Once again, we find ourselves in the desert

Anthony and I have taken a lot of camping trips in the past few years — even before moving out West, we had a few summer excursions into the wilderness with friends, and have continued to take several each year to new and exciting places. However, of all of the places we’ve been, we keep being drawn back to the same location: Moab, Utah.

You might remember that we closed last summer’s camping expeditions with a trip to Moab, and ended up beginning this year’s travels with our fourth experience in the same red desert. It’s not that Moab is incredibly close — it requires a three-day weekend to justify the 8-hour car ride — but it is just so unique and full of possibility that it is difficult to opt out whenever we have friends taking a trip. I heard someone say over the weekend that Moab is a “Man’s Giant Playground”, a statement with which I would fully agree if you swapped out the word “Man” with “Adventurous Adult.”

The first couple times we went to Moab, we spent a lot of time seeing the area through the open doors of bumpy Jeeps, crawling across the boulder-strewn surface and climbing up to majestic vistas. Last time, weather inhibited much of our fun plans and we unfortunately spent much of our time without taking advantage of the “playground.” This time, however, I can honestly say that I had the best time I’ve ever experienced on a Moab trip.

We packed up the car on Thursday after work, knowing that we would arrive well past sundown to our campsite — a familiar area to us, which was already inhabited by about 20 of our friends and friends-of-friends. We rode with our friend, Tom, who was excited to get his newish Jeep out to the famous desert rock terrain. Being the smallest of the passengers, I was relegated to the backseat, knowing that I was sleepy enough to huddle down against the wind that came through the Jeep’s open back and doze most of the way.

Does that look like the vehicle of an outdoorsy bunch, or what?

When we left Denver, the temperature was mild and the gray skies threatened a spring drizzle, and as predicted, I nodded off quickly after the departure. However, I woke up mid-trip, when we were in the heart of the mountains, to this scene:

Thankfully, the boys were cranking the heat, and we stayed toasty and warm despite any exposure to the elements. The chilly mountain conditions were in no way indicative of the sunny and hot conditions we’d encounter just a few hundred miles away.

When we arrived at camp, our friends were still up and enjoying the campfire, so we had some help and company in setting up our tent in the dark. We went to sleep pretty soon after arriving, allowing for an easy wake-up the next morning when the desert sun immediately began heating up our tent.

This year's camp site

I woke up with such an enthusiasm for the physical activity that awaited us that I immediately dug out my running clothes and gathered a few other “crazy” individuals for a little morning run. We took off from our campsite and utilized Anthony’s GPS watch to chart a 3-mile route through the towering plateaus and sandy hills. It was the perfect start to our day, and made the campfire breakfast of sausage, hashbrowns and eggs that much more rewarding.

While our “Jeep friends” piled into their vehicles for their usual fun, we ended up finding a decent-sized group to join us for some mountain biking, which had Anthony and I very excited. Luckily, a couple folks in our group knew of some good “intermediate” trails to take us newbies on, and we eagerly suited up in our bike gear and made our way to another part of town.

The trail was an absolute blast. There were certainly some challenging parts, but they only added to the fun. A couple of the people we went with were much more experienced than us, and helped me to refine my technique and approach the technical aspects with a little more skill and confidence. Most of the terrain was rocky and strewn with obstacles, but the hills were gentle rollers as opposed to the straight-up, unending climbs that we’re used to in the Rocky Mountains and Front Range. I had a lot of fun facing my fear of the downhills and working up to more speed than I might normally be comfortable with, knowing that the sand might be forgiving and the hills weren’t long enough to lose control.

Anthony, Tom and me. (Yes, my helmet is a little large...)

After a morning on the trail, stopping a few times to catch our breath and look out over the scenic canyons, we stopped for a bite to eat. A couple of the bikers left to go out on their own, and the rest of us agreed that we had plenty of energy left to continue.

Me and Tom, during the lunch break.

Unfortunately, I for one may have been a little too confident in the waning energy that I had left, and we ended up on a trail that really pushed my limits. We stumbled upon a well-known trail called the “Ride the Line Challenge,” on which you follow a painted line across a 3-mile rock surface, the completion of which supposedly leads to “good luck” and the coming-true of dreams.

The "Ride the Line Challenge"

The trail started out being a lot of fun, and I approached the various technical challenges with enthusiasm, bumping across boulders, sliding over crevasses, and pounding the pedals to get me up and over the hilly rocks.

