The Colorado River and its tributaries have carved extraordinary landscapes into the Colorado Plateau’s vivid red and orange sandstone deposits that underlie southeastern Utah. Intricate mazes of canyons, delicate arches, and massive rock monoliths make this region seem primordial at times and lunar at others. It has a beauty and scenic drama that’s unique, and first-time visitors often need a while to appreciate this strange land before they’re won over by the infinite colors and variety of the sculptured rock.
Two national parks—Arches  and Canyonlands —preserve some of the most astounding of these landscapes, while numerous state parks, national monuments, and recreation areas protect other sights of great interest and beauty. At every turn, the landscape invites exploration, offering solitude, ruins of prehistoric villages, wildlife, and dramatic records of geologic history.
To best appreciate this landscape requires a brief refresher course in the unusual geology of the Colorado Plateau. About 300 million years ago, this land was at times a great Sahara-like desert and at others covered by water. Thick layers of sediment built up one on top of the other. During the last 50 million years, powerful forces within the earth slowly pushed the entire region a mile upward. The ancestral Colorado River and other streams appeared and began to carve the deep gorges seen today.
Ancient dunes, turned to stone, make up many of the sheer canyon cliffs, arches, and spires of the region. Delicate cross-bedded lines of the former dunes add grace to these features. Volcanic pressures deep in the earth also shaped the land. Massive intrusions of magma bowed up overlying rock layers before cooling and solidifying. Erosion has since uncovered four of these dome-shaped ranges in southeastern Utah—the Henrys, the La Sals, the Abajos, and Navajo Mountain.
Despite its seemingly inhospitable terrain, this part of Utah has a long human history, beginning about 5,000 years ago, when ancient hunter gatherers roamed this canyon country. Later, the Anasazi established many communities where they practiced farming and built stone dwellings along the cliffs; the extensive ruins at Hovenweep National Monument  are especially well preserved. Then, about 800 years ago, the Anasazi abandoned their villages for unknown reasons, and except for roving bands of Utes and Fremont, this arid landscape only intermittently supported human communities until the arrival of Mormon settlers in the 1850s and 1860s.
Besides the drama of the landscape, outdoor recreation is now what brings people to this corner of Utah: there are so many recreational options available here that plain old hiking almost seems passé.
Moab  is central for slickrock mountain biking, which brings people in from around the world to ride the area’s red-rock cliffs and canyons. Another “sport” drawing legions of fans to the area is “off-roading,” or exploration of the canyon backcountry on four-wheel-drive and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). The huge surge of popularity for off-roading has the BLM, which governs much of the nonpark land in the area, considering restrictions on the number of people able to drive the backcountry, as the off-road vehicles are tearing up fragile ecosystems and causing other environmental damage.