Published: March 2009
The Next Southwest: Utah
Moab gets a face-lift. The Grand Canyon shows off two secret falls. And the Colorado River makes room for untested paddlers. Presenting the 20 best adventures in the Four Corners, where everything old (even the ancient stuff) is new again.
Text by Kate Siber
Ride a Newly Remodeled Moab
Moab is at it again. In May the country’s most popular and best publicized biking town will open a remarkable addition: 13 miles of loops in Dead Horse Point State Park, an area once off-limits to the public. The riding is similar to Moab’s finest—slickrock and twisty, moderate singletrack through juniper, piñon, cactus, and yucca—but the views are some of the best in the U.S. Made possible in part by a grant from (get this) a community-minded local mining company, the trails crisscross some prime real estate: the edge of a rock butte that rises 2,000 feet above the snaking Colorado River and once served as a natural corral for wranglers breaking mustangs over a century ago. Pedal past old cowboy sites but linger on until sunset, when the low sun glints off the Colorado and torches the Great Pyramid and Big Chief formations below.

Next: Get a Room (with a View)

Get a Room (with a View)
Amangiri Resort & Spa
Even as real estate values plummet, one maxim remains as relevant as ever: It’s all about location, location, location. Take, for example, Aman Resorts’ new 34-room lodge, which claims 600 acres of limestone cliffs, spires, and bridges near Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument (doubles from $800; villasatamangiri.com). The lodge, Aman’s second in the U.S., is just 15 minutes from Page, Arizona, but it feels like a backcountry hideout. Hike the surrounding canyons with naturalist Mike Friedman, kayak Lake Powell, or detour to the Vermillion Cliffs. The Zen-chic rooms feature custom rawhide furniture, nearby fire pits, and, naturally, views.

The View Hotel
Moab is at it again. In May the country’s most popular and best publicized biking town will open a remarkable addition: 13 miles of loops in Dead Horse Point State Park, an area once off-limits to the public. The riding is similar to Moab’s finest—slickrock and twisty, moderate singletrack through juniper, piñon, cactus, and yucca—but the views are some of the best in the U.S. Made possible in part by a grant from (get this) a community-minded local mining company, the trails crisscross some prime real estate: the edge of a rock butte that rises 2,000 feet above the snaking Colorado River and once served as a natural corral for wranglers breaking mustangs over a century ago. Pedal past old cowboy sites but linger on until sunset, when the low sun glints off the Colorado and torches the Great Pyramid and Big Chief formations below.

Next: Mount an Expedition into a Secret Canyon

Mount an Expedition into a Secret Canyon
Don’t hate John Wesley Powell and the Southwest’s other explorers just because they got here first. Far better to impersonate them. Rafting company Wild Rivers Expeditions and hiking outfitter Far Out Expeditions have teamed up to offer an 11-day trip in August to Slickhorn Canyon that’s worthy of exploration’s annals ($2,840; faroutexpeditions.com). The 20-mile-long chasm lined with unreconstructed ancestral Puebloan dwellings in southeastern Utah can be reached only by boat (provided by Wild Rivers). Vaughn Hadenfeldt, a certified canyon junkie who has 25 years’ experience guiding and surveying with archaeological expeditions, is your ground support. Push off in a raft from just outside of Bluff, Utah, and travel 67 miles along the San Juan River over five days. You’ll float past petroglyphs accessible only by river, hike to inscriptions etched by Mormon pioneers, and marvel at millions of years of geology rising into the cobalt sky, not to mention the Class III rapids and an avian bounty, including herons and hawks. Then follow Hadenfeldt on a six-day ramble through Slickhorn. You’ll scramble up side canyons, explore unexcavated ruins, and camp amid cottonwoods and willows while your expedition leader takes care of the rest.

Next: Paddle Cataract with a Pulitzer Prize Winner

Paddle Cataract with a Pulitzer Prize Winner
It’s not easy to improve upon the hundred-mile raft trip on the Colorado River through Utah’s Cataract Canyon, the Grand Canyon’s stately upstream sister. But O.A.R.S. has managed to do it, inviting Pulitzer Prize–winning canyon expert Philip Fradkin on its trip this summer (July 11–16; $2,135; oars.com). In wooden dories, paddlers bounce through Class III rapids, spot seasonal waterfalls, and gape at the buttes and mesas of Canyonlands National Park. Side hikes reveal ruins and inscriptions from expeditions past. "I always get more out of trips when there are books or guides who give me a sense of the context of the river, and that’s what I plan to do," says Fradkin, who wrote A River No More, the definitive work on the Colorado River. After dinner, Fradkin might read from his biography of novelist and activist Wallace Stegner or chat about the history and conservation of the West’s great plumbing system.

Next: Drive an Epic Byway (this Weekend)

Drive an Epic Byway (this Weekend)
State Route 12 has always had the scenery part covered (the 124-mile road connects Capitol Reef National Park with Bryce Canyon National Park). But in recent years—as innovative restaurants have cropped up alongside it—the byway has become nothing less than the definitive Four Corners road trip.

