The great outdoors: Moab, Utah

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“It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards.”

Edward Abbey

Edward Abbey called Arches National Park the “most beautiful place on earth” in the opening to his memoir, “Desert Solitaire,” drawn on his time as a ranger there. Few who have visited Arches or its the nearby parks around Moab, Utah, would argue that point. Trails and traditional campsites allow visitors to enjoy this majestic setting, but to fully embrace its rugged beauty, the adventurous leave the beaten path for primitive camping.

Arches National Park

Plan on walking at least a mile to set up primitive camping in Arches National Park; all visitors must make camp at least one mile from any road, designated trail and any named arches on the USGS maps. Keep campsites out of sight of those areas, as well. In addition, further restrictions prohibit camps within 300 feet from of any archaeological sites or non-flowing nonflowing water, and 100 feet from flowing water. The main park road cuts right through the middle of the park, so meeting the requirements provides a bit of a challenge. Permits are required for all primitive camping and may be purchased at the visitor center, To protect the fragile environment in the park, all campers must follow “Leave No Trace” principles to leave the area as they found it. The maximum group size is 10, but smaller groups are strongly encouraged to reduce environmental impact.

Canyonlands Camping

In the nearby Canyonlands National Park,  campers need permits for all overnight backcountry trips. You may reserve them in advance, unlike Arches National Park. But like Arches, all primitive campsites must stay outside a one-mile radius of roads, and at least 300 feet from water sources or archaeological and historical sites, with river corridor camping as the only exception to the rule regarding water sources. No wood fires are permitted at primitive campsites except along rivers, and pets are not allowed. Permits expire after seven consecutive days on at any one site.

BLM Lands

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) operates many primitive campgrounds without water or facilities in the Moab area and charges no fees. Most cannot be reserved in advance. Check the BLM website to find maps and more information about the individual campgrounds. Guests may not stay more than 14 days in any 30-day period. Note that you may share these sites with RVers, who love the free “boondocking” on BLM lands.

Food and Water

You’ll find no drinking water in the backcountry around Moab, save the occasional flow from outside the parks where livestock graze, which needs boiling and purifying to be potable. Even if you do follow those precautions and drink that purified water, don’t expect it to taste good. One way or another, plan for at least one gallon of water daily per person, which person — a gallon weighs eight pounds. If you plan to cook, bring in a camp stove as stove, because few of these areas allow fires. Use extra caution when lighting stoves during high winds and keep any flames away from dry grass, as fires grass. Fires in this arid region can catch and spread quickly.

Leaving No Trace

The old saying goes “Take only photos, leave only footprints.” To practice “leave no trace” camping principles, either bring a portable toilet system or dig a “cat hole” four to six inches deep and at least 300 feet from any water source. Toilet paper and any feminine hygiene products must be packed out, as well. Swimming or washing up directly in pools violates these principles, but you may collect water in a clean container and use it for washing at least 300 feet away, using bio-degradable soap only. An ecological consideration particular to this desert climate involves taking care not to disturb living soil crusts with misplaced footsteps. The crusts, which look black and bumpy or red and smooth, consist of living cyanobacteria, lichen, fungi, algae, algae and moss. Try to stay in dry washes or on rock as you hike to and from your site to avoid destroying this soil-enriching life form, as well as setting up form. Set up your camp itself on a rock foundation.

Safety

These remote camping areas around Moab give campers dramatic views of towering rock formations and sweeping sunset views, vistas, but can be hazardous to the inexperienced and experienced alike. Know basic topographic map reading map-reading skills and come prepared for whatever temperatures you may face during your visit. The most common safety issues relate to dehydration and careless hiking or climbing, especially on slickrock and sandstone. The former is easier to climb than descend, and the latter can crumble or and tends to get slippery when wet.

