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    UT 128 in Moab: extraordinary on the road against the backdrop of Castle Valley

    Who I am
    Martí Micolau
    @martímicolau
    SOURCES CONSULTED:

    wikipedia.org, lonelyplanet.com

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    For those like me who are passionate about the vistas of southern Utah, it was not difficult to re-baptize Moab with the equally biblical name of “Promise Land”. Yes, because the fingers of both hands are not enough to count the beauties that lurk around this small town in southern Utah: we have tried it by describing in detail its national parks (Arches and Canyonlands) and summarizing all the natural wonders of the surroundings in a specific article on what to see in Moab.



    But since in these parts the surprises never end, today is the turn of one scenic byway truly unforgettable departing from Moab: the UT-128, also known as Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway.

    Index

    • When and why to take it?
    • Length, distances and travel times
    • Route map
    • The most beautiful stages of the Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway
      • Cisco
      • Dewey Bridge
      • Hittle Bottom Campground
      • Fisher Towers
      • Professor Valley Road
      • Castle Valley
      • Moab Museum of Film and Western Heritage
      • Grandstaff Canyon (ex Negro Bill Canyon)
    • Where to sleep?

    When and why to take it?

    Map in hand, you will notice that the UT-128 unwinds east of Moab towards the intersection with I-70, in that stretch of the highway that connects Utah to Colorado. It is to all intents and purposes of an alternative to US-191, a faster but certainly less impressive road.

    If you are from Colorado, you know which way to go. If, on the other hand, you are planning to reach Moab from the Bryce area e Capitol Reef, you will have to travel the splendid combination of scenic roads UT-12 and UT-24 and, after passing Green River along the I-70, at Crescent Junction any satellite navigator will direct you to exit the highway onto US-191 . While this is the quickest route from Bryce to Moab, it is also true that the fastest route is not always the most beautiful to take. The most beautiful route to take requires that you, at Crescent Junction, drive straight for another 35km to theexit 204 towards Cisco. From there begins the Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway.



    But why choose the UT-128? I will try to describe the on the road in detail to convince you, but in the meantime it is enough to know that, just as the name of the panoramic road suggests, almost the entire journey takes place along the Colorado River, in a landscape that is not so easily forgotten. This is not so obvious, because from Moab onwards (apart from a short distance on Potash Road) it is no longer possible to drive easily along the river, except for a short distance on Marble Canyon.

    Also, anyone who wants to experience the rafting sul Colorado, here you have the opportunity to do it easily and inexpensively, unlike other points on the river.

    Half day tour: Colorado rafting

    Length, distances and travel times

    La distance between Moab and Cisco (the point where UT-128 begins) is 75 km which, without pauses, can be covered in approx 1 hours. But I'll tell you right away: if you decide to take this route, it is quite unlikely that you will resist the temptation to stop at one of the many points of interest on the route. Also along the way there are many possibility of excursion really unmissable: for this reason, having some time available, it would be advisable to take into account at least one half day to cover this distance.

    US-191
    U-128

    When making your choice, remember that from Green River to Moab via the US-191 they hardly need 50 minutes to cover 83 km, while along the entire UT-128, the distance between Green River and Moab becomes 153 km, for a total of approx 1.40 hours driving (without stops). For this reason, if you want to travel this route, plan your itinerary well.



    Route map

    The most beautiful stages of the Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway

    As anticipated, a large part of the scenic route takes place along the course of the Colorado River, one of the symbols of the Far West as we have always imagined it. Driving along UT-128, you will cross two large and scenic valleys shaped by the river, the Professor Valley and Castle Valley, whose monumental rock forms will impressively remind you of the scenery of the Monument Valley, more precisely the Forrest Gump Point. After Castle Valley, in the last stretch of the road leading to Moab, the valley narrows and becomes almost one gola: rocky walls overlooking the river hang over you. At the top of the escarpment on the north side of the river, not visible from the road, the territory of Arches National Park.

