Thursday, September 2, 2010

Lower Monitor and Merrimac Loop Trail

The Monitor and Merrimac (M and M) buttes are rock formations that resemble the famous battle ships of the Civil War. Most visitors to the Moab area in southeast Utah might see them from the road side viewpoint on Utah Route 313, on the way to the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park. 

There is a system of trails on the north side of the M and M buttes that can be accessed from Mill Canyon Road, a west turn just north of Mile Post 141 on Highway 191.

I started my hike at the parking area for the Mill Canyon Dinosaur Trail and hiked that short interpretive trail. At the historic Mill Canyon copper mill ruins, I continued south through the Mill Canyon riparian habitat area to the large slickrock outcrop. The Desolation Towers are visible in the distance.

The trail across the large slickrock area is well marked with painted white stripes. Part of the way across this gradually rising rocky surface, a trail junction branches to the right and leads toward the Desolation Towers. This option offers a closer approach to the Monitor and Merrimac buttes. I continued to follow the striped route of the lower loop.

The loop swings around the base of a rocky mesa with views toward M and M from about 1.5 miles away. The return leg passes by Courthouse Rock with wide views of some of the spectacular canyon country for which this area is famous. There is an option of cutting back west toward the Mill Canyon parking area or continuing north down another canyon toward the ruins of the Halfway Stage Station.

The Halfway Stage Station served travelers between Moab and the train at Thompson, Utah, 35 miles away. The normal travel time in the 1880s was 8 hours and the station was a place to have lunch, rest, and change horses. Slow moving freighters might spend the night here.

From the Halfway Stage hikers can follow about 1 mile of gravel roads back to the Dino Trail parking area. A hike could also start at the stage station and follow the M and M Loop in the clockwise direction. Not counting time on the Dino Trail, my hike took 2:15 hours for about 4.5 miles on an 82 F degree end of August day. The sky was a perfect blue and I carried 3 liters of water and drank it all.


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