Tim Van Schmidt
Recently I wrote about science fiction movies. This week, I’d like to feature a place that kind of plops you right into the middle of a science fiction movie — the landscape is otherworldly.
There are huge monolithic stands of bright red rocks sculpted by eons of changing weather. Rock arches angle through the sky. Petroglyphs tell the story of previous visitors. Dinosaur footprints are embedded in the rock at your feet and their bones are sticking out of the hillside.
Plus there’s a busy town and other tourists — and lots of recreation vehicles. It’s true. This is a beehive of activity compared to the stretches of desert in the region surrounding it.
This is Moab, Utah, a place that enchants with awesome natural beauty — and there’s a lot to do in the area. When we met friends in Moab, I did my homework and it paid off.
Of course, you should not go to Moab without visiting Arches, the iconic national park. Our group went very, very early and sailed right through the gates, enjoying the sunrise there on two mornings. The first, we watched the sun wake up the Three Sisters, standing so tall together high above — with a colorful hot air balloon floating off in the distance. The next day we watched the morning slowly light up the Window Arches.
We did not make the hike to the iconic Delicate Arch — you should have seen the crowds. Instead, we explored various trails where just about every viewpoint ends up being “iconic”. I’ll also mention that the Visitors Center at Arches is worth visiting for facts and the history of the park.
But do not forget there are great Utah state parks in the area too, sometimes much less crowded. In fact, we were the only visitors when we trekked out to Dead Horse Point State Park to one of the grandest viewpoints in the area.
The Dead Horse Point overlook stands some 2000 feet above the Colorado River, a thick green ribbon cutting haphazardly through the vast desert canyonlands it helped create. Legend has it that cowboys corralled wild mustangs on the point and left the rejects to perish in the desert heat. Now, it is a viewing area that inspires with a sweeping scene millennium in the making.
But exploring Moab isn’t just about the mind-expanding landscapes. If you look at the details, you see a lot as well.
Like at the Potash Road Rock Art Sites. Here — literally right on the roadside on Utah Scenic Byway 279 — strange petroglyphs echo an ancient world. Some of the art clearly depicts animals like deer and bears, but some of the human-like figures — probably hunters and perhaps warriors — don’t always look entirely like humans. I’m just saying…
More than ancient, what we found in nearby Mill Canyon was prehistoric. The Mill Canyon Dinosaur Track site gives you easy access to eight different kinds of dinosaur prints with informative signs. The Dinosaur Bone Trail, a self-guided nature trail, takes you right up close to dinosaur remains still stuck in the rocky outcroppings.
Our group met in Moab for three days total in October. The nights were certainly cool, but it was plenty warm during the day. We enjoyed the brewery downtown and easy access to information and shopping.
But most of all, it was awesome just getting introduced to the Moab area. And that’s about all three days does for you, is give you an introduction. What I saw in that time was that there was a lot more to see.
On our way out of town — and we took the scenic route along Highway 128 — we stopped at the Red Cliffs Lodge to see the Moab Museum of Film and Western Heritage. It’s a tribute to the many movies filmed in the Moab area, from “Stagecoach” to “Thelma and Louise.”
Other productions filmed in Moab: “City Slickers II”, “Breakdown”, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”, “The Greatest Story Ever Told”, “Warlock”, “Rio Grande”, “127 Hours”, “Con Air”, and “Mission Impossible II”.
In fact, several science fiction movies have been filmed there, including “Star Trek”, “John Carter of Mars”, “Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone”, and “Galaxy Quest”. There’s a reason for that — Moab is a unique place in the universe.
Tim Van Schmidt is a writer and photographer based in Fort Collins. See his Moab video on YouTube at “Time Capsules by Tim Van Schmidt.”