Text and Photos by Lisa Petrison
Occasionally at the end of a yoga class, the instructor will suggest that I imagine being back in a place where I have felt especially peaceful and relaxed and happy.
Having spent more than five years of my life actively seeking out such places, I have plenty of memories to choose from. Invariably, though, the place that always comes to mind first for me is the desert near Moab, Utah.
Chicagoan that I was my whole adult life, I had never even heard of Moab (a tourist town with a population of about 5,000 residents) until I literally stumbled upon it early in my mold avoidance travels.
I ended up camping there for more than a month, on that first visit. And every time I have gone back since, I have ended up staying much longer than I ever imagined that I would, simply because I feel so good that I don’t want to leave.
The area surrounding the town of Moab also is really beautiful in a way wholly unlike anywhere else I’ve been. The sapphire-blue skies are the richest that I ever have seen. And there is enough civilization there (including organic food) to make a visit pretty easily doable.
One caveat about Moab: the air quality in the town itself is a bit problematic. A couple of mold avoiders who visited the town separately more than a decade ago reported being hit by problematic plumes of Mystery Toxin in town, and I have detected occasional traces of it there during non-summer months on some of my own visits there.
I don’t have the sense that this should prevent even very reactive individuals from visiting town for shopping or dining these days. But in general, for those hoping to get clear, camping outside the town is much more highly recommended than staying anywhere in town.
For those who are unable or who would prefer not to tent camp (and don’t have a good RV available), the camping cabins at the KOA several miles outside of town may be another good choice.
It’s a little late now in the year for a tent camping trip to Moab, but for those planning ahead for next year, here is some information about doing a mold avoidance sabbatical in the Moab area.
The Moab area is true desert, with generally low humidity and little precipitation. The clean dry air means that extremes of temperatures (both hot and cold) tend to be more bearable for most people than they are in humid or polluted places.
The elevation is about 4000 feet. The daily high temperature tends to be 35-40 degrees higher than the nightly low temperature.
Moab is a bit on the cold side for tent camping during its short winter season, but otherwise, many people find it to be an excellent vacation destination year-round.
Spring (March-early May) in the Moab area periodically can be very windy, with speeds up to 50 mph. I haven’t been to Moab in spring, but I imagine it’s like the rest of the U.S. Southwest: many gloriously still days with one or two super-gusty days per week. (Those tent camping may want to be prepared to sleep in the car or have some other backup plan in place for those windy days.) Temperatures tend to be in the 60’s-70’s during the day, going down to the 30’s-40’s at night. Occasionally it rains a little, but not very often.
Summers (late May-early September) are very dry and hot, with bright and clear blue skies virtually all of the time. Temperatures tend to be 90-105 during the day, going down to the mid-60’s at night. Getting up at dawn to do activities during the morning when the air is cooler is common.
Fall (late September-early November) is an especially great time to be in the Moab area. Temperatures are cooler than in the summer (in the 70’s-80’s during the day and in the 40’s-50’s at night), and there is much less wind than during the spring months. It occasionally rains a little in the fall, but the vast majority of days still have bright sunshine.
Winter (late November-February) in the Moab area is cold at night in the winter, with temperatures usually going down into the teens or below. Daytime temperatures usually reach the 40’s-50’s. It snows fairly regularly in Moab in winter, but the snow usually melts during the day.
ARCHES NATIONAL PARK
Arches National Park is the crown jewel of the Moab area – what the whole tourist town economy was built on. The park includes more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches, some of them very dramatic and memorable.
The park is located about 5 miles from the town of Moab. While a curving road allows several of the arches to be viewed from parking lots, most of the arches can be viewed only after a hike.
Fortunately, Moab is ideal for hiking almost every day of the year. Hikes vary in difficulty, from short and easy to strenuous.
Following is information about the hikes (from least to most difficult) to the most popular arches, as well as about the campground and visitor’s center. All hiking distances are round-trip.
No food of any kind is sold in Arches National Park, so come prepared.
Verizon cell phone coverage is available at the visitor’s center and at some of the spots closest to the entrance, but not anywhere close to the campground.
