Many folks come to Moab for the back county adventures, bringing their ATV’s or off road Jeeps to go exploring. The good news is that you don’t have to own a 4×4 jeep or a dune buggy to explore Moab, UT. We found one of many great scenic drives that was Ernie friendly. The Scenic Byway 128 from Moab to Cisco allowed us to experience the breathtaking landscape of Moab, without getting stuck in the sand! Admittedly, I am kinda jonesing to rent one of these big boys next year!
This beautiful stretch of road from Moab to Cisco is known as “River Road” to the locals, and can be picked up just north of town. The road follows a narrow red rock canyon that’s been carved out by the Colorado River, before opening up and transitioning into an open desert landscape. This road will eventually lead you to the semi-abandoned ghost town of Cisco.
While it is only 40 miles in distance, we took most of the day to explore the many interesting and beautiful places along the way. Bentley loved all the stops along the Colorado River. It is a dogs life, playing in the water and running free (there was no one around most of the time so we let him off leash…shhh). There are also many great hikes along the way and since we were out of National Parks, Bentley got to do some hiking too.
Located just three miles from Moab is Negro Bill Canyon. The trailhead was renamed in 2017 to Grandstaff Canyon because thankfully black lives do matter to some people in the federal government. If you’re looking to go hiking, this a great spot because the narrow canyon remains well-shaded throughout the day. There is a trail that leads back into the canyon and about 2 miles in you’ll arrive at Morning Glory Natural Bridge. We didn’t hike here but would certainly come back and explore this area.
About four miles from Grandstaff Canyon, the byway passes the Big Bend Campground and picnic area with its white sand beach. Many of the campsites here are right on the river and the setting is just beautiful. In the late part of October, the campground was virtually empty.
The next section of the road closely parallels the Colorado River with the high canyon walls on either side. Since we had the road to ourselves for most of the drive, we could slow down and just enjoy the natural beauty of the area.
Our next stop was totally unexpected as we had no idea there was a winery so near Moab and almost didn’t stop when we passed the signs for Castle Creek Winery. News flash…Utah isn’t exactly the wine capital of the US, but what the heck, we had to turn around and go back.
Located just 14 miles from Moab, the winery overlooks the river’s best white water rapids, at the foot of dramatic red rock cliffs. It’s a classic, rugged western landscape and the winery sits on a historic working ranch called Red Cliffs Adventure Lodge. There is also a western heritage and film museum on the property that it is well worth a stop. We learned that the grapes are actually grown in nearby Green Valley and Castle Valley. I preferred the white wines over their reds so we left with 2 bottles of the Chenin Blanc and 2 bottles of the Chardonnay. Both these wines are easy drinkers and priced right at $12.95 a bottle so into the wine ottoman they went!
After the canyon widens, about 21 miles in, you’ll will see Fisher Towers in the distance off to your right. The massive 1,500’ tall spire know as the Titan creates an iconic southwestern vista and have been featured in a variety of western films.
The trailhead and picnic area are about 2 miles off 128 on an unimproved but Ernie friendly road. There are a variety of hiking trails that depart from the parking area, as well as a bunch of technical climbing routes. We did part of the hike with Bentley and had our lunch in solitude with the massive towers as our backdrop.
Lower Onion Creek Campground is a few miles from this beautiful hiking area. This campground offers spectacular views of Fisher Tower and the surrounding red rock canyon. We checked it out to see if it was big rig friendly and yes, many of the sites would accommodate the Road House. Again, it was virtually deserted so note to self…come in October when the crowds are all gone.
About 30 miles into the drive are the remains of historic Dewey Bridge. Constructed in 1916, the suspension bridge was in operation until 2008, when it was destroyed by a brush fire. Now all that is left is the steel frame and cable wiring making an eerie picture out over the desert vista. The story is a 7-year-old boy camping with his parents had gone down to the river and started a brush fire with matches. Bummer, I mean what kid doesn’t play with matches but what a legacy to live with, burning down a historical suspension bridge. I have fond memories of lighting gasoline on fire …and no, there was not any parental oversight going on then either.
Our final stop was at the ghost town of Cisco, which was once used as a water refueling station for the railroad. The ghost town of Cisco, Utah is one of the most iconic ghost towns in all of America. It has been featured in movies like Thelma & Louise, Vanishing Point, and Don’t Come Knocking as well as the Johnny Cash song, “Cisco Clifton’s Filling Station,” so I couldn’t pass up the chance to visit this spooky, could be snake-infested, could-get-shot-at-any-moment by some nut job little ghost town. This place deserves a post all to itself so stayed tuned for more on Cisco.
Scenic Byway 128 sure lived up to its name and was a great way to spend part of the day. We were all tuckered out…especially Bentley who gave the day a four paws up rating.
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