For our first adventure in the Moab area we decided to go up into Canyonlands National Park and hike the Lathrop trail. This section of Canyonlands, called Island in the Sky, is up on a huge mesa surrounded by steep canyon walls. To get up on the mesa we decided to take a scenic dirt route, Long Canyon Road, to the top. To get to Long Canyon Road we drove north on Rte. 191 and turned left on to Rte. 279, which runs right along the Colorado River on the left with a high cliff on the right.
About 13 miles up Rte. 279 we turned right at the Jug Handle Arch on to Long Canyon Road.
For the first two and a half miles the road is fairly smooth (for a dirt road) as it winds through the beautiful canyon.
At that point the road begins to twist upward toward the mesa.
Looking back to the east the La Sal Mountains make for some great views.
As the road continued upward it went under a small boulder over the road.
Just pass the boulder the road goes up through an area called “Pucker Pass.” We’ve been up this road before with little problem, but the road in the canyon is now in poor shape in two areas. We met a family in an all-wheel drive Subaru earlier and they followed us up the canyon. But they couldn’t get up “Pucker Pass” and were forced to back down and turn around. You definitely need four wheel drive and high clearance in this short section of the drive.
A quarter mile past the difficult section of the canyon is the top of the mesa where the road levels out.
We soon entered Canyonlands NP and after a stop at the visitor center drove a couple of miles to the Lathrop Canyon trailhead. This trail goes all the way down off the mesa to the Colorado River over five miles away. The ranger said that if we hiked about two and a half miles we would be at the edge of the cliff and have a great view of the river below. That sounded like a good distance for us. For the first mile the trail goes straight across an open meadow with the La Sal Mountains in the distance.
The trail then went over some slickrock before dropping down onto a very wide ledge.
We reached the rim of the canyon overlooking the Colorado River and found the ranger to be very accurate in his description, the views were outstanding.
After enjoying the great vistas while having lunch, we turned and headed back.
After returning to the Jeep we drove back past the visitor center and turned right on to Shafer Canyon Road. This dirt road winds steeply down from the mesa along the side of the steep rock wall. Just as we began to descend along the canyon wall we spotted a group of people rappelling down the wall. They appeared to be part of a rescue team practicing their skills.
As we continued our descent we could see where we were headed way down below us.
While the road is pretty smooth, this part of the drive is not for anyone with a fear of heights.
After winding steeply down for about a mile, we finally reached the bottom and the road became much flatter.
Soon the road winds around the Potash Extraction Facility of the Intrepid Potash Mine. The facility uses a solution system to extract potassium from a mine and solar evaporation to re-crystallize it. A solution of water and salt is pumped into the mine where it dissolves the potassium. The brine mix (potash) is then pumped into shallow evaporation ponds, where a blue dye is added to aid in absorption of sunlight.
Once the water evaporates, the potassium that remains is scraped from the dry pond and sent to a facility for processing. It’s difficult to see through the fence but the pond in the photo below has dried and you can see where a scraper has removed most of the white potassium.
We continued past the evaporation ponds to the beginning of Rte. 279 and made our way along the Colorado River back to Moab.
What a great first adventure in the Moab area! We have a number of hikes and drives planned for the next few weeks during our stay here.
More on that later . . .