Toward the end of this trail, however, my aching muscles had hit a wall (both figuratively and literally as my wheels ran head-on into obstacles!), and I began to lose the strength to keep pedaling during any of the uphill climbs. My more-experienced bike mates had gotten quite a ways ahead, and I slowly and frustratedly made my way through the hills and valleys until I caught up with them. They were similarly worn down at that point, so we all decided that we should call it a day at that point and start heading back towards the car, which was about another mile and a half away. After a mostly downhill and obstacle-free ride back to the car, I was feeling much better and could relish in the successes I had had throughout the day’s ride, and we all decided that we had “earned” the beers we would be enjoying back at camp.

And enjoy we did! After a quick rinse in town (we swallowed our pride to take “paper towel baths” under a spigot in a public park), we had a great time meeting back up with everyone who had gone their separate ways, and telling survival stories of the day. We had a lot of laughs around the fire, and crashed hard in our sleeping bags that night.

The next morning, I woke up knowing that I wouldn’t be biking again, and was hoping to enjoy a more relaxing day. Anthony, meanwhile was looking forward to going out with some other friends who had just arrived that morning. So, I ended up going into town with a few other people, and indulging in a little-known treasure that I had discovered with my friend, Teddy, on a previous trip.

Just off a popular jeeping trail (which is why we happened to be near it the last time) is a gorgeous desert oasis, consisting of a waterfall and rocky creek bed. It is about 30-100 feet (depending where you’re standing) below the ground level, so if you didn’t know it was there, you could easily miss it. We lounged on the rocks, reading books and chatting in the sun, and occasionally daring to take a dip in the icy waters. Just like the last time we visited this lovely spot, it made for a fantastic morning and afternoon.

Once the peace of the watering hole started to become overtaken by kids and some drunken teenagers, we decided that we had had our fill and worked our way back to town. We shared an appetizer and indulged in a beer at the Moab Brewery, capping off the perfect afternoon with a cone of their house-made gelato on the way out.

We arrived back at camp to find a few friends enjoying a similarly leisurely day, and spent some time relaxing under the breezy shade of a tarp. However, being in the “playground” makes it hard to sit still, and I suddenly felt the urge to get back on my bike. Knowing that the ideal Moab terrain is something I would rarely get a chance to encounter, I resolved to take a “chill” ride up the road from our campsite. I knew it would be an uphill climb based on our morning run the day before, as well as a nighttime Jeep ride we had taken down that road on a previous camping trip, but I figured I’d just go as far as I was comfortable with, and then turn back.

My plans were changed slightly when another one of our companions from the day before, Kate, offered to join me. The offer was well-received, as I knew it was smarter to travel in teams out in the desert, and I was excited to have someone to keep me company. However, Kate’s ideas for this ride were a little more ambitious, involving the ascent of the highest ridge we could see in the distance. I am not sure how many miles away it was, but it was a pretty steep uphill climb — something I wasn’t really planning on incorporating into my relaxing day.

The ride was nice, though, and I enjoyed talking to Kate, getting some more mountain biking tips and following her [much more experienced] lead. “Just one more of these, I swear!” she’d call back to me as I struggled up a rocky wall, and I optimistically believed her. Eventually, we reached our final destination and it was oh-so-worth-it. The view was amazing, and we could see for miles and miles. I had been on this ridge in the dark before, and had only experienced the view through night vision goggles — it was a cool experience to see it in the daytime.

Looking over the other side of the ridge.

And you know what was an even more cool experience? Going down. Kate kept me engaged in conversation nearly the whole ride down, forcing me to keep up with her as she headed down the trail. I followed her path and successfully made it, finally feeling the true rush of the rewarding downhill coast. I was beaming with pride when I looked back at the ridge we had just conquered, and was so glad that I had had someone there to push me all the way to the top.

We arrived back at camp and found the rest of our group, who had returned while we were out. After they all drove back up to the ridge to check it out for themselves, we enjoyed another fun night around the campfire.

The next morning we packed up [slowly] and made our way to town for breakfast before heading back to Denver. I slept nearly the whole way home, and then enjoyed the most glorious shower after three sweaty days in the desert and campfire smoke. The trip was an absolute blast and by far my favorite Moab trip due to the combination of everything I described above, but I was so glad to be home and back to the joys of running water and padded beds. Three days is about my limit for camping trips, so it was absolutely perfect. And now?

Credit: Anne Taintor

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