the scenic route to Moab
Our last night in Salt Lake City we set an alarm before going to bed — not because we were in any particular rush to get to our next destination, but because we wanted to thank and bid adieu to our hosts and did not trust ourselves to get out of bed before they left the house for the day. Our first few days on vacation without our son we continued to rise more or less with the sun, but by this point in our travels a week had passed since we left him with his grandparents, and we were beginning to regain the ability to sleep in.
The drive from Salt Lake City to Moab clocks in at just under four hours, and we intended to break up the journey with a few scenic stops along the way. Our first destination was the Alpine Loop on the back of Mt. Timpanogos, where we planned to hike the trail to Stewart Falls. Even before we set foot in the woods, we were treated to some magnificent scenery, driving through Provo Canyon, past the appropriately named Sundance, and up into Aspen Grove.
After scrambling up the scraggly hillsides of Deseret Peak, the trail to Stewart Falls was a welcome change of pace. The 2-mile trail is well-maintained and impossible to miss. It also has hardly any elevation change. It took us about an hour to reach the waterfall and another 40 minutes to retrace our steps back to the parking lot. It was late in the fall, so the waterfall was likely not as impressive as it would have been in springtime, but the colorful foliage easily made the hike worthwhile. The trees, and even the shrubbery covering the otherwise bald mountainsides, were awash in fall colors.
Halfway between Salt Lake City and the high desert surrounding Moab lies the tiny frontier town of Helper, which was once an important stop on the Southwest’s bustling railway system. We stopped to get a glimpse of the frontier life, but sadly the Helper museum was already closed by the time we arrived. We wandered down Main Street but did not find much else to see.
It took another two hours to reach Moab from Helper. From the Wasatch Mountains down to the high desert plains of southern Utah, the scenery changed dramatically. Striated mountains gave way to massive mesa outcrops, distinct red sandstone rocks, and the colorful walls of numerous canyons, making for a spectacular drive. The final stretch of highway along route I-70 had an 80 MPH speed limit — a glorious straightaway through the desert plains. Even so, darkness caught us just outside Moab, and we wound up pitching our tent by the light of our headlamps before settling in for the first of our four nights in Utah’s adventure capital.