Balanced Rock: This impressive formation can be seen from the main road and parking lot, but a short hike (1/3 mile) around it provides more dramatic views from different angles. It is located fairly near the park entrance.
Skyline Arch: This is a short hike (less than half a mile) on a well-defined and flat trail.
Double Arch: The half-mile hike is fairly flat but on sand.
Windows Arch: A gentle climb on gravel provides access to three dramatic arches. The hike is about a mile to see all three.
Landscape Arch: This is a very dramatic large arch accessed by an easy flat trail, much of which is paved. A round trip is about 1.6 miles (with short side trips to Tunnel Arch and Pine Tree Arch accessed along the way). Conceivably, someone in a wheelchair could make it close to this arch and then just walk a short distance to see it.
Park Avenue: This hike descends into a canyon via a steep staircase (not great for those with vertigo) but is mostly flat afterwards. The name comes from the way that high rocks (similar to buildings) are on each side of the trail. About two miles round-trip, but it is not necessary to go that far to enjoy this hike.
Delicate Arch: This is a fairly strenuous hike, challenging especially because some of it is over bare steep slickrock. The hike also has virtually no shade. However, I’ve done it several times and it always has been worth it! The total distance is about 3 miles, with an elevation gain of 480 feet. Hiking poles are strongly recommended and a good supply of water (especially in summer) is essential. (Note that Delicate Rock can be seen at a distance from two other viewpoints in the park, each requiring much less effort to get to them.)
Devil’s Garden Campgound: This campground (located about 18 miles from the entrance) is usually reserved well in advance during the non-winter months through the National Park Service’s online service. Those who want to try to stay here at the last minute are advised to visit the campground in the morning. Although I have not stayed here, it looks like a pleasant and likely very quiet campground, with some flush toilets and ranger presentations in the evening. The cost per site is $20/night.
Visitors’ Center: This building (which always has felt fine to me) is located near the entrance of the park. It supplies filtered water, an interesting movie about how the arches in the park were originally formed, information from rangers, restrooms with flush toilets, and a gift shop. (Note that the filtered water tasted like iron to me, which makes sense since the red color in the area’s rocks comes from iron. Water from my Berkey filter or from bottles seemed a better choice to me.)
DEAD HORSE POINT STATE PARK
Dead Horse Point is a beautifully maintained state park with incredible vistas looking out into Canyonlands. It also has one of the nicest campgrounds that I’ve ever visited.
Dead Horse Point is about 40 minutes from Moab. It is very close to the entrance to the Islands in the Sky section of Canyonlands National Park, and it attracts many visitors during the day. Although it is a relatively small park compared to Canyonlands, the views from Dead Horse Point make it worth the day-use fee ($10/vehicle in 2014), in my opinion.
Walking in the park is pleasant, though it feels more like visiting a botanic garden than a typical southwest hiking adventure. The paths are flat and well-maintained, and the trees and bushes (mostly naturally) take on shapes that remind me of a Japanese garden.
Camping at Dead Horse Point is very pleasant, if a bit pricey ($25/night in 2014). The campground fills up well in advance in non-winter months, but there are a few non-reservable sites and there also may be cancellations.
The campsites are large and spread out, providing a good bit of privacy. Each has electricity and a large tent pad (a good thing since pounding stakes into the desert ground might be a bit challenging). The picnic table at each site has a nice shade shelter over it.
The bathrooms have flush toilets and sinks, and they are kept very clean. They are private with locks on the doors, and so (for those so inclined) using them for coffee enemas might be workable.
The skies are very dark at night, and the air is pristine. I have slept very well at this campground, each time I’ve visited.
A downside of camping at Dead Horse Point is that there is no Internet connection and no cell phone service. Those visiting here need to be prepared to be totally cut off from civilization, at least in the evenings.
The nearest public Internet connection is in Moab, about 40 minutes away. A Verizon 3G and cell phone signal can be found about 10-15 minutes toward town.
