Moab Hiking part 2 - Dead Horse Point State Park

Dead Horse Point and Colorado River Canyon in Canyonlands NP

Our first day in Moab we had done two excellent hikes in Arches National Park. Arches is a great park but it doesn't really have a lot of hiking. There are basically three main trails: Devil's Garden, Deliate Arch and Fiery Furnace. Since you can only do Fiery Furnace on a ranger guided hike, which was booked for the next several days, we had pretty much finished hiking at Arches. It's definitely worth a visit but you can see the whole park in a day.

I wanted to do a hike in Canyonlands National Park. Of the five national parks in Utah it was the only one that I hadn't hiked yet. So I spent a lot of time that night looking though our guide book. Canyonlands is a big park and has lots of hiking opportunities. But there are no through roads in Canyonlands. The interior is a wilderness so access is from a variety of points around the park. So even though we were right next to the park in Moab some of the trailheads required long, roundabout drives to reach. We weren't up for a lot of driving. It was just a three day weekend and we had enough driving between Boise and Moab and back. The only area of the park that is easily accessible from Moab is the Island in the Sky district. This is an area dominated by the Colorado River and its canyon and the high plateau country above it - the "Island in the Sky" for which the area is named. Many of the trails involve a steep drop into the canyon and then a long climb back up to the rim. We weren't really up for a hard day. Just like me at Zion a few weeks earlier, Sandy had gotten some blisters from all the miles we did on our first day of hiking. She was up for some more hiking but didn't want to do anything epic.

A long way down to the river

I finally found a good hike for us in Dead Horse Point State Park. This is a state park that is just outside of Canyonlands National Park. It includes part of the high plateau area above the Colorado River canyon. It narrows down to just a few feet wide and then diverges again to a large promontory that is Dead Horse Point. The name comes from an old tale that wild horses were driven to the point and then the narrow neck was sealed off, trapping the horses were they eventually starved to death. Hence Dead Horse Point. It has a seven or eight mile loop trail. The guidebook isn't clear exactly how long it is since we didn't take any of the side trips to various views along the rim. But the important point was that the trail was almost completely flat as it followed the rim of the canyon from the visitor center to Dead Horse Point and back again. It took us about forty five minutes to drive from town to the state park visitor center where the trailhead is. Of course I couldn't resist getting a tshirt there before we started our hike and this time even Sandy succumbed. With that important business out of the way we started our hike.

Our car was parked only ten feet from the edge of the cliff. The first section of the trail did follow close to the edge with a view of the canyon. But it was spoiled by two strange looking green lakes - evaporation ponds for a potash mine just outside the park. After a while we turned the corner and the ponds disappeared behind a bend in the river. The trail was flat as advertised. And the narrow neck leading to Dead Horse Point was cool. The plataeu narrowed to just the width of the road - no room for the trail on either side so we had to walk on the road for a hundred feet. There was no one on the trail either. Since you can drive all the way to Dead Horse Point most people did that instead of walking. But it was a beautiful day and we enjoyed the hike. From Dead Horse Point we looked almost straight down to the river. Then we circled around the other side although on the way back the trail was about a quarter mile from the rim so there weren't many views. The whole trip took us about three hours.

A sharp bend in the Colorado River below Dead Horse Point

It was a good hike but not a great hike. It was an easy day which is what we needed given Sandy's blisters. There were expansive views but they were not that pretty. At first the mining ponds spoiled the view. Even when it was natural, the canyon cliffs looked broken down and crumbly - not the clean. sharp cliff walls of Zion, Arches and Capital Reef. It reminded me of the Grand Canyon - big and impressive but not that pretty. Then again Grand Canyon isn't one of my favorite national parks either. The Colorado River was an ugly pond-scum green color. It didn't look inviting at all even in the middle of the desert. We were glad we did the hike but unlike many other hikes that we have done in Utah parks, we didn't feel like we would want to go back. If we return to Moab there are still some hikes on BLM land rather than in the national parks that look interesting. I'm not sure about Canyonlands. I would still like to do a hike there, just because it is such a famous park and I haven't ever done it. But I wouldn't be excited about the Island in the Sky district and a different area would require staying somewhere other than Moab. Hopefully I'll get to Canyonlands someday. It's the only really large, wilderness park in the Utah canyon country. Although I have seen a lot of it from this hike I haven't been in it so it doesn't count.

Oh come on! You can stand closer to the edge for the picture!

We got back to Moab by early afternoon. After cleaning up we headed into town for a combination late lunch and early dinner. We ate at Pasta Jay's, which is supposed to be the best Italian/pizza place in Moab. We got a nice table outside where we could enjoy the great weather but the service was really slow (and we were really hungry!) and the food wasn't that good. Again, I wouldn't go back. After that we went to Spanish Valley Vinyards. It had to be the smallest winery we had ever been to. The guy had a single fifty gallon tank fermenting in his garage. He made a lot of fruit wines but they were too sweet for us. His only white wine was a Riesling so we got two bottles. American Rieslings are usually still a little sweet for us but wineries in Utah are not very common. We figured we should give it our support.

By late afternoon when we got back to the hotel it was hot. Sandy wanted to spend some time reading by the pool so I made up an excuse to go out. I raced to the Arches NP visitor center to buy a Utah Rocks tshirt that she had mentioned she liked the day before. I used it as a surprise present a few weeks later. She never did figure out when I got it. Then it was just a quiet evening and a long drive home to Boise on Sunday.