in the past few years, I’ve done a fair amount of traveling around the world, from hiking the eastern coast of tasmania to biking through the graffiti-ed streets of berlin. I treasure all of these experiences, each memorable in their own right. and yet, nothing has inspired as much awe as the almost alien red rock landscapes of southwestern america.
when I was younger, my parents took my sister and me on a road trip across arizona. we drove down part of historic route 66, marveled at the unfathomable massiveness of the grand canyon, and fell in love with the red, red rocks of sedona. having grown up in the relatively tame rolling hills of the mid-atlantic, I had never seen such deep gashes in the earth or such a scarlet landscape. the scenery seared itself in my family’s mind, imbuing all of us with a lasting fascination with the region.
north of the grand canyon lies the western state in which I’ve spent the most time: utah. it’s incredible how many landscapes exist within a 4 hour drive: the great salt flats around salt lake city give way to the mountainous pine and birch forests of the wasatch range to the east. the southeast corner of utah holds red sandstone arches, hoodoos, and desolate canyonlands. though I’ve been to utah at least ten times, this october marked my first trip to moab and the arches national park.
compared to other more famous national parks of the american west, arches national park is tiny. so tiny, you could probably hit all the highlights and popular hikes in one day if you woke up early enough and hiked fast enough. we had a good day and a half to explore the park, giving us more than ample time to stand in awe beneath many massive natural arches, many of which apparently started as puddles of water that slowly deepened and eventually hollowed out the rock.
the trails are generally very well-marked, but the park has its secrets and roads less traveled as well. though I did not have the chance to make it out to tower arch, which a friend from the area had recommended, I did manage to find the secret petroglyphs out by dark angel, which might have been the highlight of my day just because of how difficult they were to find and how close I was to giving up. (as much as I’d love to share where they are, I witnessed the vandalism at publicly known petroglyph sites and I understand and respect why this site has been kept a secret.)
though I’ve technically seen just about all the sights there are to see in arches national park, it’s a place I’d love to return to one day. in the short time we were there, we witnessed how the light could completely change the landscape,as we sat out a rainstorm beneath one of the arches, then soaked in the golden hour at a different arch later that day. I’d love to night hike beneath the stars and stargaze through an arch, or watch the sun rise and set the red rocks aflame.
beyond the jaw-dropping sights, the trip featured surprisingly delicious food. this coconut pound cake is based on the coconut bread I had at sweet cravings bakery in moab, the closest town to arches national park. I had never encountered a coconut bread before, and after a long day of hiking, nothing tasted better than their velvety, intensely coconut-y bread. this recipe took two tries to get right – I knew that since the bakery had multiple pound cakes with different flavors but similar textures, the base had to be adaptable to different ingredient combinations. the first time, I added the desiccated coconut with the butter and heavy cream and it just soaked the moisture right out of the cake! I think the second time turned out pretty great though, if I do say so myself.
places I loved
sweet cravings bakery + bistro | located on the northern edge of moab, sweet cravings won us over with their incredible baked treats (the coconut bread is a must try!) and delicious sandwiches. if you’re in moab around halloween, definitely stop by to check out their adorable monster- and ghost-themed desserts – they’re beyond adorable.
desert bistro | a fancy dining oasis in moab, desert bistro’s menu is certainly very pricey, but every menu item was enticing and many featured unique southwestern flair. the smoked tofu gyozas with chipotle-maple sauce were the sleeper hit; the lamb osso bucco in ancho-tomato broth was one of the best osso buccos I’ve had.
woody’s tavern | a moab dive bar featuring pool tables and cheap beers. head for the concession window in the back, where you can find incredibly smoky barbecued brisket, pulled pork, sausages, and more.
moab brewery | this place was packed – and with good reason! we tried their pale ale and belgian tripel and both were excellent, especially the tripel, which had a lovely sweetness.
la pasadita | located in a former shell gas station, la pasadita was our best discovery on our drive down from salt lake city to moab. the cabeza (cow head) tacos are meltingly tender and flavorful, and the al pastor and barbacoa tacos are just as delicious. the vampiro tacos (basically a mini quesadilla – meat and melted cheese sandwiched between two fried soft taco shells) are decadent and worth trying as well.
tangerine eatery | another great find on our drive down from salt lake city, tangerine eatery is a modern, clean diner with amazing sandwiches. the cubano was the best we’ve ever had, and the soups we tried were wonderful as well. shout-out to the friendly staff member who made us feel incredibly welcome.
makes one 9•5-in loaf
180g (1 1/2 cups) cake flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
156g (1/2 cup + 3 tbsp) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
60g (1/4 cup) heavy cream, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
250g(1 1/4 cups) granulated sugar
80g (2 3/4 oz) desiccated coconut, unsweetened
60g (1/3 cup) bittersweet (60%) chocolate, chopped
25g (2 tbsp) granulated sugar
25g (1 tbsp + 1/2 tsp) corn syrup (not high-fructose)
3 tbsp water
1 tsp vanilla extract
28g (2 tbsp) unsalted butter, room temperature, cubed
joanne chang. flour: spectacular recipes from boston’s flour bakery + cafe. san francisco: chronicle books, 2010.
yotam ottolenghi and helen goh. sweet. london: ebury press, 2017.
2 in a medium bowl, sift together cake flour, baking powder, and salt. set aside.
3 in a large bowl, whisk together butter, heavy cream, and vanilla extract until the mixture has the consistency of a thick liquid.
4 using a stand mixture fitted with the whisk attachment, beat together eggs and granulated sugar until light, fluffy, and lemon colored, 4-5 minutes (7-9 minutes with electric beater).
5 using a rubber spatula, gently fold the flour mixture into the egg mixture until just combined. gently fold 1/4 of the egg-flour mixture into the butter-heavy cream mixture, then fold in the remaining egg-flour mixture and desiccated coconut just until combined. pour batter into prepared pan.
6 bake until top of cake is golden brown and springs back when pressed in the middle, 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes. let cool in pan for at least 30 minutes.
glaze|1 after cake has cooled, start making glaze: place chocolate in a medium bowl and set aside. add sugar and corn syrup to a small saucepan over medium-low heat. stir to combine, then when the sugar has melted, increase heat the medium and bring to a boil. continue to boil, stirring gently from time to time, until color is pale amber (~7 minutes).
2 remove from heat and carefully pour in water. (if mixture seizes, return pan to heat and stir gently and continuously until it returns to boil and sugar has melted again.) stir in vanilla extract.
3 remove from heat and wait for 1 minute before pouring water-caramel over chocolate. allow to stand for 3 minutes, then whisk to combine. add butter, a few cubes at a time, whisking after each addition. continue until all butter has been added, whisking until mixture has consistency of honey.
4 spread glaze over top of cake, letting a little run down the sides. cake can be stored in an airtight container for up to 5 days.