How Red is Red?

Fisher Towers

'I've just seen bits and pieces of what goes on there,' said my good friend Laura, as we passed an unnamed dirt road that appeared to lead down to the Colorado River. It did lead to the river, she said, but was not open to the public - it was Marlboro's Adventure Camp.

The camp has a bit of a local reputation for taking lucky winners (i.e. people who smoke a lot) on adrenaline-fueled adventures in southern Utah, and for rather enormous parties that light up the nearby canyon walls at night.

'But during the whole thing,' added Laura, as she pulled her Pathfinder off state Route 128 about 18 miles east of Moab and on to a dirt road leading in the opposite direction, 'I bet they never even see that.' And you could not mistake what she was talking about. It was Fisher Towers.

Fisher Towers is one of the most awesome and recognizable features along the Colorado River in Utah, and not without reason. The towers are a group of chocolate brown Cutler and Moenkopi formation sandstone monoliths that stand out unbelievably from the surrounding desert buttes and towers and have been the focus both of famous movies and famous mountain-climbing ascents.

The towers are all that is left of a 225-million year old flood plain deposit left by what has been dubbed the Uncompaghre upland (called Uncompaghre in honor of the present-day mountain in Colorado near where the highland area used to be). When the Colorado Plateau was uplifted, salt deposits lying underneath the area buckled, bended and later collapsed. Erosion prompted the formation of the cliffs above and the valleys below. Someday the towers too will simply erode into an ever-smaller mound of mud.

Mud? But isn't this tower made of rock? Sort of. It is sandstone, which is a like a petrified sand blob which, though indeed rock-like, can also be soft and crumbly. When it rains hard around here, as it has this summer, the rivers and creeks run red with the sand from eroding cliffs and plateaus, and the sandstone of the Fisher Towers is crumbly and unstable enough to make climbing them a challenge.

The tallest tower, 900-foot tall Titan, was first climbed in 1962 by a group of three men from Colorado. Since then, gear has improved enough to make climbing much easier, though many climbers stay off the softer Cutler formation that makes up the bulk of Titan and its neighbors. If you pick up a rock climbing or mountaineering magazine you can usually count on a spectacular shot or two from Fisher Towers.

But if not in a climbing magazine, you might also see the towers on the Big Screen. Starting in the late 1940s, the towers were host to a string of movies who used the meta-Southwestern landscape as a backdrop. From Wagon Master in 1949 to Nurse Betty in 1999, the towers have hosted more than two dozen movies. The local Grand County Travel Council actually puts out a Moab Area Movie Locations Auto Tour brochure (call (800)635-6622 for a copy) for movie-buff visitors.

But you don't have to be a dirt-bag climber or a movie geek to appreciate Fisher Towers. A hiking trail winds for about two miles along the base of the towers and offers spectacular views both of the towers and the surrounding valleys and buttes and pinnacles, all of which lead to the Colorado River, a ribbon of green in an otherwise austere desert. Also, a pleasant campground can be found at the base of the towers and at the end of the access road.

But like I said, some day the towers will not be here. They literally grow shorter and thinner with each rain storm. The week we were there, in mid-July, was an odd, rainy week in the desert. We went to the towers on a Saturday evening to see what is usually a mind-blowing palette of colors that are thrown up on the towers in the sunset. But there was not much of a sunset, since thick clouds had moved in to obscure the sun. When we woke up in the morning just a few miles down the road at the Sorrel River Ranch heavy rain was falling across the valley, and arroyos all around ran chocolate brown, rock eroding from Fisher Towers.

The Fisher Towers are located about 18 miles east of Moab on state Route 128.

Jeff's Bio

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