Exercise caution by shaking out and checking clothing, bedding and shoes for unwanted visitors, such as scorpions, black widows or rattlesnakes; never reach into dark places blindly to avoid bites and stings. Thunderstorms pose a serious threat to backcountry campers and hikers. Do not take refuge under rock overhangs or in caves, but proceed directly to your vehicle. If your hair literally stands on end, quickly  remove any metal objects such as pack frames, squat near the ground, and cover your ears. Sudden thunderstorms can turn a dry wash into a raging torrent in a matter of minutes, so avoid setting up camp there.

Blues, brews and BBQ at the Blu Pig restaurant: Moab, Utah

moab000 Blues, brews and BBQ at the Blu Pig restaurant: Moab, Utah

Moab, Utah is known for magnificent scenery and an outdoor sports culture. I was hellbent on checking out the local Arches National park, and sampling some nostalgia at the Moab Diner, but hit a small distraction on the way.

The Blu Pig.

Even cruising by on the highway entering town, the Blues, Brews and BBQ sign was about to make me slam on the brakes, because anytime you want to combine good food, alcohol and music, I’m down. Unfortunately, I had many hours to fill till they opened at 4 pm, so I did my hiking/photography thing and pulled in as the full moon was rising over the blue neon.

The restaurant is laid out with a huge table running down the middle, and the servers seemed to be preparing for a big party. Bummer – I like a nice, quiet and preferably empty setting when I’m going to geek out taking food and restaurant photos.

My waitress was friendly and very professional, and told me they do have live music Wednesday through Sunday, but on this Tuesday night I had to settle for piped in blues. Eh, I’ll take that. It beats the hell out of Nicki Minaj, Justin Bieber, or whatever top-40 douchebag du jour is on heavy rotation on the radio.

Even though I wasn’t very hungry, I opted for the three meat platter, choosing sausage, smoked turkey and pulled pork. Call me crazy, but I have yet to meet a Texas brisket I’ve liked, so I left that for another day. You also get two sides with this order, and they have a huge selection, including southern favorites like fried okra as well as more traditional sides of baked beans.

As I figured I’d be hard pressed to find anyone else offering red beans and rice in a radius of, well… several states, I went with that, and asked for a recommendation from the waitress for my second side. She recommended the coleslaw – a classic BBQ side, and a simple dish, but one so many restaurants can’t seem to get quite right.

I got my corn bread before the main meal was served, and after smothering it with butter, couldn’t resist starting in before the rest of my food arrived. It was moist and fresh, and a nice start to the big plate that came out quickly after.

Thank goodness for take home boxes.

The waitress explained each of the sauces at the table: Carolina mustard sauce, Kansas City-style and their “house” Texas BBQ sauce. The smoked turkey comes with a special BBQ sauce, as well. And the pulled pork uses the house Texas sauce, so I tried the Carolina and Kansas City-style both on a little turkey, as well as the turkey BBQ.

Much to my surprise, I liked the Carolina sauce best, perhaps because it stands out so much from more traditional sauces – I found the Texas and Kansas City somewhat similar.

The red beans and rice was a little bland, and it occurred to me afterwards it really needed the sausage mixed in with it to give it some kick, as it didn’t really seem to have any in the side dish by itself.

But the coleslaw… I swear they resurrected my mama and had her back in that kitchen making slaw. It was a creamy, fresh cabbage (not browned, old cabbage like so many restaurants serve) adding a nice contrast to the BBQ sauces.

Good tip for me, means good tip for you, Ms. Waitress.

The sausage was my favorite of the meat offerings, with good spicy flavor and nice and juicy. The turkey had just a hint of smoky flavor, but paired well with all the sauces offered.  The pulled pork was moist, tender, but a little less flavorful than some pulled pork I’ve had, but hey, we’re in Mitt Romney/Mormon country, not the deep south or Kansas City, so how high can you really set you BBQ barometer? Especially for a girl who used to live less than a quarter mile from Slo’s BBQ in Detroit.

Tasty food, good service and good music, in a beautiful town. You can’t beat that.

BBBMoab Blues, brews and BBQ at the Blu Pig restaurant: Moab, Utah