Moab: Home to Arches, Canyonlands, and Westworld

When I chose Moab, Utah as our weekend destination after a work trip to Las Vegas, I didn’t know a whole lot about it. I knew that Moab was home to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, that it was a larger town than Springdale, Utah (the gateway to last year’s destination, Zion), and that January was definitely Moab’s off season.

It wasn’t until after I settled on Moab that I realized I could run a race while I was there AND that the valleys, canyons, and vistas surrounding Moab were where HBO’s Westworld was filmed.  Running races and Westworld are two of my favorite things, so I was pretty sure that I was going to LOVE Moab!

Here’s our Moab trip in map form. Click here to view a larger map and click on a waypoint to view a photo.

After I finished the Arches Ultra 9K on Saturday morning, Matt and I began exploring Moab. We drove along the Colorado River on Route 128, admiring the steep cliffs and bright blue water. For Westworld fans, this road is the “track” that the train takes to enter the park. There are no actual train tracks here, so they built a train car on the back of a flatbed truck and drove up and down Route 128 during filming. Matt and I listened to Westworld’s theme song on repeat during this section of the drive.

We soon came upon Castle Valley and Fisher Towers, two more show locations. We spent the afternoon hiking around Fisher Towers, then drove through Castle Valley before retracing our route back towards Moab and then north towards Canyonlands. We watched the sun set as we drove towards Canyonlands’ “Island in the Sky” mesa, then turned around and headed back to town for the night.

On Sunday morning we woke up early and drove for 45 minutes in the dark back up to the Island in the Sky. We paid $15 at an unmanned kiosk to enter Dead Horse Point State Park, then made our way to the Dead Horse Point viewpoint to watch the sun rise.  It was cold (25°F), quiet and beautiful. We looked out over rugged red cliffs and canyons that stretched as far as we could see and watched the January sun beams slowly illuminate the scene, turning each rock face they reached an intense, fiery red.

We shared this experience with one other couple and three professional photographers who had set up their tripods on a cliff below us.  It was so quiet we could hear the shutters on their cameras clicking as they snapped shot after shot of the amazing view. Once the pros were done we walked down to the same spot and took a few of our own photos. Views don’t get much better than this.

For Westworld fans, Dead Horse Point is a show location that’s featured in Episode 1. Look familiar?

Next we entered Canyonlands National Park and took a quick hike to Mesa Arch… our first arch of the trip! It did not disappoint.  We had Mesa Arch to ourselves and the underside of the arch was glowing in the early morning sun.

We returned to Moab for a quick breakfast (and much needed coffee… I was really dragging after our pre-dawn wake up call!) and then set our sights on Arches National Park. Arches is a fairly small park with a single main road that allows you to get close to many of the major highlights with minimal hiking required.  We hit several of these spots on Sunday, with visits to Balanced Rock, North Window Arch, South Window Arch, Turret Arch, and Double Arch.

Next we embarked on a longer hike to see Utah’s famous Delicate Arch. I was a little worried that this arch might not live up to its hype… how could it possibly compare to our transcendent sunrise from 8 hours earlier??! Matt and I hiked up smooth red rock for a mile and a half and carefully picked our way along an icy trail that was little more than a ledge on the shaded side of a red cliff face. This was the most crowded hike we’d been on so far and I was just starting to get tired of watching people in inappropriate footwear try to navigate the ice when we turned a corner and there it was: DELICATE ARCH.

Delicate Arch was breathtaking. The scale of it is hard to describe. It looks small at first, but then it dawns on you that the little speck at its base is a person and you realize how big it is, and how stately and alone it is, just standing there, rising up out of the red stone and framing a gorgeous range of snow-capped mountains off in the distance. All of the other hikers around us were clearly hit with the same emotion, and we all just sat down with our backs against a warm rock wall, murmuring quietly amongst ourselves and staring at Delicate Arch in the afternoon sun.

