Since we’d had so much fun in southern Utah in 2009, we decided to head back to the area the following summer. My mom had visited Arches National Park many years ago, but none of us had ever been to Canyonlands or Mesa Verde. Plus, my sister wanted to check out a college in Colorado. So we pulled out a map and plotted out an 1800 mile (2900 km) road trip!
From our house in Montana it’s a 9-hour drive south to Moab, UT, which is the gateway to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Since we’d be there for a few days and wanted to go to both parks, we decided to camp at Dead Horse Point State Park, conveniently located between the two parks.
An old legend tells the tale of cowboys who used a peninsula high above the Colorado River to corral wild horses and select the ones they wanted. The remaining horses would be set free. According to the legend, one year the horses were left in the corral and died of dehydration on this point 2000 feet (610 m) above the Colorado River. Hence, Dead Horse Point.
Dead Horse Point State Park bears many similarities to Canyonlands National Park, and is often overshadowed by it. However, the scenery and views here are just as beautiful and the campground was a very nice place to stay. There was even a shelter over the picnic table, providing precious shade in this hot, dry environment.
The park is fairly small, but contains 8 miles (13 km) of trails along the rim of the plateau that lead to a few viewpoints. We began at the Visitor Center, from which there is a short nature trail and an easy 1 mile (1.6 km) walk out to Colorado River Overlook. From here, views extend to the east over the red rock terrain and a couple of potash ponds.
Potash ponds are used for collection of potassium salts that are used in fertilizers. The potash (soil containing potassium salts) is pumped up from beneath the surface following dissolution in warm water, and deposited in the ponds. Blue dye is added to the water to facilitate evaporation. Once the water evaporates, potassium salts are left behind.
Since Dead Horse Point State Park was only meant to be our home base, we didn’t plan in time to hike the entire system of trails. However, we did make it out to Dead Horse Point, which overlooks a gooseneck of the Colorado River, with Canyonlands National Park out in the distance.
Views along UT Highway 313 – the road into the park (which is also the road to Canyonlands) – are equally as colorful and beautiful as those from Dead Horse Point. The road itself is rather steep and winding, but once the terrain opens up, uniquely-shaped rock formations tower above the landscape. Not many plants can grow in the hot, dry desert environment, but a few flowers manage to survive.
And at the end of the day, as evening thunderstorms rolled in, we were treated to some very colorful sunsets from our campsite!
The Important Stuff:
- Getting there: located on UT Highway 313 about 35 miles (56 km) southwest of Moab, UT
- Fees & passes: $10 per car for a 3-day pass; entrance fee waived if camping in the park
- Camping: Kayenta Campground – 21 sites, $30 per night, reservations accepted
- Hiking: 8 miles (13 km) of trails along the rim of the peninsula that lead to numerous viewpoints; trails are relatively flat, but very exposed
- Other: there are no showers in the park, as water supplies are very scarce. Showers, gas, groceries, etc. are located in Moab, UT. Located at an elevation of 5900 feet (1800 m), the park is also very hot, dry, and exposed to the elements.