The other downside of camping at Dead Horse Point is that there is not enough water available for RV’s to be able to fill their tanks or for showers to be offered. (All water must be trucked from Moab and so is limited.)
The choices for bathing when staying at Dead Horse Point (in an RV or tent) therefore seem to me as follows:
1. Bring a couple of metal or plastic bowls and set up a sponge bath (either in the bathroom, under the shade shelter, in a tent, or in an RV). With soapy water in one basin, clear water in a second basin, and a washcloth, a fairly good bath can be accomplished pretty quickly.
2. Drive to Moab and pay for a shower. (Choices are below.)
3. Bring enough water in the RV to take a shower.
Dead Horse Point has a pleasant visitor center with air conditioning that always has felt fine to me. A small concession stand serving coffee drinks and sandwiches (presumably all conventional food) operates just outside the visitor center (near the campground) for part of the year.
Despite the difficulties with bathing and connectedness, Dead Horse Point remains one of my favorite places to camp. I have stayed there for up to a week and it generally is the first place that comes to mind, when I look back on the highlights of my camping adventures.
CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK
Canyonlands National Park is an enormous (330,000 acres) desert area, with dramatic and beautiful canyons formed by the Colorado River and the Green River. Due in large part to the lack of water, the area has remained entirely unsettled.
The air in some of the remote regions of the park has been measured as being the most pristine in the continental U.S.
The park is divided into three districts, with no roads inside linking them.
The Islands in the Sky district is the closest to Moab (located just a short drive past Dead Horse Point) and also has the most accessible hikes from the main road.
I’ve not been to the other two districts (Needles and Maze), since they are located further from Moab and are more challenging. Following is some information just about the Islands in the Sky district, therefore.
Several easy trails of different lengths involve walking along the top of the canyon to various overlook points. These are all fairly flat. More strenuous trails (which I have not done) descend into the canyons and are much longer.
Willow Flat Campground is not quite as popular as the campground at Arches, but it still fills up most of the time in the spring and fall seasons. It is located a very short hike from the popular Green River Overlook, with vault toilets. There is no water, no cell phone signal and no Internet connection. It is about five miles from the Islands in the Sky visitor center. I have not stayed here. The cost is $10 per night.
On the way to Dead Horse Point and the Islands in the Sky district of Canyonlands is Horsethief Campground, where I tent camped for four nights on my last trip to the Moab area.
I chose it primarily because it was the option near Moab with the best air quality where (at least from Site 54) I sporadically could get a very slow Internet connection through my Verizon cell phone.
It also is a relatively quiet campground with nice large spots, and it seems much less likely to fill up in advance or early in the day than other public campgrounds in the area. It’s also less than 20 miles from Moab, which makes it reasonable for “commuting.”
A couple of miles of well-marked flat hiking trails start at the Horsethief Campground, ending up at some attractive overlook points.
The main disadvantages of this campground are the lack of water and lack of shade. Even if you’re not planning to wash dishes or bathe at the campsite, some extra water to be used for washing hands after using the vault toilets is a good idea.
This is a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) campground, costing $15/night.
ALONG THE COLORADO RIVER
Just outside Arches National Park on the way to Moab, Highway 128 (River Road) runs alongside the Colorado River. This is a dramatic canyon area with hiking and a number of campgrounds.
A popular hike is through Negro Bill Canyon (named for one of the earliest settlers in the area). This is one place in the area with plenty of water and so is a good place to visit to see deciduous vegetation. It’s a lovely hike that is fairly flat (with a bit of rock scrambling required) but about four miles round-trip. Regardless of how good your balance is or whether you bring hiking poles, do be prepared to get your feet wet on the stream crossings.
The BLM runs seven campgrounds in the first eight miles of Hwy. 128, all with vault toilets and no water. They often do fill up, and so getting there in the morning to claim a site is advised. I’ve stayed in this area a few times, and while it is convenient, the air quality is not as good as it is at the campgrounds at Arches, Horse Thief, Dead Horse Point or Canyonlands. The cost is $15/night.
