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
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
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
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
Soil Crust (aka)
Cryptos (krip’ tose):
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!