After spending almost a week Canyonlands, it was time to restock, clean up and fill up our water jugs in Moab. We returned to Ken’s Lake Campground south of town. David also needed to get some work done so we spent Monday, October 10 in Moab’s wonderful library.
On Tuesday, we were ready for a workout so we targeted the Hidden Valley Trail on the southwest edge of Moab. Departing from the Rimrock Road trailhead, the first section is a rough, tough scramble up a stretch aptly named “Barney’s Rubble”. On the mesa top it flattens out and becomes the idyllic Hidden Valley, moves through the Behind the Rocks Study Area and connects to a section of the Moab Rim 4wd trail which we had hiked a year ago.
On the way up, we stopped to chat with a super fit retired gentleman in his early 70s whose daily workout is climbing up to the top of Barney’s Rubble and running DOWN. That provided us with a little more motivation to power through this challenging section. At the top, the rewards were well worth it.
Hidden Valley turned out to be a real gem, especially with the welcome cloud cover which softened the colors. We fortuitously departed from the main trail after a while and discovered hundreds of petroglyph murals along a cliff base which featured rows of pronghorns, a pregnant woman, corn plants and sheep with oversized cloven hooves.
We returned the way we came after 6.5 miles, 1350 elevation gain, and 4.5 hours. On the way down, in the home stretch of Barney’s Rubble, we encountered a young guy with his bike draped around his shoulders, running UP the rock strewn switchbacks. Very humbling!
On Wednesday, October 12, we drove the van along the La Sal Mountain Loop, a paved “scenic backway” which begins on US 191, six miles south of Moab, winds to the northeast over the La Sal Mountains, drops down through Castle Valley, and ends at the Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway on US 128. Returning to Moab makes for a 60 mile loop drive that takes approximately three hours to complete. Fall colors were superb from the scrub oaks’ rusty reds to the eye-popping yellow aspens.
We chose to break up the drive by checking out the Oowah Campground which was three miles down a dirt road, and 16 miles from where we were camped at Ken’s Lake. Oowah Lake is picturesque even though it’s small and man-made, providing water for cattle which graze freely throughout the Manti-La Sal National Forest. From the campground, we hiked about two miles up to Clark Lake which tops out at 9400 feet elevation. The quaking aspen lined much of the trail and appear to thrive even after being scarred by people intent on carving their initials into most every trunk we passed. Since many of the dates inscribed were decades old, we’re hopeful that people are becoming less thoughtless.
Thursday’s big adventure started with renting a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited for the day from the nice folks at the Moab Tourism Center ($215 for 9 hours). We had hoped to drive part of the White Rim Trail but discovered we’d need to apply for a permit a couple of weeks ahead of time. Instead, we drove out along the Colorado River west of Moab on Potash Road (142), passing a series of huge blue potash evaporation ponds at the base of Dead Horse Point. It joins the White Rim Road for a short stretch as it enters the Canyonlands Island in the Sky District. At this point it becomes Shafer Canyon Road and begins to climb up through a series of super narrow, tight switchbacks to the mesa top. We shared the road with a group of mountain bikers who seemed to go a little faster than us at times!
In the afternoon, we returned to Moab via the 16 mile long Gemini Bridges Road. It turned out to be a much more challenging drive than the Potash/Shafer Trail. The first seven miles have been somewhat tamed by rock-grinding equipment. The Gemini Bridges are not apparent until you park, walk down a short trail and stand on the rim of an arm of Bull Canyon. Until recently, you could even drive over the top of the bridge. In 1999 a jeep and driver fell 160 feet off the outer span death occurred (a bronze plaque commemorates it). In 2010, a boy scout failed in his attempt to jump between the two spans. Now, common sense and self-preservation has prevailed.
Much of the Gemini Bridges Road area has been developed into a network of mountain bike trails which makes sense due to the harsh terrain. The last nine miles were very rough, especially the final descent via a series of switchbacks along a sheer ledge down to Hwy 191. We finished off the day by stopping at Milt’s Stop & Eat, then washed off the Jeep before returning it by 5 pm.
On Friday, October 14, we headed south to spend some time at the Canyonlands Needles District.