Happenings February 2005
On Top of
Sand Flats with Fins and Things
review by Carrie Switzer
January I had one objective for a day hike, and that
was to stay warm. I contemplated three possibilities:
Fisher Towers, about 20 miles northeast of Moab off of
State Route 128; Castleton Tower in Castle Valley; or
Sand Flats. I chose the latter because I had forgotten
water and my dog when I went to Castle Valley early one
morning. I’ll be looking for warmth in
February and March as well, so it is likely I will get
around to the other two in the coming months.
Flats is a recreational vehicle area and famous for the
Slickrock Bike Trail. Although not advertised as such,
it is a great place to walk. Straight east off of Millcreek
Drive, right outside of town, Sand Flats Road meanders
past the recycling center, the old Moab Landfill and
Lions Back Campground. There are Bureau of Land Management
campgrounds and OHV trails beyond that people come from
all over the world to see. I thought I’d
hoof it on Fins ‘n Things, a nine-mile, three-hour
trail by jeep that I only scratched the surface of on foot.
But oh, what a surface!
There is no mention of a foot trail at the campsites
I stopped at, so I chose campsite E-7 when I saw the
familiar Fins ‘n Things trail
marker. I parked in one of the empty campsites and read that the trail
requires the high clearance of four-wheel drive vehicles, that much of
it is slickrock, some soft sand and a few boulders. Nothing my feet couldn’t
maneuver, I thought, which I found to be true for the first couple of
miles – the sum of my excursion. I walked, climbed and ran – up
and down - as a near-full moon rose and the bright January sun set.
It’s a great walk in an aimless sort of way, as unless you pack
overnight gear a hiker is not likely to do the 18-mile round trip in
and back. It also requires certain attentiveness as the slickrock surfaces
go on and on, and it would be easy to get lost if one didn’t stay
on the trail – which, remember, is not a walking trail and is marked
for the benefit of vehicles.
Hence, if you’re walking on Sand Flats, look for painted dinosaurs
on the slickrock to mark your direction, rather than cairns, and wooden
markers with arrows along the dirt and soft sand. The remarkable scenery
is not repetitive; it’s just that there is so much of it that it
becomes difficult to tell where one mound ends and another begins. The
feeling is of being very much in touch with earth and sky, and only earth
and sky. The campgrounds and roads are invisible to the eye from a very
short distance out.
the midst of some of the largest landmasses are islands
of soil with vegetation growing from seemingly nowhere.
They must have formed from a pool, many of which are
found interspersed among other boulders throughout the
Sand Flats land mass. Off the trail the cryptobiotic
soils grow thick – some like balls
of moss – encouraging anyone to look on in awe but
never veer from the trail.
Walking with an imaginative eye for being in a motorized vehicle of some
sort I can see the adventure in such a trip. It is rated as a 3-1/2 on
a scale of 1 to 5 by the Red Rock Four-Wheelers, who with the Bureau
of Land Management help maintain the area. It is a heavily used tourist
attraction that I imagined would be visibly worn by such monster vehicles
as those that visit every spring. But, as mentioned earlier, there is
evidence of untouched ground, pure desert growth, that is not only protected
from the motorized vehicles, but is probably unnoticed by them. So while
a hiker can envy the sharp turns and roller coaster-like jeep trails,
jeepers may be missing the pedestrian view to an equal disadvantage.
The magic of this walk is that it is not designed for
the walker, and it is very easy to feel on top of the
world, quite literally, with the view of snow-capped
La Sal Mountains, Porcupine Rim and miles and miles
of slick rock. A walk on Sand Flats can be as long or as short as one
chooses, as long as the hiker pays attention to their direction. I wouldn’t
go in the dark, and I wouldn’t go in the middle of summer. There
is precious little greenery, no shade and no water outside of the little
potholes still holding some melted frost in the afternoon sun. Few people
are around, and the campgrounds make a nice picnic spot to return to.
I may return with a dirt bike someday, just for kicks.
I know I’ll
return on foot, and probably frequently.