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Moab Hiking Trails November 2004

Soaking it up:
Looking for a Wet Walk
in the Matheson Wetlands

by Carrie Switzer

Ah, Moab. You scurry to put on your boots for a walk in the long-awaited and very nicely light rain, and by the time you find your shoelaces the rain has stopped. Oh well, I’m going to the Scott M. Matheson Wetlands anyway.

No dogs, no bikes, this Preserve differs from the Bureau of Land Management trails I’ve been trekking. But it was perfect for a drizzly Sunday afternoon where my desire to be outdoors in still-mild temperatures outweighed any desire for a vigorous romp.

At the trail head of this preserve – located on the right out Kane Creek Boulevard just beyond 500 West - are markers stating its history and lauding its values. “A rare desert wetland,” and “lush, watery world, unique to the Colorado Plateau.” These attributes are obvious even with eyes closed. I hear Mill Creek gurgling, rather loudly; I breathe deep into my lungs the moisture that attracts and maintains a wildlife menagerie. I feel it seep into my pores. I hear thunder in the otherwise silent distance. It’s a little bit dark, and very, very peaceful.

Hundreds of bird species nest here, and beaver build intricate homes on the banks of the Colorado River and Mill Creek. The wetlands are the results of muddy river water that slows down and hangs out there, and the La Sal Mountains drain their snow melt here via Mill Creek. Mule deer, river otter and frogs call the wetlands home, and Moabites call it the Slough. Aside from the trails most of the wetlands has been left to decompose for the benefit of the wildlife. A destructive fire two years ago cleared a lot of the forage, and fire prevention clearing was apparent on this day’s hike. But for the most part, wild growth and creatures surround the nicely maintained trails.

To the right, walkers can follow a compacted trail that leads to two boardwalk trails; one goes to an outdoor classroom and another winds a loop back to the original trail. This is a perfect jaunt for an elderly friend, a kid, or anyone who wants to get way out of Dodge in just a few minutes.

To the left the compacted trail turns to a primitive trail all the way down to the river, where, according to the map at the trailhead, it stops. Having traversed the paths to the right a number of times, I went left. And, I didn’t stop at the river.

I enjoy feeling small when I’m out hiking, and this trail allows for that among tall cottonwoods – less so than among massive red cliffs – but small, just the same. The wetlands have come back remarkably, but scars from the fire that jumped the river are still visible. The trail opens to a strange clearing before it goes “primitive,” and for some reason I didn’t research later, quite a few trees have been cut. I assume its fire prevention.

Soon, I’m under a canopy of trees and walking on a blanket of damp, fallen leaves. Above me the trees are red and yellow. The canopy shrinks and I feel larger. I can’t escape the image of Hobbits as I continue deeper into the woods, until I come to – the river? Yes, and to the left the Portal. This is where many a canoe trips begin for an easy day float. No on appears to be out on this day, though.

I’m no longer on a trail but rather a path. The trees are black, gnarly and twisted but not without beauty. Wildlife loves it and I’ve watched a pair of raven, a couple of squirrels, and heard some rustling but have seen little else. There’s a hint of wild in me in this environment, and it turns out to be a good thing. Having left the trail, it will take me a while to find my way back, and I’ll be stomping some freshly mowed grasses, which at least allow me to see the Portal and have some sense of direction.

I walked for two hours and came full circle back to where I started. Had I headed back the way I came I may have shaved 30 to 45 minutes off the walk. At that point I would have explored the right hand paths again, because as it was, I could’ve stayed there all day.

Much of the trail at Matheson Wetlands is wheelchair and stroller accessible. Fall carries the advantage of being relatively mosquito-free there. The creek is plentiful and the foliage is beautiful. And if it does start raining, it’s an easy run back to the car.

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