Moab Happenings Archive
Return to home


Getting to the Point: Dead Horse Point’s Southern East Rim Trail
by Kathy Grossman

On a cool, cloudy morning with intermittent sun and drizzle, my friend and I walked south from the Visitor Center’s back door to the dramatic southern overlook of Dead Horse Point. We had just examined the “Spirit and Grit” cowboy camp display in the Visitor’s Center basement, a collaboration with the park, the Moab Museum, and the Museum of Film and Western Heritage. Authentic items from sixth-generation Moabite Mark “Gene” Beeson’s personal collection were featured. Saddles, tack, cooking equipment along with photos and write-ups described rustic life managing cattle and sheep along the area’s mesas, basins, and rims. Cowboys would also corral wild mustangs that once roamed these sagebrush flats, blocking them south of The Neck with piles of brush and dead juniper branches. Some of those horses were once left trapped for too long on the waterless point, dying of thirst within sight of the Colorado River 2,000 feet below, giving the park its sad, stark name.

From the intersection of Moab’s Main and Center Streets, drive 11 miles north on US 191, turn left (west) onto Utah 313, entering Sevenmile Canyon along the Dead Horse Mesa Scenic Byway. Continue for another 23 miles, making a left (east) at the sign to the park. (Grand View Point Road continues south to the Island in the Sky unit of Canyonlands NP.) Driving time is about 45 minutes altogether, but what a gorgeous 45 minutes! You’ll see dark red, almost chocolate rippled spires, strawberries-and-cream sandstone bluffs, the Monitor and Merrimac buttes, and the Henry Mountains to the west with Mount Ellen’s summit prominent at 11,522 feet.

Opened to the public in 1959, Dead Horse covers 5,362 acres of high desert. Located above a gooseneck bend of the Colorado River, this rocky peninsula on top of sandstone cliffs and connected to the mesa by “The Neck,” reaches its southern end at the point overlook. The opening climbing scenes with Tom Cruise in the 2000 film Mission Impossible II were filmed here. Cruise’s Ethan Hunt character stands on top of this point as a helicopter delivers his next mission assignment imbedded in a pair of sunglasses.

On my own mission one winter years ago, I joined Trail Mix as they crafted mountain bike trails which became the Intrepid Trail System. We’d worked in cold, sleet, and fog thick as meringue. These trails were named after Intrepid Potash, a mine whose solar evaporation ponds can be seen from the park’s eastside overlooks. Blue dye is added to better absorb the sunlight. The ponds get shallower and shallower, turning lighter shades of blue as the potash precipitates out of the solution. Rail cars then haul away the crystalline potash from the pond bottoms.

This southern leg of the East Rim Trail is mostly flat and easy to follow. The crisp temperatures, the gorgeous rolling clouds, and occasional sun dramatized views from the Basin Overlook, The Neck, and then Dead Horse Point Overlook itself. Our trip was an out-and-back, but you can also drive to this overlook by a roughly parallel road, or hike to the point and return via shuttle.

In addition to the park’s camping spaces, you can rent a yurt (a Central Asian circular dwelling of poles wrapped in felt or canvas). My hiking companion had indeed stayed at one of the park’s yurts, commenting that it was fabulous to walk right out of her accommodation to start a painting of the wondrous view.

After a morning spent driving and hiking, I was about ready for some cowboy coffee myself, but happily settled for hot chocolate from the Visitor Center’s Keurig machine. I also imagined myself gratefully snuggling down in the cow camp exhibit’s bedroll for a nap, happy for this stunning park and an athletic and uncrowded day. .

Kathy Grossman

Kathy Grossman is a writer and hiker who doesn’t know much about horses but lives with someone who does. In Moab since 2011, she also spent eight years in Carlsbad, New Mexico, another area known for potash mining.

Return to home