Even if you’ve never been to Utah or have hiked Arches National Park, you likely have seen one of its most-famous destinations—Delicate Arch. It’s image even adorns the Utah state license plate!
After leaving Colorado, I had Moab, Utah in my sights. Warm, sunny days in the upper 70s, pleasant nights in the low 50s, two amazing national parks (Arches & Canyonlands) to re-explore, and lots of brilliant red and orange Colorado River valley rocks to hike and photograph. What’s not to love?
But as I neared the Utah border, the magnitude of the last week’s hurried cross-country travels, as well as the last few months of non-stop house moving began to catch up with me. I pulled off the highway to boondock at a great little area called Rabbit Valley BLM.
Amazing how just one night of stillness in the wilds can recalibrate one’s priorities!
I craved to reconnect with nature, to find something new and enchanting to photograph (rather than race the mob of other photographers to capture the 1-billionth image of Delicate Arch), and most importantly, to slow down and begin to savor each destination more—looking beyond the popular attractions for those less-obvious gems lurking beneath.
So, for my first week in Moab, I specifically avoided re-visiting the National Parks (just yet), and began exploring Moab’s less-obvious locations. One tourist pamphlet mentioned a 60-mile drive called the “La Sal Mountain Loop Road.” Ah, yes! Those mountains always seen in the background of every photo of Delicate Arch! Perfect!
Even though it was a rare gray and overcast afternoon in Moab, I loaded Millie and my camera gear in the Tracker and headed out to drive the Loop, following, of all things, a FedEx truck!
The mountains ahead of us were showing large swaths of yellow and orange unlike anything I’d ever seen. As we climbed up from Moab’s elevation of 4400 feet to La Sal’s elevations above 8,000 feet, the mountains revealed flowing strands of aspen trees amidst brilliantly colored shrub-covered mountains.
Around almost every turn, was a brilliance of color that is difficult to convey in mere photographs (especially on an overcast day!).
But these glorious aspens had me hooked!
As I came down the backside of the La Sal Loop towards the Colorado River canyon along Hwy 128, the Fisher Towers and Colorado River canyon came into view--
I recalled photographing this canyon from the more common opposite direction (from the valley below) back in 2006 during a trip to Moab with my T@B trailer--
But seeing it now from this opposite new direction energized me so much that I decided to repeat the entire Loop drive again the very next day!
For the second trip, it was a “bluebird” sunny afternoon. What a difference a day makes!
This time, I drove a few of the unpaved Forest Service roads that climb above the Loop Road (up to around 10,000 feet) where I could get a closer look at the aspen groves.
The brilliant gold strands along the mountainsides were simply mesmerizing!
Higher up, the aspens were finally joined by their more-expected companions—evergreen pine and spruce:
Is there any water near Moab besides the muddy Colorado river? You bet there is! Another Forest Service road lead me up to Warner Campground where I encountered this scene that literally took my breath away! (be sure to click any of these photos to view them larger!)
Alas, the afternoon sun was fading fast and we needed to head back down to the Loop road and head back toward the Fisher Towers and the Colorado River.
Another spectacular descent into the valley…
finished off by the last glimmers of light along the bottom of the canyon. Truly, a remarkable drive and a totally unexpected gem!