Parachute blind somewhere into SW USA, spin a bottle and head that way. Chances are in a short time you’ll be riding through epic scenery. Whether you ride road or trail, there are no bad routes out here, and over the summer I got my KLX relocated to the west Colorado to knock out the classic Rocky Mountain passes. But as it was now a bit late in the season, that plan got downsized to riding back to Phoenix via Moab, UT. It still couldn’t fail to be a great ride.
From Eagle, CO I’d pre-mapped a 300-mile network of backroads and trails (left) towards the La Sal Mountain Loop just out of Moab which I did one brilliant afternoon on the CRF a few years back.
And out of Moab I could think of nothing better that riding the White Rim Trail again, then heading down through the Lockhart Basin on the Utah BDR towards Monument Valley. Over to Macy’s in Flagstaff for a snack, and it’s all downhill from there.
Rocking up on the outskirts of Eagle one freezing morning, the KLX’s battery was as flat as trampled roadkill. Even if it recharged, it would be a risk alone en brousse, so at the quad shop downtown I fitted a new one for $35 and set off along Cottonwood Pass Road. The aspens were on the turn and shimmered when backlit by the low autumn sunshine. Maybe it wasn’t so late in the season after all?
Annoyingly, the map tile I was on didn’t display on the Montana GPS so I was riding on the memory of the Google Map and blundering around a bit. I should have picked up a Colorado Benchmark or similar, but I was only one day in the state so would muddle through. From Carbondale, 133 lead south along a chilly valley, then switched back up the 8,700-foot Ragged Mountain Pass which had the KLX down to fourth, but still plugging away at 45mph.
Next morning in Delta, it didn’t look like the Grand Mesa to the north was snowed-over yet, so the little 250 chugged up to nearly 11,000′ (3300m) where an easy dirt road contoured past the thin snow to the plateau’s southern rim, before dropping down spectacularly at Lands End Observatory (left). On the level at this height the KLX again managed surprisingly well, but some inclines and another few thousand feet would have had it struggling, I’m sure.
A quick blast in the slow lane up Highway 50 led to 141, apparently a well-known bikers’ road. At Gateway general store (right) there were more bikes than cars: a CB500X, MV triple, an H-D plus an intrepid Ozzie couple on a KLR (above).
The food van here made an outstanding bacon-avocado wrap and proper chips but, as I’ve often found, the fuel in these outback places is often rough as well as expensive, even so-called 91 premium. Perhaps it sits in the tanks for too long.
I was looking for something called 4.4 Road to connect with the La Sal Loop for Moab, but still off the map tile, I blundered up 42.10 instead. The nav felt off but it took me ten miles to admit it, and by the time I found 4.4 it was too late in the day to risk unravelling what looked like a mass of tracks to get to Moab before the slavering coyotes came out. So I carried on along the much longer 141 bikers’ road – nice, but nothing special – then swung back west via Bedrock and Paradox. Somewhere here I had a gas and lodging moment; none of either in Paradox, so I turned down the wick, slipped between some kamikaze deer while faffing again with the GPS, and rolled into Moab’s Lazy Lizard on fumes.
Next day I ditched the baggage and set off for the White Rim Trail, a 150-mile round trip from Moab. An old uranium prospecting road built in the 50s, half the distance is the off road and all of it is like turning the HDR setting to 11.
Most of the time the trail traverses a broad ‘white’ sandstone terrace – hence the name. And every once in a while the track comes right to a cliff edge with staggering vistas over eroded butes, mesas, canyons and pencil-thin spires as far as the eye can see. And all without a single warning sign, guardrail or any signs at all. It all helps you feel you’re out in the wilds and, along with the ease of the riding, it’s the frequency of these mind-boggling outlooks that gives the WRT its well-earned reputation.
A light trail bike can manage the WRT in about seven hours. A full-on OHV dirt bike will be faster but won’t have the fuel range – and anyway there’s a 15mph speed limit. MTBs take days or do sections with support, and 4x4s typically take two days. You can average about 25mph on a bike, which is a realistic top speed on the dirt too, depending on what you’re riding.
A bunch of big 800-1200 advs flew past me on the wide track heading to the start of the trail proper (right). Rather them than me, I thought, but what do I know? They could be old enduro pros looking for some exercise.
The WRT starts with a stunning switchback drop into Mineral Canyon (left) and the banks of the Green river which it then follows for a few miles (left). It was definitely sandier than when I did it one spring on the CRF-L. Perhaps summer storms wash silt down. But even at road pressures on worn trail tyres, the KLR was easy to balance in the ruts, and this felt like ‘good’ sand – more crystalline or less arid and so less ‘sinky’ than ancient Saharan sand.
At one point the trail climbed steeply onto a shelf, not something you want to cock up. I passed the big bike group (left), had a little chat, but never saw them again after that. Soon a steep, 4×4-gouged drop led back down to the terrace, followed by a few short sandy sections before we were back on the bedrock.
Many stunning vistas, like the one below, pass by before the other major climb and drop over Murphy’s Hogsback. The climb is easy enough providing you attack it and there’s no one in the way. The descent felt a little more thought-provoking this time round. My KLX stalled on a washed-out hairpin, but was light enough to roll down without drama. I did wonder how those big advs would manage this bit.
By now you’re past the unseen confluence (right) and are heading back north towards Island in the Sky – way above and the place where regular day-tourists congregate. Glimpses of the Colorado river appear (left), the track levels off and stays that way, often crossing bare rock. I’d have found it a cushier ride on aired-down tyres, but was prepared to suffer a little to avoid punctures.
At a junction the Shafer Grade lies straight ahead climbs 1300-feet up the cliff into national park