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Mill Creek, Magnolia, and Me
by Kim Schappert

I have been a mountain biker for a long time. Before that I was a hiker. After my doggie of 16 years died, along with the mandatory morning walk, the two-wheeled wonder of a machine sitting in the garage made walking seem so primitive. Hence, hiking days turned to biking days.

imageEnter a big fluffy golden retriever named Magnolia, my granddog, and all of a sudden life was different. A ball of fur like that doesn’t get along too well in the hot desert no matter what the temps, so we started exploring, looking for water in every direction. It wasn’t long before I rediscovered Mill Creek, the same one that flows right through the center of Moab, supplying us with vital irrigation water to keep our valley green, home to many species of critters, as well as providing the lovely backdrop for the Mill Creek Parkway. But Mags and I were exploring further upstream in the canyon of Mill Creek where the red sandstone walls rise up to the sky for hundreds of feet on either side and the meandering paths lead into a riparian wonderland.

imageIt was not always so idyllic. Like many other niches in Moab, overuse was getting the best of Mill Creek. Its popularity came with the usual drawbacks of trash, broken glass, unruly pets and their unwitting owners, vandalism, and other oblivion to backcountry ethics. It was a place that had been crossed off my list of destinations for years. Luckily though, like many other niches in Moab, the canyon was adopted by individuals with a vision, local folks who knew the bones of glory were still there, that the general public could be educated, that stewardship of this jewel would pay off in time. Thank Sarah Melnicoff, the champion and glue, for the rebirth of Mill Creek canyon. Visit to learn more.

Meanwhile, Magnolia and I were on a mission to see every cool thing we could find. We find pictographs and hidden alcoves, water holes for swimming and sculpted imagerock more beautiful than in any gallery. We wander for long stretches on trails that showcase the grandeur of the canyon and then duck through water birch to study the spiders and insects and crawdads that live in the ripples next to shore. We saw many cottonwood trees protected from beaver damage with wire cages around their trunks. So many of these mature trees have been munched along the Colorado River so it was good to have them armed for resistance in this very special place.
Imagine the shock of rounding a corner further into the canyon only to find that armor no longer in place and the landscape littered with large trees lying on their sides and many more in various stages of death and dying as the beavers have free reign to wreak havoc however they want. Earlier we walked beside a creek that gurgled and flowed over a shallow bottom; here it was headed up into long deep pools of still water. Hoping to find a reasonable explanation for this unreasonable destruction, I heeled Magnolia and we high tailed it out of there.

I learned that in southern Utah, 2012 is The Year of the Beaver. According to Mary O’Brian of the Grand Canyon Trust, “These keystone water engineers create ponds, wetlands, meadows, and complexity in streams. They capture sediment and ensure a season-long release of water through their leaky dams. They create habitat for many species.”

imageimageWow, I thought, we should all be so productive. So just in case anyone wants to help celebrate this useful, charismatic creature, the first ever “Leave it to Beavers!” Festival will be held September 21–22 at the Escalante Petrified Forest State Park outside Escalante, Utah. Visit

Mill Creek has shown me its beauty once again and given me the remarkable gift of respite. Put on your shoes that can get wet, pretend that the cool breezes in the canyon can pass right through you, listen to the silence of the sun-dried air and the music of the water and the birds. Become invisible and let the magic of the place recharge you. This is a walk that will stay with you long after your shoes have dried.

From US 191, take a left onto 300 South to a right onto 400 East to a left onto Mill Creek Drive at Dave’s Corner Market. Continue to a left onto Powerhouse Lane. At the end of the road you will see the trailhead. And don’t forget the poop bag for your furry friend!

Kim Schappert is the Executive Director of the Moab Trails Alliance and owner of Up the Creek Campground. She is looking forward to Magnolia’s next visit.

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