High-Desert Surf 'n' Turf in Utah

May 1, 2002
Outside Magazine

Exploring Canyonlands National Park

Established 1964
337,598 Acres
RENAISSANCE FUNHOGS, BRACE YOURSELVES: This new trip, combining three days of MOUNTAIN BIKING with five or six days of Colorado River WHITEWATER RAFTING, may be the tastiest pairing since chocolate and cabernet. It takes you straight into the heart of the park's high-desert rock garden, defined by the goosenecking canyons of the Green and Colorado Rivers and an almost hallucinogenic symphony of spires, buttes, mesas, hoodoos, fins, arches, and slickrock. Phase One: a two-wheeled thrill ride on most of the 102-mile White Rim Road, a celebrated track that requires a four-wheel-drive support vehicle to tote food and gear (plan this leg yourself or through an outfitter). Aim counterclockwise, along the Green River in the Island in the Sky District. You'll encounter funky sandstone formations, bottoms with swimmable holes along the river, Viewmaster overlooks of towering spires and the La Sal and Abajo Mountains, and a quad-burning hogback climb. Eventually you turn north to trace the Colorado, heading upstream, but instead of finishing the loop take a side trail at either Lathrop Canyon or Potash to your prearranged meeting with your rafting guides. Here either your cycling outfitter or your designated driver takes the bikes and bids adieu, and you embark on Phase Two: epic Southwest whitewater. A few miles below the confluence of the Green and the Colorado roars Cataract Canyon, a chain of 28 Class III-V rapids that some claim trump those in the Grand Canyon, at least in the high-water months of May and June. Sandbar camping (when the water is low enough) and side hikes into the Maze add frosting to an already savory cake. O.A.R.S. Canyonlands guides the raft trips ($1,176 for five days, $1,256 for six, return flight from Lake Powell included; 800-342-5938, and can link you up with a cycling outfitter. Book way ahead, especially if you plan your own cycling trip; White Rim campsite reservations are tightly limited.

WHEN TO GO: Midsummer's desert heat eats cyclists alive, so the shoulder seasons earn raves. April brings wildflowers, cactus blooms, and rising water on the rivers; May and June bring the most bodacious whitewater; early fall brings sighs of deep contentment.
ANNUAL VISITORS: 401,558. (High: May, 55,109. Low: January, 4,110.)
MORE CHOICE ADVENTURE: Visiting Canyonlands without taking a HIKE ought to be a felony. Island in the Sky has plenty of short day loops with jackpot views; the Needles has lots of routes on slickrock, such as the Druid Arch Trail. Enter the remote Maze District for a double shot of Ed Abbey and Butch Cassidy backcountry—no pavement, no plumbing, no such thing as packing too much water.
HEADLAMP READING: Hiking, Biking, and Exploring Canyonlands National Park and Vicinity, by Michael Kelsey; Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West, by Wallace Stegner
LOCAL SPECIALTY: Head to Miguel's Baja Grill on Main Street in Moab for tasty fish or lamb tacos.
PARK HEADQUARTERS: 435-259-7164,