I had just driven seven hours from Las Vegas and figured I'd left its bright lights behind. But as night descended on Dead Horse Point, deep in the Utah desert, it seemed as if those lights had followed me. Green sparks showered overhead, as a fireball meteorite illuminated the night sky and the shrubby mesa surrounding me. I'd come to Dead Horse Point State Park to mountain bike and hike. I also was seeking silence. I arrived in late January, and it was just before dusk when I located my yurt — one of three recently built a few hundred yards from a 2,000-foot drop-off overlooking a gooseneck in the Colorado River canyon. I was just a few miles from Canyonlands National Park and gawking at the same striated sandstone panorama. But not a soul was in sight. The only thing I could hear was my own breath.
In his 1968 classic, Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey called the vistas near here "a vastness opening like a window onto eternity." I soaked up the star-drenched sky until the desert cold pushed me inside. Abbey, an ascetic park ranger, surely would have laughed at the canvas structure's luxury. Outside, it has a wraparound deck and gas grill; inside, there's comfortable space for six, as well as electric lights and even a gas fireplace. When I awoke the next morning, no part of me wished I had spent the night on hard ground.
Dead Horse Point is 32 miles from the mountain-biking hub of Moab, where I'd rented a bike the day before. I was eager to explore the park's 17 miles of trails, which turned out to be nothing like the technical roller-coaster rides near town. Instead, the looping singletrack here gently traverses slickrock, sandy washes, and fields filled with ephedra and sagebrush. But they're no less thrilling — if only for the fact that there's a million-dollar panorama around every turn and no people: I rode an entire day eyed only by ravens.
Legs cashed, I drove down to a Moab roadhouse and had a burger and a cold beer before returning to the silence and splendor of my yurt. As I plugged my phone into one of the electrical outlets, it occurred to me that this wasn't quite the desert solitaire imagined by Ed Abbey — but it was solitary enough for me.
Where to stay: Yurts are $88 a night or $617 a week. There are no showers; a shared restroom is a short walk away. Standard tent campsites are also available, for $28 a night, though they're less secluded than the yurts.
When to go: The park is open year-round, but it's best to go in spring and fall, when temperatures are mildest. Visitor numbers peak in June and are at their lowest during December and January.
Outfitters: Moab's Poison Spider Bicycles rents bikes and racks and offers trail maps. A full-suspension Trek 29er goes for $50 a day.