Scenic Roads Happenings January 2010
By Rob Cassingham
Hurrah Pass is a popular route providing access to several hikes, petroglyph sites, sheer canyon walls, tranquil streams, and eye-popping scenic vistas. Though most of the route is a dirt road, it is well maintained and completely passable to all but the most low-slung vehicles (motor homes and travel trailers not advised). Total distance one way is only 15.2 miles, making this an ideal destination for those with limited time, or those with a leisurely day and wishing to add some hiking to their itinerary.
The summit of Hurrah Pass is a nice spot for a picnic, but be aware that there are no picnic tables or shade. Hunter Canyon is also a nice spot for a short walk and picnic, with many cool pools of water to soak your feet in.
To begin this scenic drive, proceed to the center of downtown Moab, at the intersection of Main and Center Street. The Moab Information Center is here, and is a good source of more info and maps. Reset your tripmeter for starting out.
Mile 0 This is the intersection of Main and Center streets. Head south on Main Street.
Mile 0.6 Main Street intersects with Kane Creek Road. As a landmark, there are two fast food franchises at this intersection. Turn right at the intersection.
Mile 1.3 The road splits at this point; continue straight ahead.
Mile 1.9 To the right is the Matheson Wetlands Preserve. This preserve is a rare oasis in the midst of a desert environment and as such it attracts a wide variety of animals, birds (over 200 species, both permanent and migratory), and plants. In 2008, a large fire consumed 400 acres of the 895 acre wetlands, but it is now recovering.
In the next half mile, the road narrows as it rounds a blind curve just above the Colorado River. Please drive cautiously as bicyclists are common, and there is too little room for a bicyclist and two vehicles traveling in opposite directions to pass safely.
Moonflower Canyon petroglyphs
A vehicle winds along the road up to Hurrah Pass
Mile 3.3 The Moab Rim trailhead is on the left. This rugged 4x4/hiking/biking route climbs 940 feet in just 1.4 miles. Although the steep route is literally breathtaking, the views from the top are even more so. The Moab Valley and Colorado River are at your feet, and a fine panorama of Arches National Park and the Book Cliffs adorn the distance.
If you park at the trailhead and look across the river, you can see Little Arch at the top of the cliffline. During moderate and heavy rains, an ephemeral waterfall forms and pours out from under the arch.
Mile 3.4 The small Kings Bottom campground is to your right.
Mile 3.7 Moonflower Canyon. There is a badly vandalized rock art panel here, but it is still worth a look. There are also eight walk-in tent camping sites in the short box canyon.
Mile 4.4 There are several man-made caves blasted into the sandstone on the left. These once held over 3,000 chickens that produced eggs for sale in Moab. Kane Springs Road was once known as “Egg Ranch Road”.
Mile 4.7 A privately-owned campground is on the right.
Mile 4.9 A small rock art panel, largely un-vandalized, is at road level on the left. If you do not see it now, you likely will on your return to Moab as it is very easy to spot coming from the opposite direction.
Mile 5.1 The entrance to Pritchett Canyon is to the left. This is one of the most difficult (perhaps THE most difficult) 4x4 trails in the area. It also makes for some beautiful hiking. Please note that the entrance to the canyon is on private property and the landowner charges a small fee to access the canyon.
Mile 5.2 The pavement transitions into a generally well-maintained dirt road. Please reset your tripmeter at this point.
Mile 0 Beginning of dirt road.
Mile 0.7 Mountain bikers park here for the Amasa Back bike trail.
Mile 1.2 The Amasa Back (for mountain bikes)/Cliffhanger (4x4) trail is to the right.
Mile 1.4 A petroglyph site known as “Birthing Rock” is located about 75 feet to the right and just downslope of the road. The large rectangular boulder has images on all four sides. In addition to the birth scene, there are sandal tracks, images resembling a centipede and a horse, and much more.
Mile 2.3 After some steep switchbacks, a tranquil dripping spring appears on the right. In warmer months, the spring is lush with grasses, monkey flower, columbine, maidenhair fern and other shade and water loving plants.
Mile 3.4 The gorge on the left is Hunter Canyon, which features a lovely spring-fed stream and several large pools of water, home to several species of native fish. About ½ mile into the hike, impressive Hunter Arch sits high on the right side of the canyon. Unfortunately, it is difficult to photograph without some scrambling up the cliff face.
Over the next half mile, the road leaves the tight confines of the canyon and it enters a large valley.
Mile 5.8 Approximately 50 yards to the right of the road is an interesting balanced rock known as the “Turk’s Head”. The “head” is composed of dark brownish-red sandstone and is wearing a white turban of stone.
Note the sheer cliffs on both sides of the valley. Just below the vertical sandstone cliffs is a greenish layer. This is an exposure of Chinle formation, which contains deposits of uranium. In the 1950s and 60s, Moab was overrun by thousands of prospectors and miners eager to exploit this natural resource, and would bulldoze roads nearly anywhere there was a promising site. If you look carefully, you can see some of these old roads switchbacking higher and higher to the green layer. When the mines were active, driving some of these roads must have been a truly puckering experience. They are no longer passable due to washouts and rockfalls.
Mile 6.6 The road crosses Kane Creek. The conditions here vary greatly throughout the year. In late spring, the stream may be deep enough that passenger cars may not be able to ford the stream. In summer, thunderstorms may send killing walls of water downstream. In fall and winter, it may be bone dry. Use good judgment before continuing across.
Mile 6.9 At this intersection, you are to continue straight ahead. Drivers of particularly low-slung vehicle may want to turn around at this point. Under normal conditions, intrepid drivers of cars can make it to the summit of Hurrah Pass-just drive slowly and use caution. Higher clearance vehicles will encounter no serious obstacles.
This is the boulder known as "Birthing Rock"
The road to the left goes up Kane Creek Canyon and becomes a very serious 4x4 route, eventually joining US 191 approximately 13 miles south of Moab.
At the intersection, there is also a route that goes to the right for several hundred yards before petering out in an erosional red-rock fantasyland of stone, streaked and polka dotted with white. Known as “Piebald Terraces”, there is some great freestyle wandering to be done here for those so inclined.
From this point, the road begins climbing upwards towards Hurrah Pass. There are several pullouts on the way up that provide wonderful views, but BE CAREFUL. Many of the views are at the edge of vertical drop-offs that would be absolutely fatal were you to fall. Watch children and pets very closely!
Mile 9.3 This is one of the scenic pull-outs just mentioned. Again, be vigilant.
Looking at the cliffs above the road, one will notice many fantastically eroded shapes, including one known as the “penguin pulling a covered wagon”.
Mile 10.0 Hurrah Pass, elevation 4,780 feet. Fantastic views stretch off in all directions.
Hurrah Pass got its name from cowboys. They would drive cows off of pastures now known as Island in the Sky (Canyonlands National Park) and down the Shafer Trail (at the time a tight and winding path off the mesa with 1000 foot drops, now a fairly good road-but still with the sheer drop-off!). The cowboys would then drive the cattle across the river, then up the more treacherous west side of Hurrah Pass. Here at the summit, they would count the cattle in order to see if they had lost any. Then, knowing that they had passed virtually all of the most dangerous obstacles and Moab was very near, the cowboys would whoop a resounding “HURRAH!”
The road does continue down the other side of Hurrah Pass, growing more rugged and becoming the Chicken Corners trail. That route will be detailed in a future issue of the Moab Happenings.
When you have finished enjoying the view, please return to Moab via the route you just drove.
The Moab Happenings thanks you for visiting Moab! May your trip be safe and spectacular. Come back often!