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Green River getawayGreen River getaway

Mineral Canyon, UtahMineral Canyon, Utah

A spectacular flight from any direction, looking down at the Colorado Plateau’s immense rivers, canyons, and sandstone buttes will astound you. Then land beside the Green River and look up at the beauty of Mineral Canyon.

  • The 2,173-foot Mineral Canyon airstrip offers pilots a great shortcut into Utah’s canyon country. Like many Utah airstrips, it was built in the 1950s by a uranium mining company. After it was abandoned, the strip slowly deteriorated until the Utah Back Country Pilots Association took up its cause in 1997. After heated battles and refurbishment by volunteers, it was reopened in December 1998. With easy access to the Green River, it remains one of Utah’s most popular strips. Photo by Brady Lane.
  • Aerial view of The Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. Flightseeing the Colorado Plateau is pure joy. Photo by Crista Worthy.
  • Aerial view of Mineral Canyon, looking north down Runway 32. First approaching the strip at a higher altitude gives a better overview (literally) of the landscape and helps plan your approach. Note the butte just north of the strip. Photo by Galen Hanselman, Q.E.I. Publishing.
  • On approach to Runway 14 (downstream) the pilot is offset slightly to clear the butte north of the strip. Photo by Brady Lane.
  • Since the latest major work party by the UBCP in 2014, the runway is in excellent condition. Photo by James Stevenson.
  • The canyon walls rise about 1,000 feet over the airstrip. On departures and go-arounds, stay over the river and climb out; there’s plenty of room. Photo by James Stevenson.
  • The brush has been cleared away from the runway, but when you do your flyover, don’t forget to check for stray cattle or other animals that may be hiding in the brush. Photo by James Stevenson.
  • There’s plenty of parking on both sides of the runway at midfield, particularly on the east side, away from the river. Photo by Brady Lane.
  • Big tires are helpful on backcountry airstrips, but Mineral Canyon is one where you don’t absolutely need them to operate safely. The pilot of this aircraft flew to Utah from Wisconsin. Photo by James Stevenson.
  • The silt-laden Green River flows so calmly you could float down on a stand-up paddle board. Hikers can follow Mineral Canyon to the east. On the north rim of the south fork of Mineral Canyon, the Mineral Canyon Arch spans 76 feet. Photo by James Stevenson.
  • The Mineral Canyon airstrip (originally called Mineral Bottom) was built by Excalibur Uranium Corporation. The abandoned mine is a short walk upstream from the airstrip. Photo by Galen Hanselman, Q.E.I. Publishing.
  • The author holds a dead tarantula hawk, a type of huge wasp that has one of the most painful stings of any animal. Don’t worry, they don’t attack people, just tarantulas. Photo by Crista Worthy.
  • It’s rare to actually catch a glimpse of a canyon wren—you usually just hear their sweet, descending notes echoing through the canyons of Utah. Photo by Tristan Loper via Flickr.
  • A Quest Kodiak barrels down the runway at Mineral Canyon with Quest pilot Mark Brown and AOPA Pilot Editor in Chief Thomas Haines onboard. Photo by Chris Rose.
  • Mineral Canyon is about 50 feet wide. The Kodiak has a 45-foot wingspan. Photo by Chris Rose.

The Mineral Canyon airstrip lies just north of Canyonlands National Park, about 20 nautical miles southwest of Canyonlands Field Airport (temporarily closed for renovations, check notams) and about 30 nm northeast of Hanksville. It’s marked private on the Denver Sectional, but it’s open to the public. A better chart for Utah’s backcountry strips is the GH-UT Supplemental World Aeronautical Chart. The chart and its companion two-volume book Fly Utah! depict 57 Utah airstrips never before published on aeronautical charts. The chart also shows noise-sensitive areas, roads, waypoint identifiers, and other features, and is made of a waterproof laminated material. There’s also a Backcountry Utah Waypoints database for iPad/ForeFlight. The database and chart are free with purchase of the book. All are invaluable resources found in the cockpits of virtually every Utah backcountry pilot. You can also see approaches and departures to many Utah strips on this DVD.

