Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Long Canyon Trail at Jug Handle Arch

Jug Handle Arch is an easy to view large arch located 13 miles west along Potash Road, Highway 279, near Arches National Park in southeast Utah. It is visible from the road, positioned up in the sandstone cliffs overlooking the Colorado River. At the Jug Handle Arch parking area, the Long Canyon Trail heads west for 4.8 miles before arriving on the mesa top in the vicinity of Dead Horse Point State Park.

The Long Canyon Trail is mentioned on the area maps as a mountain bike trail and is also a relatively easy backcountry driving route. Below and to the left of Jug Handle Arch there is a petroglyph panel.

From the parking area there are views of the massive Wingate Sandstone cliffs that also dominate the Island of the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park. It looks like there is another smaller jug handle type arch in the cliffs visible at the trailhead.
There is an interpretive sign saying that this area is good Desert Bighorn Sheep habitat. The steep talus slopes provide escape routes and there is grazing on the mesa tops and the low land areas. The phasing out of cattle and sheep grazing in Canyonlands Park and sheep grazing in the surrounding area were major aids in restoring the bighorn population. The current estimate is that there are 350 bighorns in Canyonlands and 250 in the surrounding BLM areas. Arches National Park also has some. 

As the Long Canyon Trail heads west, the roadside geology is the many layers of the Chinle formation, with the Wingate Sandstone high above. There are several examples of balanced rocks close to the trail.  

I continued up canyon for 1:00 hour and nearly 2 miles until I was below a large alcove that appeared to be a future arch. Several vehicles and 2 mountain bike riders passed during my hike. The BLM is trying to close some of the side trails to vehicles in this area to protect the bighorn habitat and reduce stress on the animals, but they encourage visitors to walk these areas to try to catch a glimpse of these interesting animals.

 I scanned the cliffs for bighorns during my hike but didn't spot any. On a previous visit to the Jug Handle Arch I had the luck to see a group of 6 bighorns, so they are here.

I was also keeping an eye out for rock art. On a boulder very close to the road I noticed a more modern looking but faint depiction of an eagle swooping past a teepee. My return downhill hike took 0:50 minutes for a total hike of 1:50 hours on a 68 F degree late March day.

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