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Utah’s canyon lands

Spectacular views of Utah’s red rock canyon lands are just an eight-hour drive from Falcon. May is an excellent time to visit – the average day-time temperature is 82 degrees.The town of Moab is centrally located in a canyon between the Arches and Canyon lands national parks. With its plentiful hotels and restaurants, it’s the perfect place to stay.From the center of town, there are more than 30 off-road trails rated from easy to difficult and spread out like the spokes of a wheel. The trails, with names like Hell’s Revenge, Metal Masher, Chicken Corners, Cliff Hanger, Poison Spider Mesa and Wipeout Hill, are designed to get the adrenaline pumping.We chose the mild-named Schafer Trail our first day. The trail took us northwest of Moab and over a nauseating series of switchbacks that took us to the top of canyon.At the canyon’s rim, the trail connects with State Highway 313, which we drove to Dead Horse Point State Park. The park is 6,000 feet above sea level and from its overlook we watched the Colorado River, 2000 feet below, wind its way from the Continental Divide to the Gulf of California – a journey of 1,400 miles. Geologists estimate the river has been eroding the earth’s crust for 150 million years, while the land itself has been forced upward, creating a harsh landscape.The landscape may look familiar people who’ve seen the movie “Thelma and Louise,” for it was here, according to, that director Ridley Scott filmed Thelma and Louise’s famous “last flight.” Many other famous movies were filmed in Moab as well.Dead Horse Point is a small promontory, surrounded on three sides by impassible drop-offs. It’s entered and exited through a 30-yard-wide neck of land. The point is totally dry and sparsely vegetated.In the 1880s, cowboys drove wild horses across that narrow neck of land and blocked the exit with fencing. There, they culled the herd, selecting horses to keep, horses to ship east and horses to discard, called “broomtails.”The point earned the name “Dead Horse Point” when a group of broomtails died of thirst there, unable to escape because the cowboys blocked the exit and left. Whether their actions were deliberate or just plain stupid is lost to history.Next, we drove south to Natural Bridges National Monument. The monument is located on Cedar Mesa where intermittent streams cut two deep canyons and three natural bridges in sandstone that formed 260 million years from what was once the shore of an ancient sea.Geologists believe the bridges at Natural Bridges National Monument are fairly new – at least in terms of geologic time – at about 5,000 years old.The Sipapu Bridge is second in size to the largest natural bridge in the world, Rainbow Bridge in Glen Canyon. “Sipapu” is the Hopi word for a gateway through which souls pass on their way to the spirit world.Because of its thickness, the Kachina Bridge is thought to be the youngest of the monument’s three bridges. In 1992, 4,000 tons of rock broke away from the bridge – geologic change in just a few seconds.The Owachomo Bridge has the thinnest span and is thought to be the oldest of the three bridges. In Hopi, “Owachomo” means “rock mound” and refers to the mound formation on the southeast end of the bridge.We made our way back to Colorado by way of the Burr Trail, named for John Atlantic Burr, who, according to the National Park Service Web site, was born in 1846 aboard the SS Brooklyn somewhere on the Atlantic Ocean, as his immigrant parents were making their way to Utah.Burr developed the trail to move cattle between winter and summer grazing. Today, the trail connects the towns of Boulder and Bullfrog and crosses the Capital Reef National Park and the Waterpocket Fold, a 100-mile geologic formation named by John Wesley Powell, the famous explorer of the Grand Canyon.According to the National Park Service, the Waterpocket Fold was formed 60 to 70 million years ago when layers of sedimentary rock were warped and bent into a spine of rock several miles wide. Weathering and erosion exposed the layers and turned them into cliffs, canyons, caves, alcoves and basins that collect and hold drainage water.We left Utah’s canyon lands on a ferry that took us from Bullfrog to Halls Crossing, across the northern-most part of Lake Powell. We left feeling that we hadn’t seen and done enough. After all, Moab has at least 29 other trails to explore; plus hiking, river rafting, mountain biking, rock climbing and sky diving. We had barely scratched the surface.

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