Day 8 (April 20, 2017 – Moab, Utah: “Going Off The Cuff”
It was about 5am when I awoke. Given the late night of researching that both Julie and I did (to figure out what to do on this free day that we had in Moab), I was pretty groggy. Still, from that research that I did, I took advantage of this early morning waking to take care of some trip journal business, and then when Julie finally awoke at 6:30am and Tahia awoke at around 7:15am, I scaled back expectations of what we were to do today so that we made the morning all about what Julie and Tahia wanted to do. And these things happened to be Dead Horse Point and then the Moab Giants.
Thus, I was going to punt the sunrise at Mesa Arch as well as shooting Turret Arch through the North Window with early morning light for tomorrow assuming the weather would cooperate. I figured that both Julie and Tahia could sleep in and take care of the logistical stuff like packing, and I’d still be able to do my photo run, and still be back in time to leave Moab between 9-10am.
Anyways, as for today, I was also going to act on the last-minute plans to visit two waterfalls in the Moab area, which I was never really aware of until this trip. This was pretty much all inspired by the snow I had seen in the La Sal Mountains, which made me pretty sure that there had to be waterfalls here. And sure enough, I was eagerly anticipating seeing these things this afternoon after getting through with Julie and Tahia’s stuff and dropping them off at our accommodation in downtown Moab.
And so it wouldn’t be until about 8:45am when we were finally heading out from our accommodation. The first order of business was to visit Dead Horse Point State Park, which Julie was insistent upon. The drive was pretty uneventful as I was on the lookout for where I would find the trailhead for Middle Earth Falls, which was yet another waterfall near Moab. However, I wasn’t considering doing that one because I knew that it was pretty ephemeral.
The 313 highway ultimately veered to the left at the Canyonlands turnoff, and we headed right for Dead Horse Point. All along the way, I was looking for any kind of structure that would indicate to us the Moab Giants excursion that we were going to do for Tahia. However, all throughout the drive, it was pretty empty except for cows grazing by the road. I thought the Yelp Review for Moab Giants had pegged the place for this stretch of the road, but I think it was wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time it was wrong.
Eventually, at 9:30am, we arrived at Dead Horse Point State Park. We had to pay $15 to get in, but Julie thought it was worth it. And so once we got out of the car, we promptly walked over to the west-facing part of the overlook, which was facing a gooseneck of the Colorado River. And like before, it was attractive in morning light, like it was at this moment.
As we were busy taking photos, there was one guy who happened to slip and fall and land on his back. Fortunately, it seemed like he was ok, but there was spots of blood on the ground. Julie came prepared with emergency bandages and gave the guy one to help stop the bleeding. I guess experience told us that you never really know when you need first aid even if it wouldn’t be for ourselves directly, as in this case.
With that bit of drama over with, we pretty much spent the next 45 minutes or less taking plenty of photos, selfies, and exploring the other viewpoints, especially towards the east-facing part, which looked towards some kind of potash mining operation, exhibited by the blue evaporative ponds or something like that according to signage here. I could have sworn that there was some kind of uranium mining around this area the last time we were here sixteen years or so ago.
We had our fill of Dead Horse Point and returned to the car at 10:15am. Now, it was time to look for the Moab Giants. However, on the drive back, we didn’t see any infrastructure suggesting there was the Moab Giants along the 313. Then, we drove south towards the Island in the Sky part of Canyonlands National Park, but after picking up a map and some literature about the park in the busy entrance kiosk, we made a U-turn and turned back towards the junction of the 191 and 313, as apparently, the Moab Giants was all the way back on the main highway.
And so we drove all the way back and finally found the place at 11:15am. Sure enough, there was a car park and some Jurassic Park-like fonts for the entrance and the cafe among other things. This pretty much confirmed that the Yelp pin for this place was way off.
Anyways, we went inside, paid a pretty steep price of over $63 I think for all three of us, and promptly went to the theater for a 3-D movie for the 11:30am showing. The movie pretty much traced the evolution of life on earth from the Big Bang all the way to the dinosaurs. That was when the movie ended after about 10 minutes.
For me, most of this stuff was familiar material. However, Julie found it to be very informative since she wasn’t as exposed to Science Channel shows that I used to watch several years back. Next, we headed right for the 5-D Paleoaquarium where the next tour would take place at 11:45am.
Like with the movie, we needed the 3-D glasses, but this time, it was more of a walking tour that went from one window (more like an animated screen acting as an aquarium window) to the next. The last window was kind of an “intense” one that apparently kids who were easily frightened could be let out to exit.
For each of these aquarium exhibits, we were treated to the top predators of the sea for each of the main periods it seemed. But the last room was for the Megalodon, which was a prehistoric pre-cursor to the Great White Shark. And apparently, this guy was aggressive. When it hit the “window”, the room would shake. And finally, the window cracked to the point that the room was spray water on us!
It was quite the interactive experience, and now I could see why, this was a “5-D” experience.
