rex is still king at Moab Giants dinosaur park.
first Moab mountain biking excursion started off bumpy —
and not because of the rocks.
husband, Neil, and I had traveled to this red-dust town in
Utah, about a four-hour drive southeast of Salt Lake City,
for a long weekend of biking, hiking and magical desert
we drove past dramatic gingerbread stacks of sandstone to
pick up our rented mountain bikes, I was nervous for the
ride ahead, despite my husband’s assurance that he’d
chosen an easy route. He’s a regular visitor to Moab, an
area known for some of the world’s greatest mountain
biking. Before this trip, I’d ridden a total of 2 miles
on singletrack trails.
the bike shop, the woman who’s helping us asks if I’ve
brought my CamelBak. A fair-weather outdoor enthusiast, I
do not own a CamelBak. I tell her no.
always wear a CamelBak," she says in a chiding tone.
"For spine protection," she adds without missing
a beat. She explains that if she goes headfirst over her
handlebars — which she’s done, more than once — that
CamelBak acts as a cushion for that vulnerable cord that
helps the body move.
mostly silent as we drive about 30 minutes toward the
trail, staring at the relentlessly beautiful red rocks
that are, apparently, conspiring to break my back.
pull up to the Klondike Bluffs trail — a mix of
singletrack and slickrock (i.e. sandstone) trails for
varying skill levels — and hop on our bikes. My
confidence builds as we pedal down tight crimson paths,
steering around chunky, iron-tinged rocks and green
shrubs. It takes so much focus to navigate the ups and
downs of the terrain — leaning low when I shoot down
steep, rocky slopes to avoid going tea-over-tea-kettle —
that it’s only during breaks that I can take in the
glory of the landscape around me: the serpentine
switchbacks, the misty mesas in the distance, the
impossibly blue skies.
proving myself on the easy stretch (designated with a
green circle), I graduate to a moderate area (blue
square). Slopes become steeper, and I stop quickly a
couple of times to catch myself. A few times I walk my
bike, but I never actually fall. Then we come upon the
black diamond trail — aka difficult. Neil does not point
out the black diamond. I do not mention the black diamond.
The truth is, I see these words: "dinosaur
tracks," and all else is forgotten.
want to try it?" asks my husband, surprised that I’m
even considering the challenging terrain. "I want to
see the dinosaur tracks!" I say. And we set off on a
steep, up-and-down slickrock trail that has me walking my
bike within seconds while he zips ahead, in his happy
place. About a half-hour in, I’m frustrated and ready to
throw the bike I’m dragging. We decide to turn around
and head back.
stop: Moab Brewery, where we savor onion rings and a
couple of well-earned craft brews, clinking glasses as I
proclaim under my breath that one day of trail riding
might be enough for me.
persuade my husband to stop at what might be the cheesiest
roadside attraction ever: Moab Giants dinosaur park, where
a trail meanders in front of dozens of fake dinos — some
doe-eyed, others in attack mode. Neil, who is unabashedly
unimpressed by the plastic creatures (and the $16 ticket
fee) rolls his eyes as I go on about how easy it is to
imagine the monsters roaming these same red rocks 200 or
so million years ago — if you just got rid of the nearby
power lines and train tracks.
take the prehistoric theme one step further and drive out
to see some of the many dinosaur tracks around town.
Dusty, one-lane Willow Springs Road leads us to what looks
like a dried-up red riverbed. Sure enough, there are
chunky, three-toed footprints made by theropods and
ornithopods 165 million years ago. We agree on this one:
It’s incredibly cool to go toe-to-toe with the ancient
retreat for the night to our Airbnb cabin, a spacious
house in a development called Whispering Oaks Ranch, high
up in the snow-covered La Sal Mountains, about 20
deer-filled miles from town. (We must have seen two dozen
of the graceful creatures on the side of the road.) We
open a bottle of wine, grill steaks, soak in the hot tub
and get lost in the star-filled sky.
next day, we’re both sore but eager to spend more time
outside. Per my request, we take the bikes to a paved path
alongside the Colorado River. Since we don’t have to
focus too much on the path ahead, we can admire the
babbling waterway and towering rocks. We ride long enough
to feel justified in an indulgent meal, and, upon a friend’s
recommendation, head to Milt’s Stop & Eat. It isn’t
just Moab’s oldest restaurant, it’s a slice of 1950s
Americana. A line snakes around the side of the building
as people wait to order at the outdoor window. As the
picnic tables fill, folks eat out of their cars. The
burgers and fries — with a side of Utah’s signature
mayo/ketchup combo known simply as "fry sauce"
— are simple and divine.
asked around for hiking recommendations and kept hearing
about one place: Delicate Arch in Arches National Park,
just north of town. The image of the arch — a
spectacular structure standing out among the 2,000 arches
— is one that’s often associated with the national
late afternoon, the nearby parking lot is packed, with
crowds flocking to the arch in time for sunset. The narrow
start of the 3-mile round-trip hike is elbow to elbow, but
as the hikers fan out by the dozen across the rising rocks
in the distance, it looks as if we’re watching a
pilgrimage of some sort. Or an episode of "The
scene at the arch, itself, reminds me of a giant
amphitheater, as people grab a seat before the sunset show
begins. We snap a couple of photos of the 65-foot arch,
admiring the graceful mesas and misty, snowcapped
mountains that peer through the fiery icon. We promptly
turn and head back, taking advantage of the remaining
daylight and now-empty trail.
the way, I hear a rustling in the quiet and look up just
in time to catch one, two, no, three deer sprinting across
the high desert. The sun is going down in the distance,
and they stop on a hilltop, their silhouettes highlighted
by a ring of sunbeams, so perfect that the moment feels
like a gift.
it all in, I have a sudden appreciation for being on foot,
able to do a slow 360 to savor the surroundings — no
spine protection needed.