Stars over Sand Dune Arch
Photo by Jack Burke
It’s midnight in Arches National Park. Open twenty-four hours, the red rock arches, towers, and spindles are a lot less crowded in the dark than they were at eight o’clock this morning when we joined other tourists in short hikes beneath, around, and within iconic formations called Windows, Park Avenue, and Skyline Arch.
Now we’re standing in soft, ankle deep sand beneath the dark and sinuous curves of Sandstone Arch. Above the arch is a sky full of stars, speckled with the last of the streaking Perseids. Directly next to me, my partner and photographer is doing mysterious lighting adjustments to create the ultimate portrait of us illuminated beneath the stars, beneath the arch, somehow magically visible, carved into radiance out of the darkness.
We pose, smile, freeze, hold it until the flash goes off. Then darkness and silence returns. I’d worried about snakes or scorpions, almost missed this adventure of quiet. I almost missed looking up at the Milky Way, the sliver of a moon, the North Star burning bright. After an hour or so, we’re done, and driving back to our tent.
Not an ordinary tent set up around a fire ring, but our deluxe safari tent, a part of Moab Under Canvas, the ultimate Utah glamping experience.
What’s glamping? Well, think of it as a superior camping experience. Tents are already set up for you, some have their own en-suite bathrooms – ours did – and those that do not, have access to privately sectioned luxury bathhouses. Located on 40 acres just 7 miles from Arches National Park and practically across the road from the entrance to Canyonlands National Park’s Island in the Sky section, the site consists of canvas tents and small canvas tipis. Some tents sit on raised wooden platforms and have porches. We were lucky enough to have one of these, which commanded a sweeping view across a scrubby desert plain to picturesque red rock cliffs. Tents with porches and bathrooms are the deluxe variety, with some even including a sitting area with a sofa bed.
Ours had a king bed, a wood-burning stove that we didn’t use in August, and that coveted in-tent bathroom equipped with a sink, flush toilet, and a shower operated with a pull chain. Heated by propane, we had plenty of hot water to wash off the midnight red rock dust.
We also had that porch, and two deck chairs, the perfect excuse to bundle up – even though it was August, on this night the temperature dropped to a cool fifty-nine degrees – and continue to stargaze.
The deluxe tents are positioned along a gravel road away from the tighter cluster of tipis, safari tents, and private group bathhouses. Closer to the center of camp, the staff – who are available 24-hours, as is access to the Moab Under Canvas office for hot beverages, cold water, and electronic device charging – sets up a bonfire each night.
Moab Under Canvas encampment – Photos by Jack Burke
Tipis have cots, plush sleeping bags, tables and chairs, and are just about as cost effective as pitching your own tent. Safari tents are large and comfortable, the Deluxe tent cabins like ours have the same features as the safari – bed, coat rack, dresser, rug, table and chairs, plus the bathroom and porch. 20 plus tents and 14 tipis make up the encampment. Families or groups can have a tipi moved next to any type of tent, adding extra sleeping room and privacy.
But I wasn’t thinking of tipis. I was obsessed with our porch. It was the perfect spot to eat a bagel with cream cheese and sprouts, ordered from a local café and delivered to the site’s office for breakfast. It was a good bagel, but it went better with distant cliffs reddening in early morning light. Between hikes, the porch was the place to kick back and relax with a beer. And at night, that night, to keep watching the sky spiral on and on, stars sprinkled like sugar across a black velvet cloth.
Moab Under Canvas isn’t the only glamping site owned by Sarah and Jake Dusek. Yellowstone and Glacier are two other outposts, both of which I’m hoping to see. Moab was the last to open in 2014. The Dusek’s goal was to provide an authentic, close-to-the-land experience, without the headaches of setting up a tent, finding a chemical toilet in the dark, or forgoing showers and organic shampoo. They succeeded in all these things, and in something more: establishing a feast of a vacation spot with a side of adventure and a topping of starlight. Midnight wanderings in nearby national parks, optional.
Moab Under Canvas
13784 US-191, Moab, UT 84532
- Genie Davis, Photos by Jack Burke (Copyright Jack Burke)