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HIKING HAPPENINGS January 2008

Fisher Towers – Let Your Imagination Run Wild
by Marcia Hafner

If you want to see gigantic, brick red sand castles that were formed at least 225 million years ago, Fisher Towers is the place for you. Composed of Moenkopi and Cutler sandstone, the brilliant coloring is a result of an iron oxide called hematite. This sandstone has been eroded into many twisted, warped formations that can have the appearance of any figure your imagination wants it to be.

Be sure to bring your camera for this hard-to-beat photo opportunity. The dramatic scenery of Fisher Towers is a photographer’s dream, especially at mile marker 24, where there’s a pullout for safe viewing. The Towers’ distinct redness highlighted against the La Sal Mountains is most striking when the mountains are snow covered. The best time to capture the uniqueness of these mud-hardened towers along the trail is late afternoon and just before sunset, when the descending sun illuminates the spires and creates long, contrasting shadows.
It is also a filmmakers’ paradise. Videos, commercials, and a long list of motion pictures including A Crooked Sky, The Comancheros, Rio Conchos, The Greatest Story Ever Told, Cheyenne Autumn, Nurse Betty, Wagon Master, Geronimo, and The Living Edens have all been filmed here.

To see these geologic wonders drive north out of Moab approximately two miles and turn right just before the Colorado River Bridge on to Highway 128. Then proceed twenty-one miles. Near mile marker 21, a sign identifies the right hand turn for the 2.2 mile dirt road to the parking area for the Fisher Towers trailhead. The Bureau of Land Management administers the Fisher Towers Recreation Site. A small campground with a vault toilet, fire grills, and picnic tables is located next to the parking area but no drinking water is available.

Fisher Towers, however, is not just for hikers, photographers, and movie stars. Despite the crumbly texture, which offers less than optimal conditions, rock climbing has become popular due to improvements in climbing techniques and equipment. Along the trail, remnants of climbing gear can be seen dangling from the sheer walls and hikers often stop in horrified awe as they watch climbers spider-walk their way up to the top of one of the spires such as the Titan. At 900 feet high, it is the tallest sandstone spire in the world. Climbed for the first time in 1962 by three men from Colorado, the story of their ascent, “We Climbed Utah’s Skyscraper Rock” appeared in the November 1962 issue of National Geographic.

The well-marked trail, ascending 650 feet to a viewpoint at the elevation of 5300 feet, follows a route around the southwest side of Fisher Towers and the Titan. It is rated intermediate in difficulty. Allow yourself three to four hours to make the 4.4 mile round- trip hike. Strictly a hiking trail, mountain bikes and motorized vehicles are not allowed. During the summer the best strategy to beat the heat is to do this hike as early in the morning as possible before it becomes oven baking hot especially where the trail faces west. Be sure to carry a gallon of water per person.

There is significant exposure on short portions of the unfenced trail so take your time and watch your step. This is not the time to run a race. The drop-off probably won’t kill you, but the bill at the emergency room just might! About halfway along, a short ladder can be a little tricky to get on and off. It is problematic for dogs (especially big ones) and enough of a barrier that some hikers with their pets won’t even attempt it.

Starting from the parking lot, the trail drops down a short series of ledgy steps (watch your footing on the loose sand on the rock) to a small slickrock ridge. Then it makes another descent into a ravine through a small cut in the ridge. On the lower part of the trail, the vegetation is sparse as junipers, singleleaf ash, Mormon tea and yucca struggle to survive in this harsh, arid climate. Towards the end of the trail, particularly in the shaded areas along the final ridge, it becomes lusher with pinyon pines and cliffrose.

From the bottom of the ravine the trail heads steeply up and follows a winding route directly beneath the towers. After swinging around the Titan, there’s a series of switchbacks to the final ridge.

One of the big payoffs for all the exertion on this hike is the endless majestic views. Each twist in the trail gives a different perspective, from spiraling towers to long- distance looks at the Nuns and Priests, Castle Rock, the river corridor, Professor Valley, Locomotive Rock, Parriott Mesa, Porcupine Rim, Adobe Mesa, Dome Plateau, the Richardson Amphitheater, and Mary Jane Canyon. When the trail ends at a panoramic viewpoint there’s steady head turning back and forth to gaze at The Towers, Onion Creek Valley, upper Fisher Valley, and stacked up mesas that stretch to the horizon. Along with the fantastic views, ravens provide plenty of entertainment as they effortlessly hitchhike a ride on the thermals.

If you’ve never done it before, do take a hike on the Fishers Towers Trail to enjoy the stunning views and the geology where you can let your imagination run away with you.


Cryptobiotic soil garden
Cryptobiotic soil garden


 
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