The last leg of my Southwest tour followed the southern UTBDR down to the Arizona border (map, right or zoom here) to arrive in time for the Overland Expo near Flagstaff in a few days time.
The remains of the BDR could be broken up into three stages:
• The Lockhart Basin alternative route for experts only.
• From Montecello over the Abajo mountains, around Elk Ridge and back down to Blanding on the highway.
• Then over Snow Flats Road towards the Valley of the Gods scenic loop and the Arizona border near Monument Valley.
After a few days of rain in Moab, temperatures were set to soar again.
I set off along a road following the placid Colorado River.
Lots of relatively lush camping spots up here in the first few miles.
I rise to a pass and see the WRT and Island in the Sky on the far side of the river, with the blue Potash mine ponds below.
I’d waited in Moab for the rain to clear; it made the soft sand approaches no worse than this.
The Lockhart track looks great on Google Earth.
At this point, about 24 miles and an hour 15 out of Moab, you turn left and things get tougher.
I didn’t know where to go, or should I say I didn’t believe where the tracklog was leading me, up to the left and into the cliff.
Along this narrowing gully with plenty of rock steps to the bench up on the right; a GS12 would struggle here; an F8 with good protection might make it. High gearing is hard on the clutch and side baggage limits options.
Up on top I watched these dirt bikers from SLC also struggle to work out the right way. After some 30 mins they head in.
They ride up the narrow creek bed…
… up to the apex
About half were on TW 200s; never heard of these being used as desert bikes but why not: low, light and easy to handle.
With a bit of yellow paint you could make yourself a Ryoku from a TW.
The rough terrain continues for 2 hours and 14 miles to Lockhart Canyonnorthside, with quite a few ‘one chance only’ launches up rocky steps and climbs. A regular, unlifted 4×4 would not manage here.
Martin, one of the SLC guys shoots me.
The north rim of Lockhart canyon is where things ease up. Another 24 miles and an hour 15 to the Canyonlands road.
The SLC guys were looking for a T33 plane wreck from the early 1950s. They found it.
Despite the recent rains, crossing Indian Creek was easy.
On the way west to the Outpost I’m surprised to look back and see what appears to be fresh snow on the La Sals.
Time for a cup of tea at Canyonlands Outpost. A bench and table make things so much easier.
Canyonlands to Mormon Pastures short cut
The Benchmark Utah Atlas showed a possible direct route towards the UTBDR as it ran west of the Abajo mountains round to Elk Ridge. It avoided the road section to Montecello where fuel may not be needed and was also a way around the Abajos, should they be snowed under or too muddy.
I took a day off at Canyonlands Outpost, and rode up North Cottonwood Creek to see if I could connect with the BDR. (If you want a GPS .kml tracklog for this route, it’s in this post).
My planned route; one side of a triangle avoiding Montecello.
Initially the track was wide but occasionally corrugated.
After 10 miles in you split left steeply down to the river and at the bottom keep right – soon you pass an old ranch house.
Then up the side of Stevens Canyon, looking back on North Cottonwood Creek.
Great views back down North Cottonwood and the La Sals beyond.
The track gets a little rougher, but in the dry nothing a 12 couldn’t handle.
Was this Mormon Pasture Mountain – or maybe Round Mountain?
Wherever I was, it was less than 2 miles from the BDR at the white arrow.
I ridden to a dead-end at a dry cattle tank below a high ridge. The good thing with Benchmarks is they have a lat/long grid with which you can plot your exact position off a GPS and work it out from there.
I backtracked to a junction and took the other turn which led to the BDR at Mormon Pasture. Lots of flat grassy camping up here at around 7000′
Back down Stevens Canyon to the creek.
Abajo Mountains and Elk Ridge
Pleased my recce to Mormon Pastures had panned out, next day I headed down to Montecello. The L was a bit more underpowered tha normal; old fuel at the Outpost? You never know.
First stop, the Peace Tree Cafe on the north side for a breakfast or two.
Out of town I turn onto the BDR and am soon up in the birches. The smell reminds me of Alaska and Yukon: rain, mud, insects.
At 9300′ and only 8 miles from town a snow bank lay across a steep slope. I walk on, panting; it clears but the Cooley Pass is another couple of miles at 10,000 or more. There’d be more snow for sure.
What I thought were small bear tracks. Apparently it’s something else – a big dog?
I decide to turn back. The thought of pushing the revving bike through the snow crust for who knew how long was too much like hard work.
But there was no lower track around the Abajos, so I coast all the way back down to Montecello, take the highway to Blanding, dump the gear at a motel and after some trial and error find the way up to the sunny south side of the mountains to hook up with the BDR again.
The track curves round a basin towards Elk Ridge in the background, a big loop out of Blanding populated by friendly Utes.
An easy dirt road was drying out, but annoyingly I fall off on some hard ruts, break a mirror and scratch the plastics. There goes the resale value!
I pass the Mormon Pasture junction from yesterday’s ride and here am looking northeast at the Abajeros from Elk Ridge.
After an hour I’ve got over the annoying fall and am back in the groove.
Coming back off Elk Ridge towards Blanding, with the snowy San Juan mountains 120 miles away, behind Durango.
This sign shows that South Cottonwood connects across the basin up to Round Mountain and the Canyonlands turn off.
Back at the gas station I am staggered at the range of drinks – thee must be over 100 different types. And there are several gas stations in Blanding. This one also has a bowling alley. I don’t think there are any normal shops, the servo sells it all.
Fuelling up I meet this guy from Reno on a 690. He tried a lot harder than me to cross the Abajeritos that same morning from the south side but gave up too. So I did the right thing. He’s just cramming his earplugs back in as I start to drone on about how marvellously economical the 250 is.
Snow Flat Road to Monument Valley
The last section of the BDR was set to be a hot day, with soft sand and bull dust on the menu, but spectacle right up to the AZ finishing line.
I take a parallel route to the BDR along Comb Ridge Road – easy enough, but the sand- and then the rocky rodeo over Snow Flat Road wears me out.
Coasting down Moki Dugway to the baking desert floor below.
The famous pinnacle bend in the Valley of the Gods. As I leave I recall it featured in an earlier edition of AMH by Tom Grenon.
Checking in at Goosenecks – the awe-inspiring sites just keeps on coming.
I head on towards the start and my finale of the UTBDR.
One final dirt ride around Monument Valley. At just $5 it’s a bargain and a great way to kick off your UTBDR if heading north
In Kayenta a rare sit down meal at a Navajo resto – but the motel prices here are nuts.
So I ride on and as the sun sets pass through a violent bug storm. I am caked in insect entrails as they splat against me like gravel, but keep riding to Tuba City where I give in and settle on $125 for a motel. Occasionally you get caught out.
Next day is a short, 70-mile ride to Flag. To string it out I detour via Wupatki ruins and Sunset Crater.
I arrive in Flag but that evening resign myself to dashing back to Tuba to retrieve my laptop’s power lead. I forgot a lot of things in motels. The old brain is going… ‘Day-zee, day-zee… give me your ans er, do…’
A couple of days later the crowds pour into the Overland Expo near Flagstaff.
Austin Vince rocks up on a Touratech Sertao. He’d just been recce’ing the forthcoming AZBDR until he did his knee in.
Show shown, talks talked and books sold. Back in Phoenix it’s 99F. After a month of trying I manage to sell the Honda with a total of 4200 miles on the clock for a good price just 12 hours and 22 minutes before my plane departs for London.
My 3200-mile ride through AZ, CA, NV and UT barely scratched the surface. Tons more to see in all directions out here in the fabulous American West.