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Jonathan Stull | 10.08.2016

The canyonlands surrounding Moab offer some of the most intriguing backcountry in the western United States. Winding and intricate, full of mystery, these canyonlands seem to have a life of their own. Native Americans who once dwelled here knew how to bounce messages from the canyon walls, shouting to one another across thousands of feet. The vestige of their presence remains in the rock art and the stone dwellings they constructed 1,000 years ago. Hiking among the sandstone fins, arches, and canyons is a singularly unique experience that is simultaneously intimate and lonely. Turn a corner and you may find yourself alone, nothing but the cacti to keep you company. Your thoughts echo from the canyon walls like pattering feet. Go there; pitch a tent, light a fire at a bend in the Colorado, drink a glass of whisky by its light, and dream of a different world. In the morning, you’ll go here:

The Human Element

  • Distant from Moab, the remote Horseshoe Canyon has what some consider to be the best rock art in the United States. The millennia-old Barrier Canyon rock art at the Great Gallery spans 120 feet.
  • The False Kiva, so named for the unclear origin of the archeological site, includes a hike to a classic Western panorama tucked in an alcove high above Canyonlands National Park.
  • Find yourself an ancient stone granary at Aztec Butte, just a short 1.2-mile hike away.

Million-Dollar Vistas

  • The Rim Trails at Dead Horse Point State Park have some surprisingly underappreciated canyon views near Moab.
  • It doesn’t claim any arches, but the sandstone prominences and unique monuments of Park Avenue Trail offer a different kind of photogenic beauty.
  • The Colorado Plateau invokes a fascinating juxtaposition in wilderness: Ascend past a certain threshold and everything turns green. Try the Burlfriends Trail in the La Sal Mountains for a lesson in contrasts.

Sandstone Arches

  • Unlike many of the arch hikes near Moab, Corona Arch is located on BLM land—which means dogs can hike, too!
  • Hikers searching for solitude should find Tower Arch along the Klondike Bluffs Trail.
  • The entire length of the 7.2-mile Primitive Loop Trail offers a grand total of seven arches and a host of other geologically fascinating features as well.
  • A good introduction to Moab slick rock that includes an arch? Go to Broken Arch.
  • The Fiery Furnace is a true adventure for advanced hikers only, unless you’re attending a ranger-guided tour through the unmarked, trail-less, arch-rich void.
  • If you’ve seen the Utah license plate, you’ll recognize Delicate Arch—but seeing it in person is an experience without comparison.
  • The canyonlands are fertile for photographers, and the Windows Loop has a wide range of spectacles to capture, including the Windows and the Parade of Elephants.
  • The hike to Morning Glory Arch in Negro Bill Canyon, a beautiful, albeit less dramatic sandstone formation, offers a cool pool to dip into on hot days.
  • Funnel Arch is off the beaten path and relatively unknown to tourists. Plus, the arch has an anchor for rappelling.

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