Canyon Rims Recreation Area is an immense, diverse region located between the southeastern Utah towns of Monticello and Moab. Within this vast area, visitors may tour scenic overlooks by automobile, camp, explore off-highway vehicle (OHV) trails, hike, backpack, ride bikes and rock climb.
Most of Canyon Rims Recreation Area is primitive and undeveloped. Developed facilities include three public campgrounds, two overlooks and a commercial resort. The BLM operates Wind Whistle Campground which as 17 campsites and is adjacent to the paved road to Needles Overlook about 6 miles from U.S. 191. A second BLM campground, Hatch Point, has 9 campsites and is located just off the graveled road to Anticline Overlook about 24 miles from U.S. 191. These campgrounds are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Fees are charged for camping at the two BLM campgrounds from April through October, when drinking water is provided.
Other Hatch Point facilities constructed by the BLM include Needles Overlook, 22 miles from U.S. 191, and Anticline Overlook, 31 miles from U.S. 191. These overlooks offer outstanding scenic views and provide interpretive displays as well as picnic facilities and restrooms. Currently, there are no facilities at Minor Overlook.
The BLM maintains picnic tables and pit toilets at two primitive camping locations along the southern part of the Lockhart Basin OHV trail near Indian Creek. The commercial resort is near Utah 211, just east of the entrance to Canyonlands National Park (see Service and Supplies).
Newspaper Rock, on highway Utah 211, features an outstanding panel of historic and prehistoric Indian rock art with interpretive exhibits. The National Park Service operates a campground at Squaw Flat in the Needles District of nearby Canyonlands National Park. Visitors planning to camp at other than a developed campground in Canyonlands National Park are required to obtain a free backcountry permit. Backcountry vehicle campsites are assigned by park rangers at the Needles Visitor Center. Backcountry vehicle campsites within the park cannot be reserved in advance.
Canyon Rims Recreation Area is part of a high-desert ecosystem that provides habitat for a wide variety of wildlife. Animals have adapted in various ways to survive the harsh temperature extremes and low annual precipitation typical of their sagebrush and pinyon-juniper habitat.
Keen-eyed observers can spot American pronghorn antelope on Hatch Point. These animals rely on extreme speed and excellent vision to escape predators in open country. With sharp eyes or binoculars, desert bighorn sheep can occasionally be located on the steep, rugged talus slopes below the vertical cliffs that dominate the recreation area. The bighorn rely on keen eyesight and agility in steep terrain to escape predators.
Peregrine falcons are rare but may sometimes be seen along cliffs. Sage grouse are also rare in this area, but are sometime seen in dense stands of sagebrush on Hatch Point.
Mule deer can be found throughout the area all year. Each autumn, large numbers migrate from the Abajo Mountains to their winter range in the Beef Basin and Harts Point areas. Elk are not as numerous, but a few winter in the Beef Basin area.
The black-tailed jackrabbit is a common sight throughout the area. It radiates heat through the numerous capillaries in its huge ears to help regulate its body temperature.
Snakes and lizards are common. One of the most interesting species is the horned lizard, or "horned toad," as it is commonly called. Among its other adaptations, this lizard escapes the chill of night by burrowing into the sand, sometimes several inches below the surface.
The desert is alive with much for the visitor to see. The only requirements are patience and attention.
Geologic processes in the Canyon Rims area warped the rock strata millions of years ago. Erosion and weathering, primarily during the past 10 million years, has modified the rock even more.
Rock layers exposed in the recreation area range in age from about 150 to 300 million years, and include marine, tidal, lake, stream, swamp and desert dune deposits. The diversity of the depositional environment and susceptibility to erosion accounts for the variety in color and shape.
Miles of sheer rock walls, spires, deep canyons, domes, buttes and fins of bare slickrock reflect the geologic history of the region.
Most of Canyon Rims Recreation Area is Public Land administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Included within the boundary of Canyon Rims are scattered sections of Utah state land and several parcels of private land. Utah state land is available to the general public for recreation purposes. Private land may be posted and visitors must respect the rights of private landowners.
The BLM administered Public Lands within the area are available for a wide spectrum of multiple-use activities. In addition to recreation uses, visitors may also see livestock, wildlife management and mineral development uses authorized under the multiple-use management plan for the area.
Some activities are restricted in several special areas within the Canyon Rims Recreation Area. The Dark Canyon Primitive Area is formally closed to off-highway vehicle use and has been withdrawn from mineral entry. The Indian Creek, Bridger Jack Mesa, Middle Point and Butler Wash wilderness study areas are essentially closed to vehicle use and most development activities pending the outcome of the wilderness review process.
When it was first established in the early 1960s, Canyon Rims Recreation Area was limited to Hatch Point, a large, elevated peninsula to the west of highway U.S. 191 about midway between the southeastern Utah towns of Moab and Monticello. Since 1990, BLM has considered most of the Public Land along the eastern and southern boundaries of Canyonlands National Park to be part of the Canyon Rims area.
Access Roads and Trails
General public access into the Canyon Rims Recreation Area is from U.S. 191 via a system of paved, graveled, or graded dirt roads that provide limited highway vehicle access into the area. These improved roads are augmented by many primitive OHV trails that vary widely in condition and difficulty. Many additional hiking routes are feasible.
The primary access route into Beef Basin is via the County Road 104 which takes off from Utah 211 approximately 8 miles northwest of Newspaper Rock. The OHV trail into Beef Basin climbs to about 8,200 feet in elevation and is normally impassable because of snow from November through mid-May. Several spur OHV trails leave the main trail and lead to spectacular overlooks.
