Recently, I took fellow OTE blogger Greg Benchwick's advice and I headed out to Moab, Utah. This isn't a rare pilgrimage for Front Rangers -- it just usually happens in spring and summer, when dirt hounds can get their tires and tread reliably on trails without snow. A mention of my winter pilgrimage usually got me weird looks and expectations that I'd return frozen and dusted red.
I'd like to call BS on that notion: Whereas Moab summers are choked to the gills with jeeping jerks and the fannypacked masses clogging roads, winter is blissfully empty. Best of all, you don't really have to sacrifice any comfort. Pick the right weekend, like I did, and you'll enjoy 50-60 temps in the day; nighttime brings high low 30s-high 20s, but bring a warm sleeping bag and a puffy and you won't mind.
Better yet, crash at one of Moab's motels: In the off-season, they're usually so cash-starved you can bag a decent room for as low as $29 (most are around $39, and the comparatively swanky Comfort in runs a cool $49).
We showered up in one of these, but first we camped in the Needles District of Canyonlands. Only two lonely tents occupied the 25-site Squaw Flat Campground, but we hiked an easy mile in to the Big Springs backcountry site, where we scrampled up lumpy, sticky slickrock to a stunning sunset.
The next day, we enjoyed primo access to some of Canyonlands' marquee redrock areas--Elephant Canyon, Chesler Park, and the Druid Arch, among others. A sunup-to-sundown hike included some exposed scrambling, a little slot canyon grubbing, and stupid vistas. We shared it with precisely no one.
And for the most part, trails were sandy and dry. a couple of sections required scrambles up snow covered rocks, but we never even used our mini-crampons. Small price to pay for uninterrupted solitude in one of the world's greatest desert landscapes.
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(Again, make sure you check your weather report and come prepared for winter. A few large remnant snowpiles hint that this place can get a dump on the right day.)