Moab Happenings Archive
Return to Home Page

Hiking Happenings February 2004

Walkabout with Rory Tyler:

The Moab Tongue

The Moab Tongue

Welcome, Webfeet! About this time of year I start seeing license plates from Oregon and Washington. People who know that one of the best places to naturally treat your Sun Deprivation Depression Syndrome, without hordes of company or freezing your butt off, is Moab, of course. And one of the better places to dose on Vitamin D is the Moab Tongue.

The Moab Tongue. I love that name. Moab Tongue is actually the name of a component of Entrada sandstone, the other two being Dewey Bridge and Slickrock. All three are notable constituents of Arches National Park. The Moab Tongue is also known as the Moab Member.

Actually, the Moab Tongue is a cap rock that covers many square miles in and around the park. It’s wonderful to walk on; a solid and expansive sheet of reflective white stone, laced with pinon-and-juniper-graced cracks, hidden water holes, winding canyons, dinosaur tracks and archeological errata.

Willow Springs Slot Canyon

Willow Springs Canyon
To get here take Highway 191 north ten miles from the Colorado River bridge. Just after the junction with Hwy 313 you will cross a low ridge and the Willow Springs Road is on your right on the bottom of the hill. It

should be marked. This is the old park entrance and is the one Ed Abbey refers to in ‘Desert Solitaire’. This road can usually be negotiated with low clearance, two wheel drive, although crossing Courthouse Wash may present a problem. No problem. If you chicken out here just walk down the wash about a mile to the mouth of Willow Springs Canyon. Otherwise, continue up the

Willow Springs Canyon and Entrada Caprock

road until you reach Willow Springs, then start wandering down the canyon. About a half mile below the spring it starts to entrench into a beautifully undulating slot canyon. Round trip from the spring to Courthouse Wash is about 4 miles. You can also reach Willow Springs from inside the park by taking the dirt road from Balanced Rock.

Megatracks refers to dinosaur tracks, hundreds of them. These tracks are at the north end of Klondike Bluffs, the long ridge that parallels Hwy 191 and comprises a de facto border of Arches Park. Head north from the Colorado River bridge for 15 miles until you see a sign reading “Emergency Turnout”. Turn right and cross the railroad tracks. From there, Bureau of Land Management signs will direct two miles to a parking lot and a set of dino tracks. If you have any question about which dirt track to take, bear right. From the parking lot, walk south about a half mile along a two-track trail until you come to a wash with a lot of juniper trees. Turn east and start climbing up the canyon. After about a mile of delightful ambling you come to a large expanse of white caprock. The tracks are along the upper edge of the exposed stone. They are mostly three-toed, or theropod, tracks and are impossible to miss.

Cryptos (krip’ tose): The surface of Moab’s desert is held together by a thin skin of living organisms known as cryptobiotic soil or cryptos. It has a lumpy black appearance, is very fragile, and takes decades to heal when it has been damaged. This soil is a critical part of the survival of the desert. The cryptobiotic organisms help to stabilize the soil, hold moisture, and provide protection for germination of the seeds of other plants.

Without it the dry areas of the west would be much different. Although some disturbance is normal and helps the soil to capture moisture, excessive disturbance by hooves, bicycle tires and hiking boots has been shown to destroy the cryptobiotic organisms and their contribution to the soil. When you walk around Moab avoid crushing the cryptos. Stay on trails, walk in washes, hop from stone to stone.

Whatever it takes, don’t crunch the cryptos unless you absolutely have to!

Top ‘O the Furnace
The Fiery Furnace is one of the prime destinations in the park but few people ever visit the area around

it. One of my favorite areas of Moab Tongue is to the southeast of the Fiery Furnace. This particular area is more knobby and uneven than the other two, but it’s still fun. It’s also pretty wild. I’ve seen mountain lion tracks up there. This is pretty much a bushwhack in hiking terms. I don’t know of any trails in the immediate area. I’ve always accessed it from the Delicate Arch parking lot. From the lot you work your way to the north and west. There’s a beautiful canyon there called Freshwater Spring Canyon and a good hikers can work their way up about two miles through the red Entrada until they break out on the top and the Moab Tongue. Don’t make the mistake of taking the larger, more obvious canyon to the south of Freshwater Spring. This is Salt Wash and it’s a brushy hell. I guess it would also be possible access this area from the bottom of the Fiery Furnace somewhere around the Salt Valley Overlook, bearing in mind the lessons of hiking etiquette I mention in the “Cryptos” sidebar, but I’ve never gone in this way.

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

Return to Archive Index
  Return to Home Page