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Finding Hidden Valley
by Marcia Hafner

The name speaks for itself. It can’t be seen until you’re almost in it. I’ve walked this trail many times and I still have trouble guessing exactly where the opening is on the rim that allows for easy access into Hidden Valley. Mentally I know where it must be but visually it’s disconcerting not to be able to pick it out. Even after climbing the 680 feet to the rim, it still stays evasive, not willing to give up its secret identity until I step into its wide, expansive grasslands.

This trail has probably been used for several thousand years starting with the Basketmaker culture that were here for just eight to nine hundred years. Mainly hunter-gatherers in this part of Utah, they produced many of the petroglyphs in this area.

To get to the Hidden Valley Trailhead, start from Center and Main Street and drive south on highway 191 three and a half miles. Turn right at a stucco building on to Angel Rock Road. If you go whizzing on by the Shell station you have missed your turn by about half a mile! Drive the short distance on Angel Rock Road until it dead-ends. Then turn right on to Rimrock Road and follow the signs to the trailhead where there’s an informational sign at the beginning of the trail. It’s two miles to the pass at the north end of Hidden Valley where there’s a long panel of petroglyphs. Allow three hours for the round trip hike.

The Hidden Valley Trail goes through Behind The Rocks Wilderness Study Area (WSA) and motorized vehicles are not allowed. Since the pre-existing trail predates the wilderness study area bicycles may use it but all riders must stay on the trail.

On my most recent hike into Hidden Valley, the nip in the air had put me in an autumnal mood. Despite the lack of large deciduous trees anywhere on this trail the evidence of fall still held with the rabbitbrush and snakeweed in their full flush of seasonal yellow blooms. Scattered sunflowers and asters also made their own statement of summer coming to an end. Even the subdued grass blended in with the fall color scheme.

At the beginning of my walk the trail register is my reminder for what comes next; a short section of steep, pebbly terrain that adds up to an uncomfortable walking-on-marbles feeling. I always approach it with caution especially when I’m coming down because it easily slips out from underfoot. Making it safely past that, I’m at my favorite spot on this upward section of the trail that is a hollowed out streambed with a healthy serviceberry tree growing in it. The moisture collects here making it lusher and in the summer a wee bit cooler. Soon after that the serious switchbacks (all eleven of them) join in with the ledgy, high rock stepping part of the trail to the rim. As I wind around each switchback I gaze down at my truck to gauge my gain in elevation and that makes me aware of the good progress I am making up to the rim. With every glance to the east, there are full views of the La Sal Mountains now freshly dusted with snow.

The chukar often sound off with their “chuk-chuk-chuk” alarm call. Sometimes these handsome, medium-sized upland game birds, which have been introduced from the Middle East, blow their cover and flush out on a frenzied, downhill whirl of wings. If I’m lucky I’ll even have a chance to see their bold black markings before they spook. Aside from Castle Valley, this is the only place I ever see them.

At the rim, I always take a break to kick back and absorb the view of Spanish Valley. I can pick out a lot from my high-ended perch – Rim Village, Spanish Trail Arena, Highway 191, White’s Ranch, Spanish Valley Drive, the golf course and the OK RV Park. In early fall, this break is particularly delightful because the mourning doves find this ridgeline to their liking where they plaintively coo their duets.

The steepest, hardest part of the trail is over and I cross the boundary to the Behind The Rocks Wilderness Study Area. After a short, uphill bump through the pinyons and junipers, the view at last opens up and the broad shelf of Hidden Valley stretches out ahead of me. To my left is the formidable backdrop of Wingate sandstone walls that jealously guard Hidden Valley from that side. Half way across the valley I can see a huge square rock to the right of the trail that looks like a big house. After passing the rock house, the trail makes a gradual ascent to a low pass where there are dramatic views of Poison Spider Mesa, Island In The Sky section of Canyonlands National Park, and the large sandstone fins of Behind The Rocks. It then drops down .3 miles to meet up with the Moab Rim Jeep Trail. If you set up a shuttle you can make a loop hike by following the trail west to the Moab Rim Trailhead on Kane Creek Blvd. It’s a great hike up to the Moab Rim and back down to the river.

To find the petroglyphs, at the pass follow a trail to the right walking alongside the south-facing wall. These panels depict hunting and fighting scenes and are filled with the figures of big horn sheep, deer, tracks and odd human figures including one inside of another.

In the summer during most of the day there is little shade. To avoid the heat, go early in the morning or late in the afternoon. At that time of year it is crucial to carry plenty of water. Ironically in the winter the trail to the rim captures the shade for most of the day. Consequently when it snows, it takes a long time to melt off and becomes a treacherous slide-on-ice walk. When it’s like that I pick a different, sunnier trail to hike on.

Spring and fall are the ideal times to explore the treasures of Hidden Valley but be prepared to meet up with other hikers. It’s popular with both the locals and the visitors.

Cryptobiotic soil garden
Cryptobiotic soil garden

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