corona and bowtie arches

Great arches, nice hike and no entrance fee.

 

As the great tourist caravan heads into Arches National Park to view more arches in a day than the mind can take, it’s well worth taking a sidetrip and drive along the scenic banks of the Colorado on UT279 to the signed Corona Arch trailhead parking lot. Sure, this one requires a little extra effort than some in the main park but it’s an interesting trail across a slickrock landscape.

 

This is a mildly strenuous half day, 3 mile roundtrip to two of the best, and often most overlooked, arches in the area and you won’t be disappointed.

 

The trail starts below a railway embankment, crosses the tracks and heads uphill all the way. Conveniently, steel cables, handrails and ladders help you to cope with the more tricky sections. If you’re hiking with children be warned that are some steep drop offs. There’s little shade so prepare appropriately and perhaps schedule this hike for early in the morning or early evening. Once you’re at the top the terrain levels out and both arches come into view. You’ll walk beneath Bowtie (and a smaller arch, Goldbar) before you come to the impressive 140x105ft Corona arch. This is so large that a few decades ago someone flew a small plane through it.

 

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negro bill canyon

A wonderful half day hike alongside a rare perennial stream in a beautiful canyon to a huge natural bridge.

 

It’s named after William Granstaff, a black prospector and rancher who grazed his cattle here back in the 19th century.

 

I’ve hiked this trail many times and rarely seen more than half a dozen people on any day. (Some guide books will tell you it’s popular with locals but you wouldn’t know it – maybe I’ve avoided weekends.) This is a box canyon and Morning Glory bridge is at the very end of the second side canyon on the right. It has a span of 243ft, making it the 6th longest natural rock span in the US.

 

From the signed trailhead on UT128, the trail is well marked and constructed in some places. There are plenty of shady spots to rest up and a few shallow stream crossings. The trail undulates but gradually reaches a higher elevation. Look out for small crawfish and water snakes in the stream, and beware poison ivy under the bridge. I once saw a black widow spider sunning itself on the canyon wall.

 

A trail marker points the way to the bridge near the end of the trail. Some people miss the bridge as it sits close to the canyon wall and blends in. beneath it you’ll usually find a small pool, fed by an underground spring. Perfect for cooling off your hot feet.

 

Even if you don’t have an hour or so, it’s just nice to spend some time here in this oasis in the desert.

 

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fisher towers

A half day hike around huge sandstone monoliths with extensive views over the Colorado River valley.

 

The chances are you’ve seen Fisher Towers on TV (though you may not have known it) as they have featured in numerous commercials and movies. The towers are popular not just with hikers but also rock climbers due to their challenging, near vertical faces. The tallest, Titan, is 900 feet high and some climbs take days.

 

The larger than it needs to be parking area is reached from a good 2WD dirt road off UT128, 21 miles from its junction with Highway191 outside Moab. 128 is a very scenic road that closely follows the Colorado river much of the way, and there are a few other hiking opportunities along its route, such as Professor Creek.

 

The trail is constructed, well marked and is generally safe for well-supervised children. It’s a 4-5 mile roundtrip through the towers area up onto a ridge with 360 degree views. If you just want to get to the Titan tower then that’s about a 3 miles roundtrip. The trail heads along a ridge and drops into a deep ravine at the base of the towers, views changing at every turn,  before climbing up to the base of Titan. 20-30 minutes further and the trail reaches a mushroom rock on the ridge with panoramic views over the Colorado River, Castle Valley and more. This is where the trail ends. There are a few steps and ladders to negotiate but it’s all relatively easy. There’s little shade at midday.

 

If you don’t want to run with the pack in the nearby national parks, this is a spectacular option. Photographers, in particular, will find plenty to keep them occupied, as besides the towers there are lots other surreal rock formations. Visit them while they’re still here. The  wonderful ‘Cobra’ hoodoo collapsed in 2014.

 

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mill creek canyon – north fork

Swimming holes, rock art and shady cottonwoods, all within a few miles of downtown Moab.

 

After a hot and dusty hike in Arches or Canyonlands, there’s no better place to cool off than Mill Creek Canyon. It’s a big favourite with the local kids and it’s easy to see why.

