One of the most unique points of interest in Utah is the stack of cars beneath Highway 89 just past the House Rock Valley Road turnoff. Originally constructed as an attempt to fill a highway gap, the pile of old crushed cars have been wired together to help prevent erosion on the sandy hill during storms. The cars are known as the Catstair Rip Rap or Detroit Rip Rap, constructed in the 1960s. Impalas, Bel-Airs, and a Lincoln Continental are just a few of the vehicles that were once operational, now turning into a unique landmark for centuries to come. The cars are even visible peeking out from beneath the highway on Google Earth.
Hikers should turn right at the break in the guardrail near mile marker 25 on Highway 89. This leads down a short gravel road and turns to dirt. Any passenger vehicle can access the turnoff, though low clearance vehicles may want to park closer to the main road. The dirt portion can become impassable when wet. Although it is short, Catstair Canyon is still a slot canyon and is prone to flash floods. This means it should be avoided if there is a chance of rain. Check the weather before going to ensure a safe drive and hike.
The trail starts at the end of the road, heading south down a hill and through an abundance of desert weeds before dropping into a wash. Tall, sand colored rock pillars poke up from the beginning of the slot canyon, The assortment of unique rock formations continues as the wash curves around a corner, leading in the direction of the highway. Each turn introduces a different section of incredibly diverse canyon, the rocks seeming to transform before hikers’ eyes. If not for the occasional sound of cars passing by, this other-wordly slot would make one think they had been transported to another planet.
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The trail is relatively flat, starting out as sand and crossing over to slick rock. Just before the Rip Rap sits a short “S” shaped drop. With a bit of logistical planning and careful hand and foot placement, most hikers are able to shimmy down the rocks. Children and dogs may have a difficult time getting down the dryfall on their own. Dogs are allowed on the trail on or off leash, so be careful around this spot if pups are off leash.
After making it down into the next sandy wash, hikers are rewarded with a towering stack of multicolored vehicles. The assortment of cars is safely secured into the side of the highway, but be careful of any sharp pieces of metal poking out. Past the cars, the canyon deepens and narrows. This section requires more difficult maneuvering and scrambling. Before long hikers are greeted with a dynamic 10 foot drop. The foot trail ends here; rope and canyoneering equipment is required past this point.
The hike to the Rip Rap and back is short and sweet. At less than 1 mile round trip, hikers should allow for about an hour. Individuals of any fitness level should be able to enjoy the trail, though may want to bring a friend if worried about the drop off. The path is in direct sunlight, so be sure to bring plenty of water and sunscreen. Bringing together urban decay and stunning desert backdrops, Catstair Rip Rap is a one of a kind destination to add to anyone’s hiking bucket list.
Written by: Lauren Kehoe