Review of Morning Glory Canyoneering with Red River Adventures in Moab, Utah
by Katie Beltramo
Our family was lucky enough to spend a morning getting an introduction to Moab and basic canyoneering with Red River Adventures on their Morning Glory Canyoneering outing. We had a terrific time: Our guides, Ean and Adam, were knowledgeable, competent, and fun, and we loved doing both rappels and seeing more of the gorgeous landscape
We arrived at Red River Adventures, located on Main Street, to find our guides waiting for us with all of the equipment we'd need for our adventure. Each person received a harness, a helmet, and a pair of gloves. As others arrived, the guides helped us to put on and tighten our harnesses and pointed us to a last-chance bathroom break before loading up on the bus. Our family joined 9 other people, a fun group that included folks from France and Belgium along with the Americans. We were led by Ean and Adam, two experienced guides (you can read more about them here) who entertained us with restaurant recommendations, facts about geology, local gossip, and bad jokes during the short (about 15-minute) van ride out of town.
We started with a short, easy hike to our first rappel. Along the hike, Ean and Adam pointed out notable features of the Moab area, including the cryptobiotic soil and plants such as Rice Grass and Mormon Tea, which the girls delighted in identifying throughout the rest of our trip. It wasn't too long before we arrived at our first rappel, which was a 90-foot drop. Our guides briefed us on technique and advised us that if anyone was feeling especially nervous, they should hop to second in line rather than suffer dread as we waited. This rappel ends in a lovely area that is inaccessible except by rappelling.
This area formed a great way-station between rappels. Because it takes a few minutes for each person to make it down, and the second rappel is not too far away, you'll have a bit of down time that can be used to sit and rest, have a little snack if you brought one, or explore. One of our favorite parts was a cave that our guides pointed out to the girls when they first descended. It was so cool! I would have lingered in the area longer, but my kids, still pumped up from the first rappel, were begging to be allowed to do the second one, a 120-foot rappel into an area that allows an up-close view of Morning Glory Arch.
The second rappel lands in Ephedra's Grotto, a popular destination with hikers. For me, it was a bit of a jarring surprise to go from an area that felt remote, and swiftly land in a spot filled with other people. I hadn't realized that Ephedra's Grotto is also a destination on the popular hike through what's called Negro Bill Canyon (and yes, there's been talk of updating the name, which came from long-ago cowboy William Grandstaff). It felt a bit like we'd cheated, sailing down like superheroes into the cool and shady grotto to find hikers sweating and panting their relief.
Once everyone had completed the second rappel, our group hiked along the trail through Negro Bill Canyon to the trailhead, where our ride back into town awaited.
This hike might have been my favorite of a more-than-two-weeks' vacation through amazing country. If I can't convince you to sign up for an outing with Red River Adventures (and you should totally do it: You're on vacation, people. Live!), you simply must at least hike Negro Bill Canyon when you come to Moab. The Negro Bill Canyon trailhead is a 10-minute drive from downtown Moab, with parking and a restroom.The landscape varies quickly between Moab's classic red rocks, high brush that makes you feel like you're exploring a jungle, and a creek that you cross multiple times, with plenty of opportunities for the kids to scrabble up some boulders and rocky hillsides. It was fun and a bit wet. In fact, our accommodating guides even carried a few water-averse people over the water. During our hike, a huge storm started to whip up, which was too bad, because we hustled through that final hike at a pace that was slightly faster than I would have liked: perfectly manageable, but I would have lingered to look around a bit. As we made a swift exit and thunder rumbled, our guides took the time to advice inexperienced hikers about what they should do if a rainstorm progressed to a gully washer.
Is it safe? Seriously, what's it like to rappelling off a cliff?
Our whole family was new to rappelling, and this outing was great for beginners. Our guides were super-competent and excellent at explaining the procedure, laying down must-do safety procedures while allaying fears with just enough humor to convey to anyone who was nervous that they've done this hundreds of times.
If you've ever climbed a rock wall, the procedure is comfortingly familiar. Each person wears a helmet to protect from falling rocks and gloves to prevent rope burn. Finally, each person wears a harness that's snug around the waist and loops around the upper thighs, The guide clips two lines into the front using carabiners: the rope that's used to lower down the rappel, and an additional safety line (you can see these in the photo where Adam is giving Maddie last-minute tips above). The guides check that everything is secure before the descent, and if you're nervous, it's reassuring to let one or two people go ahead of you without incident.
