Memorial Day weekend will be here before you know it, so why not enjoy the peace and quiet while it lasts?
The first holiday of 2016 is not only a time to celebrate the new year; it might just be the best time for a guided tour of one of the most-photographed sights in the state, minus the crowds.
On Friday, Jan. 1, Dead Horse Point State Park Assistant Manager Crystal White will be leading a family-friendly 2.5-mile hike to the park’s Bighorn Overlook. The First Day Hike route features expansive views in every direction, while taking hikers past potholes that pockmark the underlying layers of sandstone.
“It kind of makes the rock look a little bit like Swiss cheese – that’s what I always think of,” White said.
Participants should meet at the park’s visitor center at 12:45 p.m., ahead of a scheduled 1 p.m. departure.
Needless to say, no one has to worry about finding a spot among the group. Just 10 people showed up for the First Day Hike two years ago, and White said that visitors are typically scarce in late December and early January.
“We don’t get high attendance this time of year,” she said.
While park officials welcome more people to show up, boosting attendance figures is not the point of the hike.
“It’s more about getting people outside this time of year – getting them active, getting them moving and kind of spurring that outdoor activity,” she said.
Weather forecasters are projecting that major storms will sweep across much of Utah in the final days of 2015, although White said she doesn’t expect the snow to linger around on New Year’s Day.
“Right now, it’s looking like it’s going to be a pretty great day for a hike,” she said.
However, the trail is uneven in places, and hikers may encounter patches of ice and snow along the way.
“It stays a little longer than it does in Moab, just because we’re almost 1,500 feet higher,” she said.
Anyone who would like to join a group outing at the park, but can’t make it to the First Day Hike, is welcome to participate in the daylong Christmas Bird Count on Saturday, Jan. 2, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The early-winter census is a long-standing National Audubon Society program that relies on thousands of volunteers across the U.S., Canada and other countries to monitor bird populations.
At Dead Horse Point, participants can expect to see common ravens, pinyon jays, Western scrub jays, dark-eyed juncos and juniper titmice, and they may have the chance to spot raptors such as peregrine falcons and golden eagles.
Birdwatchers should bring their own binoculars, and they should dress warmly in layers that they can add or shed, since the group will likely be standing still or stopping for prolonged periods of time. They should also bring snacks and plenty of water.
To reach Dead Horse Point State Park, drive about nine miles north of Moab on U.S. Highway 191, and turn left at the intersection with state Route 313. Continue down state Route 313 about 23 miles to the park entrance.
Admission is $10 per vehicle with up to eight passengers, or $5 for Utah residents 62 and older. Bird count volunteers get in free.
Dead Horse Point hosts guided hike, bird count