Monday, August 20, 2012

The Majestic La Sal Range Overshadows the Desolation of "Poverty Flats"

The La Sal Range, as viewed from the Spanish Valley in April 2012, with fresh snow clearing - Click for larger image (

The Majestic La Sal Range Overshadows the Desolation of "Poverty Flat"

On April 15, 2012, I spent my day to revisiting special locations in and around the Spanish Valley, near Moab, Utah. By midday, I had completed an ecological survey of Behind the Rocks, ten miles south of Moab. After lunch, I depart the Moab Rim Campark, heading south on U.S. Highway 191. Although I did not know exactly where I might find it, I was looking for an unobstructed view of the La Sal Range.

Near the eastern end of the Spanish Valley, I turned left on to a rough gravel road that leads to Pack Creek. With jagged gravel the size of golf balls, the road was not favorable to travel with my fully inflated road tires. Limping along at a slow pace, I finally found an unobstructed view of the La Sal Mountains. There, in midafternoon, the sun shone down on the mountains and reflected off fresh snow that fell the previous night.

Power poles stand like energy beings, stretching from Price, Utah to the Spanish Valley and beyond - Click for larger image ( pausing to photograph the mountains, I turned my attention to the power lines that hung overhead. From earlier discussions with Moab residents, I knew that these high voltage lines originated at a coal fired power plant near Price, Utah to the north. From where I stood, I could see what looked like a series of energy beings carrying the electrical cables up the valley from Moab. After passing overhead, the lines continued their climb up the Spanish Valley and then over the mountains of San Juan County. Where they ended, I had no idea.

Here I shall explain the difference between the Moab Valley and the Spanish Valley. Other than there being a name change near the San Juan County line, there is no geographical difference between the two valleys. Anywhere near Moab, residents call the drainage the Moab Valley. To the east, in its upper reaches, most people call it the Spanish Valley. The most beleaguered area of the valley, around Ken’s Lake also carries the historical name, “Poverty Flat”.

Pueblo Verde Estates in the Moab Valley, near its transition to the Spanish Valley, Utah - Click for larger image ( experienced the most prolonged overgrazing of any area near Moab, Poverty Flat is apt moniker for that area. Today, it supports only sparse seasonal grasses and a particularly thorny species of cactus. With a large swath of the valley teeming with cactus spikes, no one would dare to graze cattle there now.

Even for a hiker the Poverty Flat landscape is like an ankle-high low forest of knife blades. Consequently, the area just west of the Ken’s Lake Dam is now a no man’s land, bereft of greenery and populated only by the hardiest desert dwelling species. In the 1890’s, grass in the Moab and Spanish Valleys grew so high that it hid from view horseback riders who approached town on the Old Spanish Trail. Current visitors to the Spanish Valley realize that the area near Ken's Lake is an inhospitable place, but most have no idea that just over one hundred years ago, this was a Garden of Eden, not the current rock and cactus garden.

Historical "Poverty Flat", near Ken's Lake Dam, Spanish Valley, Utah - Click for larger image ( it once held the Old Spanish Trail, I believe that early visitors, ranchers and miners referred to the entire valley as the Spanish Valley. Later, as Moab became a more prominent feature, residents and outsiders alike began calling the lower, western reaches the Moab Valley. Today,  the Google Map of the Spanish Valley as the portion of the greater valley inside the border of San, Juan County. Given the importance of Moab and the remoteness of the eastern part of the valley, Google’s dual designation of the Moab Valley and the Spanish Valley seems like a good one to me.

After viewing the extreme environmental destruction in the Spanish Valley, I headed for the human made creation called Ken’s Lake. You may read about that visit in my next article.