The guide instructs you on exactly where to put your hands and feet, and you slowly walk back over the edge of the cliff, sitting back so that the ropes and harness support your weight. I was the last person to make the first rappel, and I saw this time and again: Most people look pretty terrified as they first step back, and as soon as they feel that they're supported, just over the edge, their faces break into smiles of relief and the rappel becomes fun. You'll still pay attention to where you're placing your hands and feet, and you'll get coaching from above, but you'll also enjoy the drop and enjoy the view. For this outing, the first rappel takes place in a space that becomes pretty narrow between rock walls, so it can feel like a bit of a squeeze, especially if you're wearing a large backpack. The second rappel becomes free hanging about one-third of the way down, which means that your feet can no longer reach the wall. When we went, my 10-year-old had been too busy exploring to hear this preview, so she became a little panicky when she lost contact with the wall until I yelled up at her that it was all part of the plan.
With all of the precautions in place and participants' self-preserving impulse to descend very carefully, I'd be more concerned about twisting ankles on the hike than completing the rappels.
Who'll Love It?
Our Morning Glory Canyoneering outing is billed as "easy to moderate," and that seemed accurate to me. This outing, and most of Red River's others, are designed for ages 8 and up. My younger daughter, a small-ish 10-year-old, found the equipment a bit on the big side, but manageable. If you feel comfortable with hiking (3 miles over a couple of hours over sometimes-uneven terrain), this should be easy and fun. If anyone in your family has a significant fear of heights or small spaces, this could be a little daunting, but I'd also suggest that if they ever want to try rappelling, these are easy and fun ones.
Tips to Make the Most of Your Visit
- Red River Adventures suggests that you carry a small day pack with 1 liter of water per person, a snack, and a day pack.
- For our family, a single day pack sufficed, and we never ate any snacks because we were having too much fun exploring (though I'd bring snacks again, in case). Also, because I am a mom and I had the single daypack, I ended up carrying the kids' harnesses, helmets, and gloves once they removed them for our final hike out. So you can do as I did (it wasn't heavy), plan to have others bring daypacks, or plan ahead to resist kids' attempts to dump it all on you.
- Red River Adventures also advises you wear shoes or sandals that are comfortable for hiking and okay getting wet. They really will get wet. We had one guy on our hike who was trying to preserve his boots for his next activity, and keeping his feet dry was his primary preoccupation until he finally conceded defeat.
- Bring a camera, of course, and you can wear a larger camera if it has a strap that leaves your hands free and doesn't interfere with the harness.
- Don't wear short-shorts or those athletic skorts. Wearing the harness over clothing is more comfortable, and skorts will get all bunched up.
- Just for ease, many people wear the harness for the whole time, but you don't have to do that. My younger daughter felt awkward with the big loops around her teensy thighs, so I carried her harness in my daypack and slipped it on when it was time to rappel.
- There's a bathroom at Red River, then again at the end of the trailhead, but in between, you're out of luck. 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 the Mom Daypack always.
- Tips for the guides are customary, so keep some cash handy.
- Don't forget the sunscreen!
Red River Adventures offers rafting, rock climbing instruction, stand-up paddle board outings, 4x4 tours, horseback riding, and more, in single- and multi-day trips. During our trip, some of our fellow rappellers planned to continue the day with Adam doing some rafting on the Colorado. This Rim to River Combo is especially popular because it gives visitors a taste of two great experiences while sticking with the same guide through the whole day.
Our whole family loved going out with Red River. They agree that the rappels were the highlight, and my husband would yell, "Say hi to Ean and Adam!" every time we passed Red River for the remainder of the trip. If they'd offered us jobs, I think we might be moving there now. Sadly, we are not qualified. At all. But we'd love to get out there again soon!
Our outing was not inside Arches National Park, although the landscape is similar to Arches. Outings begin from the Red River Adventures office is located at 1140 South Main Street in Moab, Utah. If you are traveling from Arizona, keep in mind that Utah is one hour ahead of Arizona.
On the day of our visit in July 2015, tickets cost $100/adult and $85/youth. For the most up-to-date information on what's available and current pricing, click the book now link here. If you'd like more information, you can check their website or call 877-259-4046.
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!