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Trail Happenings March 2010

Castleton Tower in Castle Valley
byDavid Erley

Castleton Tower
photographs by Yrma van der Steenstaeten

“WOW!” is generally the first comment made when sighting Castleton Tower and the Priest and Nuns in Castle Valley. Of course these local icons can be seen when driving the River Road (Utah Hwy 128, a Scenic Byway) but the full impact is up close.

Castleton Tower, also know as Castle Rock, one of the most impressive desert towers, is the birth place of desert climbing in Utah, and remains the destination for many climbers. However, the more advanced hiker can thoroughly enjoy the access route. The access trail was built to service the rock climbing community and is not for the faint-hearted or out of shape. The vertical rise is around 1,000 feet, the trail is steep, and is considered a difficult hike. The trail is in good repair as it has been worked on extensively over the last few years with the help of Trail Mix and other volunteer organizations. The intrepid hiker will be rewarded with 360 degree views ranging from Arches National Park and the Colorado River, to the La Sal Mountains and everything in between. In the spring, the hike contrasts the red rock desert with the snow covered La Sals making for a very memorable hiking experience. The route has a fair bit of exposure so if you are uncomfortable in airy places or are hiking with small children this is not the trail for you. Since this is an out and back hike, one can decide to turn around when the trail gets steep or the hiker becomes uncomfortable. Even hiking part way brings memorable views to the hiker.

Bring plenty of water, especially in summer (at least 2 quarts per person), wear a hat and use sunscreen. Remember that if thunderstorms are in the forecast this hike should be avoided due to lightning danger.

In 1961, Castleton Tower was the first desert tower climbed in Utah by the rock climbing pioneers, Layton Kor and Huntley Ingals. This cutting edge climb has since been included in Fifty Classic Climbs of North America. It is the most popular desert spire and has seen well over a thousand ascents. In 2003, Utah Open Lands (UOL), a statewide land trust, preserved the base lands that provide access to the tower from development. UOL has spearheaded the stewardship of this incredible place with proceeds raised at the annual showing of the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour in Moab.

Adopt a Crag team

The 7th annual event is scheduled for Monday, March 15th. Please see adjoining article and advertisement for more information. If you are interested in more climbing history of the area, or just the history of the Moab area, visit the Dan O’Laurie Museum of Moab. The museum is currently featuring climbing in the 2009 Fall/Winter issue of the Canyon Legacy.

Castleton Tower is in the Colorado River Corridor which is administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The River Corridor and adjacent lands are incredibly scenic and are highly sought for recreation and moviemaking. Countless commercials, some music videos, and many movies have been filmed using this landscape as a spectacular background. Movies like Cheyenne Autumn along with John Wayne classics such as Rio Grande and Wagon Master were filmed here and, more recently, segments of City Slicker II and Geronimo. Visit the Moab Museum of Film and Western Heritage located in the area at the Red Cliffs Lodge at Mile Post 14 on Highway 128.

If the Castleton Tower Access Trail sounds too difficult, then try one of the other hiking trails along the River Corridor; Negro Bill, Amphitheater Loop, or the Fisher Towers trails.

photographs by Yrma van der Steenstaeten

To access the Colorado River Corridor, take Utah State Highway 128, the River Road, from its junction with Highway 191 at the Colorado River crossing.

To reach Castleton Tower, turn right on the La Sal Mountain Loop Road located at Mile Post 16 on Highway 128. Drive between four and five miles and look for a very large cairn (pile of big rocks) on the left side of the road. Follow the dirt road a short distance to a parking area, a small campground and the trailhead. Walk in the wash upstream and then follow the trail signs and cairns. Once out of the wash, the trail should be obvious so if it isn’t, please look around carefully to find it. There is only one trail accessing the base of Castleton Tower.

The author of this article, David Erley, is the current mayor of Castle Valley and previously led the local UOL efforts, which included spending many hours working on the Castleton Tower access trail and the camping area near the parking lot. In addition Dave is an active member of Trail Mix.

Trail Mix, a Grand County Advisory Committee develops and maintains non motorized trails for a variety of users including hikers, bikers, skiers and equestrians. We meet the second Tues. of each month at the Grand Center 182 N 500 W from 12-2. Everyone is welcome. Sandy 259-0253 or Get involved with trails through the many volunteer opportunities!

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