The Bureau of Land Management publishes a brochure that outlines the many recreational options available along the 45-mile Colorado Riverway, as well as the regulations applying to those activities. The agency's goal is simply stated:
"As steward of the public land within the Colorado Riverway, it is the goal of the BLM to preserve the scenic and environmental qualities of this remarkable area, while providing opportunities for public recreation."River-running is one of the most popular activities in these spectacular canyons. Twenty licensed outfitters take visitors down the Colorado near Moab, and last year more than 56,000 commercial and private "river days" - a number representing the number of people on the river - were counted by the agency, according to Russ von Koch, a BLM outdoor recreation planner in Moab.
Picnic and campgrounds, both developed and semideveloped, pepper the roadsides along U-128, U-279 (the Potash Canyon Road) and the Kane Creek Road. These range from the substantial Big Bend Recreation Area northeast of Moab to more basic sites. At a few, like Moonflower Canyon on the Kane Creek Road, campers must park their cars and pack their tents and sleeping bags several hundred feet back from the roads.
Here are some suggestions about what to do along the Colorado Riverway:
- Go for a ride. Two of the riverside roads, U-128 and U-279, are included among Utah's 27 official "scenic byways." And the ride is indeed incredible. Often the narrow highways are squeezed between river and salmon-colored cliffs.
Ancient Indian art - believed created by the Fremont culture between 600 and 1300 A.D. - is pecked into and painted onto the rock at several spots, as on the potash road and at Moonflower Canyon. Sightseers can glimpse portrayals of desert sheep, snakes and other creatures, as well as humans, sometimes in lines. One roadside stop along U-279 toward Potash points out several huge three-toed dinosaur prints visible on a rock clinging to the hillside above.
Most visitors use the Colorado Riverway for a day or less, von Koch said, and the BLM has taken this into account. Picnic sites without fees, for example, are available at Lion's Park at the junction of U.S. 191 and U-128, Big Bend, Fisher Towers and Hittle Bottom.
- Take a hike or take a bike. Improved hiking trails lead trekkers to Fisher Towers (20.3 miles up U-128, a 2.2-mile path) and into Negro Bill Canyon (3 miles up U-128). The latter trail heads up a side drainage and into a wilderness study area; no bikes or motorized vehicles are allowed. Most hikers criss-cross the creek, heading to the muscular Morning Glory Natural Bridge, about 2.5 miles away at the end of a box canyon. It is the sixth-longest natural rock span in the United States.
Other trails include the Portal Overlook (4.2 miles up U-279, also used by bikers coming down from Poison Spider Mesa, though the BLM discourages this), beginning at JayCee Park and offering great views of Moab and the Spanish Valley; the Corona Arch Trail and Bow Tie Arch viewpoint (10 miles up U-279; 1.5 miles to Corona Arch) and the Moab Rim Trail (2.7 miles up Kane Creek Road), which rises into the Behind-the-Rocks area. The latter is also used by four-wheel-drive vehicles and bikers.
Mountain bikers also head for the hills on Kokopelli's Trail (a 140-mile route between Fruita, Colo., and Moab, accessed from Dewey Bridge, 20 miles up U-128); the Onion Creek Road (near Fisher Towers); the Porcupine Ridge Trail to the Sand Flats Recreation Area; Poison Spider Mesa (6 miles up U-279, also used by off-road vehicles and also accessible via the Portal Trail); and, off Kane Creek Road, the Moab Rim (2.7 miles from U.S. 191), Kane Creek Canyon (4.8 miles) and Amasa Back (5.3 miles).
- Heading off the road. Several unpaved four-wheel-drive routes sprout from the riverway highways. Notable among these is the Potash/Shafer Trail, which continues beyond the end of U-279 and the potash plant there toward Shafer Canyon (and its breath-taking switchbacks to a mesa top), below Dead Horse Point State Park and intersecting with Canyonland's White Rim Trail. Other routes include Poison Spider Mesa, the Moab Rim and Pritchett Canyon. The Onion Creek Road near Fisher Towers winds through a narrow canyon, crossing the creek repeatedly (and therefore only recommended in dry conditions). The Kane Creek Road rises toward Kane Creek Canyon and Hurrah Pass. These roads are also popular with mountain bikers.
- Running the river. Rafting, canoeing and kayaking are very popular on this section of the Colorado River, with boat launching areas along U-128 at Dewey Bridge, Hittle Bottom, Rocky Rapid, Sandy Beach, Take-out Beach and the Moab Boat Dock. The ramp at MGM Bottom, two miles below the potash plant on U-279, is the last take-out point above Cataract Canyon. Many passages offer calm water.
The BLM describes the route this way: "From Dewey Bridge to Onion Creek the river is calm. There are rapids from Onion Creek to Big Bend Recreation Site. Depending on season and flows, you may encounter rapids from Class I to Class IV. From Big Bend Rapid to Potash at the western end of the Riverway there are no rapids, but there is a fast water section for about a half-mile below Big Bend."
Several rafting companies, most based in Moab, offer day and half-day trips on the Colorado River. Many people also enjoy the river on their own, using personal watercraft or renting canoes or kayaks.
- Other activities: Technical rock climbers find challenges on Colorado Riverway walls, particularly along U-279, the Potash Road.
And, suggests Marian DeLay of the Grand County Travel Council, may visitors enjoy "Canyonlands by Night," a gentle twilight river trip with narration and lights beamed off the sandstone cliffs. "It's a nice way to finish an evening," she said. "I've done it a number of times myself."
For information about the Colorado Riverway, contact the the Moab Office, Bureau of Land Management, 82 E. Dogwood, Moab, UT 84532 (phone 435-259-6111) or the Grand County Travel Council, P.O. Box 550, Moab, UT 84532 (phone 800-635-6622 or 435-259-8825). The Moab Information Center is at Center and Main streets in Moab.
The BLM's Colorado Riverway recreation guide is available at many visitor centers and is also on the Web at (http//ublib.buffalo.edu/libraries/e-res ources/ebooks/records/7195.html).