Review of Canyoneering with Moab Desert Adventures at Entrajo Canyon in Moab, Utah
by Katie Beltramo
The truth is, I overscheduled our Wild West trip (click here for a list of articles of all that we did in Moab, Utah, and you'll see why). So as we headed to Moab Desert Adventures for Entrajo Canyon Canyoneering, I wasn't entirely sure that my somewhat sunburned and extremely exhausted family was up for doing, well, anything. But I'm so glad we rallied. It's a tough call, but our afternoon in Entrajo Canyon was my favorite single excursion in a marathon vacation. While it wasn't exactly what I expected, it was much more.
There are so many things to do in Moab that it's difficult to choose, but when Nate, the friendly owner of Moab Desert Adventures, said that this outing was his favorite thing to do in Moab, I knew we had to try it, even though I was beginning to feel overbooked. He described it--I swear!-- as "hiking, waterplay, and light canyoneering," which sounded pretty easy, anyway. I was thinking. . . puddle jumping, maybe.
When we arrived and met our fantastic guide, Marie, she corrected my misperceptions. We would be getting wet, she told us. Very wet. That would be okay, yes? Since we were sweating through a July afternoon in Moab, it sounded great to us. With a last-minute cancellation, we ended up having Marie all to ourselves, too, which was excellent. Marie supplied us with the harnesses and helmets that we'd need for our adventure, and when she realized that our 13-year-old looked green at the notion of her precious North Face daypack getting soaked, she was kind enough to loan us one of hers. We hopped into her four-wheel-drive for a short drive to Entrajo Canyon, with Marie pointing out sights along the way. The Entrajo Canyon, named for the two main types of sandstone you'll see there, Entrada and Navaho, is gorgeous.
We started with a hike as Marie briefed us on what we'd be doing: hiking, climbing a bit, hiking some more, then exploring the slot canyon with a bit of splashing, and ending with a rappel. As we hiked, Marie pointed out cryptobiotic soil, identified plants and signs of animal life, and gave us more information about the area, too. Our hike quickly turned into a fairly steep, rocky scramble up. I looked up and thought, "I'm not too sure about this. . . ." But Marie is super-competent and calm, and she offered suggestions on where the girls could place their hands and feet. I think that they were a little intimidated, too, so when we paused at the top, everyone was already excited and energized, feeling like we'd accomplished something. Our hike continued at higher ground as we headed into the canyon, and that's where we strapped on our helmets and the real fun started.
We loved canyoneering! Entrajo Canyon twists and turns, widening into little cave rooms and then narrowing into slots, and the level of the sandstone and the water changed at every step, making it interesting and fun at every turn. We especially appreciated Marie's guidance: She taught us specific climbing and canyoneering techniques (the photo on the left shows my husband Wade "bridging" while I've slouched out of my "stem" position for a quick picture) and helped us approach each twist and turn with confidence. And it was So. Much. Fun. After a wetter-than-usual spring, our July outing offered plenty of warm water over red-brown sand (nicer than the mud that had nearly sucked my shoes off on the river's edge). Sometimes each of us would get to choose how we'd like to proceed--wading through the water or working our way between the rock walls above it. Other times I'd look at what was ahead and think--again!--that we absolutely could not get past the next obstacle. But time and again we did.
I was torn between wanting to take pictures every few paces (imaging re-telling our adventures: "and then, I climbed there!) and wanting to forget about the pictures and just soak up the afternoon fun. We had a few scares. At one point, our 13-year-old, Madeleine, was wading ahead of the group, and she stepped off an invisible drop off, disappearing, helmet and all, completely under the water as I gasped and Marie made a grab for her. She popped up like a cork, laughing, and we haven't stopped talking about it since. At one point, I was in a bridge position (two hands pressed against one rock wall, two feet pressed against the other, body parallel to the water below) and I was absolutely certain that I would fall and break something until I decidedly hadn't. It was really beautiful to see my kids look challenged and a bit afraid, then see them positively exultant as they progressed through the canyon. And it was pretty amazing for this middle-aged, slightly overweight mama, too.
Through it all, Marie offered the mellow reassurance and technical skill that we needed to be successful. Because it was such a small group and the area was so quiet (we only saw one other group, of three people), it felt like we just happened to have a competent friend who was kind enough to lead us through one of her favorite places. At one point she lowered each of us through a section of canyon that would have been too slick and steep to try to climb or jump safely, and at the end of our adventure she helped ensure our harnesses were secure and supported us through an amazing rappel that was a little more challenging than the ones we'd completed at Morning Glory. From our rappel point, we could see her 4-wheel-drive parked, and once she'd lowered us down, Marie hustled around to her vehicle from above as we took a leisurely walk to meet her there. We were thoroughly exhausted and satisfied.
Is it Safe?
We felt really comfortable with Marie, who was helpful, calm, and supremely competent throughout our adventure. After Madeleine plunged into the water and popped up laughing, it occurred to me that Marie may have encountered others who weren't so pleased with surprises. She conceded that she'd led folks who were frightened or felt that they weren't up to the task, but she had always been able to talk them through to safety without a problem. She was careful and focused as she set up our rappel, and the only other people we encountered were locals who deferred to her suggestions and thanked her when she could direct them to another rappel point. What was great throughout the trip is that there were usually choices, so if, for example, I didn't feel strong enough to climb at one point, I could have waded or swum instead, which left the safety firmly under our own control.
Who'll Love It?
This experience was so wonderful that I'd love to send everyone there. I can imagine that if you are not outdoorsy or active at all, it might feel like a bit too much. But if you're an avid hiker or you've done a bit of rock climbing and want to learn more, I highly recommend Moab Desert Adventures. For our trip (and most of their trips), 8 years old is the minimum suggested age.
Along with our trip, Moab Desert Adventures offers rock climbing classes and leads rock climbing outings, including leading rock climbs on some of Moab's distinctive towers. If you're already a rock climber, this is absolutely where you want to go in Moab.
Tips to Make the Most of Your Visit
- Our outing was seasonal and weather-sensitive, with a different experience depending on the rainfall. If you're considering a trip, I'd suggest calling and asking for advice about what outing would work best for your schedule.
- You'll get wet, so plan to wear easy-dry clothing instead of, say, jeans shorts.
- Don't wear short-shorts or those athletic skorts. Wearing the harness over clothing is more comfortable, and skorts will get all bunched up.
- Packing daypacks? Bring enough water (1 liter per person) and, if you'd like, a camera or other items, but stow them in sealable plastic bags for water protection. But leave space in your packs to tote harnesses and helmets.
- There's no bathroom on the trail, so I'd suggest a "bathroom emergency pack": Store a whole stack of baby wipes and several large, sealable plastic bags in another plastic bag and keep it in a daypack always.
- Tips are customary, so keep some cash handy.
I can't possibly explain how much I loved this afternoon of canyoneering. It was terrific family bonding time together, a really high-impact lesson on perseverence for our kids, and so much fun that it made us all want to move to Moab.
Moab Desert Adventures is located right downtown, at 415 N Main Street, and they sell a few climber-friendly items there as well.
Rates in July 2015 were $80-$85/person for a half-day outing. For the most up-to-date information on rates, click here.
Click here for several more KidsOutAndAbout reviews of active outdoor family experiences in the Moab, Utah area. You won't believe how much there is for a family to do in Moab!