Welcome return to Moab’s White Rim Trail
It took me five years to return to the White Rim Trail outside of Moab, but it was well worth the wait.
Some people like to zip through the 100-mile mountain-bike ride in a worthy show of endurance. I like to savor the experience. For me, the journey on the White Rim is about the overall vibe. Riding is just part of what makes it special.
I will forever remember standing at the gaping maw of Monument Basin while swallows whizzed by in a frenzied pace to snare insects. The birds flitted so close I could hear the wind whip through their feathers.
I will treasure getting up in the pre-dawn light, walking on a long sandstone platform outside our camp and getting situated for the sun-streaked show soon to follow. The first rays bounced off the far away dome of Cleopatra’s Chair then ignited the orange-brown cliffs of Elaterite Butte, a domineering feature that played prominently in Edward Abbey’s desert forays.
I felt like I had the world to myself as the rising sun created an intoxicating mix of intense light and long shadows in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, then a split second later lit up the jumble of odd geologic formations in the Maze. You could feel the planet coming to life.
Despite trying to linger longer in camp each morning, our group of six was on the trail by 9 a.m. regardless of the number of beers the night before. Good thing. The temperatures climbed to the high 80s and lower 90s by 11 a.m. It felt good to bake the last of the winter chill out of our bones.
My highlight was studying nearly every angle of the magnificent Candlestick Tower, a majestic sandstone butte that juts up 5,865 feet and is visible for many a mile. Pop over the Murphy Hogback, a short but difficult divide, and to the north stands the Candlestick off in the distance, appearing to be the gates to some kingdom out of “The Lord of the Rings.”
Grind through the miles of rock and sand as the sweat beads up in the hot sun and the butte gains stature until finally you’re under its timeless stare. We camped a final night on its western side and the following morning I knew our journey was coming to an end as the Candlestick disappeared over my right shoulder.
The true beauty of the White Rim is the relative lack of activity. The Park Service limits both the number of campers and day users. All-terrain vehicles are prohibited. Campers must use designed sites — booked by reservation four months in advance — and cannot light fires.
If the White Rim was like other places in the high desert surrounding Moab, every nook and cranny would have a fire ring, detritus and cramped quarters. Instead, the White Rim is a sanctuary.
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Mountain Rescue Aspen is expanding its education efforts to try to keep people safe in the backcountry during winters and summers. It will host a workshop on Dec. 8 titled, “How to Plan a Backcountry Tour.”