Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

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Thanks to snowy weather further north, I decided to spend all of Day 6 in the Moab area, and hit some of the attractions I had missed during my previous visits to this part of Utah.  I vividly remember driving by one such place in 2004: Dead Horse Point.  I was on my way into the Island In The Sky section of Canyonlands, and it was already late in the day.  So, I made a choice that, I’m willing to bet, many people make, and opted for the National Park over the State Park.

This time, I made Dead Horse Point my first destination of the day, just to make sure I didn’t miss it again.

Just after entering the park, you come upon a couple of overlooks that give you a preview of the views to come.  This picture (above) is looking east, in the direction of Potash Road, which follows the Colorado River out of Moab.  Look the other direction…

… and there’s a great view of the Colorado River.  It’s not fully in view, quite yet.  For the best viewpoint…

… you must cross the narrow neck of land that helped give Dead Horse Point its name.

Back in the 19th century, cowboys used Dead Horse Point as a corral.  All that was needed was a fence, to block off the 30-yard-wide land bridge, that connected the end of the plateau with the rest of the surrounding land.  Cowboys rounded up wild horses and kept them here, eventually breaking some of them and either using them, or selling them.  The less desirable of the horses earned the title of “broomtails”, and were allowed to wander off.  But according to the legend, for whatever reason, some of the broomtails refused to leave the Point, even though the gate at the neck was left open.  They died of thirst, possibly while staring down at the Colorado River, 2,000 feet below.

The thing about modern-day Dead Horse Point is, if you’ll pardon the pun, it’s somewhat of a one-trick pony.  It has a spectacular view, no doubt.  But that’s about it.  There are trails to hike, but most of them encircle the end of the point, or lead from the road to the rim.  As far as I could tell, none of the trails leads to something different.  Instead, you can choose from many different locations to see virtually the same thing.

Don’t get me wrong. The views are great — although the view towards the east is marred a bit by the potash and salt drying ponds at the Intrepid Potash plant.

The view to the south and west is Dead Horse Point’s signature photo-op.  The Colorado River makes a giant 180-degree bend here.

I was expecting to get essentially the same view here, as in Island In The Sky, but the views are quite different.  The main viewpoints in Canyonlands are much further south, so you see an entirely different landscape.  You also don’t get as great a view of the Colorado River as you do at Dead Horse Point.

I found a seat on a rock at the edge of the cliff, and spent a while enjoying the view — after all, it was just about the only thing to do, and I wanted to get the most out of my $10 admission fee.  I think the price is a bit steep for a park where (unless you plan to camp or picnic) you’ll probably only spend an hour or two.  In contrast, Snow Canyon State Park near St. George was only $5, yet offered much more variety in activities.

Dead Horse Point State Park is located on the road to the Island In The Sky district of Canyonlands National Park.  From Moab, go north on US 191 11 miles, then turn left onto Utah Route 313 and go 20 more miles.  About halfway there, you will make one more turn, at a well-marked intersection (a left turn takes you to Dead Horse Point; straight goes to Canyonlands).

If you’re driving a 4wd, high clearance vehicle, there is a much more fun way to return to Moab.  Long Canyon Road leaves Route 313 just north of the park entrance.  For that adventure, click here.

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