HIKING HAPPENINGS September 2013
Boren Mesa - Taking the Less Traveled Road
by Marcy Hafner
With at least twelve peaks over 12,000 feet, we are lucky to have visions of the La Sal Mountains - the second highest in Utah after the Uintas - on our eastern horizon year round. They were created twenty-five to thirty million years ago when intrusive molten magma cooled into igneous rock. Then the overlying less resistant sandstone eroded away leaving behind the distinctive mountain range we see today.
We are even more lucky to have this delightful alpine retreat just a short easy drive from Moab - a refreshing release from the baking desert heat in the summer – in the winter a snowy wonderland for cross-country skiers and snowshoers. Covering an area 25 miles long (north to south) by 15 miles wide (east to west) the highest peak at an elevation of 12,721 feet is Mount Peale, which was named after Albert Charles Peale, a geologist on the Hayden Survey team in 1875.
In late July I have been enticed once again to return to the high country for a hike on the Boren Mesa Trail, which is part of the Trans La Sal Trail system that skirts the entire western side of the range. Arriving at an early hour I am savoring the invigorating nip in the crisp alpine air, and as the sunlight slowly slinks down the mountain slopes I am resisting the urge to dig out my jacket. All too soon the temperature will gradually be rising, and by mid-afternoon, even up here in the lower more open areas, it does get warm.
To get to the trailhead for Boren Mesa from Moab, drive south on Highway 191 for approximately eight miles and then turn left at the sign for the Ken’s Lake-La Sal Loop Road. At the stop sign turn right on to Spanish Valley Drive, which becomes the La Sal Loop Road. After driving approximately 20 miles from town turn right on to the graveled Geyser Pass Road, which despite the washboard is suitable for any vehicle, and drive three more miles to the trailheads for the Squaw Springs Trail (right), Boren Mesa (left).
Initially the trail progresses on a mellow upward slant as it passes several overgrown roads. Through long stretches of aspen I relish the shaded canopy their graceful leaves provide. Recent thunderstorms have delivered a generous payload of rain, and the wildflowers have responded with a glorious explosion of dazzling colors as bees industriously make their rounds through Indian paintbrush, showy daisies, lupines, yarrow and a few exquisitely marked sego lilies, the state flower of Utah.
Sometimes I pause to listen to the trumpety call of the red-breasted nuthatch – the harsh squawks of the Steller’s jay - and the familiar “dee-dee-dee” of the chickadee. A startled chipmunk belts out a squeal of alarm before dashing away, starkly contrasting to a squirrel’s screeching rapid-fire command to vacate his premises.
Eventually I’m ambling through a deep thicket of firs and spruce, where the haven of deep protective shade envelops me. The needle-covered ground cushions my feet as I breathe in the pleasing earthy-pine fragrance. Horse Creek runs through this thick damp forest, and at the crossing the soothing trickle of a miniature waterfall creates an oasis with a dramatic drop in temperature that makes me feel as though I’ve just stepped into an outdoor refrigerator.
As my journey continues fir and spruce are quickly left behind, as a serious uphill commences on a sunny oak-filled slope. Then for a fleeting moment within this thick undergrowth I treasure an amazing close up look at a black-throated gray warbler – a small elusive bird that is usually hard to see.
Passing by bouquets of blue pentstemon and yellow daisy-like flowers, I press on until at last I reach the broad wide-open back of Boren Mesa, which is named after Carl Boren, a cattleman who settled in the area in 1876. At an elevation of 9300 feet, my efforts are rewarded with a spectacular view as I cast my vision over the green pastures of Spanish Valley and the rugged outline of Behind The Rocks. Even further beyond I can see miles and miles of an expansive landscape – a tangled web of canyons, mesas and buttes clear to the Henry Mountains on the far western horizon. Then I turn my attention to the more nearby peaks: Mount Tukhunikivatz, Tuk No, Pre-Laurel Ridge, Laurel Peak, Mount Mellenthein, Haystack Mountain, Pilot Peak and Gold Knob.
After walking approximately 1.5 miles I reach a signed crossroad, where I can go straight to make a loop to Oowah and Clark Lakes - the more well traveled trail. I, however, have decided to go right on Forest Service Road 4686, the less traveled route that ends at the Geyser Pass Road in 1.2 miles. Now I’m happily following the shade as this back road weaves in and out of the aspens.
After awhile the uphill feels endless. I need a pick-me-up break and ah! the pleasure of tossing my pack to the ground and sitting down in the plush green grass!
In a protective grove of aspen, I settle down to observe the boldly decorated butterflies waltzing from flower to flower – the flashing red of a flicker as he hits the ground in search of ants – the billowing thunderheads gathering over the higher peaks; warily I wonder if a rumble-tumble downpour is on the way!
Finally pushing myself up, I march on to the climax of the trail where it meets the Geyser Pass Road. Now I could return via the main thoroughfare, but again seeking solitude and privacy I opt to follow my own footsteps back. As a general rule this four-wheel drive road is lightly traveled and on this day I have seen no one.
Yippee, now it’s all downhill and on my leisurely stroll back I contemplate how quickly the summer is flying by. Before long fall, my favorite season in the mountains arrives bringing a spectacular show of vibrant colors; then oaks flame burgundy red, the leaves of the box elders fade to pale yellow, the rose-hips turn to a deep-orange red and the hills are alive with the rich, glittering gold of the aspen.