It looks like the Grand Canyon, and if the movie “Thelma and Louise” was seen, this is the “Grand Canyon” where the two drove into oblivion – except its Dead Horse Point State Park outside of Moab, Utah.
“It’s like the Grand Canyon without the crowds,” is what one person said while the sun was drooping low in the west, and its warm rays were fading into a brisk, late November breeze. In the background, the snow-capped La Sal Mountains stood sentinel.
The mostly bussed Japanese and Indian visitors in the overlook were taking in the radical curves of the Colorado River gooseneck as its red waters rush to meet the confluence of the Green River a few miles downstream in Canyonlands National Park.
Dead Horse Point State Park is a Utah gem that sees far fewer visitors than highly recognized Arches National Park, located on U.S. 191 between Canyonlands, Dead Horse and Moab. It’s well worth the side trip to miss the crowds and see one of the reasons The American West should be on a travel bucket list.
It’s part of the off-the-beaten path landscape of Southeast Utah. In this area are three national parks—Arches, Canyonlands and Capital Reef; three national monuments, Vermillion Cliffs, Hovenweep and Rainbow Bridge; Glen Canyon National Recreation Area; and four state parks—Dead Horse Point, Green River, Goosenecks and Goblin Valley.
The state park is open throughout the year, but be advised that winter months are might chilly, and mid-summer is dry and hot. The Kaytena Campground is a generally less crowded, reservation-accepted, alternative to the packed campsites in Arches and Canyonlands. The state park also rents yurts. A little-known option is Bureau of Land Management’s Horsethief Campground just off the main road to the two parks.
Cyclists have a nearly 17 mile (27km) single-track trail, Intrepid II, along the cliff’s edge across slickrock and through pinon. The track is rated moderate to intermediate – making it a good ride for families. The park also offers a rim-top family and pet-friendly hike along the canyon and to the overlooks. Periodically, this hike is ranger-led. It’s about the same energy as the Delicate Arch trail in Arches.
There are eight trails in the park – three in the Intrepid system, including Intrepid Loop, a 1.1 mile (1.8km) family ride, and Great Pyramid Loop, 4.2 miles (6.8km), good for families with a little higher skill level.
Moab is located about seven hours (including stops for fuel and food) from Phoenix and about five from Salt Lake City. It offers a variety of lodging options, a wide selection of restaurants – including the medal-collecting Moab Brewery, and a unique interagency visitor center with detailed information, maps and books. The visitor center hosts BLM, National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service.
This is high desert — even if the weather is cool or cold, carry one liter of water per person for each hour of hiking. For a family, figure one hour for each 1.5 miles (2.4km) of trail. The desert is beautiful, unique and unforgiving. Stay away from the canyon rim, many places are thin overhangs and both children and adults die each year from collapsed canyon edge rock overhangs.