Moab Happenings Archive
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Trail Happenings December 2010

Paved Path in Moab Canyon - AKA Old Highway
by Geoff Freethey

REJOICE! THE PATH IS READY TO RIDE: The paved path from the Colorado Pedestrian/Bike bridge, all the way to State Route 313 is finished! Sure, you still have to make your way along a crumbling shoulder to get to the pedestrian/bike bridge from Moab, but it’s worth it! What a boon for Moab and all bikers in general! The old and brittle riders, (like me) can pedal all the way to Dead Horse and Canyonlands on our grossly antiquated bikes without leaving our saddles. The young and rubbery can access some great mountain biking trails without having to load their bikes into the truck or atop the car. The new pedestrian/bike bridge allows all of us to ride serenely over the river without worrying about becoming a hood ornament on a Kenworth. Even dog walkers can find a connecting trail to give Fido an aerobic jump start by using the Killer B Trail with its steep ascent up to the boundary of Arches NP. In the early morning, few bikers use this short trail to escape the Moab Brands area trails.

THANKS TO ALL THAT MADE IT HAPPEN! The folks responsible for this astounding feat are numerous. The dreamers, (aka Kim Schappert-Moab Trails Alliance; Ginny Carlson-Former Trail Mix Chair; Russ Von Koch-BLM Recreation Head; and others) put forth a vision and sold it to the financiers. The financiers gathered the money (the Feds, MTA, Trail Mix, UDOT, Utah State Parks & Recreation, Moab City, Grand County, Transportation District,and private donors). The engineers (Transportation Commission, UDOT, Horrocks Engineering, and Mark Wright-GrandCounty Engineer) created theconstruction plans that would make it work and LeGrand-Johnson Construction made it all a reality.

GEOLOGY: The best part of the ride through the Moab Canyon is that you have time to stop and look at the fascinating geology. The black asphalt ribbon winds its way over and along the river, along the boundary of Arches National Park, then through the “jumping off point” gap and up the sinuous grade around Deadman’s Curve to the top where the red rocks of the Cutler Formation and the sandstones of the Glen Canyon Group dominate the western sky. There are even spots where the whine of autos out on the “new” US-191 are silenced by the rock walls along the path.

HISTORY OF THE PATH/ OLD HIGHWAY: When you stop to catch your breath or sip some water, take a look around. The history of this old road tells of the resilience of the folks who call Moab, home. Ancient Puebloans, Utes, trappers, Spanish traders, and the settlers of this county used this gap in the rocks to cross the river and make a home in Moab and Spanish Valleys. The trail from Thompson was long and rough. Frequent flash flooding and soggy soil stopped travelers and freight wagons for days at a time. When it was decided to improve the road by moving it to less flood prone high ground, prisoners from the State Penitentiary were used to blast the rock and create the grade that you now ride. Only one prisoner escaped, but he was soon found near Dewey Bridge and reunited with his compatriots. Barrels used to transport the 6 tons of blasting powder can still be seen if you have the time to wander down the canyons and look through the flood debris of the last 100 years. If you climb up into the rocks on the east side you’ll find remnants of telephone poles, probably dug in around 1900 by J. N. Corbin for the La Sal Mountain Telephone & Electric Company or his son Jack Corbin for the Midland Telephone Company. In the 1930s the Civilian Conservation Corps men vastly improved the drainage under the old road by constructing more than 20 rock culverts and a bridge. These were all cleaned and preserved during the new path construction. A hole on the inside of the largest CCC culvert was repaired by craftsmen still possessing the skill for this type of stone masonry.

The old highway and its 4-lane replacement have changed monikers many times. It was first an Indian path, then an Explorers’ route, then the Old Spanish Trail trading route, then a freighters’ road, and finally a US designated POST Road (roads used to deliver the US Mail). In the 1920s it was designated State Route 9 and US Route 450. In 1939, Route 450 was changed to US “Highway” 160, and then to US-163 in 1970. In 1981 it became, and remains, US-191.
Get out your bike or get on your walking shoes and prepare to kindle a connection to a great old trail made all the better with it’s wonderful new face lift.

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