The Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway

Hi everyone,

At the end of last weeks post (click here to refresh your memory), we left the Colorado National Monument headed for the Utah state line only eighteen miles away. After crossing into Utah, we pulled off 1-70 to get our first look at the high desert. From this vantage point, it seemed that we could see forever, only blocked by the low mountains far off in the distance. The dry wash below with the juniper and pinyon trees growing on it’s banks, gave us a preview of things to come as we explored the wilds of southern Utah.

We jumped (we didn’t actually jump, I’m taking literary license!) back into the Red Rover following 1-70 for only twenty-three miles. There we took the exit at mile marker 204 onto Utah 128, the Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway. We hesitated for a minute, the only things we saw were sage brush, a fence, a cattle guard, and a long two-lane paved road seemingly carved out of the desert. In about ten miles, this road would intersect with the Colorado River. The road closely follows the river until arriving in Moab where we would spend the next three days.

The morning drizzle had given way to an afternoon of partly cloudy skies with the temperature rising to a comfortable 50 degrees. When we reached the Colorado River, we stopped several times to take in the scenery created over millions of year by erosion. Below is just one of the photos I took when we stopped at the many turnouts put there for the gawkers like us.  

As we traveled slowly down the road, I was fascinated by the golden yellow leaves on the cottonwood trees that thrived in the river valley. At one turnout, there was a large grove of cottonwoods a short hike down near the river. Below is a trio of photos I made of those gorgeous trees.

The further we drove, the more dynamic the scenery became. The towering rock formations with hundreds of hues of red color rose on either side of the river. Sometimes the poofy clouds peeked over the edge of the sandstone walls of the gorge.

Below is one of my favorite photos from this drive. The rocks, the river, the lone yellow cottonwood, the canyon, and the clouds seemed to come together to tell a visual story.

A few miles down the highway from this scene, we turned off the main road onto a dusty, gravel road that would take us to Fisher Towers. Monument Valley on the Utah/Arizona border and Fisher Towers are two of the iconic grandest views in the west. Both are the site of many western movies, tv commercials, and music videos. The dark red spires are impressive from a distance and even more magnificent up close.

After pulling into the parking lot, we admired the beauty before and around us. We did a couple of short walks before returning to the main road to Moab.

It didn’t take long to see this formation off in the distance. Using my telephoto lens, I attempted to capture what looked like a religious figure praying at an altar. On the other side of the alter, I imagine a godlike figure listening to the prayers. What do you see in this photo from Castle Valley of Castleton Tower and The Rectory? Another of my favorite photos from our drive on the scenic byway.

As we got nearer to Moab, the gorge and the river became narrower and more turbulent. I don’t know if this is natural or a man-made way to control spring flooding or a little of both. But that didn’t affect the beauty of the steep, red walls on either side of the river.

After spending a few hours on the 45 mile scenic byway, it ended on the outskirts of Moab at the Lions Park and Bike Path Trailhead. We couldn’t help but notice the large parking lot with a visitor center. What we really needed at that point was access to a restroom! After taking care of business and checking out the outdoor displays, we walked over to the foot bridge that crossed the Colorado River.

After a few minutes of watching the Colorado flow below and snapping some photos, we started making our way back to the parking lot. At the end of the bridge, there was fellow wearing a DD-214 Alumni t-shirt. He asked us if we were the owners of a pickup camper sitting the parking lot below. We answered: “No.” He apologized and I responded: “No apology necessary.” Then we struck up a conversation about his t-shirt. A DD-214 is the form the military issues to service members when they leave military service. I asked him about his service, noting it was around the same time I was in the Army. He was drafted into the Army right after graduating from college. He was stationed at Fort Huachuca, Arizona in an Army intelligence unit. We both had a good chuckle over irony of that statement! I shared a bit my Army experience and that both my Traveling Partner were retired from the VA. This conversation gave meaning to the stop at this bridge. It was two strangers, two old soldiers resting on their elbows, shoulder-to-shoulder looking off into the distant setting sun, seeing the past, and wondering about the future.

With that, the Red Rover took us onto U.S. Highway 191 that serves as Moab’s main street. Chain and local motels, restaurants, and campgrounds lined the highway through this town of nearly 5500 people. It’s mainly a tourist town surrounded by natural beauty with two national parks, a state park, plus thousands of square miles of land operated by the BLM and Forest Service. Tourists are offered adventure tours, rentals for off-road vehicles, and outfitters. Even in early November, the town was alive with folks seeking outdoor respite from the pandemic. We would join them in this quest for the next few days. For more about Moab, click here.

Up next week, a look at Canyonlands National Park.

Until then, happy travels!


8 thoughts on “The Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway

  1. Wow! Some beautiful country, for sure. It’s been a while since we’ve been through Moab and Canyonlands. I’ll be looking forward to your upcoming adventures as well.

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