 

The trailhead is southeast of downtown. Make your way to Mill Creek Drive and turn east on Powerhouse Lane and after about 1/2 mile you’ll arrive at the large parking area. The first 10 minutes on the trail is unspectacular until you reach the dam on your left with the creek. This is the first swimming opportunity and you can scramble down or, as many kids do, jump off. That looks dangerous to me! Carry on. It gets better after you enter the canyon, though as the trail constricts you need to watch out for Poison Oak. There’s plenty here but the path is always wide enough for you to avoid it. Mill Creek is a shallow perennial stream and you’ll need to cross it a couple of times to get to the next swimming hole, though you can just hike up the stream. If you go that way you may come across a large boulder with some rock art.

 

It’s not long from the first dam before you need to bear left into the North Fork and before long you’re at a 20 foot high waterfall tumbling into a deep swimming hole. To get around this obstacle you’ll need to scramble up around the left hand side of it. At the top there’s also a shallow pool by a cottonwood stand where you can cool off your feet. Walk on for another 20 minutes or so, leaving the stream for a while, and you’ll arrive at the best swimming opportunity in the canyon, where there are very rarely any other visitors. Here with dense cottonwood shade on one side and high cliff walls on the other, is a 30 yard long pool, shallow at one end, deep at the other. You can swim to a shallow waterfall at the far end, scramble up its right hand side and explore around the next bend in the stream.  Here you’ll find another small fall in the guise of a shute which you can slide down. Kids love this part.

 

The water is cool enough in summer to refresh you and warm enough to stay in for some serious fun. It’s also a beautiful, restful spot – perfect for kicking back, closing your eyes and listening to the sound of the water in the creek. And it’s difficult to believe that you’re only a few miles from downtown.

 

On the way back to your car from the final swimming hole, bear left towards the stream (or walk the stream) and look out for petroglyphs on the canyon walls. They’re some of the better ones you’ll see.

 

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hidden valley and the moab rim

Hundreds of petroglyphs, stunning sandstone fins and solitude make this one of the great hikes in the Moab area.

 

If you’ve driven through Moab you’ll have noticed the imposing Moab Rim on the west side of the highway and perhaps wondered what was up on top. This trail takes you there in the shortest possible time. Despite the trailhead being only a couple of miles south of downtown, it’s surprisingly free of people. In fact, if you do meet someone on the trail, the chances are they’re locals. What I’m about to describe is actually two hikes. The first section will take you to a pass at the top of Hidden Valley to view the petroglyphs and the fins of the behind-The-Rocks wilderness area. The second section takes you down to the Moab Rim jeep trail and down to the Colorado River on the west side of Moab. The Hidden Valley section is 2-3 miles one way, depending on how much you explore, and the Moab Rim section is 3.5 miles from the Hidden Valley Pass to the river. If you’re hiking the entire route, and that’s recommended, you’ll need a second car. However, if you just have around 3 hours to spare just hike the Hidden Valley trail and return the same way. I’ve hiked to the rock art in under an hour but you’ll need some time to look around. Ideally this is a hike for early in the morning, or late afternoon when much of the trail up the Moab Rim is in the shade.

 

To access the trailhead, take US191 3 miles south of town and turn onto Angel Rock Road (watch out for the street sign beside the highway). Drive a couple of blocks and turn right onto Rimrock Road and drive to the large parking area at the end. If you’re doing the one way hike, leave one car on Kane Creek Boulevard (accessed from the center of town) in the Moab Rim parking area, 2.6 miles east of US 191.

 

At first glance the rock face doesn’t look too promising – a jumble of boulders with little sign of a trail – but head up the obvious path to the base of the cliff and onto the constructed, but very rough, trail. You’ll climb 600 feet in just over ½ mile on tight switchbacks but you’ll want to stop periodically to enjoy the views over Spanish Valley and the La Sal mountains on the way. (If you think this part of the hike is tough, bear in mind I once saw a group of local fire fighters hike up here at speed with bricks in their rucksacks, and then run down!) After a short, intimate section through rocks and pinions and junipers Hidden Valley opens up before, bordered on the left hand side by a huge sandstone escarpment. The trail here is flat and gradually ascends through grasslands with many wildflowers towards a low divide.

