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Walkabout with Rory Tyler November 2003:

The Bluelight Special

In November the air turns blue. Not the sky…the air itself. And not some pedestrian, ordinary crayon-colored blue. It’s more like the color of an electric arc magically mixed with the soothing softness of a cool sip of sweet milk. Take that mystical concoction and pour it slowly into the ragged clefts and canyons of the Colorado River drainage. When you have filled the canyons to the brim and beyond, the thickest, milkiest, bluest part of this atmospheric cocktail settles into the deepest, farthest bottoms and slowly thins into a mellow, glowing diaspora as it mixes into the brilliant azure of the late autumn sky. The color of nearby rocks intensifies while the contrasting layers of receding canyon walls multiply almost beyond belief. Details become ever more finely etched even as the panorama softens and mellows. The conditions that photographers sought in vain all summer and fall are now the norm from dawn to dusk. Here are some suggestions for capturing, whether in memory, on film, or both, the blue glow of November.

The Upheaval Dome Trail is in the Island-In-The-Sky sector of Canyonlands National Park. It’s easy to find and is a well-marked, well-maintained trail. The advantage to Upheaval Dome is that it looms over the Green River and gives you uninterrupted views along the Green River Canyon. Mile after mile of vertical Wingate sandstone cliffs march away to the north and south in a spectacular regiments of light and shadow. Every corner, every turn offers a new take on the breathtaking panorama. There’s something about walking along a ridgeline that gives a landscape life - a feeling of motion and mutability that you simply don’t get from roosting at a viewpoint. The Upheaval Dome Overlook Trail is only about a mile, round-trip. For a more arduous day take the eight-mile Syncline Loop Trail, which begins at the same place.

The Moab Rim Trail is Moab’s natural Stairmaster. Locals use it for their daily workout more than any other trail. It climbs from Cane Creek Road up to the Moab Rim in a smooth, one mile, 800 foot rise up a beautiful Kayenta sandstone bench. If the occasional four-wheeler or mountain biker who also uses the trail upsets you just step up the hill a little and the wheels will disappear. The higher you go, the more spectacular the view becomes. The Colorado River flows to the west through the first in a series of canyons that reaches from Moab to California. As you climb towards the rim, the layering of canyon walls becomes more and more intense and the light effects multiply. When you reach the top, the view expands to include the La Sal Mountains and the thirty-mile vista north to the Book Cliffs. Of course, if a steep hike doesn’t appeal to you, you can take the chairlift to the top and simply stroll along the Rim. To get to the Rim Trail turn on to Cane Creek Road at McDonald’s and follow the cliff line two miles to the Moab Rim parking lot.

This popular mountain bike trail is also a terrific place to hike. It provides some of the best 360-degree views in the region. The hard part is the first mile and a half, climbing out of Cane Creek. Once you get to the top, it’s fairly flat and easy if you stay on the bike trail. However, once on top, the adventurous hiker has several excellent options. Turning to the left, the east, into the maze of ledges and canyons can provide days of interesting exploration. This is an area that gets little use from anyone but the intrepid hiker and occasional outlaw dirt-biker. Turning to the right, the north, takes you out into a spectacular set of slickrock Navajo sandstone domes. Be careful out there! This is the kind of hiking that requires a lot of skill, confidence, and caution. You won’t find any wheel tracks out here! The Amasa Back trailhead is also on Cane Creek, about one mile up the road after it turns to gravel. The BLM has a sign marking the trail.

Rory Tyler leads custom rock art tours and backcountry hikes for people of all skill levels for Canyon Voyages Adventure Company.

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