Goblins, Dinosaurs & Arched Canyons around Moab

Saturday, May 4
It was a non-starter that we would try to get to Moab on a Friday afternoon. All signs this spring were that every national park was packed with people. Being in the middle of two world class parks would mean Moab would be mobbed. I had no idea what the reality was in town now. More on that later.So we only drove as far as Goblins State Park. Actually we stayed a few miles outside the park in a BLM dispersed camp site. There are plenty to choose from. Some were group sites and had dozens of toy-haulers, ATV trailers and the like. I’ve never seen this area so crowded with ATV’s. We found a really sweet spot at the top of a small rise away from all the others that overlooked desert, sandstone reef and big, big sky. Only one other small RV was parked there and I never once saw the person or people inside for the three days we were there.On Saturday we drove into the park. Driving any dirt roads in the San Rafael Swell is still out because of always seeming impending thundershowers. There isn’t a lot to do in this park if you can’t 4-wheel it. The main attraction is a valley of strangely eroded sandstone formations and offers plenty of photographic adventures. The day started off quite clear, but afternoon clouds formed quickly over the mountains and kept drifting over the valley floor. While Goblins SP has a few dirt roads to explore, we were more interested in the main attraction – the weird sandstone formations in one large valley. The approach to the overlook nicely hides what is to come. The only clue is an early set of Easter Island looking formations.The road rises up to the main parking area and once out of the car, a brief walk to the edge revels a wide dried mud-pan with giant formations sprouting out everywhere. It is a little difficult to understand the size of these formations, so look close as several images have people wandering through. That first little stem part of each formation is twice as tall than the typical person. We had it good for awhile. Overhead clouds kept the light a little softer and occasional breaks kept highlighting various formations. We wandered out into the valley ourselves to see things a little closer up. It wasn’t long before the solid wall of clouds to the west began blocking the sun over the park. Looking in one direction, blue sky, the other, dim light. It was looking like it was going to get even darker, so we slowly began working our way back. Just as we started the walk up out of the valley, more sun broke through and we had a few more minutes of nicer light to work with. Another surge of clouds pretty throughly deadened the light and it looked like a long wait for more breaks, so we decided to finish for the day. Back in our camp a few hours later very near sunset, the cloud cover had broken up quite a bit. There were numerous showers passing through now with the warmest light of the day streaming between showers. Soon a half rainbow began to form. I just sat outside the rig just watching for a while. As the sun came out more, a dim but full rainbow developed just below fingers of drifting virga. Then it was a double. As the shower passed by, the rainbow intensified and clouds became highlighted. I love when the Nature brings the picture to me. Thanks! As quickly as it arrived, the rainbow faded, then disappeared completely. I thought the show was over, but as I continued to watch the scene, the clouds seemed to turn inside out. They became highlighted by last light for a few minutes before they too faded. It was a happy way to finish my day.

Moab Area
Sunday, May 5-7
It was only about a 90 minute drive to Moab from Goblins. We managed to book one night in an RV park just outside of town. We could find no other space available for more than one night at any other RV park for a price we were willing to pay. Having a hook-up space in town makes all the errands we need to to much more convenient – and they had good wifi.

As soon as we turned off highway 70 onto 191 it was clear that Moab had changed. As we drove the 20 mile distance with the light traffic on our side, convoys of 30 or 40 cars, RV’s and ATV pulling trucks  passed us the other way. A short break in between and another 30 or 40 went by. As we got closer to town, traffic bunched up more going the other way, creating a solid slow-moving train out of town. In town it was stop and go all the way. I haven’t seen so much traffic since San Francisco.

I turned off and parked next to City Market so we could get our grocery shopping done before checking in to our camp. I soon had to move the rig to behind the market because the narrow street was making for some too close encounters with other rigs trying to do the same thing. We got our groceries and got out of town and into the RV park. I later learned this was known as “The Sunday Exodus”. Something that happens every weekend during spring and summer.

Moab has exploded with growth since our last brief visit in 2014. Compared to our first visit in 1980 when there were as many shuttered buildings as working businesses, one stoplight, one market (with free coffee) and maybe 2 RV parks, it is now booming with new large hotels, luxury RV parks, and fast food. I understand it – I just don’t like it. It’s amazing to me this hadn’t happened much sooner. Be that as it may, we soldier on.

We came to Moab mainly to visit our friends who live in La Sal, a small town about 50 miles south. We planned to meet-up with Jan and David, do a little hiking, have some food and generally catch-up. On Monday, fully stocked, we went looking for a place to camp for a few days. My preference was alway check the campsites along Highway 128 that runs along the Colorado River. The campground closest to town was full. As was the 4 or 5 each about a mile from the next. Along the way, we were surprised to find one of our favorite hikes – Negro Bill Canyon – was no longer there. Wait a minute, it’s still there but now it’s called Grandstaff (Negro Bill Grandstaff) . Political correctness strikes again. Six miles down the road, we found a wonderful site at Big Bend Campground. It had a large cottonwood tree for shade and was well away from the road. We decided to stay here for a few days.