When that was done, we then went to the museum, checked out some of the exhibits, then went up the View Tower for some more photo ops. When we left the museum, we then walked the Dinosaur Trail backwards to just the T-rexes. We just didn’t have the time to do the rest of the Dinosaur Trail.
When we had our fill of that, then we went to the sand pit, where Tahia and some other kid were actively trying to uncover bones buried by the red sand. It would take several hours to reveal the extent of the bones beneath the sand, but I figured that they were all connected.
At 12:45pm, we were back at the car. And 15 minutes later, we returned to the accommodation, where I dropped Julie and Tahia back so they could explore downtown Moab on their own while also cooking or doing other stuff that didn’t involve me. In the mean time, I helped to bring in the cooler and some other stuff in the car that they might need.
At 1:10pm, I was back in the car, and now I could finally pursue the Moab Waterfalls that I had been waiting patiently to take on for the rest of this afternoon.
The first waterfall that I pursued was the Mill Creek Falls, which was apparently only a two or three miles from downtown Moab. After following the spot on directions from the GPS (derived from spot on GPS waypoints from the internet that I picked up last night), I managed to get to the parking lot for Mill Creek at 1:25pm. The last half-mile of the drive on Power House Rd was unpaved, but not too bad.
The parking lot was pretty full, but I managed to score one of a couple of open spots so I immediately got out of the car, put the shades on, put on my backpack, camera, and changed shoes to the Keens as I knew that this one involved getting wet with several stream crossings of Mill Creek to get to the main waterfall.
It only took a couple of minutes to arrive at the first waterfall, which was an artificial one caused by a dam. There were some girls who scrambled down the steep embankment or cliff to get to the creek beneath the dam. I was content to document this spot and then move on as the trail continued to the right side of the dam.
Shortly after the dam, the trail then was about to wade into the Mill Creek, but there was a semi-technical ledge of slickrock that I was able to balance on to stay dry. Then, as I continued along the main trail, there was one detour taking me closer to Mill Creek before it rejoined the main trail. By this time, I was passed by a very large group of hikers seemingly led by a teacher or something.
I pretty much followed them the rest of the way as the trail went through several stream crossings (one was knee deep) and they were sort of my subjects for informative trail photos. All the while I was following them, I was also drawn to the high cliffs flanking the trail and creek. In addition, I was looking around to see where I might find the petroglyphs that were said to be in the canyon.
But by 2pm, the hiking group were gathered before the plunge pool fronting the Mill Creek Falls, which looked to be on the order of 15ft or so. It was modestly sized, but the dramatic canyon scenery certainly made up for its lack of size. Plus, with the dozens or so people all gathered at both the base as well as the top of the falls, it was quite the festive atmosphere here.
It didn’t take long for me to have my fill of this falls, but I was asking around some of the older folks here about where the petroglyphs were. But each person I spoke to said that this was their first time here. And as I was hiking back out, I kept my eye out for any spur trails that might lead me to these petroglyphs.
I happened to see some spur trails to my right some 50 yards downstream from the falls. They led me to some sloping slickrock walls with some vegetation around them. One guy who was already on the slickrock asked me if this was the way to the top of the falls, but I didn’t know the answer so he was going up anyways. Another pair of dudes also were going up this wall in pursuit of the top of the falls.
Meanwhile, I thought I had seen petroglyphs high up on one of the reddish walls above the area where this slickrock wall and climb was. So I kept this in mind as I made the ascent up to where the guys were, and I saw a slickrock “trail” along a ledge leading to a more top down view of the Mill Creek Falls. There were quite a few people on the other side of the creek above the falls, and there was another guy who was summoning up the courage to do a cliff jump from a higher position than this girl who was doing it from the other side.
This was about as far as I went as I didn’t go to the other side of the creek where the rest of the people were chilling out (in the shade next to a pretty badly graffiti’ed wall. On my way out, I decided to climb higher on the slickrock slope while avoiding cacti in the process. I ended up being in front of some faint etchings that I thought could be petroglyphs, but they could be just graffiti for all I knew.
I went back down as I didn’t see any more apparent spots for real petroglyphs. And eventually by 2:35pm, I made it back down to the main trail, and by 3:10pm, I had returned to the car. Along the way back, I saw some people chilling out in some kind of cave or something across Mill Creek. I was trying to figure out how they got there, but I wasn’t going to pursue going out to them. Now, were there petroglyphs, where this cave was at? Who knew?
Back at the parking lot, I could see that there were many more cars now than there were when I first showed up. In fact, quite a few of the vehicles were parallel parking further down the road from the main parking lot. Good thing I came when I did…
Next, I routed to the next waterfall that I had targeted, which was the Faux Falls. After taking the Mill Creek Road all the way to the US191, I then continued driving south towards the Old Airport Rd, where I promptly turned left and then turned right at the T, which was for the Mill Creek Rd.
