HIKING HAPPENINGS May 2013
Mill Creek Rim Trail – Heading To Higher Ground
by Marcy Hafner
The big attraction for hiking the Moab Brand trails is the irresistible call of the wide-From its birthplace high in the La Sal Mountains, we are blessed with Mill Creek’s endless flow of water - a precious resource that should never be taken for granted. As it irrigates our fields and gardens and recharges our aquifers, this tree-shaded lifeline of water is also an important refuge for wildlife and birds.
Almost a century ago, starting in February 1915, this heartbeat of water also generated electricity for valley residents. The wooden dam, however, was destroyed during the great flood of August 2, 1919. Later that year Moab Light and Power Company replaced that structure with the current concrete dam, which provided power until 1945 when Utah Power and Light built a 44,000 volt power line from Price to Moab.
Even though Powerhouse Dam is now a relic of the past, it still stands as a reminder of times gone by. I am always mesmerized by the sound of the rushing roar - the surge of water over the dam – the tumbling cascade down its steep wall - the freefall dive into the swirling, churning pool - the haunting smell of misty water as it floats through the air.
To get to Powerhouse Dam, turn east off Main Street at the Moab Information Center on to Center Street. At 400 East go right. Then turn left at Dave’s Corner Market on to Mill Creek Drive. At the three-way stop, go right and drive almost a half-mile for the left turn on to Powerhouse Lane. Then follow the dirt road a short distance to where it ends at the parking area.
On this partly sunny spring day I have chosen to explore the less traveled Mill Creek Rim Trail rather than follow the creek past the dam where I’d probably get my feet wet. This historic trail, which can be accessed near the colorfully painted old power station, follows a small segment of the Old Mail Trail - a horse trail that served as a mail route for the miners and ranchers who lived on Wilson and South Mesas in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.
On this primitive, difficult-to-follow course, there are no markers and when this faint rocky trail appears to split, I take a guess and go left. As I gain elevation, recognizable landmarks come into view – the ridgeline along The Portal with its distinctive v-shaped notch - towering sandstone walls above Moab Valley - massive cliffs that embrace Mill Creek along the border of the Sand Flats Recreation Area – and a small slice-of-the pie segment of Moab. On the rim the trail turns to dirt and becomes more obvious, as signs now identify the route. After another bump walking suddenly becomes much easier as I coast along on flat ground. From this grandstand location I can now gaze upon the cloud-covered La Sal Mountains, the jagged ridgeline of Behind The Rocks, the green pastures of Spanish Valley and the wide girth of Johnsons Up On Top.
It doesn’t take long before I’m at a sign pointing to a trail that dead-ends in half a mile. Now the debate rages as to which way I wish to go. Do I really want to travel an extra mile out of my way? Or should I just stay on the main trail and walk along the rim until it merges with a trail to Mill Creek? Eventually curiosity gets the upper hand and I leave the beaten path to wander over to the dead end where I happily discover that going the extra distance has paid off big dividends - a spectacular viewpoint of Mill Creek Canyon.
All right! I’ve found the perfect spot for a break as I gaze down on the riparian corridor below where the cottonwoods are just starting to leaf out. I can hear the tree-lined creek as I watch the wind-blown ripples on the water. Directly below I am looking at a big pool where beavers undoubtedly live. Then I turn my attention to the cliff-hanging world, where stunted trees somehow manage to eke out a living in the dirt-poor cracks and ledges. Along these cliff walls compressed layers of rock flow curvaceously through varying hues of tan to dark brown sandstone. I am enchanted with this prize-winning show enhanced by gigantic old age pillars of rock and the skyline of the stormy La Sals as they fade in and out of the picture.
Dark threatening clouds teasingly suggest rain, but like an April Fools joke, the rain we desperately need usually doesn’t happen, and so I linger to enjoy this incredible vista. During my lunch I am excited to see some brand new spring arrivals – a brilliant red patch of Indian paintbrush - a rock wren who appears on a rock and then quietly slips away – vocal, high pitched white-throated swifts as they speed-demon through the sky – and a turkey vulture cruising along in his tilting back-and-forth flight pattern.
When the sun peeks out it is wonderfully warm. But when it disappears I’m feeling downright chilly. Suddenly blackened skies and a kicking wind are omens that are hard to ignore: With a sinking feeling I realize this fast-moving storm is almost upon me. In an instant my leisurely break ends; hastily I load up my pack and on the move, I race down the trail!
Raindrops splash right on my heels as I near the parking area. Quickly I hop into my car just barely dodging the bullet as lightning flashes and rain comes pouring down. In the desert timing is everything, and this rain has arrived right on time as a wonderful gift to a dry spring.
Biological Soil Crust (aka)
Cryptos (krip’ tose):
The surface of
Moab’s desert is held
together by a thin skin of living organisms known as cryptobiotic
soil or cryptos. It has a lumpy black appearance, is very
fragile, and takes decades to heal when it has been damaged.
This soil is a critical part of the survival of the desert.
The cryptobiotic organisms help to stabilize the soil, hold
moisture, and provide protection for germination of the seeds
of other plants. Without it the dry areas of the west would
be much different. Although some disturbance is normal and
helps the soil to capture moisture, excessive disturbance
by hooves, bicycle tires and hiking boots has been shown
to destroy the cryptobiotic organisms and their contribution
to the soil. When you walk around Moab avoid crushing the
cryptos. Stay on trails, walk in washes, hop from stone to
stone. Whatever it takes, don’t crunch the cryptos
unless you absolutely have to!
Cryptobiotic soil garden