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Discovering the Scenic Byways of Moab

There’s magic in the name Moab. The word conjures up dreams of sandstone landscapes dissected by canyons and lorded over by buttes and mesas. The town of Moab, Utah, nestled beside the Colorado River, casts a special spell on every visitor, enchanting them with the surrounding bare-bones landscape and a sense of limitless space. Spectacular scenery fills the Moab area, offering long views, a rainbow of colors, dazzling sunsets, and plenty to see and do. Driving Moab’s byways and backroads are the best way to explore its wild country and see its sights. These roads allow mountain bikers, rock climbers, hikers, and river rafters to get intimate with Moab’s red rock playground. Here are five of the area’s most scenic drives.

Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway (Utah 128)

The Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway, following Utah 128 or the River Road, runs 44 miles along the Colorado River and across open hills to Interstate 70. The drive, beginning north of Moab, twists through a dramatic cliff-lined gorge beside the Colorado River for the first 13 miles. Attractions include a hike up Negro Bill Canyon to Morning Glory Arch, bouldering at Big Bend, and rafting down the Colorado. Past the canyon, the land opens up and the drive passes Red Cliff Lodge and the Moab Movie Museum below Castle Valley.

A side trip leads to the Fisher Towers, a collection of strangely eroded formations. The byway continues through the upper river canyon, passing scenic overlooks below red rock cliffs, to the site of the historic Dewey Bridge. The one-lane bridge was destroyed by a brush fire in 2008. The final section runs across the barren desert to the ghost town of Cisco before ending at Interstate 70.

Potash-Lower Colorado River Scenic Byway (Utah 279)

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The Lower Colorado River Scenic Byway features access to many activities on the surrounding cliffs and canyons.

Gary Whitton/Moab Area Travel Council

The Lower Colorado River Scenic Byway, locally called Potash Road, follows Utah 279 along the twisty Colorado River for 17 miles to the site of a potash mine. Besides gorgeous scenery, the drive offers dinosaur tracks, climbing, hiking, mountain biking, and four-wheeling on the surrounding cliffs and canyons. The byway enters the Colorado River gorge about three miles south of U.S. 191 and runs alongside the west bank of the river through a deep cliff-lined canyon.

At Wall Street, the road edges between the river and a towering sandstone cliff. The roadside crag is Moab’s most popular climbing area, with a couple hundred sport and trad routes. Poison Spider Mesa Trail offers great mountain biking along the canyon rim. An easy trail crosses slickrock to vaulting 105-foot-high Corona Arch. Jughandle Arch frames the north entrance of Long Canyon near the drive’s end at the Intrepid Potash Mine where potash is mined for fertilizer. Past turquoise settling ponds, the road turns to dirt and heads into Canyonlands National Park as the White Rim Road.

La Sal Mountain Loop Road

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On the La Sal Mountain Loop Road, drive past monolithic sandstone formations such as Castleton Tower.

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The La Sal Mountain Loop Road, a Utah Scenic Backway, is a 60-mile drive through the La Sal Mountains southeast of Moab. The road, with both paved and gravel surfaces, climbs from dusty desert valleys to aspen glades, rushing streams, pine and fir forests, and a dozen 12,000-foot peaks, including the range high point, 12,721-foot Mount Peale. The best way to drive the route is counter-clockwise, beginning on U.S. 191 south of Moab. The road climbs to Mill Creek Canyon, one of Moab’s best climbing areas, and then shelves across the northwest flank of the mountains.

Take a right turn and drive to Warner Lake, a gorgeous pond surrounded by wildflower-strewn meadows and golden aspen. Several overlooks yield striking views across the sun-baked landscape below. The final road segment switchbacks down to Castle Valley and runs north to the drive’s end at the River Road. This section passes monolithic sandstone formations, including Castleton Tower, The Priest, and The Nuns.

Dead Horse Point Scenic Byway (Utah 313)

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The last few miles of Dead Horse Point Scenic Byway crosses Dead Horse Point State Park, which features one of the most stunning overlooks in the state.

