Utah paradise offers perfect spot for family reunion

Skyline Arch offers a majestic view in Arches National Park. Doug Fox/Daily Herald

Family reunions are an exciting time.

At least that's what we kept telling ourselves over the months-long process of picking a location, changing said location to a different one, making plans, changing said plans for entirely new ones, making special changes and arrangements to accommodate specific individuals (who don't end up attending in the end anyway), etc.

Sound familiar? Certainly this scenario is not unique to my extended family.

All that pre-event hullabaloo, however, usually becomes water under the bridge once the actual reunion arrives and the real fun of re-connecting with everyone begins. Especially when water under the bridge translates into frolicking under huge sandstone arches, as it did during our once-in-a-blue-moon reunion in Moab.

Adventure certainly awaited us during a four-day summer visit in this eastern Utah paradise, which may or may not have taken its name from the biblical city of Moab. But because there were a lot of younger children in attendance, not to mention old-duffers as well, none of our adventures were of the extreme variety. Which was perfectly fine because as we learned, Moab offers activities and interests for all ages.

One of the key decisions of the reunion was finding a place to serve as home base -- a location that would include accommodations, facilities to hold large groups for dining and offer fun things to do in between regularly scheduled excursions into the surrounding environment. With that in mind, the Moab Valley RV Resort turned out to be a perfect fit for us.

Located just on the edge of town, the resort offered several different types of overnight arrangements, which was essential for our group. In addition to RV and tent sites, there were four different cabin styles available, ranging from cottages (with bathrooms and showers, cable TV, microwave and mini-fridge) to econo-cabins (sleeps four, no bedding provided, electrical outlets but no appliances). Our family groups all split up into different cabins, based on need and budget.

There were a couple of large community bathroom and shower buildings for those in the more spartan accommodations.

Whenever there was down time in the reunion schedule, my immediate clan could most likely be found at the swimming pool. This was kind of a lifesaver -- especially as a mood relaxer -- in light of the hot summer temperatures, and proved to be a favorite part of the kids' day. (And when the kids are happy, the parents are content, right?) In addition, there were several other available activities on site to help pass the time: such as giant chess and checker boards, horseshoes and a playground.

There were also two covered group dining sites, which provided a place for our communal family dinners each night -- which offered the backdrop for some of the most fun reunion memories, with games and family stories following dinner.

Our first full day there, we visited a well-known local cooling-off spot on the outskirts of town at the site of an old power dam in Mill Creek Canyon. We took the long (read: fun) way, walking upstream about 30 minutes to the couple of good swimming holes at the end of the trail. The young kids felt a bit like explorers, moving overhanging foliage aside while making their way up the stream, in what for them was occasionally waist-deep water. The path was a bit sticky at times, and one of our teenage daughters lost both her flip-flops after they became stuck in the thick mud under water and she could not find them.

The stream trail ends at a 20-25-foot wall, part of the old power dam, where water constantly cascades over the top to make a man-made waterfall. The water was deep enough at the base of the falls that several adventurous teens and twentysomethings were jumping off the side rock walls. It looked like something my younger self might have enjoyed.

On the way back, we opted to take the main dirt trail, which proved to be just a five-minute walk to the parking lot. So much easier, but not quite as thrilling.

Just to show that there is plenty to do in and around Moab outside of Arches National Park, on Saturday we ventured out on the Negro Bill Canyon Trail, located just 3 miles up the canyon from Moab on Utah Scenic Byway 128. The trail featured all kind of terrain and a decent amount of shade along the way -- but other spots were more wide open on a red-rock trail. It was almost like three different hikes: one through jungle-like overgrowth, one extremely scenic and one through the desert.

About 3/4 of a mile in, there's a nice little shallow pool area and a natural gathering spot as our group was spread out quite a ways on the trail. Perhaps it was too natural of a gathering spot, as by that point about half our group (mostly the aforementioned old-duffers) decided to call it quits and turn back.

The rest of us soldiered onward. At this gathering spot we overheard a local tour guide explaining to her group that you could keep track of how much progress you were making on the rest of the way based on the number of times the trail crossed the stream. There were nine more stream crossings before reaching the grand payoff -- arrival at Morning Glory Bridge, the sixth-largest natural bridge in the United States.

The full trail to Morning Glory Bridge clocks in at 2 miles one way, but it seemed even longer than that. The nine-stream crossings tip proved to be quite a helpful diversion for the younger kids as they eagerly kept track of our progress.

We were glad when a hiker passing by on his return trip warned us to beware of poison oak. When we started paying attention to it, we realized that there was a lot of poison oak on the back half of the trail, often right at the edge within easy reach of a wandering child's hand. The kind warning certainly proved beneficial.

Any doubt that the full hike was worth it was erased when our 6-year-old, Cougar, got a glimpse of Morning Glory Bridge and with genuine amazement exclaimed, "That's cool! It's like one mountain connects to the other!"

There was a small, shallow pool of water, and lots of welcome shade, under the bridge -- which spans 243 feet. And we were entertained during our rest by watching several people rappel down from the top of the bridge to our vantage point on the ground.

The hike back, in mid-day temps, was fairly difficult for our youngest, a 4-year-old at the time, and we alternated carrying him on our shoulders during the final stretch. But we were extremely glad to make the full hike. It was well worth it.

On our final full day, we finally migrated to Arches National Park. Several in our large group immediately vetoed the trek to Delicate Arch, so instead we opted for readily accessible arches and other viewpoints, such as Balanced Rock. Our favorite, though, turned out to be Skyline Arch. The arch is visible from the trailhead, but it was such a short hike in that most of us chose to get a more up close and personal view. The kids especially loved playing on some of the sandstone boulders around the bottom of the arch, and there was a crevasse between rock walls that was fun to play in for a few minutes.

Our stay in Arches was only a couple hours, and by then we were fine to head back to the resort for some swimming and socializing.

Another benefit to the Moab Valley RV Resort's location is its close proximity to the Colorado River. In fact, there was a nice walking trail that went right by the resort and led to a river walk of sorts. That last full night of the reunion, a portion of our group took a spur-of-the-moment relaxing saunter under the moonlight along the trail and walked over to the river, where we sat at the edge and told stories while the kids skipped rocks across the slow-moving water.

Yes, Moab offers a near limitless list of activities -- some planned, some spontaneous. There's a little something for everyone. Spending some of those moments with extended family made it even more worthwhile.

At least until it comes time to start pre-planning the next get-together.

-- Doug Fox is features editor of the Daily Herald and editor of the Ticket entertainment section. In addition to his editing duties, he covers the rock music beat and other entertainment news as well as writing general feature stories. He blogs at www.heraldextra.com/blogs/editing-room-floor/ and can be reached by email at dfox@heraldextra.com.

Read more from Doug Fox here.