When faced with a chance to descend via rope into a canyon, to take on some white water, or a drive around desert red rocks in a Hummer-led expedition, would you?
To sweeten the pot, you don’t have to bring a thing, the people in charge totally know what they are doing. No experience—no problem. The team has the gear, the rafts, ropes, harnesses and helmets and the confidence you don’t. They do the actual heavy lifting and planning and all you’ve got to do is sign a release form and show up. It’s not without risks. You could decline such an offer with dignity. But an opportunity to belay down the Medieval Chamber, a 60 m (197 ft.) canyon wall doesn’t come along every day.
For the lucky 3.2 million of us who live in Utah, recreational possibilities are one of our most natural of resources. This year I turned 50—the big effing-lucky and privileged five-zero. As an in-office editor, I love my job. But a writer can’t write about something unless she does it. That said—as an outdoor recreation novice, this story is about a first timer’s attempt at something adventurous—by one who is embarrassed to admit it. On the scale of risk taking, I’ve raised five children (that’s brave, isn’t it?), always wear a safety belt and stop myself from drinking after half a beer (responsible too.)
When sharing adventure plans, others simply LOVE to chime in with a horror story. From the bartender at Buffalo Wild Wings: “The scariest part about canyoneering is at the very start, when you fall back off the edge of the cliff—you know—until the harness catches you.” Or, from a fellow SLmag writer, who casually mentions that a friend almost got killed while riding the “Daily” on the Colorado river. His advice? “Pay attention and do exactly what they tell you to do.”
Moab Adventure Center
225 S. Main St., Moab, UT
What is canyoneering? While the term sounds pretty innocuous, don’t be fooled—this ain’t for the light of heart adventurer. That said, you don’t have to have any climbing experience or be in great physical shape to do this—you just need to be with folks who are. And our guides were on point, both Brian and Robert were good enough to set us up with helmets and harnesses at the top of tall red cliffs and convince us all to walk backwards off of them.
Surprises for a newbie? The heat generated by the ropes and the belay device itself was impressive; wearing gloves to protect your hands is a must. A pleasant surprise was how physically easy it really is and how much control you do have. Your right arm holding the rope controls how fast you go and just swinging it behind your back stops your movement completely. When you push back or jump off the wall, it feels like swinging.
As Robert told me on my second rapel next to Morning Glory, a 243-foot long natural bridge, “If you don’t look down, you’ll regret it.” And looking down while rapelling is a trip. At the bottom of the canyon, you gain another perspective when looking back up.
Landing is the bliss point. It’s time to take a chill and fill up your water bottle from a pure canyon stream—avoid the poison oak—and get set to be amazed while watching the others who follow you.
Hummer Sunset Safari
Don’t buy that military combat story—surely desert red rock expeditions were what Hummers were really made for. It’s so much better than any roller coaster. A Hummer can easily take you to high and remote places that you would never expect. Mike, our driver, first de-pressurized the tires to make them ready. We ascend up a narrow rock hill—with no guard rails on either side, and going relatively quickly. When we drove uphill, we faced the sky and when we went downward, we were practically standing on our feet. We took breaks, carefully stepping down from the Hummer and taking in high views of colorful distant mesas, Arches, the la Sals and the Colorado at sunset.
Colorado River Rafting
Before you ever step foot on a raft, the life vest comes on. As one guide said as he was tightening my straps, “If you can’t breathe, you can’t drown.” Then came the lecture from a river guide, “In case someone were to fall out of the boat, because of noise, we rely on hand signals to communicate.” A tap on the head means you’re okay, like, “You might be cold and miss your mom, or want to get out of the water, but you’re okay.” An arm extended out to the side however indicates an emergency and as an added nicety, the river guides are all certified in swift water rescue.
The morning was colder than usual and the wind was high as we set out for a full day of white water rafting. We were prepared for a sunburn, we were prepared to get wet, but we weren’t prepared for wind. Naomi, a young and spirited rafting guide, trained us on paddling basics and applauded our efforts while going through a series of 2/3 scale rapids, Cloudburst being the most gnarly (and fun) among them. Prior to entering a rapid, we were instructed to place both feet into something secure and to keep paddling—she assured us that a strong paddle would keep us inside the boat. And luckily, it did.
Although we shivered most of our day (bring a windbreaker) on the river, it was outstanding and we’re already aching to go back.
A-Glamping We Must Go
New to adventuring, we didn’t have full camping equipment and craved showers at the end of the day. Our solution was glamping, where our walk-in tent was already set up for us. A log-framed bed was freshly made with clean sheets. We could order take-out from our tent (Bangkok House Too makes a mean Pad Thai). Glamping, roughin’ it at it’s best.
Up the Creek Campground
P.O. Box 285, Moab, UT
Our choice was Up the Creek Campground just off Main Street in Moab— close to everything and yet peaceful, shaded by large trees and situated next to a stream. With restaurants, shopping and trails within walking or biking distance, you never have to use your car. If you have a tent, they’ve got space for you too. At each site is a picnic table with access to communal propane grills, but sorry folks, no campfires or dogs are allowed.
Want to see more places to visit in the great outdoors? Check this out.