Thursday, February 15, 2007

Sorrel River Ranch

While in the Moab area we stayed at the Sorrel River Ranch, which is located on the Colorado River and Rt 128. 128 has been called one of the most scenic roads in America. It winds along the Colorado River in a canyon walled by red rock, mesas and formations. The road is tight and windy.

Sorrel River is a working ranch with luxury cabins and a spa. The cabins are right on the Colorado River. Above is a view from our room.

The rooms are decorated in a western motif. They are very spacious, with a kitchen, fireplace, sitting area, porch and a spacious bathroom with a claw foot spa tub. It is a working ranch, and has been for 100 years. There are horses and crops. The lobby building has an upscale, but pricey restaurant. The staff is very helpful in planning activities. There is a pool and hot tub and a well equipped exercise room. The most impressive feature are the unbelievable views, both across and down the Colorado and across the road at two towering wind weathered twin mesas. The ranch is about 20 miles down the windy raod from Moab, so you are a bit isolated. This can be a bit of a problem if you want to dine in town, as the drive is a bit tough after dark.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Mountain Biking in Moab

The weather was cool, but clear this morning, so the mountain biking trip was on. I went out with Fred of Rim Tours of Moab ( Fred, who is originally from Canada ( pictured above) was a great guide; the Sidney Crosby of mountain biking. Fred is a racer, who used a single speed 29er, compared to my fully geared rental Cannondale. The bike they provided was a brand new Cannondale Prophet, which had over 5 inches travel from both the back and front suspension. The bike had SRAM components. Unfortunately it also had Cannondale brand components. Because of these, I learned that Fred is also a very skilled bike mechanic.

We did the Klondike Bluffs Trail. This trail is several miles north of Moab. The trail climbs through sand, dirt and slick rock ending at the back side of Arches National Park. The sand was tough. When it became to loose, you stop and can't start. The slick rock was very different to ride on. There are large sheets of rock. The challenge is riding from sheet to sheet. Sometimes they drop off. You need to pick your spot at just the right place or you can have a problem. At one point I didn't follow where Fred crossed. My front wheel stopped between the rocks, causing the shock to compress. My momentum continued causing me to flip over the handlebars. I wasn't hurt (except my ego), but the bike had a problem. Even though we were going at slow speed and I was off the bike, when the bike fell to the ground the brake lever snapped. Clearly it was a defective part. Fred took a lever off of his bike, put it on my bike, and did the rest of the tour without a front brake. Above is a picture of a dinosaur footprint. Several of these prints were in the slick rock. People have placed rocks around the tracks to protect them. People drive jeeps on the trails. The weight of a jeep can destroy the tracks.

When we reached the end of the trail we hiked a short distance into Arches National Park and had this awesome view of the region. We were able to see the Fiery Furnace and Salt Valley. the Salt Valley was created by the earth, below where we were, sinking.

The ride back was a totally different ride. down hill riding slick rock was a different experience. The bike seemed totally in control. Overall the ride was a blast.

If you are going to Moab, I highly recommend using a guide. Even if you are a good and experienced mountain biker from the east, this is different. So many things can happen to you if you go it alone. A guide finds the best trails for your abilities and transports you there. Even though slick rock trails are marked by white paint it is hard to follow the trail. You can accidentally follow a dried out river bed or abandoned mining trail and get seriously lost. On the slick rock everything looks the same. Similarly, if you are not experienced with the terrain it's easy to misjudge drop offs. The dull color of the slick rock can deceive you.

Guides point out interesting features that you would otherwise miss, like the dinosaur tracks. They tell you about inside local information: places to eat or shop, or other sights of interest. They also teach you techniques to improve your riding.

