How to beat the heat in Moab this summer

Posted On
Apr 02, 2010

By Ron Georg


Photos Monique Beeley
Still, people come. To be sure, some come by mistake, having neglected to check the weather history. Others are tied to schedules which require summer breaks.


For those folks, escaping the heat is easy. Paved roads climb to over 8,000 feet in the La Sal mountains just outside Moab, and graded gravel will take most vehicles to 10,600 feet at Geyser pass—once the snow has melted, which doesn't happen until it's really hot more than a mile below in Moab.


The Forest Service has really stepped up in recent years, under the direction of Forest Service recreation specialists Brian Murdock and Max Forgensi. The land managers have worked with Trail Mix, the county's non-motorized trail advisory committee, to improve and develop access and opportunities for mountain bikers, hikers and equestrians.


As a result, the LaSals have extensive networks of well-marked trails, as well as a wide range of camping opportunities, both primitive and developed. The areas around Warner and Oowah lakes are the most popular, and both are central to a trail system with day's worth of exploration.


An early rising mountain biker now can find their favorite trail nearly to themselves when, on an April weekend, the same trail might resemble gridlock.  Rim Tours offers their Sunrise Downhill Tour all summer through September. This 18 mile ride begins high up in the LaSal Mountains and descends 3500 feet into Moab.  Rim also runs guided ½ day and day rides, but you need to set that alarm for an early wakeup.  Courthouse Loop is a great one for beginners and families.


Is alpine singletrack your gig?  High up in the LaSals is an epic ride, Burro Pass Down, aka The Whole Enchilada.  Epic? A descent of 7000 feet over 32 miles combining seven trails over virtually every type of terrain imaginable.


If just being up in the mountains isn't sufficient, with temperatures 20 to 30 degrees cooler, enough to enjoy a campfire at night, then you might want to seek professional help. Matt Moore and the guides at Desert Highlights can provide that.


You might be able to find Pleiades Canyon, but you'd likely turn back at the first waterfall. That's where the adventure begins on this canyoneering trip. With the guides handling the technical rope work, this tour follows a crisp mountain creek through a narrow canyon with rappels down seven cascades.


Within just a few miles of this route, in mid-summer, people will be struggling to keep cool, hoping they brought enough water. Meanwhile, Desert Highlights' guests in Pleiades Canyon will be wearing dry suits to stave off hypothermia.


But there are some people who really want to go into the desert when it's hot. Heat can be transcendent. We may not be able to melt, but a spell in a sauna can leave a person feeling like a puddle, poured into place.


Of course, the true joy of a sauna is in contrast, whether it's just the cold night air or a snowbank just outside the door. The desert can be like that, if you know where to find the chill.


Dave and Emma Medara know. They own and operate Moab Desert Adventures, and one of their popular tours during the summer heat includes a good wade deep in a shady slot.


Their trip into Entrajo Canyon offers are rare slot canyon experience close to Moab, and it's appropriate for families with kids, Emma said. In the bottom of the canyon, water depth can range from a deep wade to a short swim, especially for kids.


Moab Desert Adventures handles all the technical work, and they provide dry bags so waders can carry a dry change of clothes—often on top of their heads—for the end of the trip. The Medara's start early to catch the cool morning, but the day will be heating up by the end, so some might just keep those wet clothes on.


Wet cotton, taboo in the mountains, where "cotton kills" is a common warning, can feel pretty good in the desert. That's because evaporation is a cooling process, as we all recall from seventh grade earth science.


That's why Moab Rafting & Canoe owner Theresa Butler recommends a "Moab swamp cooler" for tempering the local heat. She's not referring to the primitive but effective cooling systems that squat atop most Moab homes, rather, to the even simpler solution of wearing a wet life vest on a hot day on the river.


Moab Rafting & Canoe focuses on the often unsung stretches of river between the big water of Cataract Canyon or Westwater on the Colorado River and below the rapids of Desolation and Grey Canyons on the Green River. For flatwater enthusiasts, these trips through Canyonlands are some of the most spectacular and remote in the country.


The Green River trips through Labyrinth and Sillwater Canyons are Red River's bread and butter. These trips are multi-day commitments, with no easy way out until takeout. That's a big part of their appeal.


The Colorado River, on the other hand, offers opportunities for anything from an afternoon to a multi-day excursion right out of town. For about fifty miles downstream from Moab, the river is flat and mellow through Meander Canyon, and daily jet boat runs by Tag-a-Long Expeditions allow for pickups anywhere along the route.


Meander Canyon is one of the most scenic sections of the Colorado River. In his latest book,  "Utah—the Light Fantastic", Moab photographer Tom Till includes at least five shots of the section of the Colorado River, which winds past Deadhorse Point state park and the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park before it meets the Green River in the heart of Canyonlands.


In the caption of his iconic photo of the rivers' confluence, Till relates how he issued a standing request to local pilots to notify him when the Colorado turned red as its name implies, while the Green retained its characteristic hue. He got the call and the photo. Paddlers might not get quite so dramatic an effect, but the confluence is always magnificent.


During the summer months, after the water slows from spring runoff, the heat is a lazy luxury on the river. Physical exertion may not be so appealing, but it hardly seems to matter as the canoe makes its way through otherwise inaccessible land with so little effort.


If you do go out in the backcountry, heed the ubiquitous warnings around town regarding water and sunscreen. Carry and use both. A person exercising in the desert heat can require a quart an hour just to maintain hydration. Even with minimal exertion, campers will find that the usual gallon-per-person-per day equation won't leave much for coffee.




Moab, Hiking, Mountain Biking, Canyoneering, River Trips, Camping