Thread Tools Display Modes
Old 10-21-2016, 05:45 PM   #1
Senior Member
Join Date: Nov 2014
Location: Aurora, CO
Posts: 336
6 days in Utah – Arches & Canyonlands

So I have been thinking about this trip for almost a year now. I read a trip report by CTB and TWOLOST a while back and got the bug. However, at the time I had a ’95 Dodge SMB and it wouldn’t quite have been up for what I wanted to do on the trip. However, in retrospect, it would have been good for 85%-90% of the trip.

Here was the plan, spend 6 days traveling to and exploring Arches NP and Canyonlands NP, get in some hiking and light 4x4 driving, find great camp sites, and take a bunch of pictures. My son is 7 and has a 2 week fall break in October. So my wife and I set aside 6 days on our work vacation calendars and started planning! I read a bunch of info online, checked a few books out from the library, bought a couple of maps, and created a pretty solid, but overly optimistic plan.

About 3 months ago my wife had a last minute work trip come up that would have her traveling to the east coast towards the end of our original planned trip. No biggie, she can pack her work stuff and we would drop her off at the Durango, CO airport, she could fly out and my son and I would finish off the last 2 days of the trip without her. Then 2 months ago the plan went to shit, she now had another last minute work trip scheduled for right in the middle of our trip… no bueno! Fortunately for her, the trip was on the East Coast (where we are from) and she was going to get to see a bunch of old friends and family, and eat seafood by the bucket full while she was away so she wasn’t all that sad to not be camping in the desert with us. However, now she would be gone for most of our son’s second week of vaca and I was gonna need some help watching him since I still had to work during the 2nd week of his fall break. Enter the grandparents who love adventure and camping! I called my folks and said “Hey how would you feel renting a SMB and going on a trip to Utah, then helping to watch the brat the following week?” My mom looked at the price of the SMB rentals and wasn’t psyched. However, upon further investigation we located Boyd at Camper Van Rental | Rocky Mountain Campervans | Denver - Camper Van Rental who rents VW Vanagons and Eurovan’s for a good bit cheaper than a full on 4x4 SMB. Since we had my rig with 4 captain’s chairs we really didn’t need another 4x4 so she booked a sweet Eurovan from Boyd and the new plan was taking shape!

I adjusted the original plan, which had us doing a big loop from Denver to Utah then back to Denver via a southern route, to a simpler out and back plan. This would allow for more days at the parks and wouldn’t require my parents to drive the rented van over extended sections of rough dirt roads.
With the plan set it was now just time to execute. My folks arrived on Wednesday, picked up their van on Thursday and we headed for Utah Saturday morning.

Day 1 – 10/15/16

A Location: Aurora, CO
Z Location: Lower Onion Creek CG – BLM, Moab, UT
Miles traveled: 405
Campground: - $15/night - Lower Onion Creek CG

After driving past the entrance to Arches NP we pulled off onto Rt 128 and hit each of the campgrounds along the Colorado River looking for vacancies. Nada. Finally we pulled into the Lower Onion Creek CG around 4pm and grabbed one of 2 spots left. The campground is decent, has a great view of mesas around it and is right on the Colorado River with several boat launches, as it sits along the Moab Daily raft trip route. The problem with the CG is that you are basically in a big ‘ol field with all the other campers so privacy is zilch and the wind was brutal. Rather, I should say, the sand that was sandblasting my face smooth was brutal. There was dirt in everything, food, beer, mouth, eyes, ears, EVERYWHERE! Needless to say we were not planning on multiple nights at this location. Each site has a picnic table and fire ring so we cooked up some carnitas and kicked it by the fire. The wind picked up even more overnight blowing my SMB back and forth all night, felt like I was on a damn boat!

