Desert Highlights in Moab by Amanda

One of the many reasons we decided to live on the road was to have new adventures and conquer some fears. While in Utah exploring the five big National Parks, we spent a few days in Moab, Utah with my cousin Terry, his wife Nicole and their two daughters. We booked an “adventure tour” with a wonderful outfitter called Desert Highlights. Their website described the adventure as canyoneering, with hiking, climbing and repelling. It proved to be an amazing five hour tour with our guide Melissa.

I have a terrible fear of heights, especially falling from a large height. When we booked the tour, I knew that it ended with a 90 foot repel down a canyon cliff face. I knew that this would terrify me and that I would need to conquer my fear of heights in order to finish the trail. I figured when the time came, I would be ready for the challenge but I did have a fair amount of anxiety about it, especially the night before, and I tried to keep it to myself so as not to scare the kids!

Our tour began with a half hour drive into the backcountry of Moab, into a remote and beautiful desert canyon called Entrajo Canyon. Far away from the tourists at Arches and Canyonlands, I truly felt like a desert explorer and over the course of the day we only saw a handful of people in the canyon. After hiking about a half hour into the canyon, we reached our first challenge, hiking and climbing up the very narrow and steep canyon walls to get up to the mesa top. Some of us were better rock climbers than others and it was a great first test to see exactly what we could handle. Micah proved to be a natural and found it easy to find little hand holds and foot holds to pull him up. We often had to yell at him to slow down so the rest of us could catch up. I believe we climbed about four hundred feet up onto the Mesa.

Once we were on the canyon top, the views of the Mesa were incredible and we walked along the cliff edge to see the beauty of the canyons from below. Dealing with one hundred degree heat made our desire to get back down into the canyon fairly strong, which brought us to our second challenge and our first repel. Through a very tight fissure in the cliff, we all took turns repelling down fifteen feet into a small pothole filled with about three feet of water. It felt amazing to get out of the heat and the water was able to cool us off quickly. We then climbed over huge rocks through interlocking pools of water down deeper into the tight canyon. The kids loved the challenge and did a great job with the repel, listening and trusting our guide, Melissa. She was able to get them excited about a long hike in one hundred degree heat and when they were scared, she told them she knew they could do it. I think they would have followed her to the ends of the Earth.

After getting through the tight canyon, we stopped for some snacks and water and to applaud our achievements. We soon came to our last challenge, having to scale the rest of the 90 foot cliff face to get to the canyon bottom. This had been the part of the adventure I was most dreading, and after repelling just fifteen feet into the canyon earlier in the day, I did not feel any sense of confidence going into the even larger repel. Nicole went first and then we sent all the kids down after her, so we’d have one adult at the canyon bottom and the rest at the top to help out. Tabatha was the first kid down, and I could tell she was really scared. As she started to descend over the cliff, it was hard to watch her disappear down into the canyon and have no clue how she was doing. I could hear her stifle a whimper of fear and/or tears, but she was soon on the ground and extremely proud of herself!! She had conquered her fear and had a great time doing it.

My goddaughter Reese was the next to go down, and her repel did not go well. Of all the kids, she was the most confident and excited about the repelling and as she started down the canyon wall, I was confident she would do great. But just a few feet down, she came upon a small cliff ledge and when she put her feet on it, she ended up flipping around with her back to the canyon and sat on the small ledge, looking down into the large canyon below her. I can only imagine her fear!! She cried and started yelling, “Pull me back up“, but at that point she was too far down for our guide to be able to get her back up. Reese was going to have to gain the courage to get off the small ledge, flip herself around and continue down into the canyon. It was hard to be at the top, not being able to see her, but to hear her cries and not be able to help her!! This did not help my rising fear for my own climb down! But Reese is a very brave girl and after several minutes of coaxing, she was finally able to flip herself back around and continue down into the canyon. We were all relieved, especially Reese and our guide, Melissa!

When it was Micah’s turn to repel down, I was so nervous I barely even looked as he started his descent into the canyon. But I had nothing to fear, as he was a natural and had a blast almost dancing down the cliff walls. He was having almost too much fun, not having any understanding of the danger in what he was doing. Once all the kids were down into the canyon, I did feel a huge sense of relief that they had all gotten down safely, and I was able to start focusing on my own repel down.

After talking to Melissa and gaining some confidence, I started my descent into the canyon. To be successful at repelling, you have to spread your feet very wide and lean back to let the rope smoothly guide you down. You have to trust that the carabiner will hold you, and it’s hard to lean back and trust your feet and your rope! I was doing a pretty good job easing myself down and holding the rope behind the right side of my back. My eyes were glued to the rock in front of me and I enjoyed seeing the unique features of the rock. It was great to hear my kids yelling support from the canyon bottom, and Melissa from the canyon top. But about half way down the canyon, I got a little cocky and decided to look down. That was my downfall! I realized how high up from the ground I still was, probably about forty feet! I panicked. I said out loud, “I am a forty year old woman. Why am I doing this?” My whole body filled with fear and my stellar technique was forgotten. My feet started pulling away from the canyon wall, and instead of my body being perpendicular to the rock, I started to become parallel with the rock! This was not a good thing. So I swallowed my fear and tried to get my technique back, planting my feet against the wall again and angling my body back. With a few shrieks and cries, I was able to get to the canyon bottom. I was proud of myself for conquering my fear of heights, but I wouldn’t say that I had fun!! Seeing the big smiles on my kid’s faces was really fun, and seeing how proud they both were of their achievement was great! For myself, I wish I had not panicked. I wish I had stayed calm. I had no desire to do it again, but a small part of me kind of did, so that I could get rid of my fear all together. So perhaps for me there will be a next time.

Our tour with Desert Highlights turned out to be one of the biggest highlights in the ten days we were in Utah with Terry and Nicole and the kids. Our guide pushed us to do things we didn’t think we could and we learned a great deal along the way. The kids left with pride and confidence and we have some great memories! Even Reese had a great time, and would have done it again in a heartbeat. The kids were sad to say goodbye to Melissa and should I find myself in Moab again, I would not hesitate to try one of their other guided adventures.