Additional Public Camping
Because Moab is a popular area, the Bureau of Land Management does not allow dispersed camping as it does in many other places. Some free designated campgrounds with strict rules on the handling of trash and human waste are offered, however.
Some additional BLM fee campgrounds that I haven’t been to are available in the area as well.
RV Parks & Lodging
Unfortunately, almost all of these are located inside of the town of Moab (presumably because that is where all the water is). Although the air in Moab is generally acceptable these days, staying in town means missing out on sleeping in the stellar air quality found even a short drive outside the town.
The only commercial RV park in the area that I have stayed at has been the Moab KOA, which is located a few miles south of the town. The air has always felt better to me there than in town, and the park has some nice views.
I found this KOA to be okay when camping in an RV, and one severely ill individual recently had an excellent initial avoidance sabbatical experience staying in one of the camping cabins there.
I’ve also tent camped at this KOA periodically, primarily because of the easy access to town and the availability of water (including showers). One downside to this is that the campground is located very close to the main highway and that the noise is almost like being right next to a major expressway all night, due to the sound of cars echoing through the canyon.
An additional downside of this KOA is that the showers are very small and the bathrooms in general are poorly maintained.
The Hampton Inn in town was built in about 2009. I stopped by the lobby this fall. While I didn’t feel like the building was particularly great, it wasn’t super-problematic.
Probably there are other hotels or inns in town that are better, though I’m not sure which ones those are.
Because water is in extremely short supply outside the town of Moab, a number of businesses in town offer showers for a modest fee.
I recently used the showers at the Moab Aquatics and Fitness Center, for $4 per shower. That building felt okay to me, but my reactivity is much lower than it used to be.
It’s possible that for people who are very reactive, there are better options.
Moab is a tourist town with a good number of restaurants, and I’ve tried many of them over the years.
I am extremely picky about the quality of the food that I eat, particularly when it comes to toxicity issues. Generally I can tell when food is not of good quality and can’t bring myself to eat more than a bite or two.
(I’ve regained my ability to eat pretty much any non-toxic food without consequence since pursuing avoidance, though I still try to minimize grains and sugar most of the time. Except, sometimes, when on vacation.)
Especially when camping, I’m also always on the lookout for places where I can plug in my computer and then use Wi-Fi for long stretches of time, either indoors or outdoors.
Most buildings in Moab have outdoor seating, which is helpful for mold avoiders.
When camping in the desert in summer, I also am looking for buildings that feel good to me and that have good air conditioning. (Buildings that feel good are even more important for winter months, of course.)
Fortunately, I’ve found several alternatives in Moab that may be appropriate for those looking for non-toxic food, a non-toxic environment in which to eat it, and/or a Starbucks alternative to use a computer.
Peace Tree Café is by far my favorite of the restaurants I’ve been to in Moab. Yelp reviews are just average, but most of the complaints seem to be about prices (which are going to be inherently high for non-toxic food in a town like Moab) and service (which I found to be a little slow but not a problem at all on my many visits there). The apparent quality of the meat (I tried chicken, beef and pork) at this restaurant was especially noteworthy.
Peace Tree is best known for their yummy healthy smoothies and fresh juices. They also have a variety of salads (I especially liked the one with beets, bacon and goat cheese), burgers, wraps (great to take on a hike or back to the campsite for those who do not need to be gluten-free), breakfasts, coffee drinks and (at dinner) full entrees.
Peace Tree also has a liquor license, with a number of beers on tap (including a few from the Moab Brewery, described below).
Peace Tree has a large outdoor area for dining (enclosed with plastic flaps during the winter). The indoors felt okay to me as well.
They have electric outlets (both indoors and outdoors) available to guests and Wi-Fi, though the connection was pretty spotty during busy times.
The Love Muffin Café serves breakfasts, salads, sandwiches and bakery goods – all made in-house with primarily organic and local ingredients. They also are known for their coffee drinks. They close in early afternoon. I’ve not been there for a long time, but I recall there being an electric plug and maybe Wi-Fi available for guests.
