The La Sal Mountains are Utah’s second highest mountain range. They rise impressively above the red rock canyon country of southeastern Utah. The range contains 6 peaks that rise above 12,000 feet, the tallest being Mount Peale at 12,721 feet. Covered with thick aspen and fir forests and dotted with mountain lakes, the La Sals are a cool oasis within the often difficult environment of the surrounding desert.
Capitol Reef National Park is characterized by sandstone formations, cliffs and canyons, and a 100-mile long bulge in the earth’s crust called the Waterpocket Fold. Erosion has carved the rock into marvelous shapes. Since its designation as a national park in 1971, the majesty of Capitol Reef has been intriguing visitors with its twisting canyons, massive domes, monoliths and spires of sandstone for the past century.
After they were married in 1933, Wayne and Betty Smith settled down to start a ranch in the San Rafael Swell. They chose a site near a spring, which would supply them with water necessary for survival. However, artificial seismic activity in the region, caused by drilling for water, destroyed the natural spring. Wayne and Betty later moved to Green River. Today at Smith’s cabin, there are several ranch buildings and corrals still standing. Though some of the cabins and cattle yards are currently in various states of decay, enough is left of this scenic ranch to give you a feel of frontier life in the San Rafael Swell.
Stretching nearly 200 miles from east to west, the Book Cliffs begins where the Colorado River descends south through De Beque Canyon into the Grand Valley (near Palisade, Colorado) to Price Canyon (near Helper, Utah). The cliffs are largely composed of sedimentary materials. The name comes from the cliffs of Cretaceous sandstone that cap many south-facing buttes that appear similar to a shelf of books. The Book Cliffs are within the Colorado Plateau geologic province.
Nine-Mile Canyon is an outdoor museum. It has some remarkable examples of Indian art and remnants of dwellings that have remained untouched through the centuries. Because of the dry climate and isolation from large population centers or heavy ranching, the canyon remains much as it was hundreds of years ago. The canyon should be shown the respect due to one of the West’s ancient treasures. The panels of rock art are of such remarkable quality and beauty that they have been featured in National Geographic and other publications highlighting the beauty and uniqueness of the art. It is well worth the trip.
Canyonlands National Park , Utah’s second largest national park, is a primitive geological wonderland preserving hundreds of colorful canyons, buttes, fins, arches, spires and hoodoos. The centerpiece of the park are the two great canyons carved through flat layers of sedimentary rock by the Colorado and Green rivers, which meet here in Canyonlands. The park is divided into 4 regions — Island in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze and Horseshoe Canyon — only two of which are accessible by highway. This 572 square miles of Great Basin Desert wilderness contains primarily unpaved roads and undeveloped trails. They are relatively close together, as the crow flies, but direct travel between them is virtually impossible because of the rough nature of the landscape. People who want to explore the park should focus on one region at a time. Park info and map.
If you’ve “been there–done that,” with regard to mountain biking in Moab, then it’s time to venture to the remote San Rafael Swell. Located 15 miles west of Green River and conveniently crossed by Interstate 70, the San Rafael Swell is a redrock wilderness that boasts national-park-caliber scenery but without the crowds. The Temple Mountain area in the southern San Rafael Swell is a hub of recreational opportunities, ranging from mountain biking to “narrows” hiking to off-road vehicle exploring.
This is a working quarry where scientists conduct on-going research. There is a large visitor center featuring many exhibits. Visitor facilities are open daily during the summer and Fri-Sun during spring and fall. They close for the season at the end of October and reopen in early March.
Trailhead Location: About 15 Miles South of Green River
Trailhead GPS: 38°48’20.31″N 110° 2’52.60″W Trail Mileage: Miles of open riding areas Riding Difficulty: Ranges from easy to difficult Temperature Range: 30-100+ Depending on Season
The White Wash Sand Dunes (also known as the Dubinki Dunes or Ten Mile Wash Dunes) are some of the most scenic and enjoyable dunes in the state. To get there, take I-70 to exit 175. Exit 175 is about seven miles west of U.S. Highway 191. From the exit, go south and the road (Ruby Ranch Road) eventually turns to dirt. Continue about 12 miles (be sure to stay to the right about 4.5 miles from the exit, and continue straight at 7.8 miles from Interstate 70). Eventually you’ll hit a ridge that looks down into the basin where the dunes are located. There is plenty of parking and decent places for camping. There are no restrooms and portable toilets are required. ATV flags are also required when riding the dunes. Always be careful when riding dunes and always know what’s on the other side of the dune before going. As is the case with all sand dunes, it’s good to have a GPS unit to guide you back to the truck if needed.