I was up early with the first rays of light. The campsite was still very quiet, but a few other ambitious mountain bikers were also getting ready for their ride. I quietly pulled out of my campsite to head out to the Negro Bill trail off UT128, the scenic Colorado River trail. The KOA campsite is just ten miles from the trailhead, driving through Moab north and then turning east on UT128. The trail head is three miles on this road to the right and is clearly marked.
There was another white pick-up already parked at the trailhead. So someone else was smart enough to start this hike early, as that hot sun can heat up the sand quickly and make it uncomfortable for dog paws. Sadie showed me that last time we did this trail in 2009. The sand was so hot that I had to walk this trail in the creek to keep her paws safe from the heat. I also noted that the name of the canyon and trail have been renamed the William Granstaff trail, which was the real name of the biracial settler who roamed these canyons a 100 years ago.
It turns out there was an older man who had been camping in the back of his open pick-up overnight with his granddaughter. The dogs running around in the parking lot woke him up. I apologized for the unplanned reveille but he was very polite, apologizing profusely in kind for sleeping in the truck in the parking lot, something that the BLM forbids with signs warning against such a heinous crime. "All the other campsites around here were full when we pulled in," he told me. "It was so dark out, with the stars out, until that moon came out! It was so beautiful!" he continued on with an awe-inspired smile. He was on his way to Salt Lake City with his grandchild and only had a long weekend to enjoy the splendor of southern Utah. He took what he could find for the night. There is nothing to be ashamed of. I don't want to admit how often I've done the same thing over the years; I've slept in countless parking lots...
I grabbed my daypack and leashes and took off with the dogs, wishing the man a safe trip. Since no one else was around, I let the dogs offleash. They remembered this hike from last night and stayed close. They took advantage of the creek right away but never let me get far without them. Elevation at the start is 3940' and the total gain is a mere 713'. Red rock cliffs hug this canyon here before opening up farther uphill. No one could know there's an arch at the end of this hike from starting the hike.
The trail follows the creek through this pretty red rock canyon, still shrouded in morning shadow. My Keen sandals were a tad slippery on the smooth red rock, but came in very handy crossing the creek multiple times. Recent rains muddied part of the shallower sand. I could have also worn my other shoes and kept my feet dry by hopping on the rocks along the way, but that would take the fun out of this cool hike, cool in so many ways. The trail also follows along the creek over flat shale rock hugging the creekshore. A few rock holes in the nearby cliffs reveal years of wind and water erosion. Poison ivy clearly grows in the side canyons. I stayed on the main trail and followed the trail marker. It's an easy trail to follow.
At the mile mark is a side canyon that we explored. It doesn't go far and isn't maintained, so I was careful around the poison ivy. This canyon ends in a box with the first signs of another arch forming above. That arch will be ready for human awe a few million years after I've long been turned into ash. We returned the way we came and continued on.
At the 1.2-mile mark the trail curves left (northeast) and starts the gentle ascend into a wider canyon. Old trails coming from the north entice more adventurous hikers to explore this canyon, but I wanted to stay in the cool shade. At the 1.7 mile mark I could see the top of the arch from this vantage point, but that was also because I knew what to look for from my previous hike.
The tops of the red cliffs were slowly brightening up with the rising sun. While the bright colors make for excellent photographs, my concern was keeping the dogs cool. We got to the arch in 1:06 hours and had been hiking at a steady, brisk pace. We stayed under the arch just long enough to take a few "selfies with dogs" before resuming the return hike. The arch and the shallow bowl underneath it look the same as in 2009, except that some of the shrubs have grown much taller. The creek's spring spills out from a crack in the rock under the arch, which forms the creek that flows into the Colorado River. The red rock, the arch and the spring combined make this a beautiful little hiking destination on a hot summer day.
The first hikers soon came toward me on my way back to the van. I kept the dogs close to keep them comfortable and no one seemed to mind them. Grandpa and his granddaughter were still in the parking lot when I returned 2:18 hours later. I would have chatted some more with this gentle soul, but knew I had a long day ahead of me.
Castle Valley is on the La Sal Mountain Loop, a 35-mile loop that starts in the valley and rises to over 6000' with views of the red and green terrain below. It loops back into town. It's quite a contrast to see, driving through an arid desert and then climbing into a high pinon pine/juniper forest. The road becomes a dirt road once out of the valley, and there was a long stretch of construction to repair the road. A Sunday work crew stopped me to warn me to drive carefully, as there are rough and narrow spots along the way. My van had no trouble maneuvering around the potholes. I thought of my mountain biking friends who would love the trails that start off this road. There are trails dedicated to both bikes and ATVs. What a blast that must be to roar downhill for miles!
I had driven 65 miles in a giant loop by the time I got back to Moab. It was too late to quickly return to the KOA site for a shower, so I pulled over in a shady spot to rearrange the passenger seat. It was getting too cluttered even for my standards. The dogs patiently waited in the shade, spooking a transient who had climbed up from the creek bed nearby. But when I pulled off to head back to Main Street for lunch, my low tire pressure light came on. I'm just not having luck with my tires! I drove to a flat area behind the visitor's center, in the shade, and aired up my front left tire. When I pulled away, the light came back on again. I aired it up again, again the light came on. I now knew I had a slow flat. Just my luck that both tire shops in town closed at noon and here it was already 2pm. My last hope was Arches Car repair on the south side of town, near the KOA site. But that place had also closed early. I had no choice but to get out my spare, jack and lug wrench and replace the tire myself.
I had no trouble jacking up the van, but for the life of me I couldn't loosen the lug nuts. They were on tight. Now I was getting frustrated, wondering what other options I had. The dogs were lying in the shade, there was a Shopko Moab store across the street for cold iced tea. There was a long dog run in front of Arches so I tied Sadie up to that, with Zeke tied up to a second spike nearby. Both didn't care as it was too hot for them and the cool concrete seemed to be more to their liking anyway.
The shop is recessed from the highway and I was not easily seen, so it's no wonder that I was left alone. The coffee shop had closed while I was there, a tow truck had dropped off a white Subaru and I sat there for three hours thinking I may be camped out there for the night when an off-duty park ranger, Matt, still wearing his green uniform pants, drove by, saw my dilemma and quickly got the lug nuts loosened for me. He made it look so easy, darnit! He was so fast I didn't even get to chat much with him. He works as an interpretive ranger who takes questions from tourists and leads tours. A tan baseball cap hid his long braid.
"You're not going to find a shop open until you get to Flagstaff" said Matt. That's 323 miles on a donut spare. Just my luck again! We waved good-bye, I was slightly relieved to be able to drive on, but now knew I'd be driving into a storm that was pushing in from the south.
I like the Moab area and I like the town, but having a flat on a Saturday is hell. The town is far away from anything else besides rocks. The red rocks gave way to more gentle juniper-studded buttes as I continued south on US191. I stopped to climb Wilson's Arch right off the highway, I stopped to take photos (any excuse to let the tire rest as I dared not go faster than 50mph) The setting sun and the dark clouds created some stark contrasts, with a golden field and dark grey sky. I even saw a double rainbow.
Once the sun set and the storm clouds darkened the sky even more, though, it wasn't quite so nice. The wind blew, I was slowing traffic behind me, and visibility was limited. I stopped to rest in every town: Monticello, Blanding, Buff, Mexican Hat, Monument Valley, Kayenta. I finally pulled over at a gas station/ car wash nine miles northeast of Cows Spring, a small Navajo community. No one bothered us all night.
What a way to finish an otherwise wonderful road trip.