Day 2 – 10/16/16

A Location – Lower Onion Creek CG – BLM, Moab, UT
Z Location – Goose Island CG – BLM, Moab, UT
Miles traveled: 55.8
Campground – $15/night - Goose Island CG

Day 2 saw us hitting the road around 10am, well my folks took the boy and hit the road at 10am, and I stayed back and cleaned up the site and packed my van. My folks headed back down the river to check out the CG’s closer to the entrance to Arches NP for our second night. Luckily they nabbed a spot at Goose Island which is the closest BLM CG to Arches. This site was better than the first, but still not that private site I was looking for. The CG is right on the Colorado River with this most impressive rock wall on the far side of the river. Once the site was secured we left the Eurovan there and all piled into my SMB.(Lovingly referred to as Van Diego from here on out) We entered the park and hit a few of the well-known spots, Balance Rock, Delicate Arch, etc…Fortunately for us my son’s hat blew off his head when we were checking out Delicate Arch. The reason I say fortunately is because on the hunt for his hat we found a completely empty section of the park that was in my opinion waaay cooler than Delicate Arch because no one was there. There were tons of people checking out Delicate Arch, but directly behind it was this huge canyon that no one was even paying attention too!! So we spent about 45 mins or so exploring the canyon directly behind Delicate Arch all by ourselves. Quick note to anyone that loses a hat over the big wall when checking out Delicate Arch, all hats fly off the top and look like they are all going to be carried miles away by the crazy wind, however, they all actually tuck right back in to the bottom of that same wall. I was searching way out away from the base of the wall for my son’s hat and wasn’t seeing anything. I turned and headed for the wall’s base and couldn’t take 2 steps without finding another hat, including my son’s. Proud hero moment for me, bonus!

Day 3 – 10/17/16

A Location: Goose Island CG – BLM, Moab, UT
Z Location: Superbowl CG – BLM, San Juan County, UT
Miles traveled: 101
Campground: $5/night - Superbowl CG

On day 3 we departed Arches and headed south for Canyonlands. Originally I wanted to hit up Dead Horse Point State park, scope out Shafer Trail, and the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands, then head down to the Superbowl CG. However, after talking to the Needles district NP office, it sounded like things were booking up fast so we high tailed it down to the the Superbowl CG to ensure some success finding a decent camp spot. Dare I say we hit a home run! Found the best camp site I have ever camped at. It was large, private, and had incredible views! We pulled the vans in, setup a couple of screen tent/canopies. Then jumped in Van Diego to start exploring Canyonlands NP. By the time we got to the park it was getting late so we decided we would take Van Diego down the 4x4 Colorado River Overlook Rd. We started on the road about 4:45pm and got about an hour in and the sun was getting low, I am an inexperienced 4x4er and had no interested in tackling the road in the dark on the way out so we turned back. We also had gotten to a spot that looked like a pretty significant drop off.(in my eyes) It looked like it had been actually been built up with some asphalt by perhaps the park service to aid vehicles in getting over it. Since we were out there alone, short on sunlight, and short on recovery gear I followed my winter hiking motto, “it will be there the next time” and we turned around. We were very close to the end of the road,(maybe another 15-20 mins from the end) but it was not worth the risk. We grabbed some fun pics on the drive back and were pulling out onto the pavement about 7pm as the sun was setting. Perfect timing! We headed back to camp for dinner and a short stint of star gazing before the pesky moon came out and lit up the damn sky! Needless to say, this camp spot was perfect so we decided we would stay put here until the day we headed home.

I think this picture captures everything I had hoped this van would be. Beautiful scenery and my son smiling having a great time outdoors!

Day 4 - 10/18/16

A Location: Superbowl CG – BLM, San Juan County, UT
Z Location: Superbowl CG – BLM, San Juan County, UT
Miles traveled: 31.2

We headed back into the NP on day 4 to do some hiking. Wow, what a hike! I asked the park ranger at the visitor's center if there were any accessible slot canyons we could check out, that were within a reasonable hiking distance. She pointed us to a couple trails on the map and off we went. We only hiked about 4 miles that day, but the views were incredible. We saw tons of various rock formations and found a bunch of huge formations that we could scramble around on. Including one that I jumped a 4’ gap to get on top of and then realized that the jump back would not be so easy or safe. Luckily I am an American Ninja Warrior in training! (Ha yea right, I made it back across, but it wasn’t pretty) We also found some cool backcountry backpack camping sites that looked cool so I will be planning a trip to camp at those in the future as well. When we arrived back at the van there was a park ranger who was checking out Van Diego and so we chatted for a minute. I inquired about Elephant hill and he said it would be no problem in the van except maybe dragging the tow hitch, yea…maybe next time, when I have some other 4x4 friends along. We scooted out of the park and back to the camp site for beers, cards, dinner, and listening to my 7 year old read a book out loud to his adoring fans!

