May 22-24, 2014
Portal RV Resort
Choosing a campground in Moab was easy after learning that three couples whom we follow on blogs all have the same favorite site at Portal RV Resort. The best part was learning that one of these couples, Gay and Joe of Good Times Rollin’, would be there at the same time as us.
Portal has two different sections: a campground with gravel sites and fewer amenities and a resort side with lots for sale or rent. Some of the resort sites have been improved by the owners with special landscaping and outdoor furniture and gazebos.
All the sites on the resort side have concrete pads with large patios and staying in the resort includes access to a lovely pool and spa and a dog park.
A few of the owners’ sites have the largest casitas we have ever seen. Seems like there should be a different name for these three level adobe structures. Most of the RVers who stay here have come to do some serious four-wheeling. We have never seen so many beefed-up Jeeps, and other types of all terrain vehicles. Lots of toys.
When we pulled in to our site at Portal, we were delighted to learn that Gay and Joe were just across from us. It was only a matter of minutes before Gay popped out of her motorhome exclaiming, “Pam and Vic are here!” What a warm welcome from someone we have only known from following each other’s blog the past year. We knew we shared some important things in common: like us, they are completing their third year of full-timing in a motorhome; their “canine dependents” are an important part of their lifestyle; and they like to be active. Gay and I were also teachers and we both share a love of flowers and birds. Reading their blog and seeing their hikes (along with Pam and John of Oh, the Places They Go! and Hans and Lisa of Metamorphosis Road) inspired us to get some good hiking boots and get out there on the trails.
We quickly learned that getting out on the trails in Moab can mean at least three different things: hiking, mountain biking, or four-wheeling. Four-wheeling is also one of Gay and Joe’s hobbies. It didn’t take long in our first conversation together for them to invite us to go four-wheeling with them the following morning in Pearl, their beefed-up Jeep (off-road enhancements). They were kind enough to choose a moderate trail for our maiden journey: Kane Creek Hurrah Pass.
The scenery driving in on this dirt road was quite interesting. Lots of small campers and tents strategically placed out on this BLM land.
We were a little surprised to see this house built into the rocks. There must be a colorful story regarding its occupants.
It didn’t take long to figure out that we were in good hands with Joe’s skills and cautious sensibility. When we came to a challenge in the road, he typically got out to assess the situation and plan a strategy for tire placement so we wouldn’t get high-centered (the frame caught on an obstacle).
Aside from having a great time taking in the views and experiencing the thrill of sitting in the Jeep at various angles, we learned about airing-down the tires, sway bar disconnecting, rock crawling, the importance of a skid plate, and the likelihood of adding to Pearl’s Utah pin-striping (scratches).
Fortunately, we didn’t learn firsthand the importance of having a winch and strap, necessary additions in case of the need to call for a recovery, like these folks in the truck had to do. (The word rescue is only for wimps).
I also learned about the added advantage of being able to lock the differentials which allows both wheels to turn at the same speed regardless of traction—a feature I think Joe plans to add. Another term I learned about later, called “leather-pinching,” is something I never had to do because the trail wasn’t that gnarly and, I think for our sake, Joe was often driving in “granny low”—a speed that would allow your grandmother to pass you in her walker.
We were especially impressed with Joe’s ability to just “kiss” the rocks that appeared as large obstacles along the trail. Another thing we really appreciated was the light rain that occurred the night before which helped prevent us from having to “suck sand”—as we were riding with the windows off. There were only a couple challenges when it looked like we would be three-wheeling instead of four-wheeling and it was at one of these points when Joe wisely decided to turn around.
Like Gay realized in her post about this trip, we both were so busy talking there are no photos of us, but I promise we were both in the back of the Jeep. What a fun experience this was for us to see off-road sites we would never be able to see on our own and to bond with Gay and Joe in this way—with Joe’s life in our hands!
Our day two plan was originally going to be hiking in Arches National Park while Gay and Joe were out four-wheeling with friends visiting from Belgium. With Memorial Weekend upon us, the string of cars lining up to the park entrance caused us to go with Plan B: a trip to the Island in the Sky part of Canyonlands National Park, a little less than an hour’s drive away.
What a great choice this turned out to be. There was no line at the gate and the scenery was absolutely breathtaking, much like a mini-Grand Canyon. After reading the park newspaper, we quickly decided to do the recommended four-hour agenda: hike the Grand View Point (2 miles), Mesa Arch (.5 mile), and Upheaval Dome Overlook (2.6 mile) trails.
Our first stop at Grand View Point, the southern-most point on Canyonland’s high mesa, turned out to be the most breathtaking views of the day. We were lucky to catch a ranger talk at the first overlook which gave us a greater appreciation for the geology of this gorgeous sedimentary rock canyon carved out by the forces of the Colorado and Green River. He said that each layer contains clues revealing the varied features of Utah’s geology over time as the climate once resembled a tropical coast, interior desert, and everything in between except what you might find in the tundra of the North Pole.
From this overlook, you can hike out one mile to the right on a wide sandstone trail along the edge of the bluff. These are some of the views we encountered on this part of the trail (with threatening storms in the distance that luckily never came our way).
We learned only recently that they use cairns (stacked rocks of two more stones) to mark the trail—works much better than breadcrumbs). It’s rather fun to stop and appreciate their different designs.
Another delight along the trail were the unexpected clumps of various wildflowers. After I looked at these photos, I tried to match the images with their names from the park service website.
From Grand Point, we drove a short distance to an area known as Upheaval Dome, a three-mile wide 1,000-foot deep crater. Geologists have two possible theories for what caused Upheaval Dome, a salt dome bubbling up or the more widely regarded theory of a meteor strike creating a large impact crater. In either case, it was worth seeing.
There are two overlooks on the trail, with the closest one a third of a mile up about 150 feet of stone steps. Again, there are cairns to mark the trail to the second overlook which requires descending about 180 feet around the jagged sandstone rim. We enjoyed some of the challenges of this trail (my first time scrambling on slick rock) and the surprise of a smiley face to guide the way.
Mesa Arch, just a few miles down the road from Upheaval Dome, was our last destination for the day. This spot is popular for its sunrise views with the backdrop of the La Sal Mountains. (If we were staying longer, I would like to get up this early to see it.) It is also popular since it only requires a short hike of half a mile to see it.
I actually had to wait my turn to pose for this slightly scary photo on top of the arch. The secret was not to look at the drop off behind me.
As we were leaving this stunning place, we stopped to take one more photo using the panorama setting on the camera. Someone at this overlook was kind enough to take a photo of us too.
Now if this day wasn’t enough fun, we had dinner plans to look forward to with Gay and Joe and their friends from Belgium, Catherine and Guy. When we returned to the RV resort, I headed to the pool and spa for an hour of refreshment before joining Joe and Gay and four of their friends at one of the best spots in town, the Moab Brewery. The food and beer was very good, but the sharing of laughter and fun stories was even better. Here is a photo (that I stole from Gay’s blog) that captures this memorable occasion.
By day three of our one-week stay, our only regret was that we only had four more days to enjoy this recreational mecca.