Paradox Pizza makes all its food (including gluten-free pizza) as well as all their desserts in-house. They say they use quality ingredients (including organic flour, natural meats, and local produce and cheese in the summers). I recently found the pizza (sold by the slice) to be fine and the tiramisu to be quite good. Indoor seating only, but it always has felt okay to me even when I was very reactive. They are open only for dinner and are usually pretty crowded.
Sabaku Sushi (open only in evenings) serves a variety of Japanese food with a health-conscious emphasis, including local meats, organic produce and gluten-free tempura batter. I’ve not been to this restaurant but would like to give it a try.
Eklecticafe serves homemade breakfast, lunch and organic coffee. Although the food is well-prepared and promoted as healthful, I was not impressed by the quality of the ingredients in the few items I tried. Their Internet connection (especially indoors) was not too bad when I was there. Electric outlets are available indoors and outdoors, and they didn’t object to my using them for long stretches of time. The indoors felt okay to me.
Moab Brewery is a building that has always felt good to me even when I was extremely hyperreactive. They also have good air conditioning in the summer and quite good-quality homemade beer (available in tasting glasses – the Dead Horse Ale is my favorite). Their root beer and other homemade sodas (made with cane sugar rather than high-fructose corn syrup) are also quite good. The quality of the ingredients in their pub-style food seems to me not very high, however. They have booths with electric outlets available but no Wi-Fi connection. Occasionally (especially when visiting in summer) I have found this to be a good place to sit and pay bills in the afternoon.
Fiesta Mexicana was suggested to me as an okay Mexican restaurant by a Moab visitor who avoids mold and gluten. (I personally always feel a bit sick after dining at Mexican restaurants – I think it’s the low-quality oils they use – and so only eat Mexican food that I make myself.) There is outdoor seating.
Moonflower Community Co-Op is a smaller locally owned grocery store with local meats, organic produce and other higher-quality natural foods. Some pre-made foods are available in the deli and bakery department.
Moab Farmers’ Market features locally produced cheese and meats as well as local produce. In 2014, it was held from early May to mid October on Thursday evenings in a park downtown.
City Market is a large regular grocery store with some organic items as well as a Starbucks concession.
One of the most enjoyable activities I have done on my whole mold avoidance journey was attending the Moab Music Festival, with classical music performed in Canyonlands (where the surrounding rocks create excellent acoustics). The festival is held in late August-early September. A video gives a good sense of what it is like.
The Moab area is especially popular for mountain biking, with a couple of shops in town renting bikes for tourist use. I have yet to participate, but I want to.
Other popular activities in the area include rock climbing, golfing, river rafting, horseback riding, ballooning, fishing and cross-country skiing.
Goblin Valley State Park is about two hours northwest of Moab, toward Salt Lake City. It has interesting rock formations that look like goblins, as well as a campground with showers. Many Boy Scout troops like to camp here. Bring food.
The nearest city to Moab is Grand Junction, Colorado. It is about 90 minutes northeast and has always felt good to me, with a climate similar to Moab’s.
Just outside Grand Junction in Fruita is the Colorado National Monument. The campground there is located on top of a mountain, with expansive views in all directions. I also enjoyed the Dinosaur Journey Museum in Fruita, and it felt fine to me even when my reactivity was relatively high several years ago.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is about three hours away, just outside of the town of Montrose, Colorado. The park boasts a dramatic canyon, a nice campground, very dark skies and excellent air quality.
Telluride is a Colorado ski town, also located about three hours away. The air quality has been problematic in previous years but seemed pretty good this summer and fall. Mountain Lodge (a fairly expensive hotel complex) always has felt good to me.
Moab is about four hours from Salt Lake City, about six hours from Denver and about seven hours from Las Vegas (NV).
I-70 (which connects Denver and Grand Junction in Colorado with Salt Lake City) is the nearest major expressway. Moab is about 30 miles south on 191.
Although Moab has a small airport, the nearest airport with many commercial flights is Grand Junction (about 90 minutes away). The Grand Junction airport did have somewhat of a toxic mold problem six years ago, when I last flew out of there.
