Multisport days and good grub in the Land Above the Canyons
Quick, name a Southeast Utah adventure town whose name starts with “M”.
I bet you didn’t guess “Monticello”, but this little outdoor paradise just an hour south of the popular outdoor destination of Moab, Utah, is every bit as rad — without the crowds, traffic and expensive hotels. Multisport days start in the high desert and end in the high alpine. Homemade donuts, authentic Thai food and make-it-yourself pour over coffee keep fuel levels (and stoke) topped off during a killer weekend in the “Land Above the Canyons.”
SAME DAY, DIFFERENT SPORT
The Abajo Mountains tower over town, which itself sits at a lung busting elevation of 7,000 feet. Burly locals like Dustin Randall, owner of San Juan County’s only outdoor store, Roam Industry, bike from town to ski 2,000-foot vertical laps on Horsehead Peak, then finish the day sending world famous splitters at Indian Creek. Mere mortals are strongly advised to choose less ambitious multisport days. Not a skier but still want to have fun in the snow? Grab a sled and fly down the old ski resort hill at the lower bowl. Wait, what ski resort? The Blue Mountain Ski Area was one of the first lift-serviced ski hills in the U.S., operating from the 1950s through 1990. The lifts are gone, but the overgrown ski runs remain.
You’d think mountain bikers who live in Southeast Utah would have the inside scoop on all the secret trail stashes; but the rugged, remote trails in the Abajos are about as well-known to most as what’s inside Area 51. That’s a shame, since trails like Robertson’s Pasture, Shay Ridge and Spring Creek deliver the goods with grin inducing flow and technical terrain peppered with killer views of Canyon Country. These trails are no joke though, and should only be ridden by upper intermediate to expert riders. Families and newer riders will enjoy the Abajo Foothills Trail System just south of town. These trails offer a much less adrenaline spiked adventure, but are still fun enough to justify a visit.
It’s not all skiing and biking, though. Hikers can experience three natural bridges and countless Native American sites and rock art on a 9.8-mile loop through the canyon at Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah’s first national monument designated over 100 years ago. Several shorter hikes lead to each of the three bridges, or to other attractions such as the Horse Collar Ruin Overlook. Stick around after sunset and you’ll be awed by skies so thick with stars they’ll leave you breathless. It comes as no surprise, then, to learn that in March of 2007 Natural Bridges became the first International Dark Sky Park. If the few visitors at Natural Bridges are too many, hikers can lose all the crowds on spectacular trails and routes in the canyons and flat tops of Cedar Mesa, which offers archaeology buffs ample opportunities to explore Ancestral Pueblo culture. Keep your eyes on the ground as you just might find a potsherd or arrowhead, but remember to leave them where you found them.
Would you rather get your kicks climbing rocks than looking at them? Lucky for you, Indian Creek is less than a half hour from town and provides dozens, if not hundreds, of frustratingly epic crack climbs and equally epic camping. You’ll need a full rack (or three) and the knowledge of how to use it, though. The Creek isn’t a place for beginner climbers to test their mettle unless climbing with experienced friends or a guide. Fear not, for a small crag off Lloyd’s Lake Road in the Abajos known locally as “Keep it Like a Secret” boasts over 30 bolted routes, most in the 5.6 to 5.8 range. Beta is available at, where else, but the Roam Industry shop.
Kick off a day of adventure by grabbing homemade donuts at Blue Mountain Foods or a breakfast burrito at the Grist Mill Inn, which also serves as a bed & breakfast if you’re looking for a place to rest your head. Locally made scones can be had from time to time at Roam’s shop, along with freshly-made pour over coffee. For dinner, grab a pie at Wagon Wheel Pizza and follow Randall’s lead by asking for extra sauce. If pizza isn’t your thing, PJ’s is known for their killer wings; and the local Thai restaurant, Ja Roen, draws Moab and Blanding locals alike for dinner.
A killer weekend in Monticello with your climbing rack, skis, mountain bike, hiking boots and appetite will leave you wondering why you’ve never taken the time to visit, while also planning a hasty return.
BRET EDGE lives in Moab, Utah, with his wife Melissa, son Jackson and Huck the Adventure Pug. He’s a photographer, writer, mountain biker and hiker inspired by a life lived outdoors, wheat beer, tequila, dark chocolate and burritos — especially breakfast ones.