Matt and I stayed at Delicate Arch for close to an hour before heading back down the mountain. Delicate Arch totally rivaled Dead Horse Point’s sunrise views and I would strongly recommend both spots to any future Moab visitor.

Monday was our last day in Moab and we had a long list of arches that we still wanted to see. Matt and I got on the road in the dark once again, this time heading to the Devil’s Garden section of Arches NP. Devil’s Garden is home to a staggering number of arches and other crazy rock formations, including Landscape Arch, the longest natural arch in the world.

We hiked on the snow-covered trail in the dark and arrived at Landscape Arch just before sunrise. There were no other people in sight, just us and the long, unbelievably thin arch. We watched the sun hit the arch, turning it a bright golden yellow, and took tons of photos. Then we left Landscape Arch behind and set out on the “primitive trail” to see more of Devil’s Garden.

The primitive trail was barely a trail in most places. It was good that the sun was up by this point, because we had to climb and scramble up, over and across rock fins and ridges to get to the next few arches on our list. In one area we had to walk along an exposed rock spine with drop offs on either side and a steady, strong cross wind… so powerful that when I took my glove off to take a photo and I had trouble putting it back on because it was blowing straight sideways.  Luckily my earwarmer headband was holding my precious Arches Ultra cap securely on my head!!

While in Devil’s Garden Matt and I saw Partition Arch, Navajo Arch, and Double O Arch, then returned back by Landscape Arch to visit Tunnel Arch and Pine Tree Arch. There was one other couple out on the primitive trail but we otherwise had this sunrise hike to ourselves.

Next we took a few short hikes to Skyline Arch, Sand Dune Arch and Broken Arch (all “private” viewing again… January is definitely the time to visit Arches!!) and then we wrapped up our long morning of hiking with a trek down “Park Avenue,” a canyon lined with towering rock monoliths that reminded early visitors of a skyscraper-lined street in Manhattan.

We returned to Moab for lunch at the Moab Brewery. By this point Matt and I estimated that we had hiked close to 10 miles but we weren’t done yet. After lunch we made a quick stop at the nearby Matheson Wetlands Preserve, a natural wetlands area on the Colorado River. The preserve was underwhelming, with little wildlife out on a chilly January day, but it was a quiet place to digest our beer and burgers before our final hike of the trip.

To get to our last hiking destination we had to drive along Route 279 (aka Potash Road), a scenic road sandwiched between the Colorado River and sheer red cliffs. The cliffs are home to “Wall Street,” a popular rock climbing area, as well as several great examples of historic Indian rock art. We stopped to see the petroglyphs before continuing on to the Corona Arch trailhead.

The Corona Arch parking lot was almost empty, and we passed the afternoon’s only other hikers on their way back to their car less than a mile into our hike. Excited to have one more arch all to ourselves, Matt and I pressed on, climbing up and up into a wide bowl-like formation with steep drop offs to our right. We scaled a ladder bolted to the rock and trekked up stone steps carved into the rock.

Finally the massive Corona Arch came into view. Once again, we had a private viewing of the breathtaking arch, and we spent a while soaking in the view and utter silence around us. Just as we were about to head back to the car the nearly full moon (the super blue blood moon) rose up and over the arch. Perfect.

And just like that, our whirlwind weekend in Moab was over. We were on the road by 4:14AM the next morning and back in Philadelphia nine hours later.

In three days we hiked to sixteen arches, visited two National Parks, saw magnificent views of the Colorado River, and were outside (or in the car) for every sunrise and sunset. Best of all, we experienced all of this with no crowds and, in most cases, with these iconic landmarks all to ourselves. Moab in January definitely did not disappoint!

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Photo Walkabout at Okehocking Preserve

Before I get to the Piper pics, just a quick update to say that yesterday’s 5K was awesome. Despite the unseasonably (insanely!) muggy weather, our runner/walker turnout, enthusiasm, and venue exceeded all expectations! I’ll do a post on the 5K soon, but for now, I have some Piper photos to share!

