When the river is too shallow: Utah Highway 279

We took boats twice on the Colorado River south of Moab to the edge of Canyonlands National Park.  We wanted to do it again.  But Colorado and Utah had been in a prolonged drought, and the river was too low for jet boats.  Gravity would get Alie into a raft, but with her RA, only hydraulics could get her out.

So we drove Utah 279 along the western side of the river [the north side where it loops]. It is paved to just beyond a Texas Gulf potash plant near the base of Dead Horse Mesa.  A dirt road continues into Canyonlands.

Click on photos to enlarge and use the back arrow to return to the post.

First American rock art dates back as much as 8 thousand years; this is likely of the Fremont period just 1 to 2 thousand years old.

First American rock art carved into the desert varnish thousands of years ago is next to the highway.  I wondered how the artists got up that high to work.  Then it occurred to me ground level was once probably quite a bit higher before it was dug out by the relentless river.

We passed a campground.  There are also a number of BLM maintained trails along the way.  My favorite name was “Poison Spider,” but I chose to walk the Corona Arch trail.  It crossed a railroad track that seemed still in use.  We saw a train coming from the potash plant later on when we drove further down the road.

I would like to have driven the dirt road to the western Canyonlands National Park visitors center, but it became increasingly rough the further we proceeded.  Finally I turned around.  I was confident in my vehicle, but I wasn’t confident in my tires.  They still had good tread but already more than fifty thousand miles on them.  I had a spare, but two flats would have left us stranded.

These fellows were across the river. I would like a Rubicon, but it would take me places I shouldn’t be. 🙂

Date of our visit: 28 September 2018


About ralietravels

Ray and Alie (Ralie) are a retired couple who love to travel. Even during our working years, we squeezed a trip in whenever we could, often when we had to stretch the budget to do so. We have been fortunate to vacation in all 50 states, all the provinces of Canada and one territory and a little more than 50 countries. We like to drive, but we particularly love to travel back roads to find unusual sights, people, and experiences.
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16 Responses to When the river is too shallow: Utah Highway 279

  1. Any chance of hiring you for a year or two as a tour guide? Great post Ray

    Liked by 1 person

  2. JohnRH says:

    A Ribicon across a river. Hmm.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Rosemsry Lakin says:

    Ray. You do such wonderful narratives. Pictures are descriptive ad in’s. Love your sharing of your and Alie’s travel adventures.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I just love those red rocks of the American Southwest. The water scarcity in the Colorado River is very concerning for everybody whose life depends on it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Very interesting! And I like the train tracks, it must be nice to travel on a train that uses them!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Loraine E Beckman says:

    I never cease to marvel at your sense of humor but also the beautiful scenic pictures that you take along with description. Many thanks again for some travel/history lessons. Hugs. Loraine

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve just touched on the outer edges of Canyonlands, Ray. But I would love to explore it more thoroughly. As I recall, it was an interesting drive out to Dead Horse Mesa. –Curt

    Liked by 1 person

    • ralietravels says:

      Canlyonlands has three sections; we have never made it to the western part which not only is limited [or was when we were in the area] to 4×4 but also only has camping. Neither limitation should hold you back, however. We have enjoyed the southern portion several times and are intrigued at how much different the road looks going in from coming out.


      • If we get up there with our four wheel drive pickup as opposed to our small RV, I would love to explore some of the back roads, Ray. Did you make it to Newspaper Rock? –Curt

        Liked by 1 person

      • ralietravels says:

        Yes. Newspaper Rock is at the entrance to the southern section of the park. There is a road suitable for 4×4 there that goes down to the Colorado River. The truck we had, at the time, was a extended cab long bed and tended to get hung up on big bumps, so we never made it the entire way.


  8. Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Dave Ply says:

    Back in the summer of 2000, I enjoyed the chance to do a multi-day rafting trip on the Colorado River in Canyonlands, featuring an area called Cataract Canyon. While it seems unlikely I’ll ever do it again, I still have good memories of it.

    Now you’ve made me want to go digging for buried pictures…

    Liked by 1 person

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