If you are injured, a guide can either take care of you or get you to safety. If you have a problem with equipment, the guide will take care of you. For example my broken brake lever, would have left me high and dry miles from help. A guide makes sure you have an enjoyable experience. If you tried it on your own and something went wrong you might be living a nightmare.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Moab - still stuck in the 60's

Today the weather was bad. It was cold and rainy in the morning. As a result I postponed the mountain biking for a day. Instead we decided to drive to Canyonlands National Park. The drive is a series of switchbacks up the La Sal mountains. As we drove to with in 8 or 9 miles of the park fog set in. We couldn't see 5 feet in front of us. We realized continuing was useless. If we couldn't see 5 feet in front of the car, we couldn't see what ever was in th park. So, we turned around and headed back to Moab. Despite the mystique of Moab, it's not much of a town. Main Street is like most small town western Main Streets, except more bike and t-shirt shops. As you drive a few blocks off of main street it's actually kind of depressing: beat-up houses, an abandoned drive-in theater and trailer parks. We did find some more upscale adobe style homes up the canyon near Slickrock Trail.

Moab is best known for the Slick Rock area above town. Above is a picture of the beginning of the trail. There are a lot of warnings. It's an expert trail and quite dangerous as noted from the signs above and below. Slick is not what it sounds like. It looks like it would be slippery, but in fact the traction is excellent. This is what makes it possible to go up and down steep crevasses and sheer drop off ledges. The trails are marked by white marks on the rocky surface. If you look at the picture above or the bottom picture you can see a faint dark line. This has been made by thousands of tire tracks following the marked trails.

The trail was initially made for dirt bikes in the late '60's. In the early 80's people tried using "mountain bikes" in the rocks. They discovered the traction was great and the trail was a great challenge. Now 80,000 cyclist try the trail a year. On this day in February we didn't see one person riding on the trail. We did see people in Jeeps and Mad Max like vehicles climbing other areas of the park at impossible angles.

This picture was taken from above Moab. The canyon wall in the distance goes on for miles and miles, with Moab sitting at the canyon floor. Moab is a young persons town. A couple of spots we found that we would recommend are Arches Bookstore, which has a great coffee bar inside and McStiff's Brewery and Restaurant. Despite the unappetizing name the food was really good and reasonable. Moab hasn't gotten gentrified or developed yet. It's still a sleepy western town with a outdoor flavor. The influx of young people has given Moab a great flavor. I'm sure in another 20 years it will have timeshares and condos all over the place. Until then it is a nice way station for those people enjoying on of nature's greatest playlands.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Arches National Park

We are staying about 30 minutes outside of Moab along the Colorado River at a Ranch Resort. Today we went to Arches National Park, hiked and saw some of our country's greatest natural beauty. The picture above is Landscape Arch. To get to this arch you need to drive 18 miles to where the park road ends. Then you hike for about a mile. The hike is magnificent, going through a trail that cuts between enormous red rock formations. It opens up to beautiful vistas of the La Sal Mountains. Finally you come to the Landscape Arch, which appears very delicate. It's quite big. The expanse seems as long as the Fort Pitt Bridge.
These arches are known as windows. Although you can see part of it from the road, you really need to do the loop hike to get the full view. Only the arch on the left is visible until you hike all the way up and toward Turret Arch. First you climb steep steps cut into the trail and you reach and can hike into the North Window. Then you follow the trail to the Turret Arch. As you hike around Turret you see this fantastic view of both Windows. This hike is only about a mile, but it entails a lot of climbing. The trail itself is well maintained and wide. Step are cut for the climbs.

This arch is called Sand Dune Arch. This is visible from the road, but to get the full effect you need to hike the trail. Almost the entire trail is sand. At the end of the trail you reach a rocky area. If you climb over the rocks you come up against the wall at the bottom of the arch, allowing you to look up at the underside of the arch.

This is the most photographed of all the arches. It's called Delicate Arch. The best way to see it is to hike. From the trailhead you can hike right to the arch. This hike takes several hours. We did not have the time to do this hike and the other ones we did. So we continued on the road and were able to do a shorter hike that lead to this vista. From the parking lot you have a choice of two views. The lower view is very easy to get to. It only takes a few minutes to get there and the view, although from a distance, is quite good. For a little better view hike to the upper viewpoint. This is a fairly steep hike. It's fun, but probably only takes 30 minutes round trip.

Close to the entry of the park are these rock formations known as Park Avenue. As you walk to the viewpoint the rocks look like New York City skyscrapers. There is a very good hike that continues through this area.