by Rory Tyler
Sun & Shade in upper Moonflower Canyon
If you’re in Moab in March there’s a pretty good chance you came from somewhere cold and/or wet, and that you are in dire need of somewhere to dry out; a place to improve the hue of your damp and frigid cheeks and life. Many of you, from places like the sloppy slopes of Colorado, the liquid monotony of the Pacific Northwest, or (lord help you) almost anywhere from Wyoming-in-general, are heartily sick of winter weather and know exactly why you’re here. But for some of you others, from states like Illinois, Indiana, or Iowa, your presence in Moab is probably just some sort of accident, predicated by the almost supernatural operation of an intuitive self-preservation mechanism. Next to being in sole possession of the winning Powerball number, this could go down as one of the luckiest moments of your life. (If you can’t find that lottery ticket, by the way, try the lint filter.) Now is the time to dewater, dessicate, and generally thaw out in the luxurious sunshine of the early Colorado Plateau springlight.
Beneficent Sol, of course, shines of every niche of the desert with equal magnanimity. So, if you only invest your time in the national parks or the half-marathon you will be amply rewarded by significant solar gain. However, if you care to compound your heliocentric interest, I’ve got a few options for you to consider. These are places that collect, magnify, and concentrate the sun’s healing radiation. Virtual Vitamin D factories.
All south-facing rock walls ‘cook’, of course, but for intensity’s sake you want to find a properly aspected alcove, one of those shallow caves exfoliated or eroded out of a sheer sandstone cliff, or a well-sheltered stone cove like Corona Arch. Bang for the buck, no place delivers the goods like this awesomely beautiful heat-haven. To get there, drive north out of town and, just after you cross the river, turn left on Potash Road. It’s 9.9 miles from there to the trailhead. It’s an easy, well-marked mile to the arch and, while the first part of the trail can be a little cool and shady, make sure you bring the sunscreen, some postcards, and a picnic. This is not a place you’re going to want to leave in a hurry.
For an afternoon walk try Upper Moonflower Canyon. Turn at McDonald’s and take Kane Creek Road about three miles to the Moonflower Canyon parking lot. This lower section of Moonflower Canyon is gorgeous and goes back about a quarter mile, but it’s not very sunny. About a quarter mile past the parking lot you will see a dirt road going off to the left. At the top of that hill is a four-wheel drive road that skirts the edge of the Behind the Rocks Wilderness Study Area. Park there and walk the road, or go strolling along the base of the sandstone fins. Within a mile you’ll go around the top of Moonflower Canyon. Then, up and to the right, you’ll see one of those alcoves. If you really want to do some cooking, this is the place to be.
The Waterfall Alcove (that’s what I call it) is on the North Fork of Mill Creek. The walk there includes three icy, knee-deep stream crossings and a scramble up a steep slickrock incline. It’s not particularly dangerous, especially if you negotiate the more precarious pitches on the seat of your pants, but it can be a little intimidating. To get there take Mill Creek Drive to Powerhouse Lane. At the end of Powerhouse the trail goes about a third of a mile along Mill Creek where it splits into the North and South Forks, or what the locals call Left Hand and Right Hand. You want to go up Left Hand, and this is where the stream crossings come in. When you get to the waterfall, about a quarter mile from the confluence, backtrack a hundred yards and find the trail that goes above the stream. Waterfall Alcove is another 200 yards beyond the falls.
This site is rich with Indian rock art, mostly from the Basketmaker era 2,000 years ago. Be respectful, however, and don’t deface the petroglyphs or walk off with any artifacts you might find. Besides committing a Federal crime, it’s just barely possible that you might incur the wrath of an ancient Indian curse. The Basketmakers, you see, practiced the venerable art of headhunting, and if you commit a metaphysical faux pas we may all get the chance to observe the story of your horrid demise on an X-Files special sometime early in 2007. Observation of the appropriate cautions and taboos is advised.
Rory Tyler is available for cowboy
poetry/campfire song gatherings which include lore, science,
history and lies of the Moab area. (Suitable for all
age groups). Rates are negotiable. Give Rory a call at