Happenings February 2004
The Moab Tongue
The Moab Tongue
Welcome, Webfeet! About this
time of year I start seeing license plates from Oregon and Washington.
People who know that one of the best places to naturally treat your
Sun Deprivation Depression Syndrome, without hordes of company or
freezing your butt off, is Moab, of course. And one of the better
places to dose on Vitamin D is the Moab Tongue.
The Moab Tongue. I love that
name. Moab Tongue is actually the name of a component of Entrada
sandstone, the other two being Dewey Bridge and Slickrock. All three
are notable constituents of Arches National Park. The Moab Tongue
is also known as the Moab Member.
Actually, the Moab Tongue is a cap rock that covers many square
miles in and around the park. It’s wonderful to walk on; a
solid and expansive sheet of reflective white stone, laced with
pinon-and-juniper-graced cracks, hidden water holes, winding canyons,
dinosaur tracks and archeological errata.
Willow Springs Slot Canyon
Willow Springs Canyon
To get here take Highway 191 north ten miles from the Colorado River
bridge. Just after the junction with Hwy 313 you will cross a low
ridge and the Willow Springs Road is on your right on the bottom
of the hill. It
should be marked. This is the old park
entrance and is the one Ed Abbey refers to in ‘Desert Solitaire’.
This road can usually be negotiated with low clearance, two wheel
drive, although crossing Courthouse Wash may present a problem.
No problem. If you chicken out here just walk down the wash about
a mile to the mouth of Willow Springs Canyon. Otherwise, continue
Willow Springs Canyon and
road until you reach Willow Springs, then
start wandering down the canyon. About a half mile below the spring
it starts to entrench into a beautifully undulating slot canyon.
Round trip from the spring to Courthouse Wash is about 4 miles.
You can also reach Willow Springs from inside the park by taking
the dirt road from Balanced Rock.
Megatracks refers to dinosaur tracks, hundreds of them. These tracks
are at the north end of Klondike Bluffs, the long ridge that parallels
Hwy 191 and comprises a de facto border of Arches Park. Head north
from the Colorado River bridge for 15 miles until you see a sign
reading “Emergency Turnout”. Turn right and cross the
railroad tracks. From there, Bureau of Land Management signs will
direct two miles to a parking lot and a set of dino tracks. If you
have any question about which dirt track to take, bear right. From
the parking lot, walk south about a half mile along a two-track
trail until you come to a wash with a lot of juniper trees. Turn
east and start climbing up the canyon. After about a mile of delightful
ambling you come to a large expanse of white caprock. The tracks
are along the upper edge of the exposed stone. They are mostly three-toed,
or theropod, tracks and are impossible to miss.
(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
Whatever it takes, don’t crunch
the cryptos unless you absolutely have to!
Top ‘O the Furnace
The Fiery Furnace is one of the prime destinations in the park but
few people ever visit the area around
it. One of my favorite areas of Moab Tongue
is to the southeast of the Fiery Furnace. This particular area is
more knobby and uneven than the other two, but it’s still
fun. It’s also pretty wild. I’ve seen mountain lion
tracks up there. This is pretty much a bushwhack in hiking terms.
I don’t know of any trails in the immediate area. I’ve
always accessed it from the Delicate Arch parking lot. From the
lot you work your way to the north and west. There’s a beautiful
canyon there called Freshwater Spring Canyon and a good hikers can
work their way up about two miles through the red Entrada until
they break out on the top and the Moab Tongue. Don’t make
the mistake of taking the larger, more obvious canyon to the south
of Freshwater Spring. This is Salt Wash and it’s a brushy
hell. I guess it would also be possible access this area from the
bottom of the Fiery Furnace somewhere around the Salt Valley Overlook,
bearing in mind the lessons of hiking etiquette I mention in the
“Cryptos” sidebar, but I’ve never gone in this
Rory Tyler leads
custom rock art tours and backcountry hikes for people of all
skill levels for Canyon Voyages Adventure Company.