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Moab, UT

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    Tales of Trails: Puckering up for Long Canyon

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    Men donned wooden masks and numerous layers of sweatshirts and ponchos then proceeded to hit each other with whips as they danced around the town square.
    Sena Taylor Hauer
    Sena Taylor Hauer
    Times-Independent Columnist
    This monolith is one of many interesting rock formations on the Long Canyon Road, which has spectacular views of the La Sal Mountains and Behind the Rocks. Photos by Sena Hauer

    Pucker Pass. The name says it all in terms of how you might feel while driving through Long Canyon.

    This extremely scenic four-wheel-drive route goes from the Big Flat area not far from Dead Horse Point State Park down to the Potash Road on the Colorado River. Views of sheer cliffs, the La Sal Mountains and Behind the Rocks are some of the best around.

    The 15-mile section can be found on the Gold Bar Canyon Map and is on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management. If driven from the top, it is accessed by Highway 313 and connects to Highway 279 more than 2,200 feet below.

    Pucker Pass is a steep section of road at the top of Long Canyon, at an elevation of about 5,800 feet.

    A suburban on March 29 passes through the aperture known as Pucker Pass on the Long Canyon Road.

    In the book, “Utah’s Canyon Country Place Names” by Steve Allen, writer and historian James H. Knipmeyer said the pass “received its name from the fact that a person’s mouth and face would ‘pucker up’ in disbelief upon first seeing the precipitous declivity down which they were expected to descend. Unofficially, however, it was not a person’s mouth and face that would pucker up in fear, but their …”

    Also in the book, the late Fred Radcliff of Moab said, “In the early days, the pass was known as Shipman’s Cutoff.” The late Lloyd Holyoak offered this, “When they built the potash mills, the first route to that area was down Pucker Pass. That was before the road along the river from Moab was built. They took all of their construction materials and equipment through the pass. The new truckers that drove the pass would get to the top and look down and say: ‘No way am I going to go down there.’ Then they’d just unhook the trailer and come back to Moab and let somebody else take it down.”

    A monolith called Maverick Buttress splits upper Long Canyon into north and south forks at elevation 5842.

    About 25 years ago, the route got substantially more interesting when a huge chunk of rock fell from the cliff above, making it such that vehicles would have to pass through a massive sandstone aperture created by the boulder leaning against the cliff side. For folks jeeping through here now, this is the roughest section of the road and requires a high-clearance vehicle.

    This image from The Times-Independent was taken about a quarter-century ago, putting even more of a pucker factor in Pucker Pass.

    The Times-Independent chronicled the rock fall in its Dec. 14, 1995 edition. “A massive rock slide effectively closed Grand County’s Long Canyon Road on Nov. 29. Grand County Road Supervisor Dave Warner, whose crews have been working on the slide this past week, said that total removal of the debris would be extremely expensive and time consuming, and might actually trigger a larger slide. The decision, then, was to carve a 16-foot-wide tunnel under the massive sandstone slab, and leave it there.”

    The story continued, “After a falling rock broke a window in a piece of county equipment earlier this week, the services of Moab rock expert Bego Gerhart were called on, and he scaled the cliff above the slide to knock off some of the unstable cliff before work continued. The road, quite heavily used, is important in that it would provide access to the potash plant along the Colorado River, should the highway down the river be similarly closed by a rock slide.”

    On page B4 of this week’s Print Edition, see the historic front page of the Dec. 14, 1995 edition of The Times-Independent.

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