The area is best visited March through May and September through November, when temperatures are mild. I practically live for flightseeing this part of the world, known as the Colorado Plateau: To the west, near Cedar City, the incomparable pink hoodoos of Cedar Breaks and Bryce Canyon have eroded out of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. To the southwest, Lake Powell’s incongruous blue water contrasts with the steep sandstone walls of Glen Canyon. Monument Valley’s iconic buttes and the amazing Comb Ridge rise south of Canyonlands National Park, and within Canyonlands, you have the red-and-white candy-striped formations of The Maze, just west of the confluence of the Colorado and Green rivers. Between the rivers north of the confluence, the Island in the Sky District is a bit reminiscent of the Grand Canyon.

A view looking down Runway 32. Note the butte off the north end of the runway. The runway surface has been greatly improved since this photo was taken. Photo by Galen Hanselman, Q.E.I. Publishing.

When you can tear yourself away from flightseeing, head to 38:31.6N, 110:00.3W, monitoring 122.9 MHz. Restricted Area R-6413 is almost never active, but check notams or call Denver Center to verify. I like to arrive high enough for a good look at the terrain, especially when a strip is at the bottom of a narrow canyon, as this one is, because once you’re in the canyon on approach, you won’t see the strip until you’re almost on short final.

Descend into the canyon well up- or downstream of the strip, and then just follow the Green River. Overfly the strip and check for surface conditions, winds, or debris. Do not land if the strip appears wet or muddy. Then go back around for your landing approach. Runway 14/32 is 2,173 feet by 50 feet, at 3,946 feet elevation. Remember the low butte off the north end of the strip. If landing on Runway 14 (downstream), you’ll need to fly over it on a steeper approach or S-turn around it. The slight uphill slope toward the north means the preferred calm-wind runway for landing is 32 (upstream). To go around, just climb out over the river. Park at midfield on either side and tie down; winds can come up quickly. Aviation Consumer rated these the best.

Navtec’s Labyrinth Canyon float down the Green River departs from Moab and ends at Mineral Canyon. With two aircraft, you can leave one at the airstrip and the other at Canyonlands Airport, float the river, and not have to drive back. Photo courtesy Navtec Expeditions.

You’ll be camping, of course. Please use Leave No Trace methods, pack out all your trash, and always fly courteously. Bring water or purify the river water, and bury body waste at least 200 feet from the river. Keep a close eye on any campfires—a spark could set the brush on fire.

Now that you’re settled in, it’s time to enjoy these remarkable surroundings. Through yearly flooding, especially after each Ice Age, the river has cut deeply into the layers of sandstone and shale. Those layers represent eons of time, when the Colorado Plateau was alternately covered by great sand dunes and inundated by a shallow sea. A human life is but a moment in comparison, yet I’m always comforted by the realization that these sandstone walls will be here for eons more after we are gone. You can fish, swim, and hike up or down the canyon. You can even mountain bike the road that runs near the strip. Look for dragonflies, the T-rex of the insect world. Once I found a tarantula hawk (thankfully expired; see photo). Listen for the sweet, descending notes of the canyon wren. Enjoy the tranquility. Marvel at the Milky Way.

More formal entertainment can be had by contacting Navtec Expeditions, which offers rafting, canyoneering, and 4x4 tours of the area, or Redtail Air Adventures, which recently hosted Tom Haines, AOPA senior vice president of media, outreach, and communications, at Mineral Canyon. Now he, too, knows: There is no place else on Earth quite like this.

At Bowknot Bend, the Green River completely reverses direction. This point is about 6 river miles upstream of Mineral Canyon. Photo by August Allen. 

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Crista Worthy

Crista Videriksen Worthy

Crista Videriksen Worthy has been flying around the United States with her pilot-husband Fred and their children since 1995, and writing about fun places to fly since 2006. She has single-engine land and sea ratings. Her favorite places to explore are the backcountry strips of Idaho and Utah's red rock country. She currently lives in Idaho and serves as editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association. To suggest future destination articles, send an email to [email protected]
Topics: US Travel