Moab Happenings Archive
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Hiking Happenings October 2003

Walkabout with Rory Tyler

October and the Color is happening. In Moab fall color comes in four flavors; the high-country aspen gold; the russet and mauve oak-serviceberry collage of the foothills and mesas; the canyon-loving cottonwoods against a backdrop of soaring, sandstone walls; and the feathery ochre of riverside tamarisk. In October the great change of autumn sweeps its way from the peaks of the La Sal Mountains down to the canyon bottoms. Here are a few tips for getting the best out of this great, seasonal gift.

What’s more exhilarating than a golden aspen canopy on a crystal-clear autumn afternoon? The scarred white trunks marching away like an endless Roman colonnade… The flitting, fluttering, gently falling cascades of wind-blown leaves, all against the intense azure of the autumn sky…
The aspen canopy between Oowah Lake and Clark Lake in the La Sal Mountains is as good as it gets. Mature, extensive, and easy to get to, it offers one of the best aspen walks in the mountains. Or, for an exceptional juxtaposition of peaking aspens and extravagant red-rock, drive to the top of Sand Flats road, about ten miles past the Slickrock Trail. Two-wheel, low-clearance will get you up there (take it easy at the top!), but you’ll want high-clearance if you’re planning to drive all the way up to the Loop Road. When you start seeing the first aspens, get out anywhere and go exploring. It’ll be great. This is one of the least-walked, most awesome areas around, with terrain to satisfy any type of hiker.

The oak-serviceberry scrub, below the aspen and above the pinyon-juniper, has a subtlety, an elegance, a suave pastel pastiche, that I can’t get over. Whole mountains colored in intricate overlays of soothing russet, rusty mauve, burnt-orange, and multifarious beiges and browns. The La Sal Loop Trail, a couple miles up the Geyser Pass Road (take the La Sal Loop Road to the turn-off), is a good place to get up close and personal. But, for the full sweep and majesty of the oaken extravaganza go to the east side of the mountains. Drive out to Castle Valley, up the Willow Basin Road towards Gateway, and then out into the Buckeye Reservoir country. Try it on a nice afternoon, with the sun back-lighting wave upon wave of shimmering foliage. Oo-la-la!

The REALLY BIG TREE in the bottom of the canyon is a cottonwood. It loves warmth and water. The Mill Creek Parkway, right here in town, has some excellent cottonwood vistas. You can pick up the trail several places in town: on Main Street next to the Best Western/Greenwell, at Cross Trails Park at 100 East and 300 South, on 400 East just north of the High School, at the corner of 100 West and 100 South, or on Mill Creek Drive at the very beautiful and user-friendly Rotary Park. For something a little wilder go to Courthouse Wash, Negro Bill Canyon, Mill Creek, or Kane Creek; all very accessible. The cottonwoods at the mouth of Moonflower Canyon, three miles up Kane Creek Road, never fail to make me give thanks. Moonflower Canyon itself is an A-Number One-Four Star Stroll. My nominee for Most Outrageous Cottonwood in a Spectacular Natural Setting goes to a tree a quarter mile up Hunter Canyon. The Hunter Canyon trailhead is about seven miles up Kane Creek Road and is accessible with any vehicle. Hunter Canyon is a very easy and totally amazing walk.

The Colorado River corridor is blanketed with the soft, feathery plumes of the tamarisk. Tammies can be quite lovely, especially with their colorful display in the spring and fall, but they are also looked upon with dismay and despair by many locals. Tammies are an invasive, alien species that came into this region during the early twentieth century and took over. This changed the ecology of the river corridor a lot. When you travel the River Road today you’re looking at quite a different set of flora than the one you would have seen you a hundred years ago. My advice; don’t go walking in the tammies. All those wafting fronds are going to drop hundreds of fine, golden leaves down the back of your neck.
Whatever path you choose for your colorful fall hike, you are sure to be amazed with the variety and splendid display during this very special season.

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