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Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014

Moab Cobra loses its head

By Whitney Evans, Deseret News

Published: Mon, Aug. 4 4:08 p.m. MDT

 A photo of the Cobra tower taken by Lisa Hathaway about a week before the top of the tower broke off, along with comments about the Cobra's demise on her Facebook page.

A photo of the Cobra tower taken by Lisa Hathaway about a week before the top of the tower broke off, along with comments about the Cobra's demise on her Facebook page.

(Lisa Hathaway)

MOAB — The Cobra tower met an unfortunate fate when its head was detached over the weekend.

The tower is a popular spot for climbing enthusiasts. Its top resembled a cobra head. Rumors of the cobra's demise have been circulating for years with no grounding in the truth.

Last week, the cobra met its demise.

"Alas, it was no prank. The Cobra was beheaded," said Lisa Hathaway, who has been living and climbing in Moab for more than 20 years.

The head fell off the tower base sometime between Tuesday and Friday, according to Lisa Bryant, assistant field manager for the Bureau of Land Management's Moab office.

Pictures of the decapitation indicate the top exploded off, Hathaway said. The tower was well-used because of its accessibility to a lot of climbers, unlike other tower climbs in the desert that are more difficult to reach.

"It will definitely be sorely missed. The Cobra was definitely an iconic little summit for people to climb," Hathaway said.

The sandstone Cobra has a wide head and a small neck. Those in the climbing community are likely more surprised the tower stayed up as long as it did, Hathaway said.

"It would be a surprise to exactly no one who has stood atop that sketchy block that comprised the head of the Cobra, that it slid off," she said in an email. "The Cobra actually lost its head from below the 'wattle' of the neck on up."

Mourning climbers will likely be sounding toasts "in honor of the fallen stump," Hathaway said.

The possibility of the head falling off was "not at all" on the BLM's radar before last week, according to Bryant.

"We're just really, really pleased and grateful that there was nobody hurt," she said.

Though the incident is still under investigation, early reports indicate the decapitation may have been the result of inclement weather in the area. According to Bryant, "very intense thunder and lightning and rain" hit the Fisher Towers area between Tuesday and Friday, likely causing the fall.

Rock climbers frequent the structure, but Bryant said she doesn't believe they caused the fall.

"Erosion is much more highly probable cause for the fall," she said.

Climbers are mourning the loss of the "very scenic and picturesque tower," Bryant said, but the erosion that likely occurred is "very unique and unusual" and provides an opportunity for geologists to study.

The structure was several millions of years old, officials said, and its demise is part of the gradually changing landscape.

"They're constantly degrading and forming," Bryant said.

Tower Arch also lost a 130- to 135-pound "flake" on July 29 that was about 1-inch thick, 5- to 6-inches wide and 12-feet long, according to Shannan Marcak, acting spokeswoman for Arches National Park. The erosion was likely the byproduct of weather and time, she said.

A visitor to the park heard a "popping or snapping noise" before the flake broke off, Marcak said, and alerted park officials.

"I would just hope that people would understand that Arches is part of a dynamic landscape," she said, adding that erosion is a natural process and is what makes the park beautiful.

Email: wevans@deseretnews.com, Twitter: whitevs7

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1. SLC Grandma
Salt Lake City, UT,
Aug. 4, 2014

This structure doesn't appear sound enough or strong enough to withstand people climbing it - especially with such a narrow neck. Couple that stress with constant weather erosion and you have an icon ready to topple. I'm all for mountain and rock climbing but I think some things should be admired and held in awe, not climbed "because it's there".