Have you ever seen a moqui marble? Most people have never even heard of these phenomena, let alone seen them. Yet they are a fascinating piece of geology, and they are just cool to look at. Even if you’re not real into rocks, the views from the area of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument where moqui marbles can be found are very nice. There is no trail to the marbles themselves, but the area offers some other features that make the trek worthwhile.
To get to the area, from the town of Escalante take Hwy 12 4.5 miles east. The Hole in the Rock Road will turn off on your right; take this turn. If you’re coming from the east, the turn is 23.5 miles west of Boulder; again, you’d be driving Hwy 12, and you will want to turn left. The road is accessible down to the parking area by low-clearance vehicles. Sometimes the road has significant washboard, but otherwise it’s not a bad road (especially as dirt roads go in Utah!). Drive down the Hole in the Rock Road for 7.75 miles to where a fence crosses the road. Just across the cattle guard on your right is a small dirt parking area. (GPS coordinate: 37°38’21” N 111°26’41” W. Sorry, we didn’t bring the GPS with us on the hike, so that’s the last coordinate I have in this post.) This is a quite popular hike (because of the other destinations in the area—maybe I’ll write about them someday), so the parking area fills up quickly. Do not park on the road—motorists drive faster than they probably should, and it would be very hazardous to leave your vehicle on the side of the road. Also, while we were there someone tried to park on the vegetation near the parking area, and ended up with a cactus thorn in their SUV’s tire. In other words, get here early to get a parking space, or find a way to park in the parking lot. You may want to get an early start in general, as the hike offers little shade, and this would be an extremely grueling hike on a hot day.
The trail begins across the road to the right of the cattle guard. It does not look very impressive at this point, but it is there. Follow it east as it goes along a flat, grassy section and then down into a wash. You will be following this wash all the way down to Harris Wash, a little less than 2.5 miles from the trailhead. You can walk in the wash (quite sandy) or follow the trail that winds its way along, across, and through the wash. I recommend the trail, which is quite easy to follow, but feel free to do whichever you prefer. There was some water in the wash the second time we hiked this trail, but the trail crossings were dry enough for us to cross fairly easily. The views from the lower parts of the wash and trail are awesome, and remind me of pictures I’ve seen of Antelope Canyon in Kotachrome Basin State Park (although not as nice, of course, or everyone would go here instead of there).
After about 2.5 miles, you will come down off of the hill you have been descending and into Harris Wash. There are interesting things in both directions; however, if you want to find an easier way to the moqui marbles, turn left. Not far up the wash, a wide side wash will come in on your right. Turn right. Follow this wash for a ¼ mile or so, turning right into a wide, bushy side canyon. If you continued straight instead of turning right, you would end up in the Zebra Slots. These are well worth visiting as well, although there was waist-deep water just before the best of the slots when we were there the second time (the first time we were able to enter the slots without wading). Anyhow, this is a terrific side trip if there’s no water or if you don’t mind wading.
After you’ve turned into the bushy side canyon, scramble up the slick rock and then hug the right-hand side of the canyon and follow the social trail up to the fence that goes across the top of the canyon. Follow this fence to the left, and at the other edge of the canyon you will be able to slip under the barb wire where the fence connects to the face of the rock without tearing your clothing. Follow the fence to the right as it goes across the top of the canyon and up the slickrock. If you went left instead, you could scramble up the face of the slickrock and get to the top of the Zebra Slot canyon. However, this isn’t the way to the moqui marbles, so I won’t go into detail on that (to my knowledge, you can’t get into the Zebra Slot from the top).
Continue across the slickrock, keeping the fence to your right. Or, you can slip back under the fence and walk with the fence on your left—the choice is up to you; there are moqui marbles on both sides of the fence. The views in this area are really pretty, especially the huge red rock on your left. I’ve never actually been to Antelope Canyon or Kotachrome Basin State Park, but the swirling of white and red in the rocks reminded me of pictures I’ve seen of that area. Get a few puffy white clouds floating behind, and you’ve got a really awesome picture!
After a ¼ mile or so, you will begin to see little black balls of rock lying on the ground. These certainly are strange looking: some seem to be marbles, others resemble flying saucers. Take special notice of the ones that have broken in half: you can see the layers that were made as the marble was formed (I’m not exactly sure how they were formed, and neither are scientists, but there are several theories that are a bit too complicated to include in this post). As you continue along, there will be more and more fields of these, looking almost like blueberries strewn across the ground. Some people even call them Martian Blueberries, or Martian Spherules. My favorite fields have flowers or blooming cacti growing up in the middle of the moqui marbles.
If you had turned right after getting to Harris Wash, you could have walked for about a ½ mile or so to get to Tunnel Slot, a small side canyon located on the left side of the wash. However, by walking to the moqui marbles, you can also get to Tunnel Slot from the top (alternatively, you could scramble up the rocks behind Tunnel Slot to get to the moqui marbles—go a bit to the left before you try ascending the rock face). To get to the Tunnel Slot from the moqui marbles, you will need to be on the left side of the fence (the fence needs to be on your right). Just keep walking, and you will soon see a fisher developing on your right. Follow this for a short ways, and then scramble down to the bottom (be careful—this is not an easy task; chose your route carefully!). Keep walking in the same direction down the fisher. Eventually, at the end of the fisher, Tunnel Slot will be on your right. There was water in this slot the second time we went there, but even so I wouldn’t call it particularly interesting. The roof comes together over the top, creating a tunnel in a not-terrifically-narrow slot canyon. It’s sort of interesting, but not worth walking a ½ mile out of your way for. Small children might enjoy it more than I did 🙂
Return the way you came. One of the things I love about this hike is that it feels so free high up on the plateau that has the moqui marbles. The puffy clouds above you, the tall red rocks on your left, the wind in your face, and the fact that there is no trail makes just you and the elements. So cool!
Would I go 100 miles out of my way for this?
Wednesday Wed Dec 13 0%
Partly cloudy. Lows overnight in the low 30s.
Thursday Thu Dec 14 0%
A mainly sunny sky. High 52F. NNE winds shifting to ESE at 15 to 25 mph.
Friday Fri Dec 15 0%
Sunny. High near 50F. Winds SE at 5 to 10 mph.
Saturday Sat Dec 16 0%
Mostly cloudy skies early will become partly cloudy later in the day. High 48F. Winds NNW at 5 to 10 mph.
Sunday Sun Dec 17 0%
Sunny. High 42F. Winds E at 5 to 10 mph.