As we got off the bikes and started to wander towards the Delicate Arch viewpoint in Arches National Park, a Park Ranger asked us if we were okay and what we were planning. She’d spotted the motorbike boots, jeans and the fact we were carrying our bike jackets. It was 35 degrees and only 10am, the forecast was for it to be 41 by lunch time, and she’d been posted at the start of this trail to make sure visitors to the park were prepared for the heat and not putting themselves at risk. We assured her we were just going to the lower viewpoint this time around, and weren’t planning anything more strenuous.
Stood at Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park.
Canyonlands and Arches National Parks in Utah are both rather amazing places to visit. But they also demonstrated to us the limitations of our Zartusacan road trip. This is not to say that this road trip wasn’t awesome, it really was the best, but there are some things we just couldn’t do. Like hike three miles to a view point wearing bike jeans and boots. When we’ve taken a “day off” the bikes to visit a National Park, like in Yosemite, we’ve unloaded the bikes of the camping equipment and other stuff, leaving it behind at our chosen lodgings, before heading into a Park, parking up the bikes in a suitable space, packing away our lids, jeans, boots and jackets on the bikes, and taken the opportunity to explore like normal visitors. But when we are just passing through – visiting the park on our way from one place to another, we have everything loaded up and nowhere to store things while we look around. This is a bit limiting. The heat is an added issue as when it’s nearly 40 degrees even half a mile is too far in armoured jeans, and without the luxury of air conditioning and a cooler full of iced water in our car to come back to, we had no means to cool down after a hike (the air in your face on a bike at 38 degrees is like a hair dryer being in your face, not cooling at all!).
This all meant that while we visited both Canyonlands National Park and the Arches National Park on consecutive days, we were not able to make the most of them at all. But even with that, we were able to dip our toes into what each Park had to offer and have already started making plans on when we might go back with four wheels instead of two.
Canyonlands National Park
We chose to head to the Islands in the Sky area of the Canyonlands National Park, which is considered the most accessible area of this large and canyon-filled park in Utah. There are limited paved roads in the Park and the majority of the dirt roads are only suitable for proper 4×4 vehicles, so it is wise to check maps and recommendations before heading somewhere you may regret! Anyway, this particular part of the Park offers a winding paved road with lots of viewpoints easily reachable from the road, which was just what we needed.
Canyonlands National Park. Those mountains – the La Sal Mountains – are 150 miles away!
We started with a short half mile hike to Mesa Arch. It was low 30s in the Colorado Plateau today, but whilst the short walk in the desert area was hard work it was worth it when we got to the viewpoint. Just look at it. What a place!
The view through Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park.
After that we were pretty exhausted, sweaty and thirsty, but there was still lots to see so we had a swig of the (now very warm) water from our Klean Kanteens and carried on down the road. We stopped at the Grand View Point Overlook, Buck Canyon Overlook, Upheaval Dome and Green River Overlook. All had very impressive views across the valley, and while we wished we had a rugged Jeep so we could get down to the valley floor, we had a great time in Canyonlands.
Those lines are all roads crying out to be explored!
It’s worth noting, for when you visit, that there does seem to be a parking problem in this particular National Park – the parking lots at each viewpoint are very small but you have no option but to drive around as there is no shuttle bus here. Also remember that it is in the middle of the desert and so there is very little natural shade (okay, none); the only covered areas are at the Visitor’s Centre, which is also the only place you’ll find running water to refill your water bottles. But still an absolutely spectacular place, a must visit.
Arches National Park
Arches National Park has been on my list for years. It’s one of those places I had romanticised in my mind after seeing loads of photos of beautiful views though natural arches on Instagram and in magazines, and like many other places we visited on this road trip, I couldn’t wait to see the scenery with my own eyes. But it turns out that Arches National Park is not going to look its best if you can only really walk for 10 minutes before you are melting in pile of bike gear on the desert floor. We found, even more so than Canyonlands, that lack of shade and a Utah heatwave was to be a problem to us.
Riding through Arches National Park – that’s the Balancing Rock.
We rode our bikes into the Park, which was super busy, and wound our way along towards the Delicate Arch Viewpoint. The road is really lovely here; it winds through the desert rock formations and offers some stunning views of the National Park just from your seat. We stopped at the viewpoint carpark and walked for a bit but this very special and famous natural wonder was still around a mile away and so while we could see it, if we had been up for a half-hour walk we’d have had a much better view. This is where we met the Ranger I mentioned in the first paragraph of this blog post; she was stopping everyone to make sure they were fully prepared for the heat and lack of shade, offering advice to people who were planning the trek to see the Arch up close.
Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, from as close as we could get this time. The top shot shows the distance we’d have had to walk.
I admit I was a bit disappointed. Not because I thought the National Park was rubbish, it really isn’t, but rather because I didn’t get those up-close-and-personal views of the famous arches I wanted to. There were so many ifs in my head – if there had been a shuttle bus from the Visitor’s Centre so we could have left the bikes (and our gear) for the day, if we had access to a car so we could be wearing shorts and cool off in between hikes, if it wasn’t 40 degrees Celsius that day, if the road had gone closer to the Arches I wanted to see. The fact is some places on this trip we could only pass through on our way rather than explore in any detail, and Arches National Park was one of those. An absolutely beautiful place in this world that deserved a lot more attention from us than we were able to give it this time.
Ancient hut in Arches National Park.
As we rode away from Moab and over into Colorado to start the next part of our road trip we were already making plans for how we can return to this part of Utah to explore properly. We just didn’t do Canyonlands or Arches National Park justice and we want to. We’re thinking of a two week road trip in a proper rugged 4×4 (a Jeep Rubicon or something like that), maybe with one of those super cool looking rooftop tents, so we can get out into the back-country on some of the dirt roads and trails and see it all in a completely different way. We’ve not camped on top of a Jeep before! Do you know where I can hire a decent set up?
I want to drive on these roads!