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The Moab Rim - Chasing the Winter Sun
by Marcia Hafner

After a long, cold, snowy winter, I am so ready for spring. For too long most trails have been bogged down with snow, ice and mush, and many hikers have voiced one big question: Where can they go for a snow-free walk? The trail that has worked well for me is the Moab Rim. Angled just right to catch most of the solar rays, its sun-soaked uplifted ledges of Kayenta sandstone absorb the heat. The radiant energy quickly melts that mantle of snow. Except for one small shady spot on the upper trail, it’s a dry walk on slickrock all the way to the rim. The short drive from town gives me the option of a quick hike with plenty of time to spare for other activities. With a close-by, dry trail, I can’t come up with any silly excuses for not getting out for some rigorous wintertime exercise.

To get to the Moab Rim trailhead, go south on Main Street and turn right at McDonald’s on to Kane Creek Blvd. At the Yield sign (1.5 miles from McDonald’s) go straight (not right) and stay on Kane Creek Blvd. The trailhead is 3.5 miles from the turnoff at McDonald’s. When you’ve crossed the cattle guard you’re almost there, so be on the lookout for the parking lot with a primitive restroom on the left hand side.

This steep multi-use trail is rated as a moderate to difficult hike. Locally known as the “Moab Stairmaster,” it climbs at a heart-thumping rate of 1,000 feet in approximately one mile. To stay on the trail, follow the painted white blocks and black tire marks. Near the top the grade is an unrelenting 25%! It is 1.4 miles to the first overlook and 3.0 miles to the Hidden Valley Trail connection. If you want to go over the Hidden Valley Pass and down to that trailhead, plan on a six-mile one-way walk.

Sheer cliffs of Navajo sandstone tower above the trail where they abut against the northeastern boundaries of Behind The Rocks Wilderness Study Area. This area immediately off the trail has been closed to off-highway vehicles since 1985 to protect its outstanding scenic values. All vehicular traffic including mountain bikes is required to stay on the trail.

Upward momentum provides increasingly far-stretching, elevated views of the Colorado River. At the beginning of the trail, an arch can be seen on the other side of the river. To find it, let your eyes scroll up on the cliff face almost to the top of the rim. From this angle the arch looks unapproachable, but it is a short comfortable walk from the Poison Spider Trail. As you gain elevation The Portal becomes an impressive and towering image above the northeast side of the river. Next to The Portal a huge indentation in the skyline rimrock that I refer to as “The Notch” shows up in stark relief. A long glance farther downriver brings into view the well-known “Wall Street,” which is frequently used by rock climbers.

Three-fourths of the way to the rim, there’s a short passage through the Moab Rim Preserve. Purchased by The Nature Conservancy in late 2005, it is managed in cooperation with the Bureau Of Land Management (BLM.) The Nature Conservancy removed the privately run passenger tram operation and closed the adjoining side roads to motorized vehicles to avoid damage to the vegetation. The main trail will remain open to the public as long as everyone respects the land by staying on the established road.

Sandstone, lack of soil, and aridity force the vegetation to take a low profile. Stunted, gnarled junipers are few and far between as each one struggles for its existence in meager pockets of dirt. In the more fertile areas at the top where the trail levels out, blackbrush and Mormon tea do grow and thrive.

Just past an informational sign the main trail goes right and, for jeeps, dead-ends in a mile. A short spur to the left ends at a viewpoint. Here’s what you miss if you pass it by – the Bookcliffs, the wetlands of the Matheson Preserve, short sections of the river, Arches National Park, the La Sal Mountains, domes that flank the beginning of Behind The Rocks, Sand Flats Recreation Area and a deep gash that belongs to Mill Creek Canyon. All of Moab can be seen, and most recognizable are Holiday Inn, Desert Bistro, Pete Byrd’s farm, and the Sunset Grill with the painted white “Big G” behind it.

The main route continues south through a slickrocked area located between two large domes of Navajo sandstone. It goes on along a wash bottom and up a large sand hill where there are several short spurs to viewpoints of Spanish Valley. After another portion of foot-dragging sand, it hooks up with the Hidden Valley Trail.

If you want to enjoy the quietude of a walk on the Moab Rim Trail, do it now before Jeep Safari starts. Since this is a multi-use trail, when the weather gets nice especially on the weekends, you’ll be sharing it with a plentitude of people. If you’ve never done it before it can be of interest to watch a skilled driver maneuver his machine over the ledge obstacles - including the most difficult of them all, “The Devil’s Crack” and “The Z Turn.” Be prepared for a lot of drama. Rollovers do happen, so keep your distance!

It’s no secret to local hikers that the Moab Rim is at its best in the winter when an afternoon walk on this trail is a peaceful intermission in their day. In the chilly, still air I can easily hear the soothing chatter of the chickadee, the raven and the canyon wren. That’s when I’m on the Moab Rim chasing the winter sun.

Cryptobiotic soil garden
Cryptobiotic soil garden

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