WHAT TO BRING
* Sunglasses! Even for those living in a sunny place, the amount of sun in the Moab area is astounding.
* A hat that provides good protection from the sun. (I don’t use sunscreen any more, but that would work too.)
* Moisturizer and lip balm.
* Clothing to accommodate temperatures that fluctuate 30-40 degrees between midday and night. Layers are a good strategy.
* If tent camping, a warmer sleeping bag or more blankets than you think you will need. Maybe a hat and gloves to wear at night, even if the temperature during the day is in the 80’s. Those few hours before dawn can get very chilly.
* If camping, at least one large water container (such as five gallons) to bring water for washing to the campsite.
* Good hiking shoes or boots (and good socks). With air this pristine and many attractions accessible only through hiking, even people who don’t imagine themselves hiking may end up being drawn into it.
* Waterproof hiking sandals. Negro Bill Canyon is a pretty and fairly easy hike, with the stream crossings the biggest challenge.
* Hiking poles or hiking staff. Especially for those with coordination issues, these can make hiking much more doable.
* A good water filter (or plan to buy bottled water).
* Backpack or fanny pack. Necessary to carry water even on short hikes.
* A camera. The scenery in Moab is so spectacular that even photos from smartphone cameras often come out great. But for those thinking of investing in a new camera, prior to this trip might be a good time.
* Snacks. The best attractions in Moab are a long way from any restaurants and hiking or other exercise takes up energy. Bringing along tolerated snack foods is a good idea.
* A couple of large metal bowls. Camping away from civilization may seem much more appealing when you’re actually in Moab. Being prepared for a sponge bath makes this more doable.
Fortunately, all of these things (except maybe the wash bowls) can be purchased in Moab, and I did not notice that the prices there were much more expensive than buying things elsewhere.
WHAT I SING ON EVERY MOAB VISIT
“On the first part of the journey,
I was looking at all the life.
There were plants and birds and rocks and things
There was sand and hills and rings.
“The first thing I met was a fly with a buzz
And the sky with no clouds.
The heat was hot and the ground was dry,
But the air was full of sound.
“I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name
It felt good to be out of the rain.
In the desert, you can remember your name
‘Cause there ain’t no mold for to give you no pain……”
I first came down with M.E. in 1994 when I was studying for my Ph.D. in the marketing program at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Although I did finish my degree and worked for a few years as a professor, I became increasing ill over the years until eventually I was in bed and basically comatose (with many other horrible symptoms) almost all of the time.
In 2007, I realized that my house had a toxic mold problem and moved out, leaving all my possessions behind. From 2009-2013, I traveled around the western half of the U.S. tent camping and then living in an RV, visiting hundreds of locations in 25 states. I spent a couple of months total in Moab over the years – it was one of my very favorites!
I now am basically recovered from the illness and living in an actual building in Taos, NM.
Those interested in mold avoidance can take a look at a preview copy of a book that Erik Johnson and I are writing, A Beginner’s Guide to Mold Avoidance. It is available for free to people signing up for occasional email updates from Rabbit Hole, an organization designed to provide information about mold avoidance to those who need it.
The Locations Effect forum includes mold avoidance travel guides written by me about two other places I’ve enjoyed visiting: Mercey Hot Springs (about two hours from the San Francisco Bay Area) and Death Valley National Park.
The Locations Effect Facebook page is designed to share photos and stories about feel-good places for those with chronic neuroimmune illness.
For more information about the role of toxic mold and other environmental agents in chronic neuroimmune disorders, sign up for email newsletters from Paradigm Change.
The Paradigm Change website is here.
The Facebook page for “Living Clean in a Dirty World” is here.
Those interested in the health effects of toxic mold or in mold avoidance also may follow me on Facebook (or send me a friend request with a note mentioning mold).
Have you discovered something great in the Moab area that I didn’t mention here? Do you disagree with any of my comments about places there? Did you feel better – or worse – while in the area?
If you’ve been to the Moab area, it would be very helpful to future visitors (including me) if you would please share your experiences in the comments section!
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