Day 5 - 10/19/16

A Location: Superbowl CG – BLM, San Juan County, UT
Z Location: Superbowl CG – BLM, San Juan County, UT
Miles traveled: 31.6

On Day 5 we decided to explore the BLM dirt roads around our campground and were not disappointed. We found and even more remote campsite than where we were staying. When we stopped at this site we climbed up a big hill and my son found an old abandoned mine shaft. We didn’t go inside but the wood around the mineshaft’s opening looked relatively new which was strange. We inquired about it a the visitor’s center and they said that during Utah’s Uranium mining days there were a lot of fake mines that were setup to swindle investors out of their money. They would dig a mineshaft about 30’-50’ deep, make it look nice on the outside then send the pictures around asking investors to buy shares in the mine. Then they just took the money and ran. While driving around the roads we yet again found a point that looked like a point of no return that I decided to turn around at. Though our internal organs survived the day, it was a lot of bouncing around inside the van. The spot we turned around at was a creek wash. It was about 4-5 feet down into the dry creek bed, but each bank was covered 8”-10” of loose sand and without a winch or another vehicle to pull me out, I was not looking to get stuck down in the creek bed. Ahhh, next time! We turned back and headed to camp for more beer, food, and games.

Day 6 - 10/20/16

A Location: Superbowl CG – BLM, San Juan County, UT
Z Location: Aurora, CO
Miles traveled: 448

Day 6, the long road home. Headed out just after sunrise around 7:30am and headed home. Thank you Utah, thank you Arches, thank you Canyonlands. This was a great trip!

Trip notes for next time:

1: Next time I will not camp near Arches, I will just make a day trip from Canyonlands up to Arches. The campgrounds near Arches, while cool that they are on the Colorado River, are cramped and right next to the road.

2: I need to buy a compressor, a winch, and MaxTrax to feel a little more confident exploring the 4x4 roads.

3: My really dead 4d battery needs to be replaced at some point. While it is still working currently, it would not have lasted the 6 days if it weren’t for the fact that we drove Van Diego every day and charged it up. On one night the heater fan would work, but there was not enough voltage to get the igniter to light.(it worked all other nights so that is my theory at least)

New Van: 2000 Ford E350 SMB RB42
Old Van(sold): 1995 Dodge B3500 SMB RB33
Ben10281 is online now   Reply With Quote
Old 10-21-2016, 09:51 PM   #2
Junior Member
Join Date: Mar 2014
Posts: 4
Great trip report! Thanks

Truckee2005 is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 10-22-2016, 09:41 AM   #3
Senior Member
Annie O's Avatar
Join Date: Jun 2016
Location: PA
Posts: 413
Love the chronicles! Thanks for posting and I enjoyed seeing the smiling faces too
2011 V10 Quigley/AOR (RIP'd)
Annie O is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 10-22-2016, 03:10 PM   #4
Site Team
daveb's Avatar
Join Date: May 2007
Location: Turlock Ca
Posts: 9,833
Thanks for the detailed report especially the info on where to find a camp void of the masses. Looks like you had a great time.
2006 Ford 6.0PSD EB-50/E-PH SMB 4X4 Rock Crawler Trailer

Sportsmobile 4X4 Adventures..........On and off road adventures
daveb is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 10-22-2016, 04:15 PM   #5
Senior Member
Join Date: Apr 2011
Location: Oregon Ciry Oregon
Posts: 2,458
Thanks for the report. Great photos. That part of the country is on our list.
"A straight line may be the shortest distance between two points but it is by no means the most interesting". Jon Pertwee as Dr. Who, The Time Warrior.
larrie is offline   Reply With Quote

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are Off

Powered by vBadvanced CMPS v3.2.3

This website is not affiliated with or endorsed by Sportsmobile SIP or any of its affiliates. This is an independent, unofficial site.

All times are GMT -6. The time now is 08:42 AM.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.8 Beta 4
Copyright ©2000 - 2019, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.