Day 1
At Capitol Reef National Park, hike the 3.5-mile Chimney Rock Loop to the path’s namesake monolith, then motor 20 miles west to Torrey. The Torrey Schoolhouse Bed & Breakfast, your night’s lodging, is a refurbished 1914 schoolhouse where—legend has it—Butch Cassidy himself attended a dance (doubles from $110; torreyschoolhouse.com). Nearby Café Diablo serves trip-worthy dishes like chipotle-rum-molasses-roasted pork ribs on a patio above the canyons (cafediablo.com).

Day 2
The 36 miles to Boulder, Utah, might seem short, but set aside the entire day for the road’s hoodoo views and a hike up Boulder Mountain. Boulder itself is a blip of a town, but it hosts the unmissable Zagat-rated Hell’s Backbone Grill, an organic, Buddhist enclave that dishes up regional foods like duck breast with wild rose hip–sage cream sauce (hellsbackbonegrill.com). Boulder Mountain Lodge, meanwhile, has a communal fire pit and yoga mats for hire (doubles from $97; boulder-utah.com).

Day 3
Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument is just 29 miles from Boulder. Check in to a cabin at Escalante Outfitters, a one-stop shop that vends gear, pizza, and beer (doubles from $45; escalanteoutfitters.com). Rent a bike there ($35 a day) and gather intel on the slickrock and forested singletrack trails.

Day 4
After 34 miles of highway, take the seven-mile jaunt south of Cannonville to Kodachrome Basin State Park, where enormous cones of sand mark petrified geysers. It’s another 13 miles on Highway 12 to Bryce Canyon: a fitting finale. The tough eight-mile hike on the seldom frequented Fairyland Loop Trail delivers your own private hoodoo sculpture gallery.

Next: Blaze a Trail Through Hurricane

Blaze a Trail Through Hurricane
Hurricane, a small town in the wrinkled recesses of southeastern Utah, is the next great slickrock biking town for two principal reasons: (1) Its proximity to Zion National Park, and (2) Over the Edge Sports, the best bike shop this side of Moab. Community-friendly OTES, which celebrated its one-year anniversary in December, rents some of the best demo bikes available, including Ibis Mojos, Knolly Delirium Ts, and Yeti 575s ($90 a day; otesports.com). Then, of course, there are the trails out back. Hurricane sits alongside the famed Gooseberry Mesa, a nest of over 20 miles of singletrack, but otherwise the area remains largely undiscovered. "We have a boatload of potential," says Quentin Morisette, who owns OTES with his wife, D.J. Every Saturday, Quentin offers free intermediate group rides in the morning, and D.J. runs free women-only rides in the afternoon. Slickrock freshmen hone their skills on the north rim of the mesa, while veterans head to the technical south rim—though no one need compete for views. An occasional look up from the handlebars reveals craggy mountains, water-carved canyons, and the crimson monoliths of Zion.

Next: Find a Foodie Oasis

Find a Foodie Oasis
The town of Bluff, the put-in for San Juan River trips, sits just 50 miles from Monument Valley. But until recently it was about a hundred miles from a decent bite to eat. Then chef Leah Schrenk opened the San Juan River Kitchen (435-672-9956). Schrenk, a 34-year-old sandy blonde with a knack for kitchen chemistry, keeps it local. Veggies come from the organic garden she shares with a local rafting outfitter, and she buys her organic meats from a local ranch. Stop in post-hike, post-ride, or post-paddle and sample specials like dolmas wrapped in Swiss chard and kale or peppers stuffed with rice, sausage, and veggies. The homemade desserts—such as the chocolate-cayenne cake filled with fruit from nearby orchards—are worth the trip by themselves.

Next: Canyoneer in Escalante (Expert Instruction Included)

Canyoneer in Escalante (Expert Instruction Included)
The American Canyoneering Association has certified exactly one guiding company in the Southwest: Excursions of Escalante. And in 2009 EOE is launching the most robust canyoneering curriculum in the Four Corners: a series of three-day courses in southern Utah’s Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument ($450, including lunch and gear rental; excursionsofescalante.com). "The philosophy we teach is to move extremely slow and efficient," says owner Rick Green. "The places we take people, there are no trails, there are no cairns. This is the real deal." Moving methodically and safely leaves plenty of time for admiring the classroom: the monument’s Egypt area, a six-mile-long slickrock bench with tiny sand dunes and crimson canyons that rise 300 feet high and narrow to as little as two feet. While rappelling off cliffs into Dr. Seuss–like crevasses and sloshing through pools, learn basic knots, anchors, and rigging methods, as well as how to read maps and judge weather patterns. Each night, return to Escalante’s Grand Staircase Bed & Breakfast Inn, a cozy clapboard abode that serves enormous breakfasts (doubles from $135; escalantebnb.com). After class, participants return to town for a barbecue behind the outfitter’s shop and to plan their first guideless canyoneering adventures. Antelope Canyon, anyone?