 

Up here, I’ve startled deer, coyote and quails – or maybe it was the other way around. The trail continues through the second part of Hidden Valley towards a higher pass at the top of which are more high Wingate sandstone cliffs. At the top of the pass, to the left, are the fins of Behind-The-Rocks, inviting exploration on another day, and, in front of you, Island-in-the-Sky and Poison Spider Mesa, and you’ll see the jeep trail far below which is the second part of the hike.

 

Now look for a side trail leading up to the base of the cliffs to your right. The rock art is low on the wall and there are many glyphs as you walk down for a few hundred yards: deer, anthromorphs, bighorn sheep, elk, kokopellis, hunting scenes and many graphic symbols. If you have time, continue walking down beside the cliff face until you round a corner and into a small canyon. Then ascend to the opposite wall where you’ll find yet more rock art near a notch in the wall.

 

When you finished, locate the jeep trail and continue in a northwesterly direction. This is a very hot section of the hike as you are totally exposed to the sun. After a mile or so the jeep trail bears to the right and at one point hugs the Moab Rim with more scenic views over the town and Arches National Park. It then turns back on itself as you begin to approach the river. The views on this section are stunning as the Colorado comes into view. The gradient is very steep as you walk on part sand, part slickrock benches, and it’s difficult to believe that you can drive any vehicle up here.

 

I’ve lost count of the number of photos and video footage I have for this hike, and still I return – sometimes I even hike up to the rock art before breakfast. A great way to start the day.

 

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pritchett canyon

This is a popular but extreme 4WD trail though on weekdays it’s usually empty. The gentle uphill trail is very scenic and passes some obstacles that you wouldn’t believe a vehicle could negotiate. The rail is about 5 miles oneway but a goal could be the impressive Window Arch 3 miles from the trailhead. Fee payment.

 

 

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hunter canyon

A very quiet, pretty and, in places, verdant canyon full of wildlife and just a few miles from the hurly burly of downtown Moab. The trailhead is close to Prtichett Canyon and it's possible to do a loop hike through both canyons though I've not hiked that.

 

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slickrock bike trail (hike)

Situated on the edge of Moab, this is a scenic hike entirely over undulating slickrock. Just follow the white line that guides the crazy mountain bikers, or feestyle it. There are good views over the adjacent Negro Bill Canyon. 

 

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flat pass trail

This is a mountain bike trail over an old jeep road which descends to a perennial and shallow stream which you’ll need to cross a few times. There’s plenty of shade and this hike is recommended if you just want to stretch your legs for an hour or two before dinner.

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culvert canyon

Admittedly, this hike doesn’t start off very scenic as you walk through a big culvert under the railroad tracks but it gets better quickly as you leave civilisation behind and scramble around the rocks past deep pools and shady caves. If you have the energy you can hike all the way to the huge Jeep Arch.

 

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lower courthouse wash rock art

Just north of the Colorado bridge on the edge of Moab and short walk from your car is a large panel of rock art well worth stopping for. Many of the pictographs were severely vandalised a few years ago but have been cleverly restored.

 

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gemini bridges

If you have a good 4WD vehicle you can drive all the way to the Bridges. Otherwise park up where you can and hike the rest of the way to these 2 narrow bridges over a deep canyon. Walking across can be unnerving for some.

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professor creek

A flat hike off UT128, you’ll certainly get your feet wet in the red dirt-coloured creek as you hike up towards a short stretch of narrows. It’s very scenic here and quiet too. Take some white T shirts and soak them in the creek to make your own red dirt shirts!

 

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anticline overlook

A half day trip from Moab, the Anticline Overlook gives you a wonderful panorama of Canyonlands. It’s sited on a narrow promontory and from there you may see the Colorado River, Kane Canyon, Dead Horse Point, Hurrah Pass. and the La Sal Mountains. Great value from a single spot, and the access road is good. Quiet too.

