When snow falls in Telluride in May, even the most rugged mountain souls dream of an escape.
Luckily, for those of us who get to call Telluride home, there is a flipside to our paradise: road tripping over to Utah. Southeast Utah has all of the things that we lack right now—snow-free trails, electric green aspens, beautiful camping, and most importantly: warmth.
Chasing up a campsite on a Friday night in Moab, Utah, however, can be trickier than winning an evening plane flight with a young Robert Redford over Africa. Everyone wants in (or maybe that’s just me with that metaphor?)—Regardless, everyone wants in, and not everyone can have in.
Utah residents have a joke about this Colorado infiltration that my husband, Andy, likes to tell everyone until they’re nauseated: “You know how you know it’s spring in the desert? The license plates turn green.”
Because of this Moab chaos, Andy and I have started heading south of Moab to camp out with our girls. On our most recent trip, we went back right back to a spot we’ve been to before: Indian Creek.
Indian Creek has changed a bit in recent years. In our hippy-dippy undergraduate days at Colorado College, we could skip out to the Creek to go climbing and camp out in the climbing ghetto there. The ghetto is gone. Gone too is the camping close to or at the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. Those have to be reserved close to a year in advance or scored last minute on a weekday morning.
We camp instead on the Hamburger Rock campground road that heads north off the main drag. The spots are gorgeous, the kids can play in the creek, and I love running on this dirt road.
If you strike out there, don’t fret. Backtrack the way you came a little, and head up a ways on any one of the dirt roads you’ve passed. According to the rangers at Canyonlands, as long as you are not camping on private land, you’re using a spot that’s been used for camping in the past, and of course, you’re being Telluride-level eco-savvy with waste, you’re good to go.
Once camping is squared away, we always head into the Canyonlands Park. There are great ruins and petroglyphs to see. The Slick Rock Trail is a good hike to do with little ones. The kids can have a good time climbing in and out of the pack, and adults can have a good time checking out the canyon vistas while they bribe their little ones along with candy.
On this last trip, we headed into Moab on Sunday even though it’s a couple of miles out of the way. The weather was sunny and in the high 80’s, and we wanted to swim. We headed up to Mill Creek. Andy and I took turns running the canyon and swimming with the girls. It was so hot that even after our swim, we still needed cooling. So, we headed, of course, to Milt’s, where half of Telluride could be found, waiting in line for their milk shakes.
Standing around, chatting with folks I’d never seen out of hockey or ski gear before, I realized that Utah, in many ways, is Telluride’s other summer. We go there when it’s still winter here and bask in its warmth.
But we also go and remember perhaps why we moved out West in the first place: at the core, we’re all dirtbags, in love with camping and exploring canyons and getting dirty. Southeast Utah in the spring is still a place we can take our children and wonder: What would the world be like if everyone had this in their backyards?