Adventure Lover’s Guide to Moab | Utah

“I spoke with my friend at 10 am on a Friday morning, bought a plane ticket for 3 pm, landed in Denver the next morning, and was in Moab, UT by Saturday afternoon.”

Rock Climbing | Slot Canyons | Coyote Gulch

During the summer of 2020, most of the world was on lockdown attempting to stop the spread of coronavirus and I was living in Hawai’i feeling like I was wasting my life away. Hawai’i was implementing some of the strictest COVID regulations in the country and people were not allowed to even go outside, use beaches, hike trails, and I began to feel trapped on the little rock in the middle of the ocean. I am constantly researching flights and checking out prices, and realized that the prices to Denver were ridiculously cheap! I called my friend Alan Chen, from Colorado, just to tell him how crazy it is. He was like well we are going on a rock climbing trip to Moab this weekend, you wanna come?

Standing beneath the Welcome to Utah Sign, Life Elevated.

It was probably noon when he asked me that, and remember this is the impulsive traveler we are talking about. I did not even hesitate and bought a flight for 3 pm that day, because I had no obligations in my life AT ALL. After I hung up with him I realized, OH SHIT, I have to freaking pack. I feel like I always wait till the last minute to pack, but this was ridiculous. I was running around like a chicken with his head cut off, grabbing water bottles, backpacks, clothes, anything I thought I needed.

I did not even have time to tell anyone I bought a flight or was leaving and Ubered to the airport. Once I got to Colorado I was just focused on getting anything I forgot and charging all of my things, that no one in Hawai’i even knew I left. I posted this Instagram when we got to Utah Sunday morning, and even then my roommates thought I was lying. They thought I was just in my room being annoying.

Moab is rock climbing, river rafting, hiking, and backpacker’s paradise in the middle of the desert. We drove straight from Denver → Moab, leaving early in the morning and taking about 8 hours. Our plans were to rock climb with his rock climbing crew for a week, then check out some other places around the state and Moab.

Empty road through the desert in Moab, Utah.

The other part of the group had left the previous day so they were already in Moab, and when I tell you we literally drove 8 hours then got out of the car and started rock climbing its legit. We met up with them at a rock climbing section of Moab called Wall Street, and if you climb you can vouch for the place. Prior to the trip I had never rock climbed outside, I had only done some climbing in high school and bouldering at indoor rock gyms. The trip was all I needed to fall into the world of rock climbing and now it is one of my passions, and I want to do it all over the world. I had to borrow someone’s gear for the week and I wore my Vans the entire time, a climbing fool.

Rock Climbing

Rock climber on a climbing route known as Ice Cream Parlor in Moab, Utah.

After the first day of climbing I realized that this week was going to be one of those weeks that required a lot of fitness and athletic abilities, as I was already feeling soreness set into my fingers and forearms. We built a campfire and rested for the next days more extreme climbing routes. The rock climbing in Moab is some of the best in the country and the world, as the arid region is covered by hard red clay and sandstone. Summertime is normally the peak season for climbers and other nature enthusiasts, however, as this was peak lockdown there was a scarcity of traffic. Climbing walls normally crowded were completely empty, spare the occasional run in with a small group or climbing pair. We never had to wait for any climbing routes, and could choose to go wherever and whenever we wanted. 

The road next to Moab, Utah climbing wall known as Ice Cream Parlor.

We spent the next five in climber’s paradise setting up routes, laughing, tanning, drinking, and enjoying the Earth. During those days I learned an enormous amount about the sport of rock climbing, but also about the types of people that participate in the hobby. I only knew one person that was on this trip, and the other 8 or 10 people began as mutual friends. By the end of the trip I developed quite good relationships with everyone there, and I have even gone on other trips with some of the same people. After the five days of climbing the next goal was to hike into one of the slot canyons, that Escalante, Utah was famous for. 

Slot Canyons

Slot canyons are formed from ancient rivers, and flash floods that erode rock layers by funneling water over them. Over time rushing water eroded the rock faces into these narrow canyons found all over Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. The hike we chose to do was through an Escalante slot canyon called Little Death Hollow. This canyon is not as popular as say Antelope Canyon, maybe due to its name? The canyon extends over 20 miles (32 km) with wash surrounded by red cliffs and smooth sandstone. In the beginning and end of summer the bottom of the canyon floor can have pools of ice cold water deposited from rain storms. During the middle of the summer the floor of the canyon remains dry, with only small evaporating pools of water. The water feels nice on your feet and face, especially after hiking the entire day in Vans shoes! Will I ever buy hiking shoes?  

Little Death Hollow slot canyon near Moab, Utah.

The drive up to the hike and campsite on Wolverine Road felt like we were in the middle of nowhere. The nearest town is Boulder, some 40 miles away and anything else was over 60 miles away. We drove straight from Moab and almost ran out of gas 20 minutes from the campsite. This is one of those times that happens when you are travelling, when you have to pull back and make smart decisions or you are gonna be in serious trouble. We made the decision to turn around and head to Boulder and barely made it. After refueling and coming back to the trailhead we set up camp and had a royal backpacker’s feast of top ramen, beans, granola bars, and Nutella. Talk about living luxury. 