Dan Norris/Moab Area Travel Council

The 35-mile-long Dead Horse Point Scenic Byway follows Utah 313 through sandstone canyons and across sagebrush-covered hills atop the Island in the Sky. Dead Horse Point at the end of the drive perches on the abrupt rim of the mesa, offering one of Moab’s most-loved overlooks. The drive’s last few miles cross Dead Horse Point State Park, a 5,300-acre Utah parkland, with overlooks, hiking and mountain biking trails, a campground, and visitor center. The view from Dead Horse Point, reputedly one of the most photographed scenes in the world, is breathtaking. The glassy Colorado River loops through a dramatic canyon lined with red cliffs more than 2,000 feet below the overlook. Beyond stretches a vastness of flat-topped mesas, ragged canyons, and the snow-capped La Sal and Abajo mountains.

After taking your own photos, head back to Utah 313 and head south to the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park. Expect more great views from the park drive as well as hiking trails, natural arches, and a desert wilderness that reaches to the horizon.

Arches National Park Scenic Drive

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Balanced Rock with the La Sal Mountains in the backdrop.

Moab Area Travel Council

The 18-mile park road at Arches National Park traverses a stunning landscape, with skyscraping buttes and towers, balanced rocks, and more than 2,000 arches, the largest concentration in the world. The out-and-back drive offers dramatic overlooks and trails to features like iconic Delicate Arch, Double Arch, and Skyline Arch. Before heading out, stop at the visitor center off U.S. 191 to acquaint yourself with the park.

Past the entrance, the road climbs to the Courthouse Towers, a sculpture garden of massive rocks, and edges alongside the Great Wall. A short spur leads past Balanced Rock to the Windows Section with Turret Arch and the Windows. Other sites to explore include the 1.5-mile trail to Delicate Arch, a must-do hike; labyrinthine slots canyons at the Fiery Furnace; and Devil’s Garden at the road’s end. A good trail explores Devil’s Garden, passing Landscape Arch, the world’s longest natural span, and other arches. Finish the drive by piling back in the car and returning to the visitor center.

Written by Stewart Green for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Marc Piscotty/Moab Area Travel Council

Life on the East Coast vs. West Coast

Living in California, I’m sure you’ve seen everyone with their Bluetooth headphones and heard the subtle brag “west coast is the best coast!”. People who stand behind this common phrase often haven’t even been to the east coast. Well, I live on both coasts, so I’ll get to the bottom of this debate. I’ve lived in Orange County all 19 years of my life, but I attend Fordham University in New York City. I still have a lot to learn about the Big Apple, but going to college in this fast-pace environment made me learn a lot in a short amount of time. If there’s one thing I’d like to emphasize, it’s that OC and NYC are COMPLETELY different. Take a look at these nine categories I’ve decided to rate from each coast, and we’ll find out if East or West comes out on top.

  1. Weather – East Coast: 4 / West Coast: 10

The two coasts obviously have VERY different weather patterns. When I first told people I was going to New York for school, their initial reaction was “Wow! Good luck with that winter.” They weren’t wrong either. Cold rain, inches of snow, and average temperatures of 30°F don’t compare to a SoCal winter! Not to mention, New York summers are filled with hot heat and high humidity.

Winter in Central Park. It may be cold, but it sure is pretty!

  1. Food – East Coast: 9 / West Coast: 8

The most important category: FOOD! California wins for best Mexican food hands down. But you already knew that. New York has some of the best Italian food I’ve ever tasted, thanks to Little Italy. Other than that, the coasts are pretty equal when it comes to creative, tasty food spots. However, NYC’s East Village is home to uniquely individual food spots that satisfy every and any craving. West Coast is more reliable if you’re searching for a typical chain restaurant.

