Take a look to the east just before the sun comes up and you’ll see Sirius rising just ahead of our friendly neighborhood star. The dog star’s heliacal rise is what led the Greeks and Romans to refer to the annual midsummer heat wave as the “dog days,” but my dogs are obeying our ideological misinterpretation by lousing around even more than normal. Sure, people call it “a dry heat,” but it’s still hot.
The Moab area is paradoxically inviting this time of year—the desert is rather famed for being warm, after all—if you’re willing to abstain from its postcard-certified attractions you can find cool Moab adventures. Towering above Moab, the La Sal Mountains are an oft-overlooked asset with elevation-induced coolness. Deep within the walls of Cataract Canyon, the Colorado River provides an oasis among an arid sea of rock. Look high or low, and you can find unexpectedly temperate climes in unlikely places.
Experience a Mountain High Yurt
Whether you’ve just finished up a mountain bike ride down the Whole Enchilada or gotten off the river, it’s important to keep cool by ingesting an outrageous number of refreshing calories at Milt’s Stop & Eat. Milt’s isn’t a well-kept secret, but once you put down a buffalo burger and shake with homemade ice cream—I’m particularly partial to Oreo and peanut butter—you’ll know exactly why Moab’s oldest restaurant is still so popular 65 years after it opened.
356 S. Mill Creek Dr, Moab, 435-259-7424, miltsstopandeat.com
“Geyser Pass is right around 10,500 feet. Mount Peale is the highest point in the state outside of the Uintas. People don’t realize how big the La Sals really are,” says Jonathan Dutrow, owner and operator of Talking Mountain Yurts. Talking Mountain operates three yurts, primarily for backcountry skiers in search of southern powder on the steep slopes of the La Sals, but the Geyser Pass Yurt is open year round and is an ideal high-elevation getaway.
“Because the yurt’s up so high in Geyser Pass, The weather in the summer is much cooler than people expect,” Dutrow explains. “It’s a perfect starting point for Moonlight Meadows, Burro Pass and the famous Whole Enchilada mountain bike trails. There are four pretty impressive peaks you can hit in an easy day, and you can quickly get to Clark Lake, which isn’t accessible by car so it’s rarely crowded.” The Geyser Pass Yurt comfortably sleeps eight, which makes the $175 for the first night—$125 for each subsequent night—a bargain. You can park about 70 yards from the yurt, allowing you to get gear for the whole family up there without drama.
If a well-appointed yurt sounds a bit lavish for your tastes, there are nearly endless high-elevation camping options in the Manti-La Sal National Forest. Mike Craig is a ski patroller in Park City who worked summers as a mountain bike guide in Moab. Craig spent his off hours camping up in the La Sals, which allowed him to avoid succumbing to late-season heat waves. “There are primitive camp sites all along Geyser Pass Road. And they’re on public land, so they’re free. If you’d rather camp in a public camping area with some amenities, Warner Campground is above 9,000 feet right next to Warner Lake.” Craig says. “No matter where you camp, you can access great hiking and running trails. One of my favorites is the Miner’s Basin Trail. You start at Warner Campground and head up over Gold Knob with views of Canyonlands National Park and Castle Valley.” 435-260-7601, talkingmountainyurts.com
Get Wet With Some River Rafting Fun
Moab’s parched character draws apt comparisons to a Martian landscape, but the Colorado River has carved through the land, indelibly altering the scenery and providing the perfect playground to beat the summer heat. Cataract Canyon is the jewel of whitewater rafting in Southern Utah, a 46-mile chasm of jaw-dropping scenery and rowdy whitewater. Rafting in Cataract Canyon is like taking on a miniature version of the Grand Canyon, and while late summer may not have the massive flows you’ll find during peak spring runoff, the challenging whitewater provides plenty of thrills.
For the full Cataract Canyon experience without having to manage the myriad logistics of a multi-day adventure through technical whitewater, book a trip with OARS. You’ll enjoy several days of relaxing flat water floating and one day of raucous rapids. Along the way you’ll stop to explore side canyons and ancient ruins, float through Canyonlands National Park, eat incredible meals while camping under the stars and enjoy a scenic flight back to Moab after entering Lake Powell. Plus you’re never more than a quick jump away from cooling down in the water. The minimum age for six-day trips down Cataract Canyon is nine years old. Trips can be booked directly through the OARS website. 800-346-6277, oars.com
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