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Dead Horse Point to Castle Valley

Tuesday, 11 Feb 2003
written by Teresa

The canyon of the Colorado River from Dead Horse Point Dead Horse Point claims to be Utah's most spectacular state park and it is hard to argue. The point itself is the tip of a small head of land connected by a narrow neck to the main body of the mesa. In the past, the head was used as a natural corral for wild horses with the neck being closed off using a barrier of interlocking dead Juniper trunks. Folklore has it that an abandoned herd died from lack of water while corralled in sight of the river below and it was this gruesome event that gave the place its name.

The mesa is surrounded on three sides by sheer walls allowing some of the most stunning views down into the depths of the open gashes, out through the many layered complexities of the canyons and over to the La Sal Mountains which dominate the southern skyline. The trails follow the edge of the mesa, scrambling over bare rock and through the high desert sand and vegetation. The point sits on the top of vertical red cliffs, two thousand feet above a gooseneck meander in the Colorado River below. It is hard to keep up any sort of pace, especially on the southern edge, as the breathtaking views continually hinder progress. The freezing temperatures on the other hand encourage a good speed in between. Uphill stretches of the path see the removal of hats, ear bands and gloves and the unzipping of fleeces while the brush of icy wind results in the disappearance of nearly all exposed skin save wet noses and pink cheeks. It may not be the most sophisticated or becoming ensemble but the crows don't seem to mind and it's too remote for the fashion police.

Castle Valley lies twenty miles outside Moab, off the Colorado River canyon. It combines the bare red rock desert formations along its sides with the imposing La Sals at the head of the valley. Castle Rock itself is a single finger atop a conical shaped base dominating the eastern wall and there is a small community of houses scattered on a section of the valley floor and lower slopes. It has stolen our hearts and jumped to the head of places we might one day want to live. We originally drove out simply to look but discovered that most of the land is BLM and so headed off the road onto a dirt track and camped for a couple of nights with completely contrasting but mesmerising views in every direction. Hiking south the scenes are of the alpine slopes of the snow covered mountains while in the other direction there is the desert with its Wile E. Coyote landscape. It is hard to comprehend the juxtaposition and the contrast is a continual surprise.

Sitting around a campfire one night, shins roasting, bottoms freezing, a lone coyote howled close by. The moon in its first quarter gave enough light to illuminate the mountains and produce clear silhouettes of the rock formations, reflecting off the thin lines of snow on the north-facing wall. To say it was cold is an understatement although being from Wisconsin, Sterling scoffs at the notion asserting that I don't know what real cold is. I beg to differ. On a visit to the land of cheese one winter, the temperatures were so low that my head hurt and I suspect the hairs in my nose were frozen. However, nobody seemed to be trying to sit outside during this spell, proving what wise people they are. We might take a lead from them in the future although the pull of flames, licking wood over the glow of coals is hard to resist. It's another of those occasions when Western stereotypes come into play and I imagine a coffee pot perched precariously on the edge of the fire and the unsaddled horses resting close by. The landscape, the coyote and the moonlight are for real.

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