The Southwest’s epic landscapes have attracted thrill-seekers for centuries. Its geographic wonders and natural resources are among the richest in the world. So it’s little wonder the Four Corners region is still luring adventurers. Dorado surveys the area’s best outdoor experiences.
By Kelly Kramer
Moab, Utah: Hiking Arches National Park
Named for the natural stone bows that dominate its landscape, Arches National Park has long been a destination for hikers and climbers. But thousands of years before modern adventurers began flocking to the park, Ancestral Puebloans lived in villages in and around it. No ruins of their dwellings remain today, but their visual diaries, petroglyphs, are one of the main attractions along the trails. Well, the petroglyphs and the thousands of red-rock spires, pinnacles, balanced rocks and fins that give the park a wild, otherworldly feeling.
For beginning hikers, several short, flat trails lead to some of the park’s most notable features — Balanced Rock, Double Arch, Landscape Arch and Skyline Arch among them. What’s more, a 1-mile-long segment of the Courthouse Wash trail meanders past one of the Puebloans’ rock art panels. It’s a simple stroll into history between some of the park’s prettiest canyon walls. Experienced hikers, though, will revel in more strenuous trails. Ranging in length between 3 and 7.2 miles, they climb across narrow ledges and dunes to the park’s more remote arches (think: Tower and Delicate). And then there’s the Fiery Furnace, a mazelike scramble over broken sandstone and loose sand, and into and through narrow gaps. Although it’s possible to hike it on your own (with a permit), park officials recommend ranger-led tours.
Taos, New Mexico: Paddling the Rio Grande
At 1,885 miles long, the Rio Grande is the fourth- largest river system in the U.S. With its source at Canby Mountain, just east of the Continental Divide in south-central Colorado, the river flows to the Gulf of Mexico and serves as a natural border between Texas and Mexico. But a small segment of the river also separates Texas and New Mexico, and that’s where rafters can conquer some of its finest rapids. Nine different segments of Class II to Class V rapids comprise the Upper Rio Grande and Lower Rio Grande gorges.
New Mexico River Adventures takes participants on a daylong trip into Taos Box. Some 800 feet below the Rio Grande Gorge’s rim, the box begins in calm water before it opens up into choppy waters. Among the rapids you’ll encounter in the box are Power Line Falls, the Rock Garden, Rio Bravo and Sunset — all Class IVs known for their splash factor. In addition to time on the water, of course, the trip includes opportunities for wildlife watching. Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep and several species of raptors are known to drink and hunt, respectively, at water’s edge.
Sedona, Arizona: Golfing Seven Canyons
Deemed “the IMAX of golf ” by Golfweek’s architecture editor, Seven Canyons seems deserving of the comparison, thanks to the idyllic setting and red-rock features that give the course its 3-D feel.
Tucked away in Boynton Canyon and surrounded by thousands of acres of the Coconino National Forest, the club is exclusive both in terms of its environment and its amenities. Designed by PGA legend-turned-architect Tom Weiskopf, the links are open to members and residents of Seven Canyons, as well as guests of the nearby Enchantment Resort. There, it’s possible to book a package that includes a 60-minute spa treatment and a round of golf at Seven Canyons for each day you stay.
The course itself is short, with a par of 70 and a length just shy of 7,000 yards from the championship tees. It’s known for its small greens, natural water features and elevation changes, and, much to the delight of what the club’s website heralds as golf purists, the course is “very walkable.”
But whether you walk or cruise Seven Canyons in a cart, you won’t be disappointed by its surroundings — though you may be a bit distracted. Flanked by ponderosa pines, fragrant junipers and a variety of desert shrubs, the course is a study in the contrast of green against Sedona’s famed spires.
Fruita, Colorado: Mountain Biking the Rockies
In the 1950s, a story about one Fruita resident became legend: A farmer by the name of Lloyd Olsen selected a rooster named Mike to prepare for dinner. As farmers do, he swung his ax and relieved Mike of his head. But Mike didn’t seem to notice. According to the story, the headless rooster went on pecking for food for another two years. The rooster tale lives on through the town’s annual Mike the Headless Chicken Festival, held each May, but it’s not the only legendary thing about Fruita — so, too, are its mountain biking trails.
Between March and November, countless people descend on Fruita, and they’re all after one thing: the conquest of the town’s amazing trail system. Tucked along the western slope of the Rockies, Fruita offers riders 18 road trails, as well as a range of terrain on what’s known as the Kokopelli trails. These black-diamond runs cross nearly 150 miles of earth that varies from pavement to rugged old Jeep road. The entire route runs from Fruita to Moab, Utah, and includes several water sources for extreme bikers looking to tackle an extended adventure. With a high elevation of 8,589 feet and a low of 4,124 feet, Fruita’s Kokopelli trails are an exercise in ascents, descents and shifting gears — perfect for the seasoned mountain biker. Unless, of course, you’re chicken.