The people of Moab, Utah, have learned to respect the land. Visitors are encouraged to tread lightly and revere the region's natural beauty. The surrounding canyons, cut by the meandering Colorado River, are spectacular. And the various mining roads allow for motorized access that'll encourage even the most timid explorer to venture into the backcountry.
My wife Darlene and I followed the Colorado River south from U.S. 191 along State Route 279 (Potash Road Highway). Centuries-old petroglyphs, carved into the desert varnish by Native Americans, adorn cliff faces some 20 feet above the present-day highway and the Colorado River. Look for turnouts for a better view. The area's also popular with rock climbers.
About 17 miles south of 191, the Moab Salt Company resides on the north bank of the river. The paved road ends and a dirt road owned by the salt company took us in five miles deeper toward Canyonlands National Park. Signs recommend high-clearance vehicles and prohibit off-trail travel. The road gets deeply rutted and soft sand patches are a threat. This is a good place to shift into four-wheel drive.
Two more miles brought us to an area where large, above-ground pipes and settling ponds are separated from the road by chain-link fences. According to the visitor's center, water from the Colorado River is pumped into the salt company's mines and the mineral-rich solution is pumped up to evaporation ponds. A large lift sits on top of an island of white salt or potash.
A mile beyond the evaporation ponds, look for a sign giving the history of the trail. The Potash Road/Shafer Trail began life as a cattle trail, constructed by John Sog Shafer in 1917. But the search for ore and uranium became popular in the late 1940s and early 1950s. As uranium miners looked for ways to remove ore from what is now the White Rim area, they turned old cattle routes into truck routes, which were completed in October 1952. Ore from the White Rim area was then trucked up the Shafer Trail and out toward Moab.