We began the hike in the morning when it was still dark, and 10 of us plus two dogs set off into the mild desert morning. Immediately I remembered we were in the desert because the morning was chilly enough for multiple layers and about 15 minutes later I was stripping them off and already thirsty for water. The sun beat down on us as we trekked along the flat wash on the outskirts of the canyon, trying our best to stay on a trail. As we entered the wide mouth of the canyon we were greeted with periodic shade as the winding walls drew us deeper inside. The walls grew steeply from the ground, twisting and turning with clear evidence of water erosion. The ground in the canyon was littered with small pebbles transported by flowing water or deposited from the walls above.

Floor of the canyon on the way to the Little Death Hollow slot canyon near Moab, Utah.

There were a few snakes, but not much wildlife besides occasional insects, as most animals in the desert are nocturnal. After about 4 miles (6 km) of the wide twists and turns, the canyon abruptly shrunk in width and the walls began to close in on us. The twists and turns were more constricted and it truly felt like the walls were closing in the further we walked. After about 8 miles (12 km) the slot canyon opened up again, and we were greeted with the midday sun on the other side of the canyon. Everyone stopped here to eat lunch and that is where we said goodbye as the rest of the group continued toward the Escalante River and we turned around back to the campsite. 

Coyote Gulch

After venturing into the slot canyons we decided we would head south to check out the Coyote Gulch tributary in Kane County. I found this hike through various research I had done before the trip, and it is known for dramatic arches and isolation from the world. This is by far one of the longest hikes I have ever done, clocking over 34 miles (54.7 km)!! So if I thought I was tired from previous hikes, my legs were in for a ride. 

You do not have to do all 34 miles to enjoy Coyote Gulch, we are just crazy!

The drive led us down a rough dirt road covered with divots and loose rubble, seemingly dragging on forever. Parking at the trailhead we actually saw the most people since lockdowns had begun. We grabbed our stuff and strode off into the desert following the rock piles called cairns, used to keep you on the right path. After about 15 minutes of walking we came to a steep rock face descending straight down into the canyon marking the entrance to Coyote Gulch. There were ropes attached to the rock face which my friend used, but any state or park information you find will advise you not to use them because they are not maintained or installed by them. I chose not to use them for added challenge I guess, and I had no problem going down, even went faster than Alan using the ropes.

The environment at the bottom of the rock face was a stark contrast to the desert-like conditions at the surface of the canyon. The base is teeming with trees, plants, birds, and a sparkling river. The water is shallow enough for you to walk through and we ended up taking off our shoes and just staying in the river for most of the 34 miles. Check out my Coyote Gulch post to make sure you see everything it has to offer, and decide how much hiking you are going to do. We leisurely made our way through the canyon, changing between walking in the river and on the sandy banks. The bends of the canyon lead you to archways, cliff formations, sandy banks, water falls, and historical Native American sites.

Waterfall along the Coyote Gulch Canyon.

Although there was quite a few people at the parking lot it was not crowded in the canyon because the canyon is long and spread out. Our only interactions with people were brief, passing other groups or sharing time at a waterfall or other landmark. You can get permits to camp inside the gulch, but we just did a day trip and we walked through the entire canyon. The river exits Coyote Gulch canyon and meets up at a junction with the larger Escalante River. We mistakenly missed the exit point out of the canyon and walked an extra 4 miles, reaching that junction.

You will know you missed it if the water rises over your knees, you begin having to cross over plunging pools and large boulders, or you see people kayaking in the river. The exit to this hike is described as a large sand dune, but I guess Utah’s definition of sand dune is different than mine. In Colorado and Hawai’i sand dunes are usually just a big pile of sand. Apparently the dunes in Utah and at the canyon’s exit it is actually covered with plants.

Sand dune at the far extit of Coyote Gulch Canyon Trail.
The view from the top of the ‘sand dune’ at the exit of Coyote Gulch.

There are less people entering and exiting at this side of the canyon so if you are not looking for a desert shrub covered ‘sand dune’ it is easy to miss. The dune is steep and long, and walking in the sand uphill was especially difficult after the 30+ miles we just did. At the top of the dune lies the final problem to exit the canyon. The exit is a narrow slit in the rock that you have to shimmy up to physically climb out of Gulch. We had to hold our backpacks above our head as we slid into the crack, but it is not a difficult climb. At the top we got to admire the large ‘sand dune’ we traversed up and the sun as it descended over the rocky horizon. It was getting darker so we made some haste and began walking back through the desert to the road and the second canyon parking lot. You can begin at this entrance, but driving to the second parking lot requires four wheel drive as the road becomes thick sand. We ended up hitchhiking back to the first parking lot, so remember to pick up your friendly hikers if they need a ride.

Climber scaling the crack in the wall at the exit of Coyote Gulch Canyon.
Alan Chen climbing up the crack at the exit of Coyote Gulch.

This trip was an amazing experience and I will have posts about each adventure individually in the future, but for now you get a relative idea of the kind of things available especially if you are flexible and impulsive with your destination adventures. 

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