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Hiking Happenings December 2006

Lower Seven Mile
by Rory Tyler

It’s so deceptive. You’re out for a walk. You pick out an interesting rock formation in the near distance and start off. It looks close enough. An hour…maybe two. What you don’t see is the impassable chasm etched hundreds of feet into the desert’s surface only a few minutes away. That could be Seven Mile Canyon in your path. Where to now?

Lower Seven Mile Canyon is almost entirely in the Entrada Sandstone formation. Entrada has three different components; the Moab Member, the Slickrock Member, and the Dewey Bridge Member. Lower Seven Mile is composed of the first two. The Moab Member, a white layer of sandstone about fifty feet thick, forms a nearly impenetrable barrier along the rim of Seven Mile Canyon, which continues when Seven Mile meets Courthouse Wash. Courthouse Wash is one of the main drainages in Arches National Park and any walk along Seven Mile is likely to lead you into this rarely visited part of the park. The Slickrock member, below the Moab Member, is softer, redder, and about 150 feet thick. It contains the main volume of the canyon.

The lower reach of Seven Mile Canyon begins north of town at the Highway 191 bridge, just south of the Hwy 191- Hwy 313 junction. If you park next to the highway you have to cross a barbed wire fence. To avoid the fence, turn right at the Bar M Chuckwagon road, then immediately left on the two-track. Across the fence a dirt road leads you a couple of hundred yards, passes a pipeline, then the canyon takes a plunge.

The Seven Mile pour-off drops over a hundred feet to the rocks below. During a good rainstorm it forms an impressive waterfall. In the winter it can become a spectacular ice wall. Except for an old cattle trail at the head of the canyon the rim is prohibitively precipitous along its entire length. This trail is about a hundred yards to the right of the pour-off. Lower Seven Mile offers two interesting options. You can take the cattle trail down into the canyon or you can stay above the rim and putter about all day. (There are also some rapeling anchors at the top of the trail if you want to get some cheap thrills on a rope.)

If you stay on top you can go left or right of the pour-off. There’s little chance, in either case, of getting disoriented or lost. Left is as easy as it gets. The caprock is smooth and almost uncut by side canyons. The views are delightful and spacious. I prefer going right. You still get the great views, but the caprock is a pure, stone-cut hodgepodge of hills, humps, washes, cuts, and peculiar formations speckled with elegant pockets cryptogamic garden and improbably twisted junipers growing out of bare rock. It all lends itself perfectly to miles of aimless, easy ambling. It takes about an hour of east-trending zigzags to reach the rim of Courthouse Wash. The views are spectacular. I’m especially fond of the miles of hanging gardens growing out of the seep line between the Moab Tongue and the Slickrock member.

For a very different experience go down the cattle trail. Once inside you are completely cut off from the world above. There’s no trail here, but the wash is wide and there are only a few places where you have to clamber around some brush or a set of bottom-choking boulders. The further you go the more deeply entrenched you become, surrounded by beautifully eroded, sinuous walls of pastel pink and red sandstone. The canyon can be shady in December, but there are plenty of places where the sun comes pouring in. These pockets are heat magnifiers and, if it’s a nice day, they’ll be wonderfully warm and toasty.

The canyon wends its way about three miles to the confluence with Courthouse Wash. Your options here are to go right, left, or back from whence you came. The right hand path goes down canyon about two miles to where the Park Road crosses Courthouse Wash. If you leave another car here you can set up an easy shuttle back to the Hwy 191 bridge. The left hand path goes up canyon a couple miles where you’ll eventually climb out of Courthouse Wash. This path can get a little wet or icy, but it’s usually passable and well worth the effort. Once you emerge, it’s two easy miles back to Hwy 191.

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 435-260-8496.

Cryptobiotic soil garden
Cryptobiotic soil garden

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