Getting Lost – Dead Horse Point, Moab, Utah

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Last Thanksgiving, we went to Moab, Utah to do some exploring. Most of our time was spent in the Arches National Park, but we did spend an afternoon at the Dead Horse Point State Park. Sean mountain biked and I took a hike around what I thought was a pretty straightforward, 7 mile trail. It was straightforward, until it wasn’t – I got lost…..I ended up at the car over an hour and half later then planned. UGH.

It’s a very strange feeling when wandering aimlessly on a hike, alone, in what feels like the middle of no-where in the high desert, at dusk, with a rapidly depleting phone battery, and without a good map. Your heart beats wildly and your breathing speeds up – not quite to the point of a panic attack, but close enough. It sounds a little dramatic – I am working very hard to eliminate this in my life – but it was truly a little unsettling.

About the park: Dead Horse Point is 32 miles from Moab – on the main road to the Canyonlands National Park. It’s known for mountain biking trails with plenty of slick rock and single track and, of course, hiking. It’s GORGEOUS and is known for the image below. In fact, it is one of the most photographed vistas in the world:

Dead Horse Point

The primary hiking loop is divided between the East and West rims. The East rim was super easy to follow – if you leave from the visitor center, you end up fairly quickly at Dead Horse Point. From there, you wind around the West rim and back to the visitor center. It was the pesky West rim that threw me off course!

The terrain is pretty much flat all the way around with both rims providing breathtaking scenery. Even with it’s nearly negligible elevation gains, good shoes are needed as there are rocks, cactus and dead trees everywhere – so flip flops and high heeled shoes are NOT recommended (yep, I have seen it all).

A sample of the dead trees

You can also take dogs with you as long as they are on a leash. We forgot Yogi’s leash – in hindsight that was lucky – dragging him around while lost would have made the experience 10 times worse! I surely would have run out of water for the both of us – not a lot of water sources readily accessible in the high desert.

How did I get lost on this “cake walk” of a hike? Well, I made the mistake of going off trail to get better views of the canyons – they are soooo incredible – similar to their larger cousin – the Grand Canyon in Arizona. By doing this, I unknowingly passed by the important signs indicating location. So, going off trail is never recommended under any circumstances!!

Wandering off Trail to get closer to THIS

Between the need to be adventuresome, the “not drawn to scale” map, and the fact the trail is hard to follow given the nature of the trail marking in the desert, I had no idea how far off the path I actually was. The trails are generally marked off with rocks but when the rocks unexpectedly stop, you have to really pay attention to figure out where to go next.

A disappearing trail
One of many trail markers, not always as obvious as this one

All I can say is if it hadn’t been for the AWESOME couple from Chicago, I could have been wandering around for some additional unplanned hours and ended up back to the visitor center in the dark. I happened to see them at a critical point of the hike. They were able to put me back on track – just as my phone was at 1% battery life – thankfully I was able to send Sean a text letting him know I was ok. Being a guy, he was slightly happy – it meant he could mountain bike for another hour.

The clear path back to the Visitor Center

In spite of the getting lost experience, the hike was gorgeous. It could have turned out much worse, but it didn’t, so I am focusing on the good bits. Going forward, I will always have an extra battery pack for the phone and a headlamp to handle the unexpected – thankfully, I had enough water and snacks and the right clothing.

“Of all the paths you take in life,

make sure a few of them are dirt.”

– John Muir

…..i choose this…..



  1. I can only imagine how beautiful the Dead Horse Point looks during the sunset and sunrise hours with the sun eliminating beautiful landscape. I’m glad everything worked out well at the end, getting lost while being all alone and I’m sure it’s something you can’t really prepare for! I would definitely freak out. Thanks for sharing, Pam, I very much enjoyed all the photos! Aiva

    Liked by 2 people

    1. OMG…you are right. If you go to the Dead Horse State Park website, the images are stunning. It was unfortunately overcast the whole time we were there, but the old iphone managed to capture some goodies! I don’t tend to get lost in nature, but I sure did that day – it was a weird feeling no doubt. Have a great day Aiva!

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  2. My wife and I got “lost” at Dead Horse SP once. Someone marked an alternative trail that went nowhere (fortunately it deadended fairly quickly) but we couldn’t figure out where we veered off and which was the right way to go. We were standing there scratching our heads when another hiker came along who knew the trail. I suppose *lost* impliess that you don’t know where you are. We always could have turned around and hiked back to the car, but we were way more than halfway, and of course, we wanted to hike the whole loop. There’s a lot of trust associated with desert hiking. Any idiot can move a cairn marker and send you off into the unknown. Regardless, I get lost everywhere I hike.

