Corona Arch Trail - It’s Worth the Walk
by Marcia Hafner
No matter how many times I see it, the stark immenseness of Corona Arch never ceases to amaze me. A great example of a buttress arch where one end is set in the cliff face, I still marvel at its massive, elegant size. Corona Arch is also known as Little Rainbow Bridge Arch because of its resemblance to Rainbow Bridge on Lake Powell, but with a 140 X 105 foot opening it is anything but little. In fact, it has a girth so high and wide a small fixed-winged plane has flown through its gaping portal, an aerial feat that is now illegal.
From Moab it’s a quick, easy drive to the Corona Arch trailhead. To get there go north on Highway 191. After crossing the Colorado River Bridge, continue 1.3 more miles to the Potash Road (State Road 279) and turn left. Then drive ten more miles to the signed Corona Arch trailhead located on the right side of the road. The Gold Bar Campground on the river is directly across the road from the trailhead. There’s a large gravel parking lot and an informative kiosk about Corona Arch and Bowtie Arch, which is adjacent to Corona.
Now all you have to do is grab your pack and start walking up Bootlegger Canyon. Since it is a “hikers-only” trail, you won’t be sharing it with mountain bikes, ATVs or motorcycles but its popularity does make it likely that you will be run into plenty of other enthusiastic hikers. It is 1.5 miles to Corona Arch and allowing two to three hours for the round trip makes for a pleasurable, leisurely hike. There are some steep sections on the trail, but actual elevation gain is only 440 feet. Most of the route is exposed so summer shade is minimal and every effort should be made at that scorching time of year to hike either early in the morning or late afternoon-early evening. And don’t forget the cardinal rule for any summer hike in southeast Utah - carry an overabundance of water!
This well maintained, well-marked trail is not difficult for a healthy adult or child, but do show proper respect for the drop offs next to the trail. The first steep part, with four sweeping switchbacks, presents dramatic views of downriver vistas, and Canada geese are commonly seen and heard along this section of the river corridor.
A trail register box is situated just before the railroad track crossing. This railroad spur was built in 1964 to connect the potash plant at the end of Potash Road to the main line at Crescent Jct. on I-70. Just below Corona Arch the train enters a one-mile long tunnel that emerges into the light of day near Highway 191. Stop for a moment at the crossing to gaze into the mammoth gorge that was dynamited to create a passage for the train, which runs once a week.
Immediately after crossing the tracks, there’s a turnstile that gets you through the barbed wire fence. An old eroding road gradually climbs through a gap in the rim and the river views disappear. Several level areas during the ascent provide some relief from the uphill grind. With the cairns leading you ever onward toward the base of a large cliff, the trail turns briefly into a slight sandy pass and on the downward slide changes back to solid slickrock. Gradually the slickrock takes on a severe slant where a safety cable, which isn’t all that necessary, does assure an extra measure of security.
You definitely want to grab on to the next safety cable, however, to help you climb up the moki steps that have been chiseled out of the steep slickrock. When you reach the upper end of the staircase, be sure to look up for your first glimpse of Corona Arch. Spying your goal is uplifting, but hang on - there’s one final challenge left, especially for those with a fear of heights – the short metal ladder! It makes it easier if you just take a deep breath and just go for it. That way you’ll be on top before you even have time to think about it!
Now that you’re almost to the end of the trail, the cairns will easily direct you along the best, most direct route over the last bench of slickrock to both arches. I always stop first at Bowtie, a classic pothole arch that is also known as Pinto Arch, to observe its unique structure before continuing on to Corona. A pothole arch is formed when an overhead pothole in the slickrock is eroded chemically and mechanically by erosion. When the bottom caves in, the result is a pothole arch and Bowtie looks like the roof fell in, leaving a skylit hole behind. Continued erosion has enlarged the hole to form the arch we see today. What attracts me most to Bowtie, especially on a hot day, are the seeps of water below the arch that have created a mini-hanging garden. In season I have found cave primrose blooming there. The water even makes it to the ground below, creating another mini-garden with grasses, junipers and a small cottonwood tree.
I always take my longest break underneath Corona Arch. It is so expansive it provides plenty of shade and in the summer that’s exactly what I’m looking for. After the exertion of the upward climb, I take the time to be mesmerized by the arch and the panoramic canyonland vistas contrasting against the deep blue sky, which always make my break stretch out much longer than planned.
Bootlegger Canyon all the way to Corona Arch is easily accessible year round, but May is my favorite time to go. That’s when the wildflower show is in its prime, as the landscape flames orange with globemallow. The yellow elegance of the Prince’s plume and the daisy-like Hopi blanketflower add wonderful contrast to the prickly pear cactus, which often strays from its usual color pattern of yellow to varying shades of pink. But looks aren’t everything. There’s also the wonderful fragrance of cliffrose that floats along in the breeze.
In the opinion of many, Corona Arch is one of the most impressive arches in the Moab area. For me it is worth the time and effort to make that walk over and over again to soak in this amazing geologic wonder.
Biological Soil Crust (aka)
Cryptos (krip’ tose):
The surface 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!
Cryptobiotic soil garden