Utah has more than its fair share of scenic roads. We’re not talking marginally scenic, either. Breathtaking is the rule. And so it is with Utah 128, the “back way” from Moab to Fruita Colorado.
Google Maps and Homer our GPS advise taking US 191 out of Moab. US 191 passes the three-quarter billion-dollar DOE project to remediate uranium mine tailings (UMTRA) and the entrance to Arches National Park on the way north to Interstate 70. UMTRA is not scenic; the entrance to Arches is spectacular. But once the red rocks near Moab are left behind, US 191 is a somewhat drab route.
The more attractive option to Fruita is Utah 128. Utah 128 is also seven miles shorter. Nevertheless, Google and Homer assure us that winding State Road 128 is the slow way to Colorado. One thing is certain. US 191 is not nearly as scenic as Utah 128. The small time investment to travel UT 128 is repaid by the views.
Leaving Moab, 128 winds along the Colorado River moving upstream with the waterway. The most scenic stretch of 128 tracks the river closely. Near Moab the Colorado has carved out a long deep chasm through the red Wingate sandstone. Vertical walled cliffs channel both the road and the river. The northern bluffs are part of Arches National Park. For mountain bikers, at the top of the cliff on the southern side of the Moab end of Utah 128 are the Slickrock and Porcupine Rim Trails.
The gorge widens near the turnoff to Castle Valley. Now the high bluffs are in the distance, horse ranches appear on the open valley floor, and the scene is studded with picturesque buttes that stand by themselves in space. It is National Park worthy scenery.
Somewhere around three quarters of the way to the Interstate, UT 128 moves away from the Colorado River. Gone now is the river and the red rock spectacle of the gorge. The remainder of the route to Fruita is merely run of the mill scenic.
Sometimes taking the fast road is not the best way. Utah 128 north out of Moab rewards travelers with views that compensate for a small addition in driving time. Next time when leaving Moab, ignore Google Maps, turn off the GPS, and take the back road. Utah 128 is worth a detour.