Day sixteen: Moab

Luxury, two nights in the same place. Super little place a couple of miles out of the town centre tucked away. Only 4 rooms, each one with its own name; ours was Living Simply. The hotel is called Beds and Bagels so breakfast wasn’t really a surprise: about 8 different types of bagels plus a dozen varieties of Philadelphia cream cheese plus omelette and sausages.

We had booked a two hour horse ride in the Colorado valley, at the Hauer Ranch, about 21 miles from Moab. My horse was called Calico, Graeme’s was Chavato. There were 6 of us altogether including Trace, the guide; he was on Champ. The other horses were Cash, Gem and Barney. It was strange being back in a saddle. I used to ride as a young teenager and we had a horse trek on honeymoon some 27 years ago, which is the last time Graeme had been on a horse too.

The ride took us into the canyon along small trails, along Onion Creek, twisting and turning in a loop back to the Ranch. Barney kept lagging behind - should have been called Eeyore, Trace said -so we had to stop from time to time to let him catch up. The canyon here has been used to film John Wayne films as well as more recent ones like City Slickers 2 and After Earth.

Trace told us a tale of a fugitive who had hidden in the canyon for years before his remains had been found, and you can see how someone could stay hidden in the creeks and gulleys. Onion Creek looked like liquid chocolate on a bed of dark chocolate. The horses didn’t mind, they just drank it, and the horses were fond of the grass here too. Each time we stopped Calico would eat and then walk on with a bunch of it still in his mouth.

I had a sore bottom by the end and Graeme’s thighs ached but we both really enjoyed it. As Trace said, if you’ve ridden on horseback it makes you appreciate modern transport. This was more in the context of early settlers and how long it must have taken them to travel.

Colorado river

We went back to the hotel to change out of the jeans we’d had to wear for riding into shorts as the day was getting warm. Graeme had something fun in store next. We visited Canyonlands, but we entered in an alternative way, via the Potash road which led into the Shafer trail. Well, it started off fine on a paved road. This went alongside the Colorado river for about 6 miles, smooth, glimpses of the river on the left and towering red sandstone on the right. Then we hit gravel, not smooth gravel but huge pebbles gravel. Speed slowed to 5 mph. This was a bit rougher than we’d expected and there was another 13 miles to go. Fortunately the horrid gravel gave way to packed red earth, then slick rock, sand, soft earth, better gravel, outcrops of rock, sudden drops.

Then we got stuck. A sharp left turn up hill and the wheels spun. I should mention at this point that the road is meant for 4 wheel drive vehicles, and ours wasn’t. It does have high clearance because we knew we were going up this road and we decided to have high clearance but 2 wheel drive. Anyway, back to being stuck. Graeme backed down the hill a bit and tried a slightly different tack. Same result, got so far then the wheels spun. OK, one last try or we were going to have to negotiate a three point turn and go the long way round. But Graeme did his stuff and we were up and over and on our way again.

Fun road
The Shafer Trail

It’s known as the Potash road as the company that built the road, and kindly let people use it, extract the mineral and have huge pools, looking very much like inviting swimming pools, stretched across the landscape.

Potash pools

The road wasn’t dangerous, yet, but very tricky to navigate. Great boulders lay strewn by the road, washes where the creeks cross the road in the wet season were hazards of their own. One in particular caused a problem as an overhang had been left and it was more of a step down of about 18 inches from the road. That was a bit of a jolt and turned out to be a road closer as it had been reported as a hazard. 10 minutes further down we met the Rangers closing the trail.

Shafer Trail

Ever seen those programmes where the vehicle is crawling along the edge of the cliff on a badly made road? That wasn’t quite us but close. The hairpins up to Canyonlands were on reasonable gravel and the views became more and more spectacular as we climbed. This was Little Canyon, smaller brother to Grand Canyon, at least to us.

Shafer hairpins
Shafer trails

With the closed road behind us we turned into Canyonlands where the Colorado turns back and forth gouging out canyons on its way and is joined by Green River. Trails are everywhere. We visited the iconic Mesa Arch, familiar to some with Windows 7 screensavers; Orange Cliffs overlook where we could see the Maze part of Canyonlands; Grand View Point where the view over the tops of the canyons is breathtaking and Green River overlook where the Green River can be seen on its way to meet the Colorado. The scale of what can be seen is difficult to comprehend, miles and miles of rocky canyons, topped with green or red or grey, majestic, changing so slowly with the weather.

Green River

Mesa Arch is amazing. The eye shaped window in the rock frames the distant Lasal mountains, that we’d had driven past yesterday. A kind man took our photo and we reciprocated for him and his family. Everyone politely waited for each group to take a turn but you had to be quick to get a shot of the Arch with no-one in it.

Mesa Arch

Our last stop was Dead Horse Point State Park. The story behind the name is sad, so you can look it up for yourselves, but the neck of the Point narrows to 30ft right before the end. From the top you can see what the Colorado has carved and the river itself plus the Potash lakes and Shafer trail way down below.

Colorado river
Little lizard

We had dinner at Susie’s Branding Iron, a cowboy steakhouse, kind of fitting for today’s activities. Today was a cool 99F (37C), bit like a blast furnace on the Shafer trail.