Monday, November 26, 2012

Corona Arch Trail, Moab, UT

Distance: 3.0 miles roundtrip (4.8 km)
Elevation: 3995 - 4390 feet (1218 - 1338 m)
Difficulty: Moderately Easy
Time of Year: Anytime

View of the Colorado River Gorge from the trailhead

Corona Arch is an enormous arch spanning 140 feet across and 105 feet tall. It is located on beautiful slick rock high above Bootlegger Canyon. It can be accessed by a relatively short trail and best of all, being on BLM land, it is open for dogs, unlike Arches National Park. It can be accessed by taking U.S. Highway 191 north from Moab until you cross the Colorado River and shortly thereafter turn left onto UT-279, also known as the Potash Ash. Follow this road 10.1 miles through the Colorado River Gorge until you reach the trailhead parking lot on the right. Watch out for rock climbers and people standing on the road looking at the hundreds of petroglyphs on the rock faces along this route.

The trail starts out by climbing up the slope and shortly thereafter crosses the railroad tracks that takes potash from the evaporation ponds at the end of the road to processing plants where it is turned into fertilizer. The trail then skirts the edge of the cliffs and emerges onto an open rocky flat with cliffs all around.

As you go around a bend, suddenly the Corona Arch comes into view in the distance. Even from far away, its size is incredibly impressive. The route then skirts the edge of the steep slopes and you will come across the trickiest portion of this hike. There is a rope and some steps carved into a steep 20 feet ascent. Some older dogs may struggle to get up this section. Soon after there is a ladder to climb up a 10 feet ledge. But, dogs and people can by-pass the ladder by following the smooth slickrock slope up and around the ledge.

After that, you just follow the contours of the slope along the cliff walls and you will suddenly see a large hole in the rocks above. This is Bowtie Arch, which is actually the remains of a former sinkhole that collapsed into a cavern. Today, it sits high above a large seep where a young cottonwood has taken root.

Then you arrive at Corona Arch itself. Just sitting under this enormous arch is an amazing site. The shade it provides is nice as well on a hot day. You can head a hundred meters or so further on the otherside to admire the view out across the landscape. Once you are done enjoying this spectacular site, just head back the way you came.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Long Canyon, Secret Mountain Wilderness, AZ

Distance: 7.4 miles roundtrip (11.8 km)
Elevation: 4,523 - 5,395 feet (1380 - 1645 m)
Difficulty: Moderately Easy
Time of Year: Year Round (avoid heat of midday in summer and watch for ice in winter)

In the month of October, thousands of tourists flock to West Fork Oak Creek Canyon to admire the spectacular beauty of the best fall colors in Arizona tucked amongst towering orange and yellow cliffs. I have written about it grandeur here. But, honestly, we just can not take the crowds anymore. The parking lot is full by 10am, it costs $9 to park, and if you can't get it the cars line the highway for a half-mile. But, there is an alternative location that not only offers spectacular fall colors, but more ecological variety, and far fewer crowds. It is Long Canyon.

Early on the trail is through typical pinyon-juniper

You can reach Long Canyon by driving on Hwy 89A through West Sedona and then turning north onto Dry Creek Blvd. Continue on this paved road until it ends near Boynton Canyon Road. At the T-junction, turn right and follow the road for about 1 mile. The junction is signed for Long Canyon, but not the trailhead. Be looking for a dirt parking area on the left. There is a sign at the trailhead indicating it is the correct trail.

As the trail enters a canopy of live oaks and occasional Ponderosa pines

The trail begins by following an old dirt road parallel to the paved road. At 0.9 miles you come to a trail junction with Deadman's Pass Trail. Stay right. The trail will skirt the edge of a golf course as it enters the Secret Mountain Wilderness. The first 1.5 miles of the trail is through open pinyon-juniper habitat with abundant manzanita and Arizona cypress. There is not much evidence of a canyon. But, as you continue further, the red rock cliffs begin to close in and the forest canopy thickens.

Eventually you enter a forest of Gambel oaks and Douglas firs

Eventually the forest composition begins to change. First you will notice a few small ash and live oaks. Then you will start to notice some Ponderosa pines along the dry creek bed. Before you know it, you will enter stands of majestic Gambel oaks and Douglas firs inexplicably make their appearance. If you are there in October, what was somewhat monotonous blue-green hues will start to become dominated by yellows and orange-browns.

Some interesting creatures to see along the trail

Eventually the trail will reach a junction of two drainages that feed the main creek bed. The trail follows the drainage to the left, which is where the really spectacular beauty comes in. Canyon maples become common in this steep narrow canyon and in October that means spectacular red and orange hues highlight against the dark green Douglas fir needles and reddish bark of old Ponderosa pines.

Canyon maple (also known as Big-toothed maple) in full fall foliage

The trail will continue following the creek bed, with views up through the canopy to the cliff walls above. The trail will steepen, but the grade is not too bad. I'd only be concerned if the creek were flowing, which seems unlikely outside of monsoon season or during a snow melt off. 

Beautiful fall colors in Long Canyon

Once you reach the end of the trail near the back of the canyon, you will return the way you came back to the parking area. A great hike offering a variety of views and ecosystems without the massive crowds that can inundate many of the other Sedona area trails.

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