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Automotive Traveler Magazine: 2011 01 Moab Utah Page 1

Rear View Mirror: Moab, America's Playground

From galleries and gourmet dining to exploring the glories of Nature, this corner of the Southwest offers something for everyone. Richard Truesdell checks out his options.

Off the beaten path in the American Southwest, nestled in a lush green valley beneath towering red rock rims, is a hidden gem called Moab, Utah, a unique little town where you could spend weeks and awaken to a new adventure with each sunrise.

Hike in the warmth of the desert sun one day. Cross-country ski the next. Raft the wild Colorado River one day... and take your mountain bike on a cool aspen trail the next. All without changing hotels!

Moab may be known around the world for its mountain biking, but the area offers so much more: Class V rafting on the mighty Colorado River, rock climbing, rappelling, hiking, road biking, fishing, hunting, golfing, four-wheel driving, ATVing, horseback riding, skate parks, disc golf, skydiving, and ballooning.

If, like me, you find the choices almost overwhelming, consider the services of one of the numerous outfitters in Moab. Taking into account your interests, activity level, and budget, these local experts can put together a vacation that you and your family or friends are sure to remember.

With wind and water, Nature has altered the surrounding landscape, shaping beautiful red desert rock into magnificent spires and arches, a metamorphosis that continues today. And here the Colorado River has carved a meandering masterpiece of deep canyons and beautiful vistas.

It comes as no surprise that Moab is the only city in the nation with two national parks in such close proximity that you can bike to them.

Arches National Park, just six miles from downtown Moab, is a red rock wonderland. With more than 2,000 arches and an astonishing variety of other geological formations, many consider it to offer some of the most scenic and inspiring landscapes on Earth. Colossal sandstone fins, massive balanced rocks, and soaring pinnacles and spires dwarf visitors as they explore the park's viewpoints and hiking trails.

Paved roads ensure easy access. Visitors can enjoy the park for an afternoon's scenic auto tour, or immerse themselves for days hiking the many marked trails.

The Green and Colorado Rivers divide Canyonlands, the largest national park in Utah, into three districts: the Island in the Sky, the Needles, and the Maze.

Named for their most prominent geologic characteristics, these districts are quite diverse. To take a "seen one, seen 'em all" attitude would be a regrettable mistake.

The entrance to the Island District, which sits atop a massive 1,500-foot mesa--a literal Island in the Sky--is just 35 miles from Moab.

With 20 miles of paved roads, this district is the easiest and most popular way to see Canyonlands National Park. Views of more than 100 miles in any direction result in an astounding panorama that encompasses thousands of square miles of awesome canyon country.

The Needles District 75 miles southwest of Moab was named for the colorful spires of Cedar Mesa Sandstone that dominate the area. The district's extensive trail system provides many opportunities for long day hikes and overnight trips, making it a backpacking haven.

The Maze District is the least accessible area of Canyonlands National Park. Due to its remoteness and the difficulty of roads and trails, travel to the Maze requires both more time and a greater degree of self-sufficiency than visiting either of the other areas.

In addition to these beautiful national parks, Moab is home to Dead Horse Point State Park. Often called the Little Grand Canyon, stories differ about how the land originally got its name.

Situated just 32 miles from Moab, Dead Horse Point features one of the most photographed scenic vistas in the world. Towering 2,000 feet above the Colorado River, the over-look provides a breathtaking view of Canyonlands' sculpted pinnacles and buttes.

As if two national parks and one state park weren't enough, the Moab area also includes three Utah Scenic Byways and the Manti LaSal National Forest, a cool reprieve from the desert heat during summer months that offers snowboarding and cross-country skiing come winter.

At day's end, visitors relax and dine in Moab at the town's two wineries, two breweries, and gourmet restaurants said to rival those in New York City. Or... saddle up for a chuck wagon dinner guaranteed to transport you back to the Old West.

Accommodations here range from camping, of course, to river ranch resorts. A handful of fine art galleries and trading posts welcome visitors eager for a little indoor shopping recreation.

Nighttime is show time. I've heard that Moab's internationally renowned sound and light show on the water transports spectators to another world with Indian legends, the natural wonder of the canyons, and patriotic themes. Floating on a large boat with theater seating, the stage is southeastern Utah's amazing night sky, 300- to 500-foot canyon walls illuminated with lights, and the mighty Colorado River.

After all my travel of late, I'm not sure whether I need another adrenaline rush--rock climbing lessons? a Jeep Jamboree?--or just to relax and unwind. From my research into this part of the States, I get the feeling Moab will deliver.

For assistance planning your own vacation itinerary to this special region of the American Southwest, visit DiscoverMoab.com.

All photographs, except for that on the final page, are courtesy of Discover Moab. The final photo in this feature is courtesy of Chrysler LLC.