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Trail Riding in Pole and Doe Canyons in the La Sals
by Naomi Wilson and Steve Schultzt

Steve and I are trail-riding horse people. We live in San Juan County, Utah, and love to ride the desert canyon country. Our favorite rides, though, are up in the La Sal Mountains. Pole and Doe Canyon Trails (US Forest Service Trails 035 and 100) are on the south end of the La Sal range and are designated as non-motorized. The two canyons are linked together by a cross trail and can be ridden as a loop.

Trail Happenings, Moab Utah, Picture 1From the La Sal Store, take Highway 46 east for 3.6 miles. At the top of a hill, turn left onto the Two Mile Road. Drive 1.7 miles and turn left onto the La Sal Pass Road. There are several pull-offs with campsites to park a horse trailer. Our preferred spot is one mile up the road and near the irrigation ditch.

Today we brought Steve’s older Quarter horse, my big Missouri Fox trotter and my young Mustang-Paint to pack gear. This is only a day ride, but we take the young Mustang to gain trail experience. We pack folding chairs, a saw, a propane stove, and, most importantly, lunch! The reason we like this ride is the variety! It gives you a little bit of everything: rocks, scrub oaks, water crossings, aspen stands, heavy pines, hard climbs, gradual grades, and small meadows.

Trail Happenings, Moab Utah, Picture 2We saddle up and head up La Sal Pass Road to Deer Springs Road. We make a left and ride past the Doe Canyon Trailhead; we will come back down this trail. This is a two-track with some rocky spots. There are a few mud holes where Deer Springs drips into the ponds below. Just past the springs, the Pole Canyon Trail is on the right. The trail quickly turns into a narrow path that weaves through dense oak brush. Squirrels chirp and mule deer bound in front of us as we work our way through the oak stands. We climb up the canyon higher and higher until the aspens appear. We love the drastic change in temperature and the smells of an aspen forest.

Trail Happenings, Moab Utah, Picture 4After about two miles, there are some old water troughs with raspberry bushes growing all over them. If we were to go straight, the trail leads up the slopes of South Mountain. If you look to the right, you will find the Doe Canyon Trail intersection. The trail is faint here and can be easy missed. We head up the trail (which gets quite steep) taking a few breathers on the way. We negotiate the switchbacks and reach the crest. The trees thin out into a beautiful open meadow. Watch for small rock piles to guide you through the meadow. We stop here for lunch. The view is quite panoramic! We cook, eat, relax, and look over the south side of Sierra La Sal. Below us we see Coyote Flats, Dry Valley, the Canyonlands Needles District, and the Abajo Mountains.

Trail Happenings, Moab Utah, Picture 3After lunch we re-pack and mount up. We ride through the small gate in the lay-down fence and into the heavy pine trees. As we drop down into Doe Canyon, we find ourselves in melting snowdrifts and wet leaves. We head down slowly, for the trail is a singletrack with a steep drop on the left side. Our experienced, surefooted saddle horses push through the snow and wait patiently as we saw through last year’s deadfall that blocks the trail. We are early in the year, and the trail needs a bit of work.

Trail Happenings, Moab Utah, Picture 5The trail is quite steep and our saddles are all slipping forward a bit. The Mustang packhorse is less than happy with the situation. The pack saddle britching becomes tight (doing what britching was designed to do), and the rouge decides to go bronc on us! The young guy goes into a bucking fit, hitting a dead tree and knocking it loose. The tree proceeds to glance off his neck, roll down his back, and finally slide off his butt. This was a good six-inch-thick quaky log! All things considered, he takes it rather calmly, actually better than I did! Fortunately nobody is hurt, and we go on our way. This is the first dead tree I’ve seen fall on a horse. Typically we tend to avoid them or cut them out so the horses can get through.

The snow and dead fall thin out and we find ourselves back in the oak groves and Deer Springs Road. It was about a seven-mile loop and took about four hours with a lunch stop. A good ride for a Sunday afternoon and a bit of excitement!

Naomi Wilson and Steve Schultz have lived in the La Sal /Moab area for 22 years and have been together for over eight years. They are horse enthusiasts and longtime members of the Canyonlands Backcountry Horsemen and Trail Mix.

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