Sunday, February 9, 2014

Around Ken's Lake up a Flat Pass to Steel Bender.

In the Moab area, it's not unusual to be driving along Route 191 and say, "hey, is that a new trail?"  New trails seem to be popping up that make it more accessible to those visitors who are driving cars; however the norm is still 4 wheel drive for most.  We noticed a couple of new dirt/gravel trails as we came down the Route 191 curve into Spanish Valley, so decided to try one out.  Those beautiful sandstone hills in the distance; well we always wanted to check them out and wondered how to get out there anyway.
We took the trail nearest mile marker 117 which (surprise, surprise) eventually meets Spanish Valley Drive (left to Ken's Lake and Moab, right to La Sal Loop Road).  However, we noticed that another dirt trail begins there also, so hopped onto that instead; remember, those sandstone hills were the goal.

Unfortunately, we reached a dead end; in the distance we saw a road going into the hills, but how do we get to it?  The maps we had on hand were not very helpful; the problem with most maps available is that they are out of date.  So, when I write up many of my blog posts, I try to find maps that have a good amount of information; then I fill in the blanks as best as possible.  Before I continue the story, here are two maps that will be helpful if you decide to try out this trek.

National Geographic - Moab South; last revised 2008

Back to the story, after making a rough U-turn (actually it was more like a 5 point turn trying very hard not to run over any sage brush), we were going to head back to the beginning of the trail when we noticed another dirt trail leading towards Ken's Lake.  Oh what the hell we thought, why be prissy about trail conditions now?  Yeah, it was a bumpy ride, but lo and behold, we were at Ken's Lake and there was that road leading up into the sandstone hills.  Could we have made life easier by going directly to Ken's Lake in the first place?   Sure, but what fun would that have been!?! 

Ken's Lake, completed in 1981, is named after a former Moab mayor, Ken McDougald; it is a man-made reservoir which is supposed to supply agricultural water for Spanish Valley.  Instead, it has become more of a recreation area where visitors can camp (in designated areas only), go swimming, fishing and even kayak; motorized boats are not allowed.  There are three hiking trails directly by the lake; one is Faux Falls Trail which goes up to the man-made waterfall; second is Rock Trail which goes around a large sandstone formation east of the lake called, can you guess, "The Rock"; third is Lake Loop Trail which goes around the lake itself.

The road leading up into the hills is Flat Pass Road which becomes Flat Pass Trail which leads directly into Steel Bender; the other entrance to Steel Bender is at Westwater Drive.  At both ends of the trail are walls of Rock Art, and I'll be doing a separate write up on those.  Steel Bender is a difficult trail that requires high clearance vehicles; at several points are steep crossing points; seeing the photos in our 4 Wheel Drive Trail guidebook helped us decide to go forward or not...Not!  Am I saying not to go up Flat Pass Road at all?  Hell no!  The road is graded until you get to the entrance to Steel Bender; the scenic views should not be missed!  Oh, in case you needed to know; Ken's Lake and this entrance to Steel Bender is in San Juan County; Westwater Drive is Grand County; but Ken's Lake is always related to Moab, but Moab is in Grand County...yeah, we get confused too. 
By the way, at one curve will be a pull in area with an informational board full of rules, regulations, etc; besides the 4 wheel drive trail; the area is popular with mountain bikers also.
Lets just head up Flat Pass Road and forget about the county lines...

So, you get to a junction with a sign pointing you in the direction of Steel Bender; but what about that other trail that goes off to the left, it looks pretty interesting.  We had to park the SUV and walk this trail, since a sign clearly states, "no vehicles allowed"; oh, but what a wonderful walk it was!  The only noise was of a small creek running parallel to the trail; neat rock formations here and there and then the view, that spectacular view!


Back at the SUV, we decided to see how bad this Steel Bender really was; we could always turn back, right?  That graded trail you came up on, that is now gone; it becomes dirt and rock, bumpy and missing large sections on the creek side.  Driving along the now Flat Pass Trail, you have the choice of tilting your vehicle slightly upwards on one side while two wheels are still on the trail; or rolling down into the creek itself; third choice would be to stay parked at the junction (out of the way of other vehicles) and hiking like you could the left side trail.  To continue onto Steel Bender, you need to go vertically downward on a steep decline, over the creek, steep incline climb to continue on the leveled dirt trail ahead.  Yeah, no, we didn't do that; we parked at the wall of rock art and walked the rest of the trail which also has a "Dead End, No Vehicles Beyond This Point" sign.  Which brings me to a funny occurrence; a couple on an ATV drove by around that time and continued down this section of trail anyway.  About 10 minutes later they returned, stopped and told us, "it's a dead end down there"; let me tell you that it took a huge amount of patience for neither Roy or myself to say, "Duh!".  They asked us if we knew where the Steel Bender trail was, so I pulled out our trusty guidebook, showed them the information and off they went with a smile and a wave.

La Sal Mountains in the distance.

Between the sandstone hills to the left, you can see the South Fork of Mill Creek Canyon.

Besides the rock art wall, there are, again, interesting formations; but the caves are what draw you in.  Upwards to the right are small caves in the hillside; however, those rather large "pussycat" paw prints are the first warning to not go up to them, and to keep eyes and ears open to any sight or sound.  Yes, there are mountain lions up in this area; it's wilderness and you are the visitor, or in the case of the cats...potential lunch.  At the very end of this trail is an enormous cave which had a pond; not having waterproof boots on, we didn't go too far inside.  There was evidence of mountain bike tires in the mud, a camp fire area, human and canine footprints; if there were mountain lion tracks, we weren't seeing them, but we stayed alert.

View looking out from the cave.

Unusual indentations in the wall with metal spikes...rock climbing area?

Whether you just go up the Flat Pass and hike the trails, or continue onto Steel Bender throughout Mill Creek Canyon; the sites are stupendous!  My next post on this area will be about the walls of rock art that can be found at either end of the Steel Bender Trail.

Mary Cokenour

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