Moab, UT - Dead Horse State Park
Definitely not PETA approved
Dead Horse Point State Park is adjacent to Canyonlands and offers the same incredible views of canyons, mesas, and buttes. However, you might be thinking the same thing as me – what are we about to get into? Are we entering a horse graveyard? Are there horse skeletons all along this hike? Surely, someone on AllTrails would have mentioned that in their review!
SPOILER ALERT: no, there are not dead horses everywhere, but the legend of this park is actually quite dark. Similar to Island in the Sky, Dead Horse Point rests upon sandstone cliffs. The point is a peninsula connected to a large mesa via a narrow strip of land referred to as the neck. It is believed that cowboys used the point as a natural corral for wild mustangs in the 19th century. The neck is only 30-yards wide, so they fenced off access to the mesa with branches. The cowboys selected the horses they wanted to use and left the remaining horses stranded on the point without any food or water, where they eventually died.
We went into the park for an evening hike and to watch the sunset. Dead Horse Rim Loop is a five-mile loop with stunning views. We kept thinking it couldn’t possibly get any better and then we would walk 100 yards and it was better. One of the best views was of Goose Neck surrounded by the Colorado River. We watched the colors of the rocks change as the sun dipped down below the mesas.
Watch where you step. The dirt is alive!
There is only 9-10 inches of rainfall per year in Moab, making it hard to believe anything can survive. We didn’t see much wildlife other than a deer and some birds, which isn’t unusual, because many of Moab’s animals are nocturnal.
The plants have also adapted to survive in drought conditions. Some can go dormant until enough water is available. Others have waxy coatings or spines to minimize moisture loss. Regardless of their adaptations, they all look like something out of a Tim Burton movie set, most notably the Utah juniper tree. Junipers can control the flow of water, so when it is especially dry, they will stop water flow to outer branches, leaving a living tree with gnarly dead branches.
Now if you thought the plant’s evolutionary features were cool, wait until you hear about the soil! Seriously, sit down. It’s about to get crazy! Much of the soil in Canyonlands, Dead Horse Point, and Arches is bumpy and blackened, rather than red/brown and smooth. This is biological soil crust. Cyanobacteria, which you might know as blue-green algae, lives in the soil, migrates through the soil, and leaves behind sticky fibers, causing the soil to clump together and create a thick crust.
Much to Lumpy’s dismay, we experienced crazy windstorms every night. She has now found every possible hiding spot in the travel trailer. She also now understands why all of the soil hasn’t blown away with every gust of wind Moab experiences. These biological soil crusts are resistant to erosion. After time, lichen, moss, and other organisms grow on the crusts, absorb and store water, and provide nutrition and nest material to animals. If you decide to hike in this area, make sure you stay on the marked paths, because some of the crusts are thousands of years old and the plants and animals rely on these crusts to survive.