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HIKING HAPPENINGS April 2007

Hurry, This Offer May Not Last
by Rory Tyler

“The eye is numbed by vastness and magnificence and passes over the fine details, ignoring them in defense against surfeit.”
Eliot Porter, The Place No One Knew

This quote, from Eliot Porter’s classic elegy to Glen Canyon, describes many places on the Colorado Plateau, places like Johnson’s-Up-On-Top, the southeast boundary of the Moab valley. The Up-On-Top is on your left as you head south, looming for miles above the highways and hayfields, the small businesses and subdivisions - a cliff line of broken, jumbled red rock capped by a flat, splitlevel mesa.


Left to right: Wilson Mesa, Mill Creek, Johnson's Up-on-Top

On top of that mesa all the hustle and bustle, the white light and noise that is the base line thrum of the day-to-day, disappears. Vision soars unimpeded into the unfolding vastness. The mind and heart follow. The compelling concerns that inform life down below begin to lose shape and meaning as the pressures that push from every direction evaporate and dissipate into an ever-expanding beauty.

There’s not much to see on the Up-On-Top itself. Hundreds of acres of dusty green blackbrush. A few scraggly junipers. Some polished boulders left over from the ice age. A scattering of cow pies and bullet-riddled beer cans, remnants of Moab’s quaint, disappearing Western ways. An occasional ATV or motorcycle
might buzz about for a while. But they can’t do much harm here and they soon tire of the featureless terrain
and move on to more challenging locations.

This featureless character is the mesa’s most endearing quality. It allows a pristine view, sprawling from the high La Sals to the shimmering desert, from the ragged cliffs to the deep canyons. This is a place where the peace and serenity inherent in the wild lands concentrates and crystallizes. This is a place where emptiness has value.

The far side of Johnson’s-Up-On-Top borders Mill Creek Canyon and the Mill Creek Wilderness Study Area. When you’ve reestablished your psychological defenses and are ready to delve into the details, this is the place to go. When you top out on the dirt road that takes you to the mesa, go straight for a quarter mile. Where the
road forks, either drive straight another 200 yards (high clearance required) or park it and walk the last bit. You will come to a view of an amazing desert canyon filled with cottonwoods and a year-round stream. There is a hanging valley just below and two sandstone formations about a quarter mile to the right. One of the largest deer trails in the county goes between those formations and takes you into the canyon. This route requires some skill and trail-finding ability. (You can also access this part of the canyon from either end of Flat Pass Road, somewhat longer but decidedly more docile routes. As the trail descends it switches back to the left, then right across a short slick-rock face marked by the skid marks of deer hoofs. Another couple hundred
yards and you’ll see a narrow cleft on the left diving down toward the canyon bottom. It’s steep, but fairly easy. It’s about a mile from the top of the mesa to the bottom.

The details inside the canyon are as overwhelming as the vistas were above. It must have been heaven to the ancient Indian inhabitants. Water, wood, game, farmland. This part of Mill Creek has one of the highest concentrations of Indian rock art in the area. You know they were busy and happy down here for centuries.

To get to Johnson’s-Up-On-Top take Highway 191 to the La Sal Loop Road turn-off, about fi ve miles south of town. The turn-off takes you to Spanish Valley Drive. left on Spanish Valley, about a mile, until you see a small pump house and a green gate on your right, directly across from Sunny Acres Lane. There’s a sign on the gate informing you that you are entering a ‘private subdivision’ and proscribing some of the rural pleasures
that were formerly allowed. But access is still open and the road is a public right-of-way. It’s about a mile to the top. It’s steep. It’s rough. But, with a little care, I can get my two-wheel, rear-wheel drive Toyota up there.

Once top, you’ll see the survey stakes and lot assignments for the proposed Cloud Rock subdivision and luxury resort. As you can imagine, putting a development on the edge of a wilderness canyon is a fairly contentious
local issue and the outcome is still in the balance. In the meantime, Johnson’s-Up-On-Top offers what it has always offered; a place to go, only minutes from town, where“vastness and magnificence” retain their primal integrity, unmarred by the hand of man. But hurry, this offer may not last.

Rory Tyler is available for cowboy poetry/campfire song gatherings which include lore, science, history and lies of the Moab area. (Suitable for all age groups). Rates are negotiable. Give Rory a call at 435-260-8496.


Cryptobiotic soil garden
Cryptobiotic soil garden


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