Last Friday on the drive home from work I realized that the lighting conditions – flat, bright lighting with an even, white cloud cover – were perfect for photography.  Before my 8 minute commute was over I had decided that I would take Piper to Okehocking Preserve for a quick photo walkabout (aka an aimless hike with a dog and a camera in search of nice light!). I cajoled Matt into coming with me (someone needs to hold Piper’s leash while I snap her picture!!) and by 5PM my camera and I were standing shin-deep in the middle of Ridley Creek while sweet, happy Piper splashed around in the water.

The lighting and scenery were beautiful, and over the course of 40 minutes Matt, Piper and I meandered around the park, seeking out the best lighting and backgrounds. (Thank you Matt for your patience!!)

Piper enjoyed every second of our hike, and tackled the hills, stone walls, and high grass with her usual gusto. The shots above and below were taken at Okehocking’s historic bank barn.

Compare Friday’s pics to these two from three years ago, also taken at the bank barn when Piper was just 4 months old.  Same memorable white whiskers (and coincidentally, same leash!), just three years apart.

Here’s another fun comparison: three year old Piper in Ridley Creek last Friday vs. the shot that got my Instagram following started back in 2014. Same bend of Ridley Creek, but one looking upstream and the other downstream.

Six hundred photos later, the sun signaled the end of our photo walk as it slowly dipped behind the tree line. Just before the sun disappeared we found a spot on a hill with perfect “golden hour” light. Piper plopped down in the grass, happy to oblige in exchange for a few pieces of sliced meatball. No amount of photoshopping can produce glorious lighting like this!

Is it just me or is Piper totally posing in this next photo? Clearly, she is not camera shy.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for putting up with my constant photos of Piper! Which photo from Friday’s walkabout is your favorite? I am torn between the very first shot and this last one… 😄

Climbing Old Rag Mountain

Over the past three years Matt and I have hiked and road-tripped our way through some awe-inspiring destinations on the west coast including Zion National Park, Sedona and Big Sur. Traveling “Out West” has become a yearly pilgrimage, yielding beautiful memories from past adventures and unlimited possibilities for future trips. (Portland! Napa! A train ride from SF to Chicago! The Grand Canyon! So much to see.)

With all of that excitement happening on the left coast, I haven’t given much thought to potential trips back east.  Sure, we take annual drives to the Poconos and the beach and make our way up to Vermont or northern New York every once in a while, but none of these places have rivaled the awesomeness of the western landscape. But all that changed on Friday when Matt and I hiked up Old Rag Mountain in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park. Continue reading

Zion National Park

Every January Matt and I spend a week working in Las Vegas at a big trade show. After many trips to Sin City, Vegas itself is not very exciting but that’s OK because our fun begins when the show ends on Friday. In 2014 we drove to Temecula for a weekend in southern California wine country and last year we road-tripped east through Arizona to beautiful Sedona for a few days. This year we wanted to find another 3-day weekend getaway within driving distance, so after much research Matt and I decided to visit Zion National Park in southeastern Utah.

zion-overlook

Why visit Zion from Las Vegas in January? Here were our primary reasons:

  1. Proximity: Zion is only 2 1/2 hours away from Las Vegas. You can easily drive back to Vegas to fly home, or catch a connecting flight out of the tiny regional airport in St. George, UT (that’s what we did).
  2. Off-Season: Like many National Parks, Zion is experiencing record numbers of visitors and over-crowding of the single park road, parking lots, and trails is becoming a real issue. We correctly figured that we’d miss out on all of that excitement and have the canyon more or less to ourselves during the third week of January.
  3. Weather: Zion usually has relatively mild winters and, unlike Bryce Canyon or northern Utah’s ski resorts, Zion usually doesn’t receive huge amounts of snow. We figured Zion’s winter weather would be perfect for hiking and we wouldn’t have to worry about trail or road closures in January. (This didn’t quite pan out!)

