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Don’t Recreate on Wet Sandstone!

(And Other Things to Know About the Desert in the Springtime)

Spring is seconds away from exploding across the desert. The ample desert sun and the lovely spring rains have set the stage for one of the most beautiful times of year in the Moab desert: wildflower season. With the inevitable bloom of the desert also comes the annual influx of eager visitors to this breathtaking desert wonderland of recreation activities. Moab has it all, from skydiving, to mountain biking, to rock climbing, to trail running, this desert is a literal playground to the outdoor enthusiasts out there. 

While this desert looks like a harsh barren landscape, it is actually quite delicate. 

The bright red sand that makes up most of the features in Moab is particularly delicate when wet, and with so much rain on the way, the desert can take quite a beating if we aren’t careful. 

March, April, May in The Desert

Moab and the surrounding areas get a lot of the annual rain in March, April, and May. The rain is part of why we get such beautiful desert blooms. Shown above is one of my favorite desert flowers, the globemallow. 

When the rains come, the desert is fresh and soft. The trails we hike on are muddy, and the sandstone cliffs we admire are even more delicate than usual. It’s a beautiful time to be in Moab, but with so many visitors, it can be difficult to tread lightly on these fragile spaces. 

When you come to Moab to recreate, please do your best to stay true to the Leave No Trace Principles.  

If you are unfamiliar with the Leave No Trace Principles, we have a few handy guides for you linked here. 

Rock Climbing  

Rock climbers flock to Moab in the springtime. The beautiful weather, and world class climbing can be hard to resist! 

However, many rock climbers don’t know how weak sandstone becomes after a hearty desert rain. 

Climbing on wet sandstone can lead to broken holds or widening cracks, both of which are disrespectful to the climbers who come after you, and can potentially ruin historic and classic routes. 

Worse than that however, climbing gear can become less effective in wet or damp sandstone. When sandstone is wet it breaks more easily, and the stress cams or nuts put on sandstone is more likely to cause the rock to break and the gear to fail. This makes climbing on wet sandstone not only an unethical decision, but a potentially fatal one. 

After a rain in the desert, make sure the rock is dry and try to stick to sunny crags!

Mountain Biking

Mountain biking is another popular Moab sport that brings folks from all over the world to try the local trails. 

While very different from rock climbing, mountain biking on wet sandstone trails can also be very damaging to the desert. In more humid and forested climates, mountain biking through the mud can be no big deal. The trails are soft and wet enough that tire treads won’t leave much of an impact on the trail. 

Not so in Moab. The soft desert sandstone is more like clay when it’s wet. Meaning it will hold any shape you carve into it. So if you are biking through muddy trails, you are carving out grooves into the existing trails. This means you’re ruining it for everyone else, and causing unnecessary potential hazards to your fellow mountain bikers. 

Don’t mountain bike on wet trails! 

Highlining 

Another extreme sport in Moab, highlining! Highlines are put up either by the use of bolts (similar to climbing) or in some cases, natural anchors and or trad gear (also similar to climbing). 

For the same reasons it is dangerous to use trad gear on wet sandstone while rock climbing, it is very dangerous to use trad gear on wet sandstone when highlining. The highlines are put under immense amounts of force, and also so are the anchors, both natural and bolted. If you want to see some videos of anchors failing under force, please check out the following video at your own mental peril!

When setting up highlines, please make sure you go with someone who knows what they are doing.

A fall from a highline is almost always fatal, so please make sure your anchors are in solid dry sandstone!

Be Kind to the Desert

The Moab desert is home to many, and a playground to many more. However, if we want to continue to enjoy the beauty and splendor of Moab and all it has to offer, we have to make a conscious effort to protect it. Recreating after it rains is a sure way to harm this beautiful and delicate place. So please, do your part, and tread lightly when climbing, mountain biking, or just hiking through this beautiful place. 

Thank you for taking time to read about a place that we love so much! 

Be kind to the desert, don’t recreate on wet sandstone, and enjoy your time in one of the most beautiful places in the world. 

Cover Photos By: Kaya Lindsay

About the Gear Tester

Outdoor Prolink Pro

Kaya Lindsay is the social media coordinator for Yosemite Facelift. She is also a writer and photographer with a passion for rock climbing and the outdoors. In 2016 she converted a Sprinter Van into a tiny home and has been traveling around the US & Canada to pursue her passion for rock climbing ever since. You will most likely find her in a parking lot or coffee shop, camera in hand, planning her next adventure. Connect with her on Instagram @OneChickTravels

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