Dead Horse Mesa: Scenic Byway 313
The Colorado River slices its way through Canyonlands, a swath of green against the red rock. The colors make this patch of Utah seem permanently ready for Christmas, but not in that tacky, left the lights up for a year because nobody could be bothered to climb back on the roof kind of way.
The specific image I’m talking about depicts the Colorado River curving so tightly that it resembles a racetrack. It’s a picture you’ll see on many postcards in the area and Utah’s Scenic Byway 313 ends at this iconic photo spot, in Dead Horse Point State Park.
SR-313 lures you into a stone tunnel, with scudding clouds forming the ceiling. The road rises to the top of a butte, where there’s a viewpoint of the Monitor and Merrimac rock formations.
Then the scenery flattens out as you drive along the top of the world. A small oilrig nods up and down by the side of the road, man’s imprint on an otherwise unpopulated landscape. Turn left to stay on the 313, to Dead Horse Point State Park.
Light filters down through the clouds, making you suspect you’ve wandered into one of Rubens’ religious paintings. But it’s not just artists who would appreciate these views. Dead Horse Point State Park was discovered by Hollywood in the late 1940s. It has provided a backdrop for movies like Con-Air, and the pilot television episode of MacGyver.
Pause at the visitor’s center, where there is a ‘minor overlook,’ which is expansive enough to be a main attraction anywhere other than Utah. You can walk the short loop path that traces the rim. Definitely stop here first, because the Sistine Chapel would feel anticlimactic after standing on the actual overlook.
We had the main overlook to ourselves, probably due to the wind, which cut through our clothes like a sword forged from an icicle. Remember that cliff in the last scene of Thelma and Louise? The one with the 2000-foot drop? Yep, this would be it.
- To reach SR-313, follow the 191 north of Moab for nine miles, then make a left. Parts of the drive pass through open range. Keep an eye out for cows and cattle guards.
- Facilities are available at the Monitor and Merrimac Viewpoint, at the Dead Horse Point State Park visitor’s center, and at the overlook.
- Entrance to Dead Horse Point State Park costs $10 per car.
- Leashed dogs are welcome in the park, except for on the Intrepid Trail.
- Wear layers as there is little protection from the wind this high up.
- The park is open from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. but the visitor’s center hours vary seasonally. Those seeking solitude should go in early November – just bundle up first.
What’s your favorite Utah drive?