 

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dead horse point state park

Dead Horse Point is the place you come to just prior to entering Canyonlands Island-In-The-Sky district. You can just check out the breathtaking views 2000 feet over the Colorado river from the parking lot or take the c6 mile rim trail that allows you to enjoy many other vistas too. Away from the parking lot the trail is quiet.

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Kane Creek petroglyphs

Just a few miles from central Moab are 3 rock art panels from Barrier Canyon style anthromorphs to the famous Birthing Scene petroglyph. Highly recommended and because they’re all beside the road you can see them all in an hour or so.

 

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tukunikivatz arch

High up on the Moab Rim is a small but unusual-shaped arch through which frames a perfect view of Mt Tukunikivatz and other La Sal peaks. The hike follows a 4WD road (not recommended for stock SUVs) and then climbs steeply up a cliff to the top of the rim.

 

 

 

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lower courthouse wash

A pleasant 6-mile hike that starts in Arches NP and ends on UT191 just north of Moab. It often has water in it so your feet may get wet in the stream bed. A good summer hike as there are plenty of cottonwoods for shade. You’ll need a second car unless you want to return the way you came.

 

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looking glass rock

Not far from UT191 south of Moab is this big arch with some fine views. You may have seen it in TV commercials. Well worth a visit if you’re in the area, particularly if you’re also visiting Anticline Overlook.

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Sego Canyon

Just off I-70 and a few miles north of Thompson are several panels of Fremont & barrier canyon style rock art. They’re some of the best around so well woth a stop. Just north of the panels is the well-preserved mining ghost town of Sego. Note: Thompson featured in the 90s movie Thelma and Louise.

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mill canyon dinosaur trail

Here you can wander freely among the tracks and half-buried fossils from the 150 million year old Jurassic period. There’s an official trail with numbered stops. Nearby are the remains of the Halfway Stage Station – the ‘lunch stop’ for travellers between Moab and Thompson. A great way to spend a few hours...and it’s all free.

 

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poison spider trail

One of Moab’s premier mountain bike and jeep trails, this offers awesome views over Moab for the hiker. It may be popular but it’s not always busy. A mix of extreme jeep trail and narrow track, it winds across slickrock, past high sandstone cliffs and follows the rim high above the Colorado.

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hurrah pass

Starting in Moab, this is very scenic road follows Kane Creek before turning to dirt and climbing and twisting to the top of the pass. The views just get better and better and from the top you have far-reaching views of the Colorado river and the Potash evaporation ponds. Don’t forget to visit the rock art on Kane Creek Road along the way.

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moqui canyon

A short, brushy and little-known canyon just outside Moab on UT279, not far from the well-known roadside rock art. At the head of the canyon is an old cattle trail that takes you up onto the mesa above the river where you’ll find caves and some rock art.

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amasa back trail

This trail is directly opposite Poison Spider on the other side of the river and is popular with both bikers and jeepers. You follow the old road – or opt for the new bike trail – with lots of big views in every direction. Near the start are a few panels of rock art some high on a cliff above Kane Creek, including the iconic ‘Owl’ petroglyph. At the end you can continue to a Colorado River overlook.

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secret spire

If you want to know where the middle of nowhere is, this is it. Close to the head of Spring canyon, northwest of Moab is this strange tower surrounded by a vast slickrock dome dotted with numerous caves around its periphery. Very scenic. On a dry day this is accessible to most vehicles if driven carefully.

 

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monitor and merrimac trail

This  is a serious 4WD trail, though it gets a lot of mountain bike traffic now. Even if your 4WD vehicle isn't up to it you can still drive part of the trail (as I did) to get good views of Determination Towers, two  huge monoliths.

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'moab man' rock art

If you're in downtown Moab you may see this anthromorph image on T shirts, caps, mugs and mats. He's the cheery figure waving his left hand. To find the original just drive 4 miles south of town on UT191 and turn left onto Spanish Trail Road. Continue for around a mile into Westwater Drive. About a 1/2 mile on there's a 90 foot wide panelof rock art beside the road.

 

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© 2016 Bob Palmer