    So let's begin to describe the road trip stage by stage, starting from the eastern end of the road: Cisco.

    Cisco

    If you followed my directions, you left Green River and Crescent Junction behind and left I-70 by taking exit 204. After a few miles you will immediately see a fork for Moab, but you continue straight in the direction of Cisco: you will take the UT-128 at a later time. After just 4.3 km - when you see an expanse of dilapidated buildings, graffitied car wrecks and a lot of scrap metal - you will realize that you have arrived at your destination: in a desolate landscape, you will see what remains of a historic railway town in the Far West. founded in 1870 and fallen victim to the construction of the nearby motorway as well as, more recently, to vandalism.


    Cisco is effectively one ghost town with cinematic charm (Thelma and Louise was filmed here). Abandoned city, or perhaps not completely, as a hilarious sign (“Oh nooo! Cisco ain't abandoned”) will suggest you will find along the UT-128, just before the bend you have to take to enter the town. To reinforce the impression that the town is not dead but only dying will be the shop that you will find along the aforementioned road: Buzzards Belly is Cisco's only business and is absolutely worth a visit, not only to say hello to the nice owner, but also to have a coffee and browse the shelves full of memorabilia, collectibles, junk and antiques (what prices though !).


    The owner of the shop, which opened its doors in 2019, explained to us that Cisco has an artists' residence curated by Eileen Muza which aims to revitalize Cisco with a project called “Home of the Brave”. They are in fact the only settlements in Cisco, and you will notice them wandering around with the car among the dilapidated buildings, the abandoned vintage cars and the piles of wreckage: although some signs along the road are not exactly hospitable, I recommend you to get off to catch a glimpse of some details of the town's past, before heading back to Moab.

    Dewey Bridge

    The first stretch of road, da Cisco a Dewey, is the least interesting of the trip and as it happens it is the only one that does not take place along the Colorado River: it is precisely when the road joins the river that the beauty begins. Already 22 km after Cisco, you will have the rare opportunity to cross the Colorado River by car Dewey Bridge. 

    When you are on Dewey Bridge, be careful on the left: you will see what remains of the Dewey Suspension Bridge, a historic suspension bridge dating from 1916. Stretching over the river for 153 meters, it was at the time the longest in all of the United States west of the Mississippi River. In 2008 it was almost entirely destroyed by a fire caused by a child who was camping nearby. The Dewey Bridge Campground it is located immediately after the bridge, on the right: I recommend that you make a short stop here to give you the opportunity to touch the waters of the Colorado River firsthand, approaching the shore via the boat ramp located on site.

    Only the brave: Top of the World Safari Route Between the bridge and the access to the camping rest area, on the left you will see a road that separates from UT-128. That's the infamous Top of the World Safari Route, an overview that can only be navigated by 4 × 4 vehicles. If you have hired such a car and want to enjoy an unforgettable view, plan to travel 30 km (round trip) along a dirt road that climbs to the top of the escarpment. The journey is long and bumpy, but it leads to a spectacular vantage point over Professor Valley, Castle Valley, and Colorado's natural spectacle to the east.

    Hittle Bottom Campground

    After the open and verdant valley of Dewey with its ranches and cultivated fields, the basin narrows and becomes almost a gorge: you will drive arm in arm with the Colorado River for a few kilometers, in the shadow of the cliffs of the Dome Trayuntil all of a sudden the infinite horizon of the Professor Valley and, already visible from a great distance, the rocky forms of the Castle Valley.

    You will immediately be tempted to stop to take a picture, and you can do it at the height ofHittle Bottom Campground, a riverside camping area in the shade of a huge rocky outcrop. 2.8 km after the campground, you will find another clearing where you can stop: on the right you will see a strange rock formation, which may resemble a locomotive. Is called Locomotive Rock and hides theHauer ranch, whose constructions remained in western style they want to remember a past of cinematic splendor: important western films were shot here. Today it is possible to follow in the footsteps of the cowboys by doing horse riding activities at Moab Horses, which is located right on the ranch: here are the coordinates to reach it, you must exit the UT-128 taking the Fisher Towers Road towards the river.

