Amongst the Sirens: Falling for the Allure of Arches and Canyonlands National Parks

Waking up in Moab on Day 4 of my adventure was something of a dream. Moab, Utah, is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise with hundreds of miles of trails for runners, bikers, hikers, and adventurers. And that’s just on the ground! Add the vertical adventures of rock climbing and you’re doubling the fun! The air was clean and crisp as I left my hotel for Arches National Park. Moab sits at a little over 4,000’ above sea level but the air was cool, sitting in the upper 30s this September morning, until the sun arose over the hills and warmed the reddish rock below. I first heard of Moab in college in the mid-90s and finally after nearly a quarter of a century, could taste this precious fruit. My goals on this day were simple: run to the Delicate Arch at Arches NP, then hit Canyonlands NP an hour up the road, then reverse course back south and east again into Colorado for the night.. Thus with a warm coffee in hand and large grin on my face, I drove on to Delicate Arch, just north of town.

Driving into Arches I felt this great energy all around. It was as if the great Greek gods built a vast and mighty temple here in this barren land: the incredible sandstone red rock formations reaching up from the ground towards the heavens. All of them like beautiful and mysterious sirens tempting you to come and play. Looking at a map and my time available, I knew I only had time for one of these enchantresses: the Delicate Arch, perhaps the most know and visited arch in the many which inhabit these beautiful land.

Arriving in the parking lot for the 1.5 mile trail to this well known rock formation, I realized I wasn’t the only one with this idea. More or less packed, I ended up driving around for about 10 minutes waiting on a spot. The trail, however, made up for it, pretty wide and a mixture of dirt at first followed by well-worn sandstone incline up to the natural amphitheater which holds the Delicate Arch. As mentioned, it was busy: other hikers and explorers venturing up this majestic site in the early morning before temperatures peaked in the 90s. I went slow, careful not to get too close to others, face covered depending on my distance to others, but still enjoying the views surrounding me; one foot in front of the other up the hill. Once I arrived, the energy of the site enveloped me. I too fell prey to this temptress and all her natural beauty. I didn’t want to leave. I could have stayed all day. Gathering all my strength though, I broke loose from her grasp and headed down. Canyonlands called as well along with Colorado. No time to waste. I did, however, take a brief pit stop to see the petroglyphs at the base, but that was it. I ate a late breakfast & drank some coffee on the side of the road, and ventured north.

It’s hard not to be enamored by the land in this part of the country. Both rugged and remote, the vastness and beauty are nearly beyond comprehension. It is easy to see why there are so many national parks in Utah. Canyonlands was no exception. Mapping out a 5 mile trail near the northern entrance, I found parking at the trailhead and launched off.

I’ll admit, I wasn’t feeling the trail I picked in Canyonlands: a bit tired, feeling the effects of altitude, but I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t. Nothing left to do but hit the trails slow and steady and see what was out there. The pics say it all; there really isn’t much else to explain. It was warm by then but my Camelbak kept me hydrated. At one point I tweaked my ankle, but being 3 miles from anyone else, I gritted my teeth and kept trotting along. I finished and let the sun dry my sweat as I ate a sandwich off my tailgate. Now time to make a beeline to Alamosa, Colorado for my last run.

Even the drive back down through Moab and into southwestern Colorado was remarkable. I passed from rugged mesas and mountains, to vast farmland held at altitudes at over 6,000’, towns like Dove Creek, the Pinto Bean capital of the world. And while tempted to stop, I knew I had a lot of driving ahead of me, so I pressed.  Finally, in need of gas and a break I pulled into Pagosa Springs, Colorado and opted to grab dinner in the form of pizza and beer tasting at Pagosa Brewing & Grill. Again I wasn’t disappointed putting down a 4 taster flight and a pizza before getting on the road again. Refueled in more ways than one, I continued in the dark on to Alamosa, arriving shortly before midnight.

Here was my roll-up:

Miles driven: 394

Total driving time: 7.5 hours

Miles run: 9

# of random texts I got addressed to “Sandy” about helping at voting stations: only 3! Progress!

# of calls I got asking me to sell my house in DC: 4 (it’s just annoying now)

# of crazy looks l got at Arches for running by people walking uphill: about 6 (what can I say, I wanted to get up there!)

Once again the trails & brews lived up to my expectations. Great Sand Dunes National Park beckoned the next day before a day and a half of driving back to Tennessee. I was ready for one more run.

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