I’ve been hesitant to write this post. This blog is certainly not a travel blog, and it was never intended to be a place where I posted my exciting travels (and to be honest, during the final years of my PhD and third year medical school I didn’t really have any exciting travels to write about). That being said, I can’t help but post about my adventures in Moab. If my antics encourage just one person to get outside and enjoy time in the great outdoors, I will consider this post a huge success…
After completing my Wilderness Medicine Elective, I opted to take two weeks of vacation time (4th year medical students can get a rather absurd amount of vacation time if we play our cards right) to recoup, relax, and since I was already out west, spend time in Colorado with my best friend. With over 100lbs of luggage to lug around, I managed to sweet talk my best friend into picking me up in Salt Lake City (where my elective wrapped up), instead of hopping a plane to Denver.
My best friend is a good sport about road trips (I suppose she should be, as I once drove 28hrs straight with her when she moved cross-country to Colorado), and she was happy to come pick me up, suggesting that we route our trip back through Moab for a bit of outdoor adventuring before heading back to Colorado. I didn’t know much about Moab before I got there, but I knew Arches National Park was right next door and that the desert portion of my course was in Canyonlands National Park, so I thought it might be fun to swing back through and at least check out Arches on our way back.
That was before heading west… Once I met and talked with the river guides who work out of Moab and spent a “transition” day there between the river portion and the desert portion of the Wilderness Medicine elective, I was counting down the days until I would be back.
Moab is a stunning place- the rock formations and geology surrounding the town are truly “other worldy”, with the red rock shaped by time and weather into precarious and beautiful structures. There is also a LOT to do in Moab for people who enjoy the outdoors. The Colorado River can be enjoyed from rafts, boards, boats, or the shore, there seems to be a new hike for every day of the year, biking (mountain and road) is king, and the weather in May is wonderful for camping (sans-tent, for those-like myself- who are so inclined).
There are plenty of places to stay in Moab, but being on a budget and having spent the majority of the prior 3 weeks sleeping outdoors, I was more than happy to camp in Moab. There are many campsites with RV hook ups, tent sites, and amenities such as showers, but I’m a fan of primitive camping. Fortunately, for those in the know (or those who get the scoop from knowing river guides), there is plenty of dispersed camping to be had in spots around Moab.
We spent out first morning in Moab getting coffee (“That Paleo Guy”, Jamie Scott, would swoon at all the coffee spots in Moab) and sorting out plans for the next couple days.
After a morning in town we headed out for a hike at Fisher Towers. This hike, while popular, is a bit off the beaten track (at least in comparison to the tourist heavy hikes in Arches National Park). The rock formations are stunning and the plant life was beautiful. This place is popular for rock climbers, and it was breathtaking to see them atop the tallest towers.
After our hike, we headed back towards Moab, making one stop at a local vineyard and a detour down Onion Creek Road. If you are around Moab and have an AWD vehicle (or are comfortable taking your vehicle through multiple stream fords), definitely check out Onion Creek Road. If you’re really lucky, one of the dispersed camping sites might be open and available (we didn’t have any luck on that front).
My best friend is an avid paddle boarder, and she’d contemplated packing her paddle boards down to Moab for us to use on the Colorado River. It seemed that renting boards in Moab was a much better option, so after making some inquiries, we ended up renting two inflatable boards (Badfish MCIT) from Canyon Voyages, strapping then to our car, and driving them up river to our drop-in point. We’d scouted the river the day before and had decided to drop in at Take-out beach and to get out at Lion’s Park: a ten-mile paddle downstream (with my friend opting for the hitchhikers shuttle after parking her car down at the pull-off site. Pro-tip: carry your PFD (personal flotation device) and catching a ride is pretty easy).
The rest of our day was spent driving out to Dead Horse National Park, seeking out dinosaur footprints (yes really), cooking dinner at our campsite, and then meeting up with a new friend from my Wilderness Medicine Elective- one of the river guides from my travels down Desolation Canyon.
As much fun as the previous two days had been, the real adventures began when we started hanging out with a local… My river guide friend was just back from another long trip down Desolation Canyon, which meant that he had a bit of time off before heading back to the river. The next morning he took us on a hike up to Cable Arch, an arch off the beaten track on an unmarked trail. Our drive out to the trailhead took us past quite a few petroglyphs, including one that I found very interesting.
After a relaxing lunch in town, we headed up to the Sand Flats for an afternoon adventure of rappelling. I’ve never been rappelling (save for the ~15’ rappel we played with up in the alpine on the Wilderness Medicine course), and I’ll admit that at the top of our first descent I was more than a little nervous. However, as I lowered myself into the slot canyon (into an area aptly named “the medieval chamber”), my fear was replaced by exhilaration.
The second rappel, off a natural bridge, landed us at the focal point of a somewhat well travelled out-and-back hike. My best friend went first, and her adventures were well documented by some of the sightseers below!
The next day found us rappelling again, this time in Arches National Park. We were truly spoiled to have a local show us yet another awesome spot, for while we left our car in a crowded parking lot, we quickly backtracked along the road and scrambled up a rock fall to find ourselves isolated atop a large mesa. Hundreds of feet above the other tourists below us, we spent much of the morning relaxing above Arches, in our own world, away from any other visitors to the park.
After an hour or so of basking on the rocks, we started our descent back down into the canyons. This (again, unmarked) path took us down a number of small descents before finally putting us atop a 100’ wall down to the canyon floor. The rappel was a rush.
My best friend and I did plenty of other things in Moab, including taking a drive and some hikes through Arches National Park. Arches IS stunning, but after getting an insiders-tour to some stunning and relatively unknown-to-tourists spots, hiking along crowded groomed trails to ogle at postcard views lacked some luster. I don’t mean to sound snooty, and I hope it doesn’t come across that way, but I think my favorite moments of this trip to Moab were the moments with friends around bonfires, scrambling up rocks, and quietly taking in all that our surroundings have to offer.
After more than a month away, I am finally headed home to New Jersey. I am heading home physically tired but psychologically refreshed. I have always believed that nature is *good* for humanity, but I have never experienced this goodness so intensely as in the last month.
Through the wilderness medicine elective, my trip to Moab, and then a Memorial Day Weekend camping trip in the mountains of Colorado, I have experienced many different environments. A big part of experiencing these environments, to me, is learning to be present in the moment- to quiet the mind of all the banality and drama that so easily catches us and to really appreciate what surrounds us. In the hustle and bustle of normal life this skill takes practice, but it is practice that pays back in dividends on the principle that nature satisfies a deep and primal part of our humanity, and we should seek it out and absorb it whenever possible.
Find your people, find your places, and enjoy the moment…