“Isn’t that the place where that climber amputated his own arm?” I asked, quickly turning to my phone to Google it.
“No. That guy was in Canyonlands.”
“I swear it was Arches. Moab, right? Remember the movie with James Franco?”
I tapped my phone.
Arches National Park.
Cut off arm.
For the record, the climber who cut off his own arm with a 2-inch dull knife in 2003 was trapped in a canyon in Canyonlands, just 30 miles from Arches National Park.
“See?” Peter said. “Totally different.”
And that was that. We were going to Moab to explore the arches and try not to lose our limbs.
The Adventure Begins
Located in Eastern Utah, Moab is the high desert city that holds the key to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Surrounded by some of the most breath-taking and gravity-defying red rock formations in the world, Moab’s combo of small-town vibes and thrill-seeking adventure is a gem in the American Southwest.
Our adventure started with a reservation at Aarchway Inn. While most would say the real way to experience Moab is by camping, I prefer not to sleep with visions of rattlesnakes dancing in my tent. Also, you can read about how I feel about camping here.
Aarchway Inn is a basic hotel but had plenty for Skinny Jeans to explore within the property. With the temps reaching close to 80 in April, the pool was a welcomed way to wash off the winter. The on-site playground and breakfast (unlimited Fruit Loops!) were also a plus.
Rocks are Weird
After a night at the hotel, we prepped for a day at Arches. Backpacks. Water. Snacks. Pocket knife (just in case). A winding drive through what looked like red rock geysers erupting from the Earth took us to the visitor center where we tried to figure out what the hell was happening to make the landscape look like Mars. Inside the visitors center, it was a geologist’s dream, and I got lost somewhere between tafoni and cyanobacteria and picked up the Junior Ranger Adventure Guide so I, I mean, Skinny Jeans, could understand this natural phenomenon through matching games and coloring pages.
With a map in hand, we charted our course. We were unsure how much hiking Skinny Jeans would be up for or how much time we had before I started to get phantom pains down my arm as I imagined the climber pinned between boulders, sawing and cracking through his bone. (We’d be staying on the easy trails, mind you, many of them practically paved and wheelchair accessible, but this is how my brain works, people.) Driving from trailhead to trailhead and getting out of the car at each to explore makes the enormous park doable for just about anyone.
About nine miles from the visitors center, we stopped at Balanced Rock, which is exactly as the name suggests. From there, we hit up the Windows and hiked the primitive trail loop. We then drove out to the Delicate Arch viewpoint. With little kids, this is a perfect way to see the park’s biggest rock star. (I had to.)
We continued on to Sand Dune Arch, which was our favorite. Entering through the narrow nook is like slipping through a magic portal. Within a few steps, you’re inside what looks like a gigantic sandbox protected by high walls of red rock. Skinny Jeans loved playing in the sand and climbing from rock to rock. She looked longingly as the more prepared parents produced sand toys for their children, causing Peter and I to rummage through our backpacks to find anything resembling a shovel and pail. Unfortunately, Skinny Jeans was left to scoop sand with her shoe.
We ate a picnic lunch somewhere near the campground at Devil’s Garden before heading back down the road and out of the park. All the rock hopping burned almost an entire day and we were all ready for a dip in the hotel pool afterwards.
90s Rap Music Videos Lie
The town of Moab is quaint and full of folks who all look somewhat like the rocks around them: chiseled, red, and weathered. Most have spent the day (or decade) outdoors and are cooling down with tall, frosty drinks as they compare stories under umbrellas on the patios. As the sun sets, the town dims into a laid-back, slow-swaying evening; a stark contrast to the harsh heat and extreme edges of the afternoon. The thrill-seekers take a seat, maybe for the first time all day. The campers quietly wander back to their sites with bundles of firewood, bags of marshmallows, bars of chocolate. Quite honestly, it’s nothing like 2Pac and Dr. Dre made the desert look like in the “California Love" video, and I’m slightly disappointed no one is organizing a four-wheeler race across the sagebrush. But then again, it is Utah, after all.
Moab is like nothing I’ve ever seen and was an awesome adventure for my family. While I doubt we’d ever go in the dead of summer when the temperatures rise above 100, I’d go back in the spring or fall in a heartbeat. It’s good fun for everyone and just as extreme as you want it to be.
And--bonus!--no one lost an arm.
Where to Stay
Breakfast included, nice pool (although a little deep for kids under six or seven), playground. Two miles from Arches National Park.
What to Do
Arches National Park There’s a trail and rock formation for everyone. We loved the visitor center, and these easy trails: Balanced Rock, The Window Section, and Sand Dune Arch. If you go without little kids, Delicate Arch is where it’s at.
Moab Giants Dinosaur Museum: we didn't have time to do this, but if you've got a dino die-hard, you might want to check it out.
Mountain Biking: Moab Brands trails. Bar-M Loop is a mellow family ride.
Where to Eat
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