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    1. Glad to hear I’m not the only one!! I kept thinking I would not lose site of the road or the visitor center – but I did – got completely turned around – I ended up on a point that wasn’t super clear on the map – all I could see was canyon all the way around. I generally don’t get lost hiking, but I think I made some poor assumptions. I’m glad you all love Utah as well – I think it’s one of the best states for exploring.

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    1. Thanks lady! I did some dumb things – woulda served me right – but thankful I made it out in time. There were literally only 2 other people on the trail and they were the folks from Chicago – nobody else. Super lucky. Pretty sure I have an angel looking over my shoulder. :-).

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    1. It is soo beautiful there – I was totally surprised when we got there – when you drive up, you have no clue what’s inside the park. The story behind the name is sad – I decided not to include that in the post – being an animal lover and all ;-).

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  3. A magnificent place – seen through your lens. Those dead trees are glorious in structure. Glad you ended up with the Chicago couple who lead you right! I hate getting lost – but it hasn’t happened more than once.

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    1. Thanks Ann Christine! For some reason, I love dead trees – the colors, textures,, everything about them. Thank god for Chicago! They were really nice – seemingly popped out of no-where. I hope this is the last time. I can promise I will be better prepared if it happens again. 🙂

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  4. Stunning scenery but totally understandable that feeling of mild panic when you realise that you’re off track. We got lost once on a trail in a remote central Australian park, because an arrow was a bit obscure in exactly which way it was pointing. When we started feeling like mountain goats we realised we were probably wrong but back tracking was very hard too. You’re never so relieved than when you get back to the right path.

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    1. Thanks for the empathy!! Agreed – that feeling of relief almost brings ya to tears!! Um – I don’t think I’d want to be lost in remote Australia with all of those poisonous critters – glad you found your way out.

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  5. Wow, thank you for the warning! I have my trip almost all planned for a 6 park visit in a few months! I hope I get some good photos. And… I hope I don’t get lost! I tend to wander. My husband will need to keep track of me! HA! Love your photos!! …and your story 😊

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I will defiantly write up some posts about our trip, and photos 🙂 It’s not till May, and I still have some hotels to book, but I have key places booked. I’ve snooped around blog land and found some info and tips. I’m a planner 🙂

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  6. Sounds very unsettling and scary and real. Especially being solo, low on battery, low on water. Yikes! Glad you made it back safely. I’ve heard a lot about Utah. Wish we had the time to spend and explore there – when ever we are in the US our time is spent with family from LA to Portland to Chicago. Jampacked. But on a stopover in Utah I saw the gorgeous scenery from the plane and was amazed. Beautiful photos


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  7. Wow so beautiful, I can understand going off track, it can be real scary when that happens, especially without means of contact. Love the photos, amazing landscape.

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  8. First of all, those shots of the sky as it begins to turn dark are stunning! Second, would you believe that I had NO idea that this was the place for that horseshoe view? I am an idiot! We drove right past this on our way from Moab to Canyonlands. In fairness, we had a mini-crisis of our own; we were not sure we had enough gas to even get back to the highway, so we bagged Dead Horse … what a mistake! Finally, I swear I am going to start a new company that helps national parks and other tourist spots with signage and mapmaking. I am almost always appalled at how bad these things are!

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  9. My goodness, this place is gorgeous!! I’m so glad you made it back safely. Good advice about not wandering off the trail. You seem to be quite experienced and if you can get lost, just imagine what could happen to someone who is not!

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  10. Thankful that you made it back safely in order to tell the tale, Pam! You’re right about every lesson learned here: never wander too far from trail (even for such gorgeous views!!!) – or: mark it down! -, always have spare phone battery and handlamp, snacks and warm clothing.
    But OH MY, these views! they are to die for – pun intended! 😉 Your eye and the new camera are doing wonders!
    I’m hooked!


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    1. I know right? Now you know why i ventured off track…I ASSumed I could easily stay on trail…boy that was not a good assumption. LOL. We did get lost for a bit on Mont Blanc, but at least we knew we were on the path to someplace – not further into the middle of no-where! PS. these were taken with my iphone!

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  11. Those views are stunning…gorgeous…breathtaking…you name it! I’m pretty sure getting lost would have taken away my breath even more! I think I would have been a little panicked. I’m so glad that you made it through safely, Pam!


