Moab in July!? Yes it was hot and very sunny, but we still had an amazing time over the July 4th holiday out in the desert. Salt Lake City was the touchdown point and then we would start the adventure to the salt flats and then south to Moab, but first we had to find some food after the early flight. Originally we targeted a few of the popular brunch places to find a hearty breakfast before the long drive, but they all seemed to have over an hour wait… The Red Iguana popped up as nearby and had some of the highest ratings I have ever seen for a restaurant, so we decided to try it out even though neither of us are really huge fans of Mexican food.
At the Red Iguana, you park in what seems to be a lot too big for the building, with the highway bridges looming nearby. Then as you reach the front door, you still wonder if you’ve found the right place because there aren’t many windows and it seems a little more like a seedy bar than highly rated restaurant. Not to mention the classic roadside motel next door… As we entered, we were seated promptly and one of the first questions was “have you had our mole sauces?” I might have had mole once and really could not tell you what it was, so the answer was “no, not yet.” The waitress quickly disappeared without explanation and returned promptly with a amazing array of their entire selection of mole sauces on a plate along with a basket of chips. Wow the fragrance and flavor of each one was unique. This was a whole new frontier in Mexican food that I didn’t know existed! We each picked a dish featuring a mole sauce and I made the claim that “This was simply the best Mexican food I have ever had.”
The first destination on our trip was the mysterious salt flats outside of Salt Lake City. As you approach the flats, you start to see some strange pools of water and some other worldly looking landscapes start to emerge. Then all of a sudden, the landscape becomes ultra flat and you are right in the middle of a giant desert of salt. We stopped at the official parking zone, but it looked like you could literally pull off anywhere you’d like onto the salt flats. Stepping out onto the flats, it was bit soggy and some salt mud stuck to our shoes. A strange deal. There were people doing selfies and the normal various touristy things, but it was so huge, everyone could easily find an empty view of this funky landscape. After we got our selfies, it was time to make the 4ish hour trek south to Moab. We arrived to Moab after dark, but were surprised to see how busy the town was. Somehow I had imagined it as a few gas stations and a couple of hotels, but actually it is full featured small city.
Earlier in the year we had started climbing indoors in Chicago and had gotten totally addicted to the sport and we wanted to try it on some real rocks! We hired a guide from Red River Adventures, but really had no idea what to expect once we set foot in the crag. We were a little nervous… Lucky for us, our guide Cadi (@mersendyclimberson) was one of the most enthusiastic and knowledgeable climber that we could have asked for. She happily explained everything, ensured we could operate safely and then climbed up the wall to setup the ropes without even breaking a sweat. Climbing outside proved to be an awesome experience as we scaled walls that from a novice perspective seemed completely impossible and felt a new rush of conquering a bit of the wild simply with ropes and rubber shoes. From this point on, we both could not stop talking about how cool the climb was for the rest of the trip.
The concentration of beautiful views and awesome parks nearby is one of the coolest things about Moab. Just a few minutes outside of town and you enter Arches National Park, and just little ways south you are in Canyonlands National Park. Not only that, but the cool views are literally in all directions even outside of the parks! Since were there in the heat of the summer, we tried to do our hikes early and then auto tours through the hottest part of the day. We stopped by a local gear shop so I could buy some more gadgets to hide my pale skin from the sun and heard about a driving trail from Moab to Canyonlands National Park. The guy at the shop, definitely a local with his causal mountain demeanor and sun worn skin, said it was a 4 wheel drive route, but said we would be fine with any car with decent clearance. Our rental car was a Ford escape, more of a pothole and light snow city rugged rather than a big wheeled rock hopping trail ready Jeep, so I was a little unsure about heading off into the wilderness. After a bit of deliberation, we went for it anyways and set off on the Schaefer Trail from Moab to Canyonlands.
The Schaefer Trail proved to be a lot more challenging of a drive than the gravel roads I was had grown up with, but the views were incredible. The trail runs alongside a river for a while overlooking the vast canyons and then snakes up the mountainside with switchback after switchback. Then all of a sudden we found ourselves at the top of the mountain back on paved roads inside of Canyonlands National Park for a sunset hike to the vista at the “Island in the Sky.”
After Moab we traveled to Capitol Reef National Park to try camping through the heat. I was thinking we would just be cooked to death, but the campground is located in an interesting oasis tucked into the mountains with trees and some shade! After a few more hikes and auto-tours through the canyons, it was time to make the journey back to Salt Lake.