The Lockhart Basin OHV trail follows the benches between the base of the lofty cliffs that form Hatch Point and the lower country within Canyonlands National Park. The southern portion of the trail between Highway 211 and Lockhart Basin is a maintained road. North of Lockhart Basin, the trail quickly deteriorates into a rough, slow, 4-wheel drive road. Access to the southern end of the Lockhart Basin trail is gained by turning north from Utah 211 about 16.5 miles northwest of Newspaper Rock, while the northern end is accessible from Moab via the Hurrah Pass and a portion of the Chicken Corners OHV trails. Traveling the entire trail from the start at Utah 211 over Hurrah Pass and to Highway 211 requires a full day. The most difficult portion of the trail is located just south of the Chicken Corners trail where the Lockhart Basin trail climbs a steep, rocky, hard-to-follow route up a drainage. Drivers are advised to begin the route from the north to minimize backtracking if the route proves to be impassable.
Topographic maps covering the lands within and adjacent to the Canyon Rims Recreation area may be purchased from Canyonlands Natural History Association.
Wilderness Study Areas
The Canyon Rims Recreation Area includes several areas under consideration for wilderness designation. Until Congress decides if they should be designated as Wilderness, BLM must manage these wilderness study areas to maintain their existing primitive character.
The Dark Canyon Primitive Area and Middle Point Wilderness Study Area from the southwest corner of Canyon Rims Recreation Area. Dark Canyon provides outstanding opportunities for backpacking. Contact BLM's Moab District or San Juan Resource Area offices for a copy of a free map showing the main vehicle access routes to the boundary of the Dark Canyon Primitive Area.
The Butler Wash Wilderness Study Area is remote and rugged. It features canyons and sandstone formations similar to those in the adjacent needles District of Canyonlands National Park. The Bridger Jack Mesa WSA is located near the southeastern corner of Canyonlands National Park. This seldom visited area is guarded by formidable cliffs. The Indian Creek WSA is found north of Highway 211 between the Lockhart Basin off-highway vehicle trail and the eastern boundary of Canyonlands National Park. The Indian Creek WSA consists of a maze of small canyons and a portion of the main canyon of lower Indian Creek.
Prehistoric Indians of the Anasazi culture occupied lands now included within the Canyon Rims Recreation Area for a relatively short period of time, ending in the mid-1200s A.D. Remnants of their rock and log dwellings, granaries and rock art exist throughout the recreation area, but are more common in the Beef Basin and Indian Creek areas, where subsistence agriculture was most feasible. During historic times, Ute Indians used the area for hunting and seasonal food gathering, but did not establish permanent habitation sites.
The contemporary human history of the recreation area began when the 1859 Macomb Expedition entered it from the east, traveled west down part of Harts Draw and into lower Indian Creek to a viewpoint of the Colorado River's inner gorge. Two decades later, ranchers and settlers moved into the area.
Modern human use of the area has largely been limited to livestock grazing, uranium mining and recreation, with very little permanent occupancy. These activities are responsible for the system of roads and primitive OHV trails that serve the Canyon Rims Recreation Area.
Much of Canyon Rims Recreation Area is wild and primitive terrain. Visitors who explore away from the main highways should take the following precautions.
- Go with another vehicle, or leave your travel plans with someone who will initiate a search if you fail to return when scheduled.
- Carry a first aid kit, plenty of extra food, water and basic emergency tools and supplies for your vehicle. A minimum of one gallon of water per person per day is recommended.
- Take clothing, a hat, and shoes appropriate for the weather and planned activities. Sunscreen lotions are essential. The high-desert sun is intense in any season.
- During warm weather, avoid strenuous activities that might lead to heat exhaustion. Drink plenty of water. Do not drink untreated water except in emergencies as it may be contaminated or carry disease-causing organisms.
- Do not camp in washes or drainages that might become flooded following rain, and avoid driving or hiking in narrow canyons during inclement weather. Avoid exposed areas, such as overlooks, when lightning is a possibility.
- Do not enter abandoned mines. Rock falls, radioactive dusts and accumulations of deadly radon gas make these remnants of past mining activities extremely hazardous.
- Be wary of the area's natural hazards, such as cliff rims, steep slopes, and thorny plants. Rattlesnakes and scorpions exist in the recreation area but are extremely rare. Both should be avoided, not killed. Other snakes are harmless and should not be disturbed.
Services and Supplies
The only year-long sources of traveler services and supplies are in the nearby towns of Moab, Monticello and Blanding. Automotive fuel, food, developed camping and limited camping supplies are available seasonally at the commercial resort adjacent to highway Utah 211.
Respecting the Land
Although much of the Canyon Rims Recreation Area may appear barren of life, it supports a complex ecosystem of high-desert plants, animals and microlife. To protect this rare and fragile community of life, and preserve the land's incomparable beauty, please adhere to the following low impact guidelines:
- Keep all wheeled vehicles on the established roads and OHV trails and adhere to travel restrictions.
- Camp and hike where plant life and the crusty, black cryptobiotic soils will not be damaged.
- When hiking or camping away from developed recreation sites, use a portable toilet or bury solid human body waste 4 to 6 inches deep and well away from water sources. Carry out toilet paper in a sealable, plastic bag for proper disposal.
- Do not leave garbage or trash in the backcountry.. Carry out what you bring into remote areas and pick up trash left by less thoughtful visitors.
- If you must make a campfire while camping away from developed recreation areas, try to use an existing campfire ring, and use only dead and down wood. Please do not attempt to burn garbage or trash. Burn campfire wood to ashes and put out your fire with water, not soil, so that others may use the campfire ring.