The Colorado River meanders through Moab on its way through Canyonlands National Park to its juncture with the Green River. This is well before it gets dammed up at Glen Canyon, and before its star turn through the Grand Canyon. This is an incognito Colorado that flows placidly through what is called The Portal, oblivious to the RVs and cars heading up the main road to the entrance to Arches National Park just a few miles north.
First there’s Poison Spider Mesa. How could anyone resist running on something with a name like that! There’s “Meet you at Engineer’s Gate”, and then there’s “See you after I run Poison Spider.” The trailhead is on the north side of the Colorado, and to get there you pass petroglyphs. The road to the trail can be busy with trucks going to and from an active potash operation further along, but once you’ve reached the trailhead, you climb into a quiet world of slickrock domes. This is primarily a mountain bike and jeep route, but when I was up on the mesa, no jeeps were in sight and it was very quiet. Follow white jeep icons stenciled onto the rock for about five miles to reach a tiny arch overlooking the Colorado. Rest at the arch and watch jeeps winching their way on the rocks across the river. Then make your way back the way you came and head into town for a cold brew from the Moab Brewery (Derailleur Ale is not bad). You can buy a trail guide to this run for about fifty cents at Moab bike shops. Here’s a link to good descriptions and photos, including the little “turnaround” arch: Poison Spider Mesa and Portal Trail
Then there’s the south side of the Colorado as it goes through Kane Creek Canyon — one of my very favorite places. Once past the Portal, it’s a quiet road with herons on the riverbank, primitive campgrounds scattered along the shore, occasional very individual and quirky dwellings, and gorgeous moonflowers. It’s a great bike ride going from paved road to dirt road to dirt road that’s tricky for road bikes until you get to a parking area for the Amasa Back Trail. To jeepers, it’s a tricky route known as Cliffhanger. Mountain bikers love it, and runners may recognize the name from the Runner’s World account of professional adventure runner Danelle Ballengee’s nearly fatal fall from the trail in December 2007.
Rather than tell you details of this popular trail, with easy stream crossing, shaded climb, sunny slickrock crossing, and eventual views across the Colorado far below across to . . . Poison Spider Mesa, I’d like to share what struck me most about these runs. There’s the spectacular landscape, the plants, the scurrying lizards and ground squirrels, but what was most striking was silence.
Stop for a break, and unless you happen to be near a pack of mountain bikers on a wild descent or a weekend jeep caravan, you’ll hear it: profound silence. In a very transcendental way, it kept me from running steadily. It was just too beautiful to huff and puff and struggle, so I frequently stopped and listened to the silence. I hope all you city runners will all get to give it a try sometime soon.
And yes, I joined the tourists at Arches National Park — but I ran up to the iconic Delicate Arch (the one that’s on the Utah license plates).