Published on Vailmag.com
In search of a desperate respite from mudseason sleet (and snow, and rain), I—like countless other Vail Valley locals—first made the pilgrimage to Moab, Utah (a three-and-a-half hour drive west to the home of Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park, home of the “license plate arch”) in the spring of 2010. We packed our Jeep with a tent, sleeping bags, whiskey and 30-racks of PBR, and spent the next few days rock-crawling from campsite to campsite (which was followed by subsequent weeks emptying sand out of backpack pockets, car interior crevices—you name it). Days were comprised of exploring alien-looking gorges carved into crimson-colored rock, and listening to bands of coyotes howling around us as we sipped Jim Beam by the campfire each night. Fast forward to this past spring, when the same beau and I (this time driven by a lack of snow and quest for warmth) decided to pack up our same Jeep—this time with our 1-year-old wirehaired pointing griffon pup instead of the PBR—and head back to the desert for a quick weekend-long trip. Knowing that we were heading into Moab’s bustling tourist season (which stretches from March until late October), we left the camping gear at home and looked for a place that offered some serious R&R (sans the sand).
Sorrel River Ranch & Spa, as seen from above. IMAGE: COURTESY SORREL RIVER RANCH RESORT & SPA
Bypassing the dusty masses camped along Scenic Byway 128, which meanders alongside the Colorado River and towering pinnacles of red rock, we spent our two nights at Sorrel River Ranch Resort & Spa (sorrelriver.com)—a turn of the 20th century homestead that’s since spawned a luxury hideaway on the banks of the Colorado, complete with a working farm that supplies its gourmet, farm-to-table restaurant. Located about 20 minutes outside of town, the ranch sits minutes away from world-renowned rock climbing (bouldering mecca Big Bend is down the road), miles of hiking trails (most notably Grandstaff Canyon—formerly known as Negro Bill’s Trail—which features a perennial freshwater fountain and a trail-spanning rock bridge), and of course, countless access points to the river. And while its location is an ideal jumping off point for the area’s natural amenities, a stay at the Ranch is like having your own private slice of Moab—without the crowds. Guides run everything from daily, morning hikes on the ranch’s private trail to a scenic overlook on Sorrel Ridge (2.6 miles roundtrip), horseback rides, and 4×4 tours from the resort’s Adventure Center, taking out the guess work involved in planning a day in the area on your own (and drop you back off steps away from the spa, if you feel the need to nurse any bumps and bruises you acquire along the way). Arguably the best part of a stay at the Ranch, though? Dog-friendly accommodations, thanks to studio-style, river-side cabins (starting at $699 from March through October, and $429 from November through February), complete with panoramic views of rust-colored mesas.
We checked in around sunset and realized we had precious little time before dark, so we drove over to the Corona and Bowtie Arch trailhead—a 3-mile roundtrip trek that drops hikers at a giant hole in the sandstone pictured above—on Potash Road (a camping and climbing mecca accessed just to the north of town) and huffed it up the slickrock just in time to catch the sun setting over the mesa before heading back into town to refuel with heaping dishes of Mexican food (and margs) at Miguel’s Baja Grill—a vibrant blue hole in the wall advertising a “Mother of all Burritos” that came served the size of a rolled up newspaper.
With one full day in the area, the big question was where we would spend our full 24-hours exploring. Perennial visitors to Moab have their favorite trails, but will also admit that with so many recreation areas (plus two national parks and one state park) it’s hard to choose just one place to play. But, if you have to, Fisher Towers is a great choice—and with its trailhead located just 5-minutes down the road from the Ranch, we decided to finally tick it off our bucket list. If you think you’ve heard of Fisher Towers before, you probably have. With an organ-like silhouette of sanguine sandstone, it’s been a revered sport climbing destination for years, and it’s not unusual to see climbers dangling above you as you follow the cairns along the 4.4-mile roundtrip trail.
The River Grill at the Ranch. IMAGE: COURTESY SORREL RIVER RANCH RESORT & SPA
After conquering the out-and-back (which ends at a turnaround that features a panoramic view of the Towers and the La Sal Mountains), we headed back to the Ranch, where we capped off the day with a guided ATV tour (and a soak in the hot tub) before heading for dinner at the Ranch’s dining room, where we munched on Utah lamb chops and sipped craft cocktails as we watched the cliffs along the river turn purple in the evening glow. We opted to skip dessert, and instead made our way to the riverside firepit and roasted s’mores under the stars. I heard a lone coyote howl from somewhere across the river as I sipped an IPA from Salt Lake City, and reflected on that first trip to Moab eight years ago. We might have upgraded from the PBR and Jim Beam, but that original sense of wonder? Still alive and well—even from a five-star point of view.
Head west on I-70 and take Exit 182 for US-191, which is a straight shot to town. Or, opt for the scenic route, and take Exit 214 from I-70 for UT-128, which hugs the Colorado River as it winds towards town (it only adds about a half an hour to your commute).
Whether you forgot a camelback or you’re gathering beta on the best hike for your crew, Moab’s Main Street has plenty of options. Pagan Mountaineering (paganclimber.com) has everything you need for rock climbing (including rentals on climbing shoes and bouldering mats), Gearheads Outdoor Store (moabgear.com) and Anasazi Desert Gear (anasazidesertgear.com) has everything else you might need while you’re in town.
If you’re bringing Fido …
Trails in Moab typically are all on slick rock, and it’s not unusual to come across a makeshift metal ladder or stair to help cross a chasm in the trail. Make sure your pup’s paws are up for the challenge, and you’re up for giving your pooch a lift if they need it in certain spots. National parks have strict restrictions on bringing dogs onto the trails, so do your homework beforehand, as there’s plenty of trails outside the park system that are dog friendly. And finally, bring lots of water—this is the desert, after all.