December 8, 2012

Mill Creek Canyon, Moab Area, Utah

If you want to see one of the most spectacular sites in the Moab area, you don't need to go to Arches National Park, or Canyonlands, or the Colorado River Gorge. Instead, there is an amazing canyon located right down the street from downtown Moab called Mill Creek Canyon. 500 foot red rock cliffs of Navajo Sandstone rise up above the perennial waters of Mill Creek. Mill Creek itself flows down from the La Sal Mountains and into downtown Moab.

Mill Creek Canyon begins in a wide sandy area, but within a quarter mile the canyon walls close in. The canyon soon splits into a north fork and a south fork. Either way, be prepared to cross the stream several times. The water is very cold, since it is snow melt. Which might be nice in the heat of the summer, but is definitely very chilly in fall and winter.

Immediately after crossing the creek for the first time up the north fork, you will see a large rock containing a couple of dozen ancient petroglyphs. The route weaves in and out of riparian forests, up onto rocky slopes, and across sand dunes. There are many different routes and way-trails, but you just need to find the one that looks good to you and keep heading up the canyon. 

Bypassing the waterfall

Soon you will encounter a beautiful waterfall. But, there is no feasible way to get up and past it. So, you will need to backtrack and look for where a trail heads up the slope and onto the rocks above and around the waterfalls. The route continues up-and-down sand dunes with towering rock walls drawing you further on.

Eventually you will come to a large bend in the canyon where the rock walls come to water level and a small waterfall drops over the slick rock. With no feasible way past this second waterfall without wading directly into the pool below it, this might be a good turn around point. If you continue, the canyon continues for miles further. Either way, Mill Creek Canyon rivals almost any other slickrock canyon I have ever seen.

If this were in another state other than Utah, especially anywhere east of the Rockies, it would be a national park. Here in Moab, it's just a "Wilderness Study Area", not even an officially designated wilderness. Just ho-hum spectacular beauty in the Moab area.

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