DIRECTOR JOHN FORD’S FILMS
testimony to Moab’s power for world creation. Taking the name “little Monument Valley” from the director, the evocative, ruddy landscape proved to be the perfect backdrop for several of Ford’s films with John Wayne, with “Wagon Master” and “Rio Grande” being signatures among them. The canyons, cliffs, arches, and rock configurations give any filmmaker a tantalizing sense of place—which is why directors from every age of cinema come back. Ridley Scott certainly agrees. According to the Discover Moab website (DiscoverMoab.com), the celebrated director once said that he had “seen more wonderful and varied scenery in a single day in Moab than any other day [he had] scouted.” Ringed by extraordinary geologic treasures and national parks like Canyonlands, Dead Horse Point, Arches, and the Colorado River, Moab is a marvel to behold on every side.
And as arresting as it is in film, it is far more powerful in person. Across the Colorado River and to the west of Moab lies Canyonlands National Park. Less traveled than Arches but four times as large, the desert park with its dusky mesas can be seen from the above in the movie “Con-Air.” Just northeast of Canyonlands is the Dead Horse Point State Park—famous for the “Mission Impossible II” intro scene where IMF point man Ethan Hunt is caught on holiday, hanging out on the red rocks. (Fortunately for you, rock climbing is not actually allowed here. Tom Cruise alone gets Tom Cruise privileges.) But even without self-destruct sun glasses, you can enjoy the unparalleled view—in safety. Especially if you drive better than Thelma and Louise in their eponymous film, whose conclusion was also shot at Dead Horse Point (not the Grand Canyon, as mentioned in the film). Take Utah Highway 313 East to return to US-191 S and reach the gateway of Arches National Park. It is a place of awe and wonder where over 2,000 natural sandstone arches create a geologic spectacle worthy of science fiction.
You can experience the surreal sensation of stepping through the open mouths of ancient stones that rise up from the earth
Moving in parallel with the first scenes from Steven Spielberg’s “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” you may recognize the Arches Scenic Drive as its southern approach weaves through the park. For 18 miles, the drive uncovers a landscape of unimaginable strangeness and otherworldly beauty. But this is not a place for window-gazing alone. Outside the RV, with your feet on the rock, you can experience the surreal sensation of stepping through the open mouths of ancient stones that rise up from the earth. And then you press on, untouched by the weight above but somehow moved—a symptom of walking through a wonder. Crossing south back across the river toward Moab, an immediate left turn onto Utah Highway 128 puts the Colorado River on your left flank as you move east toward Professor Valley.
Down in the river, Charlton Heston, dressed as John the Baptist, once cried out, “Repent! for the anger of the Lord is upon all nations,” in the 1965 epic “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” Nor is imagining the Colorado River as the Jordan so very hard. Driving through the river-cut wilderness, you can get an idea why the nation’s first postmaster gave Moab its Biblical name. Moving northwest with the river, UT-128 takes a route toward the promised land for John Wayne aficionados: Red Cliffs Lodge and Professor Valley. Here, John Ford staged great John Wayne classics, including “Wagon Master” and “Rio Grande.” On horseback and clambering over the chalky hills, cinematic cavalry regiments and Apache warriors fought over an uncertain frontier, creating movie legends that we feel like we have lived. And while you don’t have to visit the Moab Museum of Film and Western Heritage at Red Cliffs Lodge to appreciate the history of the place, we highly recommend it.
Blazing Your Own Trail
THE FACES OF MOAB ARE LIMITLESS and go far beyond the reaches of cinema. Moab’s secret is simple: It’s a place of true adventure. Which means that your RV door is wide open for a story of your own making. Here, every traveler can live on the edge of their own expanding frontier. The dust that cakes your jacket as you tear across the ATV trail is real; the weight of the horse between your heels is real; the cool waters of the Colorado beneath your paddleboard are real. And there are so many more things to do, so many more places to discover. From
the local art to the veiled message of the petroglyphs, there is always another world on the horizon at Moab.
Camping in the canyonlands, if you look up one night, your eyes will witness a galaxy of stars assembled for your view. More worlds assembling in the great corridor of Moab’s night sky. Little wonder J.J. Abrams thought of Moab when he imagined the planet Vulcan for “Star Trek.” Little wonder this place feels so familiar and so far. After all, you’ve been here before, even if you’ve only just arrived.
Over 2,000 arches can be found in Arches National Park, and fall is one of the best times to visit, with cooler daytime temperatures that range between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. This distinctive geologic feature of Moab was created over time as sedimentary rock compressed, rose, and dissolved at the base. Further erosion ultimately created the arch-like structures of today, many of whom are over 100 feet high and weigh several thousand tons.
5 Other Ways To Explore Moab
Air Ride Get an aerial view of Moab, $119 per person
Jeep Rentals Go off-road and all-terrain, $275 a day
Canyoneering Scale the scenic grandeur, $110 per person
Horse Ride Cut a trail like a legend, $120–150
Mountain Bike Pedal through the Red Rock, $109 per person