Monday, October 5, 2015

Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway (Utah-128) - Moab, Utah

Description: Utah Highway 128 is a 50 mile byway that runs from Moab, Utah to I-70.  If you are travelling to or from Colorado this route is more direct than taking Highway 191 from Moab to I-70, and the scenery is much more interesting.  Much of the road runs alongside the Colorado River, and is surrounded by red rock cliffs and mesas.  The route passes points of interest such as the Dewey Bridge and the Fisher Towers.  There are also several hidden places of interest along the route.  Instead of being a shortcut - this route really could be the subject of it's very own day trip.

Location: Northeast of Moab, Utah.

Cost: Free

Operating Seasons and Hours: The route is open all year long, however some things may not be as accessible during the winter.

Helpful Websites: and

Date of Visit: Friday May 21, 2010

This was the second stop of the eighth day of the Southern Utah Road Trip that my husband and I went on for our third anniversary in May of 2010.  We'd spent the previous two nights camping in Arches National Park.  On the morning of our last day in the park we hiked to Delicate Arch.  When we finished with that hike we bid goodbye to the park, and started the next leg of our journey.

Our goal for the night was a KOA campground in Vernal, Utah over 200 miles to the north.  We had a lot of driving to do. We planned to drive north up US 191 to reach I-70. However, after we checked out the map we saw a shortcut to I-70. We could drive northeast along the Colorado River on Utah Highway 128 which was called the Upper Colorado Scenic Byway.  My husband and I have an unofficial vacation rule that states: "If there is a choice between driving on a road we have driven before or driving on one we haven't driven on - then we should pick the one we haven't driven on."  We'd each traveled on Highway 191 before so naturally we picked the byway.

Our adventurous spirits paid off, and we saw some cool and unexpected things along the way.  Honestly though we missed a lot.  As I've researched the byway for this post I learned about some other places that I would have wanted to check out.  I'm going to include those things in this post in case you would want to see them too.

The first place is Negro Bill Canyon which has a trail to Morning Glory Natural Bridge.  Negro Bill Canyon is located just three miles up U-128 from Moab.  The area is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM.)  Morning Glory Bridge is located about 2 miles up the trail and will take approximately 4 hours round trip.  Morning Glory Natural Bridge is 243 feet long which makes it the sixth largest natural bridge in the United States. The BLM website has more information about the canyon and the trail.  I'd never even heard of Morning Glory Natural Bridge until I researched this post.  That's probably because it's located so near to Arches National Park.  I'm not sure I would have wanted to hike to the bridge on this trip, but it would be a good place to go it I wanted to avoid the crowds inside the national park.

Big Bend Campground is located a little over 7 miles up Highway 128 from Moab. The campground is manged by the BLM. It is located on the Colorado river and has a sandy beach and a river walkway.  The campground has 23 first come first serve campsites which are $15 each.  The sites can accommodate tents, trailers, and even large RV's. Some the sites are located next to the river.  For more information visit the campground website.

Red Cliffs Lodge is located 17 miles away from Moab.  It is a resort with room accommodations, dining options, and various activities.  Visit the Lodge's website for more information about the many amenities they offer.

The lodge is also home to the Moab to Monument Valley Film Museum.  Admission to the museum is free, and tours are self guided.  The museum houses memorabilia from many of the movies that have been filmed in the Moab area.  There are several websites with info about the museum but I found the website for Red Cliffs Lodge to be the most descriptive.

As you drive up the byway from Moab you will see several mesas to the south.  These are located in an area known as Castle Valley.  (Not to be confused with the larger Castle Valley area in Central Utah.)
I learned later that the music video for Jon Bon Jovi's Blaze of Glory was filmed on top of one of these mesas.  

Fisher Towers make up an interesting stone feature that is visible about 20 miles away from Moab.  There is a road that takes you close to these interesting rock formations, but we didn't drive down it.
There is a picnic area close to the towers.  There is also a 2 mile one way hiking trail that winds around the base of the towers.  There is also a campground managed by the BLM.  The Fisher Towers Campground has 5 first come first serve tent size campsites for $15 each.  

The remnants of the Dewey Bridge are located 30 miles north of Moab.  My husband and I love bridges so when we saw the charred remnants of a bridge we had to stop the car to find out the story.  This bridge was one of the longest wooden suspension bridges in the world until it was burned in 2008.  It caught fire during a brush fire that was started by a young boy who had been playing with matches.  The steel supports and cables were left standing as a monument to the once proud bridge.
As we read the plaques describing the bridge's history I realized that my husband and I had seen it's "twin" several years earlier.  The Dewey Bridge was built with the same base design as a bridge that is still standing near Cameron, Arizona.
I had seen the Cameron Bridge back in November of 2007. My husband and I had taken a trip to Mesa Arizona with my husband's family to attend his brother's wedding.  On the way back to Utah we'd stopped for giant Navajo Tacos at the trading post in Cameron, Arizona.  The Cameron Bridge was just a few yards away from the trading post.

My husband's family took forever exploring the gift shop at the trading post.  My husband and I went outside and admired the bridge. (Another one of our unofficial vacation rules is: "If there is a choice between looking at expensive crap in a gift shop or checking out a cool landmark - we always choose the landmark.)
Anyway, back to the Dewey Bridge in Utah.

There is a campground near the bridge.  This one is also managed by the BLM.  It has 7 first come first serve campsites that cost $15 each and can accommodate tents and small RV's.  The campground also has a river access for small boats.

The Dewey Bridge was about the last thing of interest before we reached I-70.  The map does list a town named Cisco, but as far as we could tell there was nothing permanent there.  Once we reached I-70 we drove east into Colorado before turning north to take a back road to Vernal, Utah.

I'm sure that our little trip along the byway saved us a little bit of driving time.  But more important than that - it was very pretty and very interesting.  It's fun to go exploring.

Recommendation: A trip along the Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway would be the perfect way to either start or finish your trip to Moab.  If you have the time you should plan to stop and check out several of the places of interest along the road.

Directions: If you are travelling from the Salt Lake Area of Utah, then this byway will be a little out of your way.  But if you are travelling from Colorado this byway will be a short cut to Moab.  If you are in Moab you turn onto the byway just south of the bridge that spans the Colorado River.  If you are on I-70 you access the byway with Exit 214.

Next Stop: In reality the next stop on our 2010 Road trip was Colorado State Highway 139 (Douglas Pass Road).  However, for the next few posts I'm going to talk about several places that we discovered on a weekend trip we took to the Moab area in 2012.  So the next stop on this "Alternate Route" will be a rafting trip down the Colorado River.

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I would love to hear what you think. Did I get it right, or was I dead wrong? What was your experience like?


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