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Doggin' Moab, Utah: Hike With Your Dog At The Beehive State's Outdoor Capital


Most of us have seen the spectacular scenery around Moab without realizing it - the landscape has often been used as the setting for Hollywood westerns. Before that, popular Western novelist Zane Grey stoked the imaginations of readers with action placed in Moab. Real people started coming to the Colorado River town in the 1950s when uranium was discovered nearby. Even though the mines have since played out, the town has never returned to its sleepy agricultural days.

Today Moab is an outdoors mecca at the foot of the La Salle Mountains. Moab is the gateway to southeastern Utah's canyon country and the national parks at Canyonlands and Arches. In these parks dogs are not allowed in the backcountry, on trails or on rivers within the park. Still, there are plenty of other opportunities here that make Moab a dog-friendly destination for people who love to hike with your dog.

Legend has it that cowboys once herded wild mustangs onto to the top of this mesa - 2000 feet above the Colorado River - and blocked off their escape across a narrow neck of land with branches and brush, thus creating a natural corral. Once the horses in the corral were forgotten about and died of thirst while looking at the unaccessible Colorado River below. In 1959 more than 5,000 acres, most of which are on the mesa top, were designated Dead Horse Point State Park (nine miles north of Moab on US 191; turn west on SR 313, then go 22 miles to the Visitor Center).

While your dog will never trot the trails of Canyonlands National Park and look straight down 1000 feet at the confluence of the Green and Colorado rivers, she can get the same kind of experience next door in Dead Horse Point State Park. Two loops, connected by the Visitor Center, skirt the edges of the rim of the rock peninsula. Numerous short spur trails poke out to promontories overlooking the canyonlands (most are unfenced and provide no protection against over-curious canines).

This is sparse desert land on top of the mesa and during a hot summer day there is little shade and no natural drinking water on the trails for thirsty dogs. All told there are ten miles of paved and primitive trail at Dead Horse Point, most on hard, rocky paths.

A half-mile spur on the western side of the Dead Horse Point mesa leads to an overlook of Shafer Canyon. Across the canyon you can see an open plain that was used to film the famous final scene in the movie Thelma & Louise when Susan Sarandon drives a Thunderbird convertible over a cliff. Although there are wrecked automobiles in Shafer Canyon, they were placed there by the Bureau of Land Management to shore up the river bank. The wreckage from the movie was airlifted out of the canyon by helicopter.

To the east of Moab on Scenic Route 128 is the Colorado Riverway Recreation Area with distinctly different canine adventures in store. Director John Ford began shooting Hollywood westerns on location here in 1949 he went searching for a new desert location for his upcoming Wagon Master to star Ben Johnson and Ward Bond. He arrived in Moab where he was shown the Professor Valley and the Fisher Towers on the Colorado River. Ford indeed made Wagon Master here and more than 50 feature films would be shot on location around Moab in the next 50 years. To John Wayne, this area always defined the West.

Your dog won't be able to draw a full conclusion to agree or disagree with the Duke - the canine hike at Fisher Towers ends when a ladder climb scales an awkward rock before the end of the trail. Upstream, the packed-sand Negro Bill Canyon Trail climbs gently up a scenic canyon, crossing and tracing a clear-flowing stream for two miles to reach the Morning Glory Natural Bridge. Your dog won't be able to walk under the magnificent natural arches in Arches National Park but he can play under the sixth longest natural rock span in the United States. The pool under the bridge makes an ideal doggie swimming pool but be careful of the flourishing poison ivy growing nearby.

Moab is in northeast Utah at the intersection of US 191 and Scenic Route 128.

 

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