canyonlands title

Long Canyon Road - Potash Road - Dead Horse Point - Shafer Trail

canyonlands overview

Overview of the tour. The numbers show the locations where the pictures that are shown below were taken.

About 2.8 miles from Dead Horse Point park boundary, Long Canyon Road starts as a relatively wide and flat gravel road splitting from route 313. Two miles into the journey, Long Canyon and the La Sal Mountains will come into view. After three miles, the rim of the Long Canyon is reached and the smooth ride is over. At this point, one can only wonder how the road will find its way down to the dusty canyon floor. The sandy boulder strewn track starts to carve into the rocks as the red canyon walls rise.

entry 1 Location 1: Beginning of Pucker Pass

This part of the Long Canyon Road is called Pucker Pass. It is still reasonably wide but good ground clearance and 4x4 drive are required. After a few turns the road seems to disappear into the canyon walls. As one gets closer, a giant fallen rock leaning against the towering canyon walls emerges. The road squeezes itself through the gap between the two making for a irresistible photo shoot opportunity. Only inside the gap it becomes apparent how gigantic that rock is and what power nature must have wielded when creating this bizarre arrangement.

Location 2: Fallen Giant Rock

The decent continues with a few switchbacks and the abrupt walls give way to gentler slopes and wider views.

entry Location 3: View down Long Canyon from Pucker Pass

Eventually the bottom of the canyon is reached. At Jug Handle Arch, Long Canyon Road meet Potash Road and the Colorado River. Given the sweltering heat and desolation of the place, it is amazing to learn that the Shafer Trail started as a cattle trail (One wonders if the ranchers tried to produce beef jerky in-situ.). John Shafer built the trail in the early 1900’s. Later during and after World War II, uranium prospectors searched the area and discovered uranium ore at what is now the White Rim Area. To transport the ore back to Moab, they widened the old cattle trails into truck routes in the early 1950’s. Shafer Trail was indeed used to haul uranium ore towards Moab. Where Shafer Trail meets Potash Road, the latter follows the banks of the Colorado River. In parallel runs a single-track railway, which was built in 1964. This railway is used to transport potash. The source of the potash become apparent as one approaches the Cane Creek potash processing plant to the right of the road. The plant belongs to an extensive complex comprised of evaporation pools and processing plants.

potash Location 7: View of the evaporation ponds and the trail from Dead Horse visitor center

According to U.S. Geological Survey reports, the area around Dead Horse Point contains up to 2.0 billion tons of potash and Cane Creek is the primary mine. The plant was built by the Texas Gulf Sulphur Company in the 1960’s as an underground mine. In 1963, an explosion trapped 25 miners. Only seven survived building a barricade to trap fresh air. Ten years later the mine was retrofitted to utilize less dangerous and more effective solution mining and evaporation. Water from the River water is pumped into the mine and the potash dissolves. The brine is pumped into evaporation ponds. Those are lined with plastic foil, which is visible when driving by. These foils should prevent groundwater seepage. This is critical as potash is a mixture of potassium salts and a very potent fertilizer. If the brine would find its way to the Colorado River, the results would be devastating for the eco system. Today, mine and processing plant are owned by Intrepid Corporation. Leaving the plant behind, the paved road turns left and reaches a bend in the Colorado River. A boat launch ramp allows to get close to the river. It is possible to swim but caution is warranted as the current is very swift and the ride to Mexico a long one.

river Location 4: Colorado River

After the boat ramp, the road turns again into a gravel path and climbs swiftly and reaches an overlook from one can look back to the Colorado River. After passing a few of the extensive, not very scenic evaporation ponds, the trail turns left onto South Fork Road or San Juan County Road 142. The path cuts across a plane towards the famous Dead Horse Point bend of the Colorado River. It gets really close to the walls of the mesa with the visitors center perched on top. The river can be seen again when the (unofficial) “Thelma and Louise” point is reached (locals call the spot also Fossil point). This is the spot where the final scene of the movie was filmed. In the movie, two fugitive women drive their car off the edge of the plateau into the canyon. After the shooting the place was properly cleaned up. Two smashed cars were cut up and hauled out by helicopter. Unless you have a multi-million dollar film budget at your disposal it is advised to stay on the road and to continue the tour. The road is now following a scarily narrow rim and takes a sharp left turn.

dead horse approach Location 5: View across a smaller ravine towards Dead Horse Point just after Thelma and Louise Point. The trail is perches on narrow perch in the top left corner of the picture.

When the trail widens, you find yourself literally eye to eye with Dead Horse Point. This is a very different view as from the visitor’s center as you are on the same level as the famous formation, which is also called Gooseneck Canyon.

dead horse point Location 7: View of Dead Horse point from visitor center above the trail

You can see the river running below taking a sharp turn around the point. He view is breathtakingly beautiful and you probably want to spend some time here. If you are lucky, you will have the world famous landmark all for yourself.

dead horse leftdead horse right

Location 6: View of Dead Horse point as close as it gets

After Dead Horse Point, County Road 142 follows a dried creek bed up a gentle slope.

exit 3 Location 8: View back from about the area where county road 142 and South Fork Spu meet

Gentle that is until South Fork Spu is reached. From here the trail climbs 1000 feed over 5 miles up a steep canyon towards the top of the Mesa. The view back is thrilling and the view down not for the faint of heart. The trail ends on Grand View Point Road, which takes you back to route 313.

exit 1 exit 2

Location 9: Climb to the top of the mesa

nihi kai