PrologueWhat we are doing, and why we're doing it!
Moab is definitely the Mecca of recreation in southeastern Utah. Canyonlands National Park lays to the west, the famous slickrock 4x4 and mountain bike trails are just to the east. The Colorado River runs just north of town, with Arches National Park just beyond.
We had just come into town from the Canyonlands 'Needles' district to the southwest. Canyonlands is a large National Park, but it's not very accessible to lumbering motorhomes. If you have a four-wheel drive vehicle it's a wonderland.
Canyonlands is divided into three areas: by the Colorado River flowing down from the northeast, the Green River flowing in from the northwest, and the merged Colorado flowing out to the southwest. The 'Y' formed by the rivers creates three distinct landscapes. The area to the north is the 'Island in the Sky' district. It's a high plateau with deep canyons on either side. The area to the southeast is the 'Needles' district, known for ridges of rock spires. To the southwest is the 'Maze'. The Maze is a labyrinth of sandstone ridges, fins, spires, and gullies that is totally devoid of paved roads.
If you are interested in a remote desert camping experience, Canyonlands is the place to go. If you are just sightseeing in a car or motorhome you will be rewarded with some spectacular vistas, but little else.
While we were staying in Moab, we took the opportunity to sample one of the slickrock bike trails and a rafting trip on the Colorado.
Slickrock is bare exposed sandstone. It's not slippery, it just looks smooth. It's smooth surface with almost wave like hills and minimal plant life make it an awesome place to ride mountain bikes. Not having ridden on slickrock before and not being the most skilled bike rider made taking the camera along a risky proposition, so we don't have any pictures. If you are really interested, I'm sure there are plenty of pictures elsewhere on the Web. Just search for 'Moab slickrock bike trail'. If you enjoy mountain biking, Moab is the place to go!
The Colorado River offers a variety of rafting trips from mild to wild. As most of the family had not experienced white water rafting before, we chose the 'mild' trip that ran the Colorado just upstream of Moab. The section downstream after the Green and Colorado meet and thunder through Cataract Canyon would have provided a wild ride.
Our river trip started with a shuttle to the outfitters base where we signed release forms, met our guide, and got fitted with life jackets. We then boarded a recycled school bus for the drive to our 'put-in' site.
We waited while our guides dealt with the mayhem of several commercial outfits and a crowd of private rafters all trying to launch at the same time. It was nice to have someone else take care of getting things ready.
After listening to a short speech about safety, we joined the parade of rafts heading down river. The Colorado was full to the brim with springtime snowmelt. The high water covered the few rapids on the upper part of our course, muting their usual boisterousness. The flood also carried us downstream faster than usual.
The bulk of the trip was a peaceful journey through spectacular scenery. We wiled away the time chatting with our guide and our fellow guests (a family from Germany). Ian took a turn at the oars and entertained us all by performing graceful pirouettes with the raft while trying to keep to the center of the river. Eventually, he also decided he had to test the waters and jumped in. The water was chilly enough that nobody else from our boat was brave (or crazy) enough to join him.
Late in the morning, we encountered the most serious rapid of the day. While it wasn't enough to be frightening, it was exciting enough to elicit some squeals and splash us with water. As we were meeting another raft and taking on some half-day passengers, we stopped just below the rapids to watch other rafts race through the rapids.
With the sun high in the sky, our guides found one of the few beaches left exposed by the high water and we pulled in for lunch. All of the guests from the three rafts lounged in the shade of a large cottonwood tree while our guides prepared a hearty lunch.
The afternoon session was more lazy sightseeing past shear sandstone cliffs glazed with desert varnish. We didn't have much more than a hint of whitewater until just before our take-out site. Having finished up with a touch of excitement we clambered ashore while our guides floated a few hundred feet downstream to load the rafts and stow all of the gear.
The short ride back to the outfitters base was marked with a bit more laughter and conversation than the ride out in the morning. It had been a pleasant trip, but we would have enjoyed a bit more excitement.