    Fisher Towers

    La Fisher Towers Road crosses the scenic byway about 3.8 km after Hittle Bottom Camprgound: on the right, as mentioned, you go towards the river, on the left the dirt road leads to Fisher Towers Picnic Area. Fisher Towers they are by far the most beautiful panorama in all of Professor Valley: already along the UT-128 you will see them soar on your left, but thanks to this short secondary road you will practically arrive under the towers.

    The Fisher Towers look just like spiers of a gothic cathedral or towers of a castle, and due to their particular shape they have become the setting for many Hollywood films, not least the recent TV series Westworld. The view from the parking lot of the picnic area is beautiful, but my advice is to take the popular trail which starts from the parking lot and leads right to the base of the towers. Before leaving, take a look at the map on the information signs of the parking area, where you will find all the information and precautions to keep along the way. In its entirety, the excursion takes place on a path 7.6 km round trip, with a considerable elevation of 555 meters. The first piece - which also offers splendid views of the surrounding valley and the adjacent Onion Creek - takes place on smooth rock, then you enter a canyon and then continue the ascent on irregular rock steps to the ridge and then beyond.

    Not all of them complete the trail, but my advice is to at least get as far as the map shows as Ancient Art (click here for the location on Google Maps): being at the top of a slope and at the base of the towers, it is the perfect point to see 3 of the 4 spiers from underneath (King Fishero, cottonwood e Echo) and to see The Titan (the fourth and highest) towering in the second line. To get closer to the Titan you need to continue the path, which also includes a passage on an iron ladder. As you ascend, take a look at the top of the spiers - you will most likely see climbers trying to reach the top!

    Professor Valley Road

    After the excursion to the towers, return to the UT-128: as you advance you will see the profile of the Castle Valley. The most recognizable rock formations have really curious silhouettes, hence the names The Rectory, The Convent, Sister Superior, Priest and Nuns and Castleton Tower, the real symbol of the valley. Behind this row of “ecclesiastical” rocks, the imposing one also stands out Parriott Table.

    You can stop along the road over and over to take the perfect photo, but you also have an alternative solution, perhaps a little more inconvenient but to be taken into consideration: take the dirt road Professor Valley Road. This is also a secondary road, to take it you will need to turn right 4.2 km after the intersection of UT-128 and Fisher Valley Road. This dirt road is mainly used by those who want to reach the start of the Professor Creek and Mary Jane Canyon Trail, a 12.2 km long trail that winds through a canyon along the river to a waterfall. You can walk it up to the trail parking lot to drive parallel to the Castle Valley ridge.

    Castle Valley

    While Professor Valley is practically cut in half by the Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway, the Castle Valley it requires a short detour to reach it, and if you have been struck by the rock formations you saw in the distance, you will surely be tempted to walk the few kilometers it takes to enter directly inside.

    Well, after Parriott Mesa, follow the signs indicating Castle Valley and turn right on La Sal Valley Loop Road. After a short stretch of road between the red rocks, a wide green valley will open up before your eyes, bordered by vertiginous rock walls and framed to the south-east by the The Sal Mountains. In a curious central position, the Round mountain.

    Once you are inside the valley, you may realize that your expectations were too high: in fact, Castle Valley has a much better impact when viewed on the road on the UT-128 than from the inside. However, I recommend that you drive at least until you get under the Castleton Tower, because it is a truly scenic rock formation. With more time available, you may choose to do one of the following activities:

    • Castleton Tower Trail: yes, it is possible to reach the actual base of Castleton Tower and enjoy an impressive view of the two adjacent valleys. To do this path you need to leave your car here and start a climb of 4.3 km there and back with an elevation of 440 mt. The hike is of moderate difficulty, but the less experienced will have to pay attention to the final piece, which is quite exposed.
    • Fisher Valley Overlook: follow La Sal Loop Road for another 10 km after the parking lot for the Castleton Tower Trail. At the junction with Gateway (Colorado) follow for Gateway. Drive another 8.7 km after the fork and you will arrive at Fisher Valley Overlook, which offers sensational views of the valley below and North Beaver Mesa. Then head back to UT-128.

