Folks had great creativity when they built and named southeastern Utah’s trails and roads in Moab’s early days. Hurrah Pass and Chicken Corners are just a couple examples of scenic destinations in our region. And right now, as our customary visitors are urged to stay quarantined in their areas of residence, this region’s generally crowded camping and ATV areas are mostly empty of outside tourists.
Kane Springs has for decades been a popular camping area within a dozen miles of Moab’s food and fuel conveniences. The valley broadens out downstream of Moab on the east side of the Colorado River, past popular hiking trails such as Moab Rim, Moonflower Canyon and Hunter Canyon.
Its numerous campgrounds managed by the Bureau of Land Management are now closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Generally busy dirt roads are nearly empty of traffic.
Hurrah Pass is well named. It’s a rough road, winding up and over a geologic rift that marches right down to the river. Cliffs tower above it from the southeast, overlooking a massive anticline carved by water and geologic action.
The so-called Wind Caves farther down the dirt route are formed of Cutler sandstone, like a huge dimpled sand castle.
The end of the road is Chicken Corners. Local lore says old-time ranchers who grazed their cattle in the far reaches of southeastern Utah named the route. High desert pastures offered ample grass and water from the river, but was accessed only by a cliff-side narrow trail. In some cases, cowboys were known to unsaddle their horses so that the animals could get under the rim without the horn and stirrups scraping the rock, which could spook an animal and cause it to fall off the cliff. Other tales tell of livestock being blindfolded and led along the hairpin trail.
Author Steve Allen, in his book “Utah’s Canyon Country Place Names,” has no mention of Chicken Corners, but he does have notes on Hurrah Pass.
The area is in San Juan County, although accessed by road from Grand County. His source, the late Lillian McCormick, told him, “The ‘Notch’ was a pass through which cattlemen drove their herds up from the east side of the Colorado River bottom into Kane Creek. It was a hard climb for the cattle, but the cowboys were able to count them as they passed through the notch. As the last cow went through, a shout of ‘hurrah’ echoed from canyon wall to canyon wall because all the cattle got through and were accounted for. This cattle trail was later bladed into a roadway by miners and is known today as Hurrah Pass.”
The book also notes a sharp buttress one mile northeast of Hurrah Pass known as Predator Tower, and stands at an elevation of 4,588 feet.
The Red Rock 4-Wheelers have long utilized this road for the annual Jeep Safari, which this year is not occurring after a 53-year run, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The organization’s description of the route says, “The trail name dates from olden days when it was a pack trail and only the least ‘chicken’ passed Chicken Corners. Today travel is easier; the actual Chicken Corners is a hiking trail, but it remains as scenic as ever. The trail follows the Colorado River downstream, squirms through lower Kane Springs Canyon, climbs and then descends the “Cane Creek Anticline” (spelling of the name is in dispute) via Hurrah Pass, and rejoins the river, a few hundred feet above it this time. The end of the vehicle trail is directly across the river from Dead Horse Point.”
The area is still used for cattle forage, but is more popularly used for four-wheel-drive recreation.
Parts of the route cut deeply through a variety of rock layers. The Jeep Safari description is thus, “Lower Kane Springs Canyon is even deeper and much narrower. The climb to Hurrah Pass reveals another part of the Colorado River canyon — much wider than before and more than 2,000 feet below the mesa tops. The Hurrah Pass portion winds along over dark-red sandstone layers and occasionally overlooks startling precipices. There is an unusual limestone arch at one point along the roadside. The final mile is on a bench about 400 feet directly above the river.
“The road begins as gravel but becomes mostly red dirt and sand with the occasional appearances of sandstone bedrock. There are petroglyphs (ancient rock art) at the roadside. The ford of Kane Creek ranges from dry to window deep (impassible after a storm).” With reference to the locally known Wind Caves, this description follows: “The stop at a red rock mound visits some unusual caves caused by erosional undermining of hard sandstone layers.” After leaving that area and traveling to the end of the road, one reaches Chicken Corners, which is described as “a point where a bench land pinches down to a narrow passage that tips toward the river 400 feet below.”
So, if you’ve got some time on your hands and a four-wheel-drive vehicle, you can quarantine in your car and take a drive during these uncertain times. It’s unlikely you will see any if many other folks along the way during this unusual spring window that is leaving Moab nearly devoid of tourists.
If you do see others, please observe social distancing parameters. And remember to pack out your waste. The few BLM toilets in the area are not being serviced at this time and all campgrounds are closed.