By Tom Pfaendler
If you’re an early riser, there’s a treat waiting for you at Red Rock Canyon called the Moenkopi Loop Trail. This easy two-mile walk is perfect for anyone who is hungry for a quick taste of desert life; but if you can get up coffee-early and make it out here by six in the morning, there is a special magic that you just can’t experience at any other time.
The soft light caresses the Wilson Cliffs revealing all the color and drama of the escarpment. The air is cool and sweetly scented. It’s quiet… still… Here at last is a place where you can start the day in peace, reflect on life, commune with the desert and all of its rich history and still make it to work by 8 o’clock! If you prefer a more social experience, the Interpretive Association offers the popular “Moenkopi Morning” hikes first thing every Wednesday.
Moenkopi is a Hopi word that means “place of running water”, but I recommend that you pack a bottle of H2O anyway, just in case. The trailhead is near the visitor’s center, at the southwest corner of the tortoise habitat.
The path is well marked and features several interpretive signs as you wind through the desert among the yuccas and creosote, black brush and desert trumpets. There are a couple of forks in the road that lead north to the Calicos and even link to the eleven-mile Grand Circle Adventure, but just follow the signs and stay on the Moenkopi trail to enjoy terrific views of the famous Calico Hills from this unique vantage point. As you begin the gentle ascent up the hill, the cement-like caliche in the path gives way to gray limestone, which forms terraces with little cactus gardens growing between the rocks.
A 230-million-year-old seabed forms the top of the hill. Look closely and you can find fossils of seashells and plants! There are some nice barrel cactus growing up here, a few strawberry hedgehogs and not one, but several pincushion cacti growing among the limestone! This is probably the best place in Red Rock to see this elusive little cactus.
A wooden bench marks the halfway point on the Moenkopi trail, and is a great place to sit for a while and take in the view. At 100 feet above the visitors center and roughly centered in the park, this spot serves up a really rich 360-degree view of Red Rock Canyon! The trail continues down the backside of the hill along a sloping shelf of limestone (this might be a likely “place of running water” during a rainstorm), then eventually deposits you onto an old caliche and gravel service road for the remaining half-mile walk back to the visitors center.
The Moenkopi Loop Trail is a dish best served in the morning. It gains a full point for the pincushions, but loses half a point for the rather boring return along the old road. On my one-to-ten rating system, the Moenkopi Loop Trail earns four-and-a-half boots, which is pretty good for a one-hour “Taste of Red Rock” experience!
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