    Moab Museum of Film and Western Heritage

    After venturing into Castle Valley, go back on the same road to UT-128. Before driving to Moab for the last stretch of road, take a detour to the Moab Museum of Film and Western Heritage, just 2km after the turnoff for Castle Valley. The museum is located inside the Red Cliffs Ranch, a historic property that also houses a winery, a good restaurant (The Coywboy Grill) and a splendid lodge that is reflected in the Colorado River: this is it one of the most coveted hotels in Moab.

    The museum, ad free entry, is a must for lovers of western films: it collects testimonies and artifacts of the numerous films shot in the Moab area for 100 years now.

    Grandstaff Canyon (ex Negro Bill Canyon)

    Leaving behind the Red Cliffs Ranch, we leave Professor Valley and enter theultima parte dell’on the road. As I had already anticipated, the last 25 km of the UT-128 wind through a real one gorge carved by the Colorado River. The road narrows between the walls and follows the course of the river along a meandering itinerary full of landscapes of great beauty. On both sides of the road there are other canyons and dizzying gorges: the most impressive confluence you will see here, where the Colorado River meets the Salt Wash.

    However, the most popular canyon in the Moab area is the Grandstaff Canyon, known until a few years ago as Negro Bill Canyon. The start of this trail is located right along the road, 7 km after the Big Bend Campground, however well indicated. Near a parking lot begins this magnificent path inside a canyon that was once trodden by Williams Grandstaff, a black cowboy who brought cattle here (the name was changed because it was considered racist). The excursion is technically simple but it is not to be taken lightly: in the face of an elevation of just 117 meters, they are 7 km there and back inside a canyon where you have to walk both on rock and on sand. At the end of the path, a 74 m long rocky arch awaits you, the Morning Glory Arch, considered one of the longest in the world. To see it at its best, get as close as possible: the arch is not very far from the rock face, but seen from below it is impressive.

    Where to sleep?

    Along the UT-128 you can find accommodation in prestigious ranch di Castle Valley, to live the cowboy experience. Here are some of them:

    • Red Cliffs Lodge: I already mentioned this ranch in the article when I was talking about the Moab Museum of Film and Western Heritage. Of all what I indicate here the Red Cliffs Lodge is also the closest to Moab, but this is not the highlight of the Ranch, but the position. precious suites built of wood overlook the Colorado River and offer exceptional views of the valley's typical red escarpments. In addition, as anticipated, there is the museum, the winery with a terrace for tastings overlooking the river, a western-style restaurant and a ... panoramic swimming pool.
    • Sorrel River Ranch Resort: not very far from the Red Cliffs Lodge, also the Sorrel River Ranch boasts an unrivaled location, overlooking Parriott Mesa and other Castle Valley rock formations as well as the river itself. The property includes an outdoor swimming pool, whirlpool, fitness center and spa. All around the ranch, pastures and cultivated fields extend visibly, from which fresh products arrive to be enjoyed at the River Grill, the on-site restaurant. It is also possible to do horse riding and other excursions in the surrounding nature by agreeing the tours with the management.
    •  Castle Valley Inn: unlike the other two lodgings, the Castle Valley Inn is located in the heart of the valley and is a bed & breakfast immersed in the greenery of a garden, with a more familiar and less western air. We are not on the river, but the view is still sensational: fruit plantations (especially apple trees) extend all around, and in the background the red rocks of the mountains of La Sal stand out. The breakfast is superb, as is the set up of the rooms. Compared to the other two solutions, the prices are a bit cheaper, in line with the Moab average.

    Alternatively, as far as the hotels in Moab are quite expensive, there is no shortage of cheaper hotels: at the link below you will find our advice.

    Where to sleep in Moab

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