The Mill Creek Rd, then continued for the next 1.4 miles (keeping left at a fork at 0.6 miles), before turning left onto the Ken’s Lake Rd. I then followed this road towards the Ken’s Lake Recreational Area, where there were several turnoffs leading to campsites. At first, I had skipped past all of the campsite turnoffs and kept going straight up an unpaved road that appeared to climb up to the level of the top of Faux Falls.
As a matter of fact, I was able to see Faux Falls during this drive, and I was keenly looking for the right place to park the car and get a closer look. But when I got up to a real steep turnout where there was a gate leading towards what appeared to be some pipe right above the uppermost tier of the Faux Falls, I knew that I was in the wrong place. That didn’t stop some lady from going down one of the scrambling paths, and I wondered if this was the correct, shorter trail as opposed to the more sanctioned one that I could clearly see from this vantage point further downstream.
In any case, I opted to do the more sanctioned way, and so by 3:45pm, I finally arrived at the signposted car park for Faux Falls. This car park was just a short distance off the turnoff for campsites 13-19 or something like that. Actually, it appeared that the least half-mile of road kept going from this car park, but one look at the really rocky, sandy, and rough road convinced me not to press our luck with our car.
So I promptly walked from the car and along the 4wd road. I’d eventually arrive at the trailhead for the Faux Falls though strangely, I didn’t see any private 4wd vehicles the whole time I was on this hike heading to the falls.
I’d eventually get to the end of the road at 4:05pm, where I got my first real satisfactory view of the Faux Falls with the impressive sandstone pinnacles and mountains in the backdrop. So I kept walking on the trail leading down to a not-so-obvious junction. I then went left closer to Mill Creek until I finally got a frontal view of the impressive falls.
The falls from this position looked a little smaller than the strand of rushing water that I had seen earlier this morning. That said, there was a family on the other side of the creek chilling out at the plunge pool there. There was even a faint rainbow in the mist of the base of the main waterfall.
After having my fill of this spot, I then backtracked to the main trail, where I then had to do a little more climbing on the slickrock to arrive at the very top of this waterfall. Now I didn’t make it all the way to the top since I didn’t feel the necessity to go through that kind of trouble.
Instead, I documented what I could of the falls and then started to head back to the trailhead. As I was on my way, there were some dark clouds ready to take over this part of Utah. And in seeing just how dark some of the clouds were, I knew that it was only going to be a matter of time to have to deal with rain.
Eventually at 4:30pm, I started heading back from near the top of the falls. And on the final half-mile stretch along the road, I found myself walking amongst a trio of 4wd vehicles. But by 4:50pm, I finally made it back to the parked car just in time for the sun to pretty much hide behind the dark clouds looming over Moab.
The drive back to Moab was uneventful. In town, I filled up the gas tank within the downtown Moab area, and I felt like I was now prepared for the early morning driving as well as making it all the way to Las Vegas tomorrow. During the return hike and drive, there were definitely storm clouds overhead, and it looked like it would rain.
Ultimately, I’d make it back to the apartment at 5:15pm, where Julie and Tahia were in the midst of making dessert (home made organic sorbet of strawberries, banana, and lemon) and dinner (squash pasta with tomato-based soup and organic ground beef). So the rest of the day was spent in the apartment while eating Julie’s home cooked or home mixed stuff. This took the better part of the evening.
It wouldn’t be until after 8:20pm that Julie decided to get out of our apartment and walk to get one last good whole food experiences to rekindle what she discovered at lunch when she and Tahia were alone. So we walked along the residential road as dark clouds still were overhead, but the rain had stopped. It made the outside temps a little bit on the chilly side.
The restaurant was pretty busy when we first showed up just before 8:30pm. The restaurant called 98 Center, and it was a good place to try to order pho (Julie really raved about this one) and other inspired Vietnamese food on the go. It turned out that getting seated took a while, and we started to get seated at about 8:45pm..
When the food finally arrived, Julie and I both had beef pho without the rice noodles. We also had a more heavy duty backpack carrying backup water as well as other trail essentials. Anyways, the pho didn’t quite live up to Julie’s hype in my mind, but it was still a refreshingly clean meal even though we had already had the home-cooked dinner.
In addition to the pho, we also had delicious scallop appetizer with chimichurri sauce and some other herbs. It was so simple yet so good. The whole time, Tahia didn’t eat anything since she too had already eaten her dinner (albeit with much protest on her part). It wouldn’t be until about 9:25pm that we finally were able to leave the restaurant as the to go salad order was finally complete.
And in the end, I spent about 120 minutes away from the car. Hopefully, this delay wouldn’t cause me to start a backlog of complications for tomorrow, as I’d still wake up 90 minutes before sunrise and even get to Canyonlands viewpoint before sunrise.
When we finally left the restaurant at around 9pm or so, Tahia and I walked the brighter route along Main Street until we’d finally get back to the apartment, where we had to knock a few times before Julie finally woke up from her post-dinner nap. Good thing we didn’t get locked out.
For the rest of the evening, we tended to our daily routine of oral hygiene, showering, etc., and before we knew it, our little logistical tasks were complete. We’d pretty much crash from this very long day.