All of my research on the weather was well-intentioned, but sometimes you just can’t plan for mother nature.  Continue reading

The End of Blog-Crastination

Is it possible that I haven’t blogged since September? Yup. And the worst part is, the longer I wait to compose a new post, the harder it becomes to get motivated to actually sit down and write! Case in point: I have now run seven (SEVEN!) races since my last race recap. I’m a stickler for chronological recaps, and knowing that I need to reminisce all the way back to a mediocre race in early October before I can regale you with tales about my first California race (in San Diego!!) and my most recent 5K with Piper makes it that much harder to buckle down and get the writing done.

But today I’m putting an end to my blog-crastination! I am ignoring all of those accumulated races and turning to my favorite four-legged friend for inspiration. So without further ado, here’s a selection of photos (in chronological order) of Piper doing her thing from May thru December. Enjoy!

Did you make it through all of those photos? (Thanks!😉) Which is your favorite? I’m partial to Piper in her orange goggles. 🤓

Let it snow! Long enough for a run, at least.

We experienced some very odd weather in southeastern Pennsylvania yesterday… it snowed! And not just cute little spring flurries. This was real, accumulating, white-out conditions SNOW! The storm started mid-morning and dumped 4-5 inches on my daffodils, budding trees, and sugar snap pea shoots. There was nothing I could do to protect my garden so I decided to take Piper out for a trail run at nearby Okehocking Preserve instead.

Okehocking Snow Run

We ran a big loop around the preserve, enjoying the muddy trails, slippery hills and snowy grass. This might have been a freak storm, but it sure was pretty!

Okehocking in the Snow

I brought my Go Pro along and had fun running towards it on the trail. Matt gave me the Go Pro for my birthday last November and I’m still learning how to take advantage of the tiny camera’s super wide-angle lens and various shooting modes. Yesterday I played around with the Go Pro’s continuous photo mode and tried to avoid stepping on it each time Piper and I zoomed by.

Luckily no one else was out in the storm to witness this behavior… Piper thought we looked pretty silly.

Look at the camera, Piper

The storm ended at 5PM and immediately started melting. Our backyard is still blanketed in snow more than 24 hours later, but the temperature is supposed to rise to 62°F tomorrow so the snow should disappear soon. As much as I enjoyed my winter romp with Piper, I’ll be OK if I don’t see another snow flake until November!!

Okehocking Preserve (4/9/16)

Bradford Pear Down

Guess what? On Sunday Piper finally mastered “headstand.” We’ve been working on this trick for months and I’m SO proud of her!928 Headstand Piper

Oh wait, just kidding. Nope, the real truth is that a violent windstorm uprooted a perfectly healthy, beautiful tree on Saturday night, leaving a white wall of flowers and a giant sideways stump in our yard. Boo! 😣

943 The tree, Piper and Matt

And if you’re still trying to wrap your head around the first photo, maybe this will help:

699 Checking out the fallen tree

On Saturday night a storm front swept across southeastern Pennsylvania, bringing heavy rains and 45-60 mpg wind gusts. Despite the wind our power stayed on and Matt and I went to bed, blissfully unaware of the damage happening outside. We woke up early Sunday morning, looked out the window and BAM!! WHITE FLOWERS EVERYWHERE. Our Bradford Pear tree had tipped over on its side, taking a sizable chunk of lawn along with it.

649 Matt and the Tree

Piper was initially wary of the changed landscape, but she has quickly realized that the tree’s new position means she is MUCH closer to the birds and squirrels that hang out in it.  She’s been keeping a close eye on it ever since.

1008 Fallen Tree

Here’s what the tree looked like in its glory, back in 2014.  RIP, Bradford Pear Tree.

Bradford Pear in its former glory

Matt and I are getting estimates for the tree’s removal now. In the meantime, I’m sure Piper will keep herself very busy watching over the fallen white blossoms.  Like most outdoor activities, it’s a job that she’s taking very seriously!

1041 Piper and her fallen tree