
We were there far too early for sunset, which was partly planned, but we should have brought something to keep us occupied. With a pack of cards or a book, we could have easily stuck around for it, but you can see from the photos just how far we were from the sunset so in hindsight we probably should have planned it better.
Sunset is probably the busiest time at the arch, so I did deliberately get there early so that we could get some daylight shots before too many people arrived.
It’s a great place to get perspective photos of yourself too – sometimes photos of the arch itself don’t give you an idea of quite how massive it is!
Turns out I took quite a lot of photos of it, really! Like photography? Come to Delicate Arch, seriously! Plus it really is a nice place to relax, so heed my advice and bring a book if you want to stick around for the sunset!
On the way back, we did pass a few groups of people, but mostly I had been surprised by how quiet it had been. Once again, I was thankful that we were here during early winter (October / November is a perfect time to visit!).
We spent the following day exploring Moab properly and also planning our next steps. I began to think we had jumped in a little early with this motel – it turned out that, would you believe it, the further north we drove, the colder it would be.
It seems obvious when you put it like that. But I’d happily been thinking that we would just camp around Yellowstone before our mega drive back across three states to Vancouver, which would inevitably involve an overnight stop at Walmart. After all, Yellowstone closes for a month in order to prepare for winter; not deal with it because it had already arrived.
This caused another panic – because the south road of Yellowstone was currently closed due to snow. This I DID expect to look out for (apparently potential snow closing the roads + being too cold for camping has no direct correlation in my brain??), and we had been avidly keeping an eye on it in case it changed our plans, which would completely change our route.
So, after our wander around town and my delicious lunch from Quesadilla Mobilla, I spent the next couple of hours flailing in front of my laptop. I found a nice hotel just outside Jackson, Wyoming, and kept it open for ages while we tried to decide if it was even worth going at all. I found a hostel in Bozeman, Montana, for the night after, and my fingers hovered around the “book” button.
Like I said, it was a good thing we had a little time on our hands, because sometimes your plans do go awry. The problem is, there were no other routes back to Vancouver that would take us anywhere nearly as exciting as Yellowstone, so in the end, we decided to book it for the following night and have one more night in a Walmart car park tonight to break the journey up. After all, it had been a while!
So with our plans sort of finalised (although with no idea if we were actually going to make it to Yellowstone), it was time to say goodbye to Moab.
But, naturally, not before finding something else ridiculous.
We also found a dinosaur and rock shop, which was full of goodies. I even followed the trail to find a free piece of dinosaur bone!!
It turns out that Moab is not just a hotspot for national parks and rocks and desert – it’s also a hotspot for dinosaurs! It was quite funny, really, that we were planning a detour to Dinosaur, Colorado, when we could have gone to an impressive looking exhibition right here in Moab. In fact, I kind of wish we had.
I’d love to visit Moab in the summer (or shoulder season rather than off-season), so it looks like I have a few reasons to return!
We had been really surprised by Moab – we had expected it to be a convenient stop on our way north, with easy access to national parks. We didn’t expect to fall in love with the little town the way that we did. We didn’t expect it to have so much character.
And it was the perfect end to our time in Utah – a state that we had learned to love very quickly. We missed out a few places we’d have liked to visit, like Bryce Canyon National Park (highly recommended to us by lots of people!) and the other two smaller national parks. Salt Lake City would be nice to visit, and Ash has some family friends just down the road from there. So I think it’s safe to say that we will find ourselves back in Utah one day.
Have you been to any of the national parks in Utah? Which is your favourite?