Rod Martinez learned about Moab from one of the best, and now, he’s sharing his knowledge of the area’s outdoor attractions with readers around the world.
After 25 years of hiking with longtime resident Jim Nelson – and 50 years or so since his first trip to the area – Martinez has published a pocket guide to 20 hikes in and around Moab.
“The Best Moab and Arches National Park Hikes” is a slender but detailed guide to some of the most notable popular trails in the West.
Notably, it’s the first book from Colorado Mountain Club Press that focuses on Utah, but given Moab’s proximity to the Centennial State, Martinez knew that there was a built-in audience for the guide. After all, Moab’s relatively mild weather and snow-free trails are already a lure for many Colorado residents – himself included.
“The neat thing about the area is that you can hike it in the wintertime,” he said.
Martinez lives in nearby Grand Junction, and he credits the man he affectionately calls “Crazy Jim” as a driving force behind his interest in the Moab area.
“He’s the one that got me interested in a lot of the different hikes over there,” Martinez said.
Some of those hikes are already known to many. Delicate Arch graces the cover of the book, and although the trip to Utah’s most iconic landmark is undeniably scenic, it isn’t necessarily the first hike that Martinez would recommend these days.
If he’s heading to Arches, at least, Martinez might head off in the opposite direction to Tower Arch, which is located at the park’s northeastern end in the Klondike Bluffs area. The arch is more than 100 feet wide and 45 feet tall, making it the fifth largest formation of its kind inside the park.
“I love it because it’s so remote,” he said. “Delicate Arch is absolutely fabulous to see, but you’ve got to get past the busloads of folks.”
Beyond Arches, the book guides readers to the sweeping vistas at Dead Horse Point State Park, the otherworldly hoodoos at Goblin Valley State Park and the narrow walls of Little Wild Horse Canyon Trail in the San Rafael Swell. Martinez’s favorite profiled hike of all leads to the “Great Gallery” of ancient rock art at Canyonlands National Park’s remote Horseshoe Canyon unit.
“It’s an amazing place,” he said.
Closer to Moab, Martinez profiles lesser-known trails through Hidden Valley, Hunter Canyon and the Portal Overlook – each of which are within a short drive beyond the city limits.
“There are so many great places beyond Arches and Canyonlands,” he said.
Speaking of Canyonlands, Martinez plans to publish a separate Colorado Mountain Club pack guide to the Needles and Island in the Sky units in September.
“You can’t do justice to either area by cramming them all into one book,” he said.
Martinez previously authored guides to areas across Colorado’s Western Slope, including hiking trails near Grand Junction, Telluride and Aspen.
For his latest project, he estimates that he exchanged at least 400 emails with field editor John Gascoyne, and that was just the beginning of the review process. He worked closely with the book’s copy editor and publisher to refine the book until everyone was satisfied with the results.
“We wanted to make sure not only that they’re accurate, but that people can follow the trails; that they’re descriptive and that it really hones in on the area,” he said.
Each trail profile breaks everything down by route descriptions, round-trip distances, estimated hiking times and elevations, and it also ranks each route by levels of difficulty, from easy to difficult-strenuous.
The book begins with a dedication to Nelson, and Nelson’s wife Darleen.
Martinez got to know the Nelsons through one of Darleen’s cousins, who worked at the Grand Junction Sears where he previously served as store manager. Thanks to that connection, Darleen Nelson said, they became fast friends.
The Nelsons first moved to the area when Jim went to work as a data analyst at the Green River Launch Complex, a long-abandoned missile-testing ground near the town of the same name.
One quiet Sunday, when the couple were looking for something to do, a waitress suggested that they drive out to a place they’d never heard of, which had the unappealing name of Dead Horse Point.
At the time, they were only planning to stay in the area for 18 months, but after their dramatic introduction to Moab, they’re still here, 51 later.
Over the years, Jim Nelson has taken their guests into the backcountry in search of hard-to-find petroglyphs, unique geological formations and areas that are teeming with bighorn sheep and other wildlife.
“That’s what I tend to do – just go off where others didn’t go and just explore a canyon,” Nelson said.
Although visitation to the area has increased significantly in recent years, Nelson said it’s still easy to find solitude at the area’s seemingly endless number of canyons and mesas.
“One neat thing I like about living here is that there are still many, many places I can go where there aren’t many other people,” Nelson said.
Martinez, who taught landscape photography classes and workshops for more than two decades, said he’s drawn to the area’s photogenic qualities.
“I like to see what I’m hiking to,” he said. “I want to do hikes where I can do something photographic that will remind me of the place.”
For optimal conditions, Martinez advises fellow hiker-photographers to hit the trails during the early morning hours. It’s not only a great time to take landscape photos; hikers who set off earlier in the day are more likely to avoid soaring temperatures, thunderstorms and crowds, and they have better odds of seeing wildlife, he said.
Martinez also encourages people to visit Moab during the quiet off-season that runs from November through January.
“Other than being a little cold, it’s a great time to go hiking,” he said.
After years of hiking local trails, Rod Martinez publishes guidebook
“We wanted to make sure not only that they’re accurate, but that people can follow the trails; that they’re descriptive and that it really hones in on the area.”
Copies of “The Best Moab and Arches National Park Hikes” are available at Back of Beyond Books, which is located at 83 N. Main St. The book is also available through distributor Mountaineers Books. For more information, or to order copies online, go to mountaineersbooks.org.