Dinosaur Trail and Museum
Tuesday, May 7Tuesday we met Jan and David at the junction outside of town and followed them to the Dinosaur Trail about 15 miles north. After meeting, we followed them to Mill Canyon Road and to the first stop. Here we found a short walk around an area of fossilized dinosaur tracks. There were quite a few of them around several areas, all cordoned off from getting too close. The light was bad and lets face it, tracks are kinda cool to look at, but not compelling to photograph. Along the trail to the tracks section, lots of Sego Lillies, Utah’s State Flower, were blooming. We got back in the cars and drove a little further to the Dinosaur trailhead. While it was a short trail, it had some nice aspects in how it was presented. Information panels at various spots pointed out where dinosaur fossils could be seen. The darker vein in the rock image below is an incomplete scapula and shoulder blade and several ribs of a sauropod.Over the years, the area has been vandalized and fossils removed, but what remains is still worth seeing. I am amazed researchers are able to identify such specific bones from specific species. The trail runs along a hillside along a small creek before looping around. The remains of an old mill sits on the other bank. We found a continuation of the trail that ran up the creek and followed it a for a while, but soon mosquitos began buzzing us, turning us around and back to the parking area.We were all ready for lunch, so we drove down to the new-to-us Dinosaur Museum. It really is a kid based museum with lots of fun interactive things for them to do. It is a nice little affair, though a hefty entrance fee might make some take pause. The massive burgers we ate at the cafe braced us for a little more exploring. We watched a film about dinosaur timelines, saw a slick little special effects 3D aquarium with prehistoric giant sharks trying to get at us.Afterwards we walked the .5 mile Trail of Dinosaurs, where facsimiles of various dinosaurs are placed in the landscape. The sculptures looked pretty good in the dino landscape that is southeastern Utah (even with railroad tracks and power lines running through). By now the wind associated with passing thundershowers was whipping around the complex, blowing dust and grit. The place was beginning to really feel prehistoric.We had a fun time walking and posing among the critters. The light was about the best we had all day, and the clouds from the passing storms were adding drama to the scenes. One does get a sense of danger when standing next to some of these guys. But really, they’re suckers for a little tickle.
We were all pretty windblown and tired after all the days’ activities, so we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. It was really great to connect with Jan again and meeting David for the first time. He seems like a great guy who has led a pretty colorful life. I hope we have a chance to get together again.I think there are some good rancher stories to be heard. Thanks Jan and David!

A Day in Arches National Park
Wednesday, May 8
We were enjoying our stay along the Colorado River so much we decided to add on a day. Being so close to Arches, we chose to spend most of the day there. I noticed the 40 car long line to enter the park as we drove by on the way out to our walk yesterday, so the thought was it would be best to go early and avoid the crowds to come. I thought that strategy failed as we pulled off the highway and found a back-up. But it was for a car that had gone off the road and down the embankment. Rumor was that it was a DUI – at 8 am. Once around that, we cruised right in and started up the grand switchbacks to get into the park.We avoided stopping at most of the viewpoints and trailheads to go directly to the Windows area where holes have formed in the enormous sandstone formations. The two large parking areas were nearly full already, but we parked and began wandering the trails that weave around the formations. While the lots were full, the trails didn’t seem so crowded. Some of the best overlooks tended to attract larger groups who lingered longer, but just waiting them out worked well enough to make images where people aren’t hanging off everything. Semi-official trails lead off the main to allow visitors to walk through some of the arches. We followed the main trail until we reached the final overlook. Here we continued on the unmaintained trail the rest of the way around this large set. As usual, the crowds thinned considerably once we got beyond the final viewpoint and it became a quiet stroll through a wonderful landscape. Coming around the back of the formation, views I couldn’t see from the other side came along.

That little walk took us around 90 minutes and then it was back to the car and further down the park road to viewpoints over Cache and Salt Valleys. The clouds to the west were dark with rain showers, but they stayed mostly to our northern edge, giving the sun a chance to illuminate the landscape below. The softened light and dark sky allowed the wonderful color of the hills to stand out. From our vantage points at various turnout overlooks, we could see Fiery Furnace quite well and watched and waited until patches of light would drag across the rock. We stopped again briefly at the Fiery Furnace viewpoint to have a look. I also found some nice Cliff Rose bushes growing nearby. Their sweet aroma always is a treat. We continued on to the end of the park road. There is a trail of arches at the end, but having done it many times before and seeing the throngs of people, we chose to turn around and make our way back. We stopped again at overlooks for the valleys again because the light just kept changing. As usual, we were pretty tired by the time we got out of the park. Glad to be so close to camp. Tomorrow we are headed for The Needles section of Canyonlands. The plan is for up to a 5 day stay, but hot weather is forecast for later in the week, so there may be a change in store.

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