On a recent tour through Moab, during the spectacular month of April, I had the privilege of commissioning my favorite tour guide. Ivan and his family have lived in the area for years, rooted solidly to the magnificent and unique geology that surrounds their town. His job as an executive in the Petroleum Industry affords ample opportunity for travel and Ivan gets to experience a wide variety of geological wonders, otherwise off the grid. Moab’s Mill Creek is one of his favorites.
Mill Creek, a marginal distance just south east of Moab, is a great place to find a hike, explore petroglyphs and pictographs, or cliff dive and swim. The hike itself is fairly simple, although some parts can be treacherous. Before getting started, it’s a good idea to hydrate and make sure you have a sufficient reserve supply of water and food. Good hiking shoes are a must and it’s important to remember that this hike is in the desert, so wear protective clothing and avoid straying too far of the trail.
1. Two liters of water
2. Energy bars or light snack
3. Hiking boots
4. Protective clothing (ie) sunglasses, bandana, socks, pants….
5. GPS or cell phone
6. Swim trunks (optional)
Mill Creek Trail Head
The parking lot at Mill Creek is rather small and the increasing popularity of the area leaves little room for hikers who don’t get an early start. It’s about 9am and Ivan pulls his Lexus into the gravel parking spot. There are already a few people ahead of us on the trail heading towards North Fork, (known to locals as Lefthand). That is where Ivan and I are headed. It’s by far the most popular route, giving way to the petroglyphs, pictographs, and a very cool swimming hole rated as one of Utah’s top ten by experienced hikers and climbers from around the world. There are a few things to take into consideration before you head out.
Things to Remember
1. <em>Poison Ivy on the trail. (Poison Ivy is easily recognized by its three signature leaves that are green in the summer and turn red in the fall. This plant generally grows next to water.
2. If you pack it in, pack it back out.
3. Be courteous on the trail. Friendly hikers are happy hikers.
4. Stick to the trail. Mill Creek is a unique and delicate ecosystem. Ancient pictographs and petroglyphs abound along the trail. To avoid damaging it, respect the terra, the flora and the fauna. Besides, getting lost in this harsh landscape could be extremely dangerous.
Ivan points out the fact that there are no restrooms at the trail head. The trail is only a short distance from town so using the restroom before arriving at the trail is wise. We drop down into the creek from atop a rocky bluff and climb past the tiny damn. Ivan points out the striking contrast of red rock and lush green plant life. The round trip two mile hike to the falls up North Fork is an easy hike and Ivan explains that dogs are allowed but the hike may be too much for older dogs to handle.
Left at the Fork
We cross the creek a few times and come to a fork. Ivan veers left and continues with me in tow. I notice there are several charming petroglyphs along the way, kept pristine by local volunteers who keep the area preserved. About 15 minutes up the trail we come upon an amazing waterfall with a shallow pool at the bottom. At first glance it seems impossible that anyone could survive jumping into this shallow pool from the top of the waterfall, but Ivan shows me a tiny area just at the base where the water is deep enough for cliff divers. We’re here pretty early so aside from a few people lingering about, we have the place pretty much to ourselves.
Cliff Diving up Lefthand
North Fork, known affectionately by the local population as Lefthand, is the most popular destination for hikers on the Mill Creek trail. I can see why. It’s an oasis, complete with smooth red rock cliffs and a cool clear water fall. The pool at the bottom is shallow enough to just sit and cool off or deep enough to wade and swim comfortably. A few of the locals, wise enough to get to the waterfall early, start climbing the terraced bluffs next to the waterfall above the pool. To my astonishment, they begin to do backflips and gainers off the cliff face almost 30 feet above the water below, landing expertly in the only area deep enough for a cliff dive. I’m a little nervous to try so Ivan shows me the perfect spot only 10 or 12 feet above the pool. I’m not familiar with this dive spot so I want to start out slow and be safe. It’s my understanding that the locals discourage extreme recreating in unfamiliar areas. They know the dangers this area can give way to.
Ivan Lasater and I spend about two hours climbing the waterfall and jumping into the pool. He points out the pictographs at the top of the waterfall and explains how the creek actually comes from the La Sal Mountains, east of town. I can see their snow packed peeks a great distance away and I marvel how this tiny creek could cut its way through miles of harsh geology to make its way here, to this paradise. I feel grateful to be here with my local guide, Ivan. The locals are proud of their secret and getting to know the people in town is a good way of becoming privy to those secrets. You’ll find that the locals are a warm, friendly, and environmentally conscious bunch. Respecting the environment is a good way to gain there respect.
The sun is directly overhead and the shade is abundant along the trail as we head back to our car. We run into several hikers along the way back, heading to the North Fork to take a much needed swim. It’s getting crowded and we’re glad we got here early. The damn at the trail head is teaming with children and their parents, happily playing in the tiny creek at the base of the mill. Ivan and I head out of the parking lot just as a tour bus pulls in. Looks like the local secrets out.