April 02, 2021

Arches National Park – Nature’s Creative Artistry on Display (National Parks Trip #2)

Wow!  It seems like it has taken me forever to document our second cross-country National Parks camping trip with travel trailer in tow, but here we are at the FINAL installment!  At the time of this trip in 2010, our son, Ryan, was 16 and our daughter, Kyra, was 11.  Reliving this epic journey by documenting it has reaffirmed my belief that these extended, month-long National Parks trips with our kids provided all of us with priceless experiences and exceptional memories that will last a lifetime.

You might recall from the prior post that our family of four was using a private RV Park in Moab as our base camp for exploring the section of Utah in which Arches and Canyonlands National Parks are located.  Sadly, none of the campgrounds in those two Parks have electric hookups.  Despite our preference for camping within the National Parks, there was no way we’d forego the electricity needed to run the air conditioner during our visit in July.  Thinking it would be a treat if the kids had a swimming pool in which to cool off, I had booked a site at the Moab KOA (link HERE).  For a couple of reasons, that turned out to be a bad idea for this family of outdoor enthusiasts.

KOA currently has three designations for its campgrounds: Journey, Holiday and Resort.  The “Journey” designation indicates an adequate but more basic campground for travelers.  A “Resort” provides a fancier setting and many more amenities.  A “Holiday” represents the middle of the road.  Currently, the KOA in Moab is a Holiday; I don’t recall whether or not that designation was in place when we visited in 2010.  But KOA has a predictable reputation, and I didn’t think twice about booking a site once I discovered that the facility did, indeed, have a pool.  The pool, however, proved to be one of the discouraging problems we encountered.

So. Many. Arches.

Actually, in all fairness, it wasn’t the pool itself that was the problem.  The pool was perfectly fine and well maintained.  It was the other guests in the pool that we could have done without.  Alan and I were brought up to be courteous and respectful of others, young and old alike, and we’ve tried to raise our kids to be the same.  Unfortunately, not every parent considers this a priority, and many of the kids (and some of the adults, too!) were being ridiculously loud and rowdy, splashing other guests and hogging the pool.  Ryan and Kyra were able to cool off, but it was obvious that it was not a fun-filled experience.  When offered the chance to go back again the next day, both of them declined.  I never thought I’d see the day, but both the 11 year old and the 16 year old wanted to do anything other than swim in that pool.

Beautiful vistas, too!

The other reason we were disappointed in our stay at the Moab KOA was the size and privacy (or lack thereof) of our campsite.  This wasn’t our first rodeo.  We knew that private RV Parks generally tend to squeeze in more sites than you’d find at a public campground of comparable size.  In this case, we had willingly decided to exchange space and privacy for certain amenities.  But there’s a point, in my mind, anyway, that greed overcomes logical thought – and I’m pretty sure it happened here when the campground was designed.  It’s probably called “maximizing potential.”  Since, at the time, we had a travel trailer with no slide-outs, we were assigned a fairly narrow site.  It was somewhat short, too.  Alan needed to angle the truck so that it would fit in the site - which does occasionally happen.  But what really bothered me was that Ryan and I had to step across the line of rocks separating our campsite from the next one to open the passenger side doors of the pickup so we could get in.  I found that to be incredibly sad.  I realize that people go camping for all different reasons, but ours is to enjoy the glorious wonders of nature – not to be jammed in like sardines in a can.  My Dad used to eat sardines; I know what those cans look like and camping at this particular KOA felt like an accurate analogy.

Alan and Ryan at our site at the Moab KOA

Please understand that I have nothing against KOAs.  When Alan and camped across the country on our honeymoon more than four decades ago, we stayed at a KOA campground more often than not.  Truth be told, we’ll be stopping to visit friends out west later this year, and I’ve already booked a site at a KOA close to their home.  We enjoyed and would return to many of the KOAs we visited in the past, but the Moab KOA Holiday is not one of them.  It’s just a bit too much of a stretch between the type of State and National Park campsites we like and are used to and the reality of a campsite in a popular and private RV park.

The Three Gossips

The small monkey wrench thrown into our plans by the Moab KOA was not the only discouraging experience we had; there were two more.  Our poor little Kyra, who was prone to migraines at the time, developed one on the first day we visited Arches National Park, the last of Utah’s Mighty Five and the final National Park on our itinerary for this trip.  That put quite a damper on the day’s activities, and she still occasionally mentions her disappointment in cutting short our visit to Arches.  Many of you who have suffered with migraines know that hitting the bottle of ibuprofen and going to sleep in a darkened room is sometimes all you can do, so we laid low for much of the day.