  1. Views – East Coast: 8 / West Coast: 8

This category is a tough one. If you head to the top of the Empire State Building, you’ll catch the most spectacular view of the NYC Skyline. It’s truly a view that you can’t get anywhere else. What the East Coast doesn’t have, however, is a West Coast sunset. Watching the sunset on the beach is a casual activity here in Southern California that you definitely can’t do in New York. But which is better…NYC Skyline or California Sunset?

View from the top of the Empire State Building.

Laguna Beach, California – December 2016.

  1. People – East Coast: 6 / West Coast: 8

One time I went with my roommate to get her nose pierced at a famous tattoo shop. After talking with the tattoo artist for a few minutes, he asked, “Where you from? You’re way too nice to be from New York.” So yes, the typical stereotype of a New Yorker is (mostly) true. New Yorkers are always in a rush (thanks to Subway System delays), so don’t take anything personal. City streets are filled with people that are trying to sell you tickets or grab your attention, so we unintentionally begin to brush people off. After living in New York for only a year, I’ve noticed personal changes. I walk way faster, I’ve become more opinionated, and yes, I sometimes forget to say thanks when a stranger holds the door open for me…forgive me! California’s laidback lifestyle offers more time for people to say thanks, have a casual conversation with a neighbor, and smile at every stranger who walks by.

  1. Fashion – East Coast: 9 / West Coast: 7

Fashion plays a HUGE role in a NYC lifestyle. After all, it is home to New York Fashion Week. City life promotes stylish outfits, no matter where you’re headed. Even if you’re simply taking a stroll through Central Park, you’ll notice mostly everyone has their outfits together. In SoCal, people tend to run errands in workout clothes, go to work in workout clothes, and sit around at home in workout clothes. I’m not complaining though, comfort is key!

  1. Entertainment – East Coast: 10 / West Coast: 6

Not going to lie, Southern California can get boring. Yeah, we have the beach and all, but the beach gets repetitive. SoCal doesn’t compare to the “City that Never Sleeps.” When I’m in New York, I see something new every day. Even the subway rides are filled with entertainment (shout out to the street performers). NYC has free comedy shows, free concerts, museums, pop-up shops, and much MUCH more on any day of the week.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met). One of many famous museums in NYC.

  1. Transportation – East Coast: 8 / West Coast: 5

Southern California and New York City are both known for having the WORST traffic. Unless you’re an Uber, Lyft, or Taxi driver in NYC, you’re better off walking or using the subway system. The MTA New York Subway is seriously the best transportation system. Yes, it gets crowded and the subway carts aren’t the cleanest, but you get places fast. For $2.75, you can go anywhere in the five boroughs, which is cheap considering you’d be paying for gas money anyways if you were driving a car.

D-Train Subway Line. Uptown & The Bronx

  1. Expenses – East Coast: 4 / West Coast: 6

There’s nothing cheap about living in New York or California. Good luck getting the penthouse suit with floor to ceiling windows that overlooks NYC. The expense of winter coats and sweaters adds up too…I spent over $1,000 on coats for last winter alone. Restaurants, grocery shopping, gas, movies, concerts, and pretty much any other activity are pricy on both coasts. When a free show or event comes around, don’t pass it up!

  1. Lifestyle – East Coast: 7 / West Coast: 8

The lifestyles on the two coasts are completely different. NYC is a fast-pace environment that motivates you to keep moving. If I sit around and watch Netflix for a day in New York, I honestly feel bad about it because I feel like it’s a day wasted. At home in California, I feel no shame lying in bed to binge watch my favorite TV show. This category is totally based on opinion, and I like the easy-going vibes that surround the West Coast.

Alright so which coast comes out on top? East Coast (NYC) or West Coast (SoCal)?

Totals – East Coast: 65 / West Coast: 66

Looks like the West Coast wins by one point!! I expected this to turn out pretty even, since I honestly don’t know which coast I like better. The lifestyles are too different to compare, and it really just depends on your personality. I love living in NYC, and I think it’s a great place to explore during my 20s. When it’s time to settle down, California will be a better fit. Even though the city life is great, Orange County will always be my home!