Scenic Highway Utah 128, Moab to Dewey

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Scenic Utah Highway 128 is an amazing drive through a unique Utah landscape.  The road’s path was carved by the Colorado River, and for at least part of the way, it squeezes through a deep sandstone canyon alongside the river.  The rest of the journey from Moab to Dewey is a pure Utah experience, with red-rock canyons, buttes, and some interesting geological formations like Fisher Towers.  Beyond Dewey, the road isn’t quite as exciting, but it does provide a nice shortcut to Interstate 70.

Location

Utah Highway 128 runs between US 191 at Moab and Interstate 70 near the ghost town of Cisco.  From Moab, take 191 north, then turn right before the Colorado River bridge.  From Grand Junction, Colorado, take I-70 into Utah, then take either exit 214 or 204.  Taking the first exit will put you on a paved but rough and unmaintained road, while the second exit uses the state-maintained route.  I found the old road to be sufficient and slightly shorter, but if you’d prefer the easier route, take exit 204 and follow U-128 south.

If you’re in a hurry to get to Interstate 70, you can bypass U-128 altogether, by taking US 191 from Moab to the Interstate.  This route is not nearly as scenic, but you will be able to drive at highway speeds.

My Visit

The landscape along the Colorado River in Utah is mind-boggling.  Driving along a road through that landscape is even more incredible.  If you’ve never been to Utah or the American West, you just can’t imagine a place like this exists.  That’s why it’s so important that you drive Scenic Highway Utah 128 as part of your visit to the Moab area.  It’s simply incredible.

Scenic Highway Utah 128

The canyon is deep, and the walls are steep as you leave Moab, but you’ll get some breathing room as you make your way up Scenic Highway Utah 128.  You’ll find several places along the way to stop along the Colorado River.

One of those places has, what I believe to be, the greatest outhouse in Utah.  Imagine answering the call of nature while surrounded by it, in this open-air, roofless pit toilet.  It doesn’t even have a door — just a corner you walk around, and a chain to block the entrance when occupied.

Scenic Highway Utah 128 can be a great drive, but it’s also nice to get out of the car and hike through this landscape.  Your best option for a fairly easy trail is at Fisher Towers.  A 2.2 mile (one way) trail leads to a viewpoint of these towering rock fins.  You don’t have to hike the entire trail, though.  Just hiking a mile or so will take you to the base of the towers — where you’ll feel like you’re standing on a city street, surrounded by all-natural skyscrapers.

Not far beyond the community of Dewey, Scenic Highway Utah 128 departs from the Colorado River.  You have one last chance to admire this legendary waterway as you cross the river on a modern highway bridge, that’s next to the remnants of the original.

Only the cables and metal support towers of the original Dewey Bridge have survived.  In 2008, a fire consumed the wooden parts of the 92-year-old bridge.

I visited Dewey Bridge in 2005, three years before it burned.  It had recently been restored, and was in great condition.  At the time it was built in 1916, it was the second longest span west of the Mississippi.  And up until it burned, it was Utah’s longest suspension bridge.

The good news is, Dewey Bridge’s support structure is still in place.  Restoring it would involve rebuilding the 502-foot-long wooden deck.  Grandcountyutah.net lists the restoration cost at $862,000 — a whole lot more than the original 1916 price tag of $25,000.  And since the fire was already a decade ago, I’m guessing the effort to find the funding isn’t going very well.

Beyond Dewey Bridge, and after the road splits away from the Colorado River, the landscape suddenly changes from spectacular to monotonous.  The transition occurs strikingly fast, and the featureless expanse continues for a while as you drive east on Interstate 70.  At least you have Colorado National Monument to look forward to, just across the border.

Drivelapse Video

Here’s a look at the drive from Moab to Dewey…

… and from Dewey on to Fruita, Colorado:

The Bottom Line

When visiting Moab, don’t miss the drive up scenic highway Utah 128.  You don’t have to go all the way to I-70 — just driving as far up as Fisher Towers or Dewey will suffice.  This road along the Colorado River is an incredible drive, and it’s what Utah is all about.

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