Red Rock Winter Escape

Posted On
Jan 08, 2017

“Want to get away this weekend?” I asked my wife as she was cleaning the house.  Or, I should say…as WE were cleaning the house.  

“Where?”  She inquired.  

“I was thinking of the Moab area.  The temperatures look great for hiking and exploring.  Lilly would love it!”

“But, it’s winter….”


Okay, let’s face it.  The “Greatest Snow on Earth” for which Utah is famous can, at times, be tiresome.   As usual, my family spends our wintertime skiing the resorts and backcountry of the Wasatch range, but we were ready for a weekend getaway.  Louise agreed, and we planned our escape to the wilds of the Utah desert—specifically in the Canyon Country around Moab and Blanding. In the dead of winter, we need a little change of scenery, and the temperatures down south looked ideal.  After a few phone calls, we booked a room for $39 a night.  Yeah, you read that right.  Hotels in Moab are numerous, and rates are very reasonable during the offseason (Mid-November through February).   


Moab has been “on fire” the last few years.  No, not literally, but the secret has been discovered; it’s not surprising to see a line of traffic heading into town or the Arches National Park gate closed due to overcrowding.  But winter is supreme!  It was mid-January as we drove into town.  Places were closed, and the town was quiet—simply   nice.   


The sun is the other thing fabulous about Canyon Country in the winter.  Yes, normally we are used to dodging the sun’s rays to escape the heat of spring or summer.  However, on this day we “soaked” up those rays.  Our mission was Corona Arch in a stunning, red rock amphitheater.  After a final, fun climb up a steel ladder, we marveled at the scene.  Corona Arch seemed a great deal smaller from a distance, but up close it was enormous.  (Oh, and we had the place all to ourselves).  Following the hike, we stopped at Pasta Jay’s for an outstanding, carbo-loaded meal; tasty.  


The next day dawned clear and cold.  I scraped frost off the front window of our vehicle as it warmed up for the day’s adventure.  On this day, it was all about art: rock art, that is.  Native Americans roamed this land a thousand or so years ago.   What’s left?  Today, one can find plenty of ruins and rock art sites.  Rock art is described in two categories: petroglyphs and pictographs.  Petroglyphs are figures and shapes chipped into the rock, while pictographs are painted onto the sandstone walls.   


Our vehicle traveled the Kane Creek Canyon road.  In the spring, this super popular canyon is bustling with people, but on this day it was quiet, peaceful, and cold when we pulled over for our hike. Temperatures hovered in the low 50s, perfect for clambering and climbing on and around the sandstone boulders.  Louise and Lilly spotted a large owl pecked into the wall.  Stunning!  A thousand or so years ago, a human stood here and carved this wonderful picture into the sandstone.  Were they warming themselves in the winter rays of the sun?  What’s the meaning of this picture?  Was it art to them? With unanswered questions, we descended.  On our way back to town, we pulled over and took a short stroll to the Courthouse Panel to see pictographs.  The paint was somewhat faded by weather and sun, but the figures remained distinguished.  Our faces basked in the low setting winter sun as we gazed over the Moab valley to the south.  


The following morning, Louise and I sipped our coffee as we headed south on Highway 191 on our way to Blanding, Utah.  It was a quick and super-scenic drive.  We filled up our gas tank when we rolled into Blanding and bowled a game.  That’s right: our favorite gas station, Canyon Country Chevron, has a bowling alley attached to it.  Lilly was delighted to bowl.  Afterward, we aimed for the canyons of Butler Wash, home to hundreds of Ancestral Puebloans around the year 1200.  Butler Wash is the eastern border of Cedar Mesa.  Cedar Mesa was home to perhaps as many 100,000 Ancestral Puebloans and is part of the proposed Bears Ears National Monument.  


Our feet took us up and over a few dead cottonwood trees as we made our way into one of the many canyons of Butler Wash.  We were “ruin hunters.”  These structures made of rock and mud have weathered the elements for over 800 years.  Louise shouted out, “There!”  Lilly and I spotted what excited Louise.  Tucked back into the sandstone alcove was a ruin.  We marveled at the setting.  The winter sun had just slipped behind the canyon wall.  The ancient architects were smart.  The ruin faced to the south; and the low, winter sun warmed the alcove the entire day.  We scurried back to our vehicle; we had a surprise for Lilly.  It was almost dark as we entered into the small town of Bluff.  We told Lilly to keep her eyes open for something bright.  “Is that a balloon?”  The town was in the midst of celebrating the Bluff Balloon Festival, and the town park featured a “glow off.”  Burners were ignited, and the colors of the balloons popped in the dark, Southern Utah sky.  The Bluff Balloon Festival is held every Martin Luther King Day weekend, and it’s an event not to miss.  We strolled around the park and marveled at the variety of the balloons.  Lilly was surprised!  It was a stellar night.  


When the alarm sounded at 6 AM the following morning, we all wanted to sleep longer.  However, there was one more unexpected surprise for Lilly.  Ok, for all of us.  We dressed, ate, and began our drive in the dark toward Valley of the Gods, Utah’s miniature Monument Valley.  We turned onto the only road that traverses this land of red rock towers and buttes; we spotted balloons in the distance rising in the damp, chilled morning air.  The beauty stunned our eyes: clouds, blue sky, and the striking colors of the balloons rising up and above this red rock wonderland.  


Louise and I enjoyed a cup of coffee roadside as we watched the balloonists prepare their balloons.   “You guys want to go up?”, someone asked.  

“Ahh, What?”  I replied with surprise.

“Come on!  You and your family can join us.”

Before we knew it, we were floating up, up, and away above Canyon Country.  The views of Monument Valley and Gooseneck State Park to our south were beautiful.  I glanced to the north, knowing that the snows of northern Utah were waiting for our return.  I hesitated and then rotated my face into the sun to savor the rays for a little longer.  Winter in Canyon Country can be glorious.  Watch the weather reports and make a break for it.  You ready?

By Michael Holland



Spend a few hours at the Four Corners School of Outdoor Education’s Canyon Country Discovery Center located 1.5 miles north of Monticello, Utah. Their 48-acre campus is a great place to stretch your legs and imagination with hands-on learning stations, programs, and exhibits. Take a walk along the campus trails for views of the high plateau and the Abajos Mountains. Explore their outdoor nature playscape and picnic pavilions, available at no cost for guests to enjoy as they travel through San Juan County Utah’s Canyon Country.



Looking for a great “rest day” activity for the family between adventures?  Moab Giants offers a unique experience that is sure to delight every member of your family.  The Moab area is home to one of the largest concentrations of fossilized dinosaur remains and footprints in the world, and this rich natural history is brought to life through numerous life-size displays, cutting-edge 3D interactions, hands-on interactive displays, guided tours, and captivating educational activities.  Located just ten minutes north of town on Highway 191,  Moab Giants is a convenient and exciting addition to your family’s adventure itinerary.