  12. Wow! That was quite the adventure. I’m glad you made it back safely – and aware of the consequences and better prepared for next time.

    I totally get the feeling of “panic”. Mark and I have been in the same situation a couple of years ago in North Cascades NP, where we got lost and/or totally miscalculated the distance of the trail, based on a poor map. We didn’t have enough water with us and we didn’t see another soul out there, but believed we were still on the right track. It was extremely nerve-wrecking. We finished the expected one-way trail two hour later than expected and then had to hitch a ride back to camp in the dusk…Not one of our better moments!

    I’d love to check out this hike whenever we are in the Moab area again.

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  13. I totally get how unsettling it is to get lost on a hike. It has happened to me on more than one occasion. You were still able to take some truly awesome photos. I especially like the one with the trail marker in the foreground and the stunning colours of the rocks and sky.

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  14. Just stumbled across your blog, and absolutely love it (new follower here!) Glad you made it out okay 🙂 These photos are stunning, and I’m for sure adding Utah to my bucket list of US states to visit next.

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  15. I guess the moral of the story is if you are going off trail, have a companion. It all ended well though and you had a fabulous story to tell and astounding photos to share.

    Last year my daughter and husband and three kids were hiking in New Mexico and the trails were not marked well. They got off trail not on purpose and the kids got nervous. My son-in-law, a Marine reservist, who packs well and always carries extra water, calmed everyone saying “look, we can see our truck down at the bottom of the mountain, so we are not lost.” 😄. Suffice to say, they made it back.

    Be sure to carry a compass and a whistle. Also, even if you have extra battery for your cell phone, they don’t work everywhere. But of course always good to carry so you do have something when you get back to a coverage area.

    Moab and the arches are on my list ever since I drove through there a few moons ago. We were only able to make a quick stop in Moab but I said, I have to come back! The right time will come but I’m such a sissy and won’t do challenging hikes by myself. So I applaud you for your bravery and tenacity. I know there were a few nervous moments there and I don’t blame you for being a whee bit panicked, but it ended up okay, and I think a few valuable hiking lessons were learned!

    Beautiful photos!

    Susan Grace

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    1. You will LOVE it when you go! Getting lost is not the most fun thing ever that is for sure. I do hike a lot solo, but I agree, not sure I want to be hiking in the desert alone again. I MAY do this trail again solo, only because now I now the error of my ways. Good point about the whistle – most backpacks now have them integrated into the pack – which is nice. There is actually compass on the phone – I am embarrassed to say, I have never learned to use one. I’ll put it on my list of things to accomplish this year. Have a great weekend Susan Grace!!

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      1. I hike in the Coachella valley (never alone) and have heard too many horror stories about people dying from heat stroke, not carrying enough water or being unfortunately naive. At least your husband knew where you were going, right? I’m so glad everything worked out and I really appreciate you telling your story because it will help others, too , to think twice and be wise.

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  16. What beautiful photos! I love southern Utah. I’ve been to a lot of places out there but not to the state parks. I have to remedy that because there are some gorgeous ones, including Dead Horse Point.

    It’s amazing what footwear people will wear on a hike, isn’t it?

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  17. Pam, I don’t see a “contact” button on your blog, so I’m reaching out to you here. I feel like I’m going crazy. I couple of weeks ago I could swear that you and I (and several others) were nominated by Our Crossings for a Blogger Recognition Award. I put off doing anything about it while I put out some SE Asia posts, but this morning I wanted to start composing the post and I cannot find it anywhere! Not on the Our Crossings site, not via any search buttons, and not even in my dashboard list of conversations, though I certainly commented back to her and thanked her when I saw my name on the list. Either it’s vanished into thin air, or I’m really losing it. I’m only in my 40s, so I hope it’s not the latter. Maybe I dreamed it? Any help you can give would be most appreciated. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good news – You didn’t dream it! She did and I went back and looked as well so I could respond to it!! I could not find it either. It could be she doesn’t like keeping those posts very long on her site. It was sooo sweet of her to do that. I need to figure out how to set up a contact.

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  18. In the early 80’s I spent 3 weeks backpacking in Canyonlands with a National Outdoor Leadership group. That was one of the most unique backcountry experience I ever had wlaking by Anastazi ruins, gorgeeous scenery and sleeping under stone amphitheaters. The only thing I dreaded was kangaroo mice hopping over me at night. I’ve always wanted to go back. This time I will put Dead Horse Point on my list- and make a pint not to get lost! thanks for the post!

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