Checking In and Checking Out

Your New POV: From a Tented Camp in the Utah Desert

by Jeralyn Gerba
Spacious suite tents have a bed, fold-out couch, bathroom, and wood burning stove. Photos by Bailey Made / courtesy of Ulum.

MOAB, Utah – Spring break was fast approaching and I was behind on travel-planning, as usual. I craved a new experience with jaw-dropping landscapes but without a crush of visitors. I set my sights on Ulum, a new tented camp in a spectacular and expansive desert setting in Moab.

I made the pitch to my people: A week of glamping among sand dunes and ancient rocks, dinosaur footprints, Native American culture, and nightly s'mores.

We booked, flew from New York City to Salt Lake City and drove four-and-a-half hours to the desert.

Mountain bikers, rock climbers, whitewater paddlers, motorcyclists, and nature enthusiasts of all stripes end up in the city Moab because it's the gateway to national treasures such as Canyonlands National Park (crimson mesas, giant buttes carved out by the Colorado River ) and Arches National Park (sandstone pinnacles, gravity-defying rock arches), which has become so popular that the parks services implemented a reservation system (for the record, it's extremely well organized). Even if you've seen a gazillion photos of the iconic sandstone totems and red rocks bent into rainbow shapes, you will still be unprepared for the landscape's magnificence. 

Ulum is an upscale offshoot of Under Canvas, the hospitality company pitching tents at nearly a dozen prime locations near America's popular National Parks. I cannot underscore the beauty of the location they landed in Moab: The camp is in a rock cove on 200 acres of desert overlooking Looking Glass Arch, a natural sandstone formation and focal point in the area. Fifty canvas tents on raised platforms are outfitted with big showers, wood-burning stoves, plush beds, and foldout couches from West Elm. A modern glass building with bifold doors serves as a small restaurant and lounge area with terraced fire pits, a yoga deck, and a pair of hot and cold dipping pools.

When my family of five arrived in early April (skirting high season) my children — ages 2, 4, 7 — immediately knew what to do. After unzipping the tent flaps, the three of them started roaming around, scrambling up rocks and chasing giant tumbleweeds in the flat, open desert. I felt free and thankful to not have to a) hover over them, b) schlep gear, or c) set-up camp. Had we left the kids home, we would have spent more time napping or reading on our little deck in the sunlight (with a prickly pear cocktail in hand), but no complaints here.

Gorgeous tents with prime cozy placement: backed by high rock walls, but facing the open desert.
Tents are spacious enough for a family.
Tent by day. Tent by night. Photos by Jeralyn Gerba.
The glass-walled restaurant and lounge has an airy, indoor-outdoor feeling.
A cute seating area for resting, dining, and playing games.

At a Glance

Location: A carefully integrated spot on 200 acres of desert nestled in a cove of 100-foot cliffs in southern Utah. The focal point, Looking Glass Rock, is easy to reach and possible to climb. The town of Moab is 25 minutes by car. Driving to Arches National Park takes about 40 minutes. It's about an hour to Canyonlands National Park.

Style:Elevated service and contemporary design in a very casual, outdoorsy atmosphere. You can be slightly covered in desert dust and still be served a nice matcha latte on a good-looking couch.

Standout Detail: Big nature, baby!

Rooms: Spacious safari tents are staked on raised platforms (minimizing intrusion on the land, maximizing your comfort), each with a king bed, queen pullout couch, woven rugs, leather chairs, and soft lighting. A barn door can be pulled closed to separate the ensuite bathroom with its flushing toilet, sink, and big rainfall shower (plus parachute robes and Aesop toiletries). In the summer, an evaporative cooler keeps makes the tent a respite from the desert heat. We were there in early spring and utilized the wood-burning stove nightly and in the early mornings, which we found fun and camp-y (it does take a little work).

This Place Is Perfect For: Families, couples, and friends who love nature and only want to rough it the tiniest bit.

But Not So Perfect For: Those uncomfortable with the sound of nature or the idea of canvas walls as the only thing separating them from the elements will certainly prefer a traditional lodge.

Food + Drink: The restaurant/living room is full service, with nice ceramics, stemmed wine glasses, and silverware. Healthy, contemporary Southwest cooking looked pretty on the plate and diversified our burger-and-milkshake diet. A small coffee bar offers espresso drinks, smoothies, and to-go snacks that keep well in a hiking pack.

On Site: A large wooden terrace with a yoga deck, fire pits, and two dipping pools juts off the glass building that serves as the lobby and restaurant. It's the gathering place for nightly s'mores, live music, and activities like a soap making workshop, painting class, and group trivia. The adventure concierge helps set up itineraries and book activities. A small gift shop area provides nice sunscreen, cute hats, and other merch that will serve you well in the desert.

Feel-Good Factor: The design flows with the topography of the land and the camp uses sustainable building materials like recycled paper board walls, modified lumber, and shower basins that capture and store carbon to minimize the resort's footprint. Solar camping lamps and soft in-room lighting are part of Ulum's adherence to Dark Sky standards. Brand partnerships and collaborations have been formed around a shared ethos for sustainability and well-being.

A dipping pool on the terrace.
Not a bad view on property.

After long days exploring the national parks, it was a sweet relief to know that we could order a nice dinner (made by someone else) back at “camp,” and that I could throw my kids and myself into the warm rainfall shower in our tent while waiting for the wood-fire stove to heat up. The canvas walls made for a novel setting for listening to the rain and experiencing the sunrise from a really nice and cozy bed. Little moments like these made the stay very memorable, day after day.

Gravity-defying rocks at Arches National Park. Photo by Jeralyn Gerba

Spend a Few Days in the Desert

See Fathom's Guide to Moab

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