At the Lazy Lizard hostel, a group of bearded, sun-wizened trail junkies in faded tie-dye are letting us in on the best places to see around here, and where’s best to catch the pre-sunset “magic hour”.
“False Kiva Ruin … that’s amazing,” says one, in hushed, conspiratorial tones. “But they won’t tell you where it is.”
“The sunset view of the Fisher Towers with Manti-La Sal forest in the back,” says another, wistfully.
“Dead Horse Point,”chimes in a third. “My friend Sally works up there. Likes it so much she doesn’t come down to town much any more.”
‘Town’ is no sprawling metropolis, but rather an eccentric little place named Moab, whose fortunes changed with the discovery of uranium in the 1950s, and again 40 years later with the discovery of a new natural resource. Word got out that the incredible red rock landscape surrounding the town was the perfect backdrop for adventure sports: whitewater rafting, canoeing, canyon hiking and, above all, mountain biking, for which the area is now world-famous.
For the less adrenaline-addicted, awe-inspiring sights are an easy drive. The nearby national parks of Arches and Canyonlands and Dead Horse Point State Park receive a fraction of the visitors of better-known destinations such as the Grand Canyon, but it’s difficult to understand how – a blazing, orange-red landscape of spires, arches, mesas, buttes, canyons, these rock formations are made of 200-million-year-old Entrada sandstone, the petrified testament to what was once a vast desert. As softer layers are eroded by the wind, others collapse to create the surreal formations, the iron oxide-rich yellow and red shimmering black with manganese in places (an effect romantically known as ‘desert varnish’). It’s jaw-dropping just to look at, let alone to hike, bike, off-road or kayak through such an incredible playground.
Perhaps it’s the ever-changing colours or just the sheer vastness, but there’s something about this place that draws you in – and leaves you not wanting to come down to town much anymore. lt’s not just the photographic opportunities, but the desire to connect with this incredible landscape that brings people out at all times of day – and night.
Here on a belated honeymoon, Claudia and Frank, from Germany and Scotland respectively, found themselves among a mixed bag of ages, backgrounds and nationalities on a sunset viewing trip to Mesa Arch, in Canyonlands National Park.
“There must’ve been about a hundred people, all waiting for the perfect sunset, with the moon rising behind,” says Claudia. “It didn’t happen, but it was still amazing.”
Tonight, they’re once again one of several groups venturing to the Arches NP at midnight to see the impressive rock formations under moonlight. Stepping out of the car and into the night, the darkness is almost total, but is exhilaratingly alive with sound and scent. We wait, breathing it in, scared and excited. And then there is light: a squashy yellow moon emerges, rolling slowly out from behind a fingertip of rock like a giant drop of butter. Watching it move is to see the Earth rotate, and to feel a part of it. Parties like this are worth staying up all night for.”