Updated: Mar 27, 2021
During the height of this pandemic, longing develops for travel—especially to places that are safe from infection. But where to go? During a recent spell of stay-at-home blues, I daydreamed about the Moodys. The next several blogs give a brief and personal primer on the canyons and a recounting of my last trip to the Moodys, and beyond.
Main Moody Canyon looking southwest. All of the canyons east of the Escalante River start out pretty much like this—very wide at the beginning, then gradually narrowing as the Wingate sandstone cliffs get taller and closer to the canyon floor. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes
The Moody Canyons have been on my mind recently—probably because of their remoteness. In these covid-altered times, being able to get outside while remaining far from others has real appeal.
Visiting remote places requires preparation, but getting there and back requires some competence. After being confined to a comfortable home for so many months, I find myself missing an outdoor adventure—an opportunity to regain my wilderness skills by testing myself with something edgier than a trip to the grocery store.
The Moodys seem like a good choice for a return to wilderness hiking after getting a bit "soft" at home. I've been there a half dozen times before, most recently three years ago, so I am familiar with the area. The canyons are isolated but not too isolated. The dirt road there can be challenging in places and sometimes downright impassable, so you have to be prepared. In addition to camping gear, you need to carry enough water and food to spend several days out there—just in case. Once in the canyons though, there are very few obstacles all the way to the river.
Approximate driving route from Boulder, Utah, to a campsite near Main Moody. The last two thirds (40 miles) are on dirt roads or in canyon washes that are impassable when wet, On the map above, the Escalante River is the diagonal dark squiggly line on the left. The Waterpocket Fold is marked by the white diagonal line on the right. Main Moody Canyon heads due south from camp (marked) and runs to the river. Middle Moody joins Main Moody from the right (east). East Moody is the next large drainage to the south, joining the Escalante River just downstream from Main Moody.
The Moody Canyons are tributaries of the Escalante River. They lie in Glen Canyon National Recreational Area, somewhat south of the border with Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument. The canyons (East Moody, Middle Moody, and Main Moody) originate in the area between the Circle Cliffs, on the arid east side of the Escalante River,
This figure (from Doelling and others 2010) is a nice illustration of the satellite image shown previously. A geologic uplift—caused by east-west compression—raised the many layers of ancient rock into an elongated dome shape—much like what happens when you push both sides of a flat piece of paper towards the center. Erosion has subsequently worn down the center of the dome and exposed the formerly flat Wingate as cliffs on the circular periphery. Since the rock layers slope down to the west, even a downhill hike in that direction sees older rock disappear beneath the ground and younger rock appear—the opposite of what you would normally expect.
The sparse rainfall on the Triassic mudstones between the Circle Cliffs forms small washes that flow generally westward. These washes join to form larger washes and the largest of these have cut the impressive canyons of Main, Middle, and East Moody.
Looking south-southwest from a spot near the dirt road between the Circle cliffs. The Wingate formation is the high cliff-forming sandstone, the Chinle is the colorful sloped layer below, and the Moenkopi (oldest of the three) is the layer I am standing on. Breaks in the high Wingate sandstone (as suggested by the junction of the Wingate and the bluish distant hill) indicate the locations of the east-side canyons of the Escalante. Photo © Donald J. Rommes
Depending on where you begin hiking in these canyons, it is about 6-8 miles to the Escalante River. The canyons start out very wide and then narrow decisively as they head west. At first, vertical red cliffs of Wingate sandstone are high on the gentler slopes of the soft Chinle mudstones. Huge boulders from the Wingate sandstone cliffs above litter the talus slopes and tumble into the wash. In addition, myriad pieces of petrified wood glint on the surface of the Chinle formation. Sometimes, especially in gullies, whole logs of petrified wood are exposed.
Petrified tree trunk eroding from the Chinle formation in the Circle Cliffs area. This log is actually in Wolverine Canyon, another eastern canyon of the Escalante. Remnants of the Circle Cliffs (Wingate formation) can be seen in the uppermost rock layer. The remaining visible land is part of the Chinle formation. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes .
As the road approaches Moody, it enters a wash with patches of deep sand that are best avoided. Large Wingate boulders sit in the wash and although they don't block it, they create areas of deeper sand and collect water during and after rains. After a mile or two of driving in the wash, the road, now faint, leaves the wash to the left and heads up a hill,
There's a good camp spot just off the road, with a good view of the canyon as it heads towards the river.. More on the camp site and my most recent exploration of Moody in subsequent blogs.