North Window and South Window Arches

The final and most discouraging disappointment arrived along with the weather forecast for the following day.  While rain is appreciated and often celebrated in much of Utah, the thunderstorms and flash flooding that might accompany it can be frightening and dangerous.  We had hoped to hike to iconic Delicate Arch, but parts of the trail are elevated and well exposed – not a good place to be with thunder and lightning on the way.  Although our family saw numerous hikers sky-lined against the dark and threatening clouds, we toed the line of safety and reluctantly explained to the kids why we wouldn’t be hiking that day.

Delicate Arch outlined against the approaching storm clouds

We absolutely loved what we saw of Arches, but our disappointing experiences during our time in Moab left us longing for a return trip.  What's on our Moab Wish List?  A campground that’s a better fit for our family, another opportunity to hike among Arches’ arches and, most importantly, safe travels and good health for all.

Wolfe Ranch cabin (circa early 1900's)

Despite the minor annoyances and inconveniences, our visit to Arches National Park was supremely enjoyable.  We saw countless examples of nature’s creative artistry in the spires and arches throughout the Park.  The gorgeous vistas we encountered did not fail to impress and the plentiful trails provided a number of opportunities to explore the Park.  We especially enjoyed the “trail” to Sand Dune Arch, as it required squeezing between walls of rock before gaining access to what I consider one of the most magnificent examples of a natural arch that I’ve ever seen.

Kyra and Ryan beneath Sand Dune Arch - quite the setting, isn't it?

Having checked off the last National Park on our trip itinerary, we reluctantly turned the truck and trailer for home.  Alan and I always knew we wanted to retire early, but we never wanted to sacrifice the here and now for the future – and we’re so glad we didn’t.  For us, it was the right decision.  We made it a point to fill our life together with travel adventures of all sorts and every single one has enriched our lives.  When the kids came along, we just packed them up and took them along.  When I recall the amazing opportunities and experiences the National Parks have always provided our family, I have not one single regret about the hours of planning, the weeks of vacation time and the financial resources we’ve devoted to visiting our Parks over the years.  In a way, the time and effort we spend getting to know these spectacular public lands is an investment, and dividends continue to be paid in the form of joy and wonder, solitude and peace, magic and memories.  Those are returns that just can’t be beat.  

Balanced Rock

This concludes the National Parks Trip #2 series.  I truly hope you enjoyed traveling along with us!  I’ve been collecting a bunch of camping tidbits over the past few months, so I’m thinking the next post with be a “Campfire Talk” post that will include a variety of topics.  Beyond that, I need to decide whether to begin documenting our West Coast National Parks camping trip of 2017 (a five week odyssey that encompassed visits to nine National Parks) or catch up on our 2011 and 2014 trips to Acadia National Park and our 2015 journey through the states of Minnesota and Michigan.  (You’re welcome to cast a vote in the Comments section below.)  While I give that some thought, feel free to sign up for email delivery of future “Reflections Around the Campfire” posts (in the column at the right) or hop on over to the National Park Service website to learn more about Arches or any of the other magnificent National Parks mentioned in this series (link HERE).

SPECIAL NOTE:  National Park Week 2021 is coming up quickly – Saturday, April 17th, through Sunday, April 25th.  April 17th is a fee-free day at our National Parks, making it a wonderful day to get out and explore.  Additionally, the National Park Service has planned a delightful assortment of special programs, events and digital activities to highlight these magnificent treasures that we call our National Parks.  Find out more on the NPS website (link HERE), then enjoy and celebrate! 



  1. Well, that was enjoyable enough that I just had to go back to "Phannie and Mae" and relive our adventure from our base at The Portal RV Park. It was quite a luxurious park back then, but it is now so 'bougie' that I doubt if they would let Phannie stay there. Sorry your time at KOA was unpleasant; like you, we've usually had pretty good luck with them. It turns out we have some photos similar to yours in our blog, but we missed some of the more interesting ones from your post. It's lucky we have both records to put together. If you are interested in our time at Moab in 2014, you should search our blog for "Moab," "Arches" and "Canyonlands." As usual, your tome was expertly written and unfailingly interesting. Had you only hyphenated "11 year old" and "16 year old" (required for identifying multiple words as a single compound noun), I would have been able to sleep after reading it. No, I couldn't leave it alone; I would have been seen by cold-blooded grammarians everywhere as a sellout. Just concentrate on the bouquets I tossed you; it will ease the pain. (Offered with devilish smile and limitless admiration.)

    1. Since you are back to criticizing my grammar (in the most elegant of ways), I’m guessing that life over at Phannie and Mae is getting back to normal. It’s either that or this was payback for my calling you out for beginning a sentence with a conjunction in your comment section a few posts back. Out of curiosity, I took a look at the Portal RV Park/Resort website. It does appear to be a bit hoity-toity (notice the hyphen), but the setting is lovely and it looks like a really nice place. So nice, in fact, that Alan and I would probably need to invest in a new wardrobe before management let us set foot on the property - not to mention a new rig. We look like the Clampetts when we’re traveling with the pickup loaded with our bikes, kayaks and other gear. I’m sure we would make quite a memorable first impression on the staff just before they kicked us out. As for Arches, now that the kids have aged out of traveling with us on a regular basis, I’m thinking about a return trip in the early spring or late fall one of these years. That would allow us to camp in the Park without needing electricity for the A/C. I’d love to enjoy further explorations, complete that hike to Delicate Arch and really do the Park justice.

  2. Mary,
    Thanks for sharing and for bringing back some great memories. We loved our time in Moab. I enjoyed Arches, by Canyonlands was my favorite. We didn't make it to Bryce Canyon (snow!), so we're going this summer. We camped at Archview RV Resort in Moab, near the entrance to Arches NP. Too cold for swimming, so that was not an issue. Campground was convenient to everything--although a bit cozy. I would go back. Thanks again, and please stay in touch! Joe

    1. Glad you enjoyed the post, Joe, and thanks for the info. I’ll add Archview to my notes for when we return to Moab. I always say that each National Park has its own personality, and it really intrigues me how we all see them just a little bit differently. You and Mike (over at Phannie and Mae) really liked Canyonlands, but that’s a Park that didn’t impress me much with the exception of a couple of notable features (Mesa Arch and Whale Rock). I think you and Helen will love Bryce Canyon! I hope Zion is on your itinerary, too, if you bypassed it last year. I can’t recall whether or not that was one of your many stops. As Alan likes to say, “Of all the things I’ve lost, it’s my mind I miss the most.”

  3. We loved Arches NP so much but your pictures of the various arches we didn't see made me realize how much we missed by just driving there for one day on a several-state road trip. Next time, we'll plan a multiple day stay for sure. What we saw was spectacular but there is so much more to explore.

    That camp - all smooshed in - looked horrible. I understand wanting to make a profit but I wonder if they get any return visitors? Btw, are the days of tent camping over? We did a lot of that as a family when I was young. We hated the occasional RV that would show up because they were (at that time) noisy (generator), smelly, and took up more than their share of the space. Do they have separate spaces for tents, or are those days a thing of the past?

    1. Janis, we’ve been to several National Parks multiple times, but we always find new treasures within them that we hadn’t seen or hiked before. Yes, many private RV Parks still devote space to tent camping, but it seems to me that they’re fewer and farther between. I’m guessing that the older RV Parks had ample space for both, but newer campgrounds in the private sector cater to RVers because they can charge more for the site. (The Moab KOA was probably designed before big Class As and large fifth wheels became popular so the sites, at least in our section, were not exactly spacious.) Tent camping seems to be more popular in State and National Park campgrounds. Many of those campgrounds were built back when tents and pop-up trailers were the more common camping options, so they have smaller sites that are a good fit for tent camping. My tent camping days ended in Maine when Ryan was just two. After that, the spirit was willing, but the aging body said, “No way, kiddo.”

    2. Although I haven't tent camped in ages, I'm pretty sure my body wouldn't like it either. Gimme a proper bed anytime :)

    3. During our honeymoon 40+ years ago we were camping in West Yellowstone in a two-man mountain tent and woke up to find the tent encrusted in ice. We shook it off, packed it up and carried on. These days, I consider it a major inconvenience if I have to get up during the night to put the thermostat up a notch or two. Are we spoiled by the comforts and convenience of RVing? Absolutely.

  4. Loved your post on Arches! I went to BYU, 1977, and drove there with a bf for a day trip! I had never seen green sand before! I was amazed, and hope to get back there when I retire. I intend to start touring the parks, both state and national, when I retire. I think either series you post next would be fabulous!

    1. Thanks for your note, Cindy - and your vote! While I freely admit to liking some National Parks more than others, we've had nothing but positive experiences in all of those we've visited. In my opinion, some State Parks are just as impressive as our National Parks, albeit on a smaller scale. (Custer State Park in South Dakota immediately comes to mind.) Enjoy planning your future travels - our country is full of magnificent public lands from coast to coast!


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