Horse, mule riders lasso a stunning camping spot in redrock country
MOAB - Finding suitable backcountry camping facilities can be difficult for equine enthusiasts: Camping spots are typically too small to accommodate horse trailers, and the larger group sites are in high demand.
But in the desert country of southeastern Utah, home to many of film director John Ford's best-known Westerns, horse and mule riders now have a reservation-based camp site built especially for them. Since January, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), in cooperation with the Southeastern Utah Chapter of Backcountry Horsemen and Grand County's Trail Mix group (which works on developing and maintaining all kinds of nonmotorized backcountry trails), has worked to construct the new horse camp and corral along scenic Onion Creek against the scenic backdrop of Fisher Towers.
The new site - the only BLM horse-camping facility in southeast Utah - includes hand-built cedar-pole corrals, restrooms and a parking lot large enough for several 30- to 40-foot trailers. From camp, riders will have easy access to nearby backcountry trails - mostly old mining and cattle trails - that connect with routes into Fisher Towers and scenic overlooks near Professor Valley. The groups still are working to mark trails, but Colin Maher, director of Trail Mix, says they hope to complete the routes soon.
"This is a great backcountry area with scenic vistas and solid trails," Maher said. "We think it will be a perfect facility for horseback riders."
Ken Seiler of Backcountry Horsemen expects the facility to boost the local economy.
"The recreational horse industry is becoming huge. There are a lot of people who want to go out and ride on weekends," Seiler said. "Traditionally, the horse industry has been a pretty rich industry."
Katie Stevens, BLM recreation technician in Moab, said anyone can reserve the site, and if it is not reserved, campers may use it on a first-come, first-served basis. But BLM officials expect the camping area to be popular with equestrians.
"This is a growing user group, and we hadn't really done much for equestrians," she said. "We were approached by Backcountry Horsemen and Trail Mix, who encouraged us to create a horse site. We were responding to their needs."
But the BLM does not expect a huge upsurge in camping revenues. The site rents for $2 per person per night, with a $10 reservation fee, the same as other camping spaces in the area. The Onion Creek facility will accommodate a minimum of eight people and a maximum of 15 plus about eight horses and four vehicles. Campers are encouraged to bring water because there is no good source nearby.
"Anyone can use the site, but we set up for reservations because we don't want to have horse group and, for instance, an ATV group there at the same time. That's not a good mix," Stevens said. "It would be good if equestrian users get on the stick and make reservations early."
Backcountry Horsemen member Gayle Houston said a horse facility that can be reserved is long overdue.
"This is a big first," she said. "A person with a horse is not going to take the chance on traveling here without knowing whether a suitable site will be available. Once you take the plunge and decide to haul horses, you want your campground locked up."
The new campsite's location along Onion Creek is ideal for equestrian users because most of the area is closed to off-road vehicles, said Ron Dickerson, president of the Southeastern Utah Backcountry Horsemen chapter. Its distance from town is also a deterrent to day riders, he said.
"That spot is an ideal place to camp, but it's not an ideal place to drive every day just to ride," Dickerson said. "The nice thing about Onion Creek is that, besides the one main road, the whole area is nonmotorized. Horses and hikers can use it, but you won't run into a lot of vehicles while riding."
Horses are easily spooked by motorized vehicles and bicycles, and a frightened horse could be seriously injured, or could injure its rider and other people. Many people are unaware that horses always have the right-of-way on trails, Houston said.
"We're so invisible when we're out there, people are sometimes surprised to come upon a horse," she said. "Horses are sometimes unpredictable. If push comes to shove, it's the horse riders who usually get hurt. But we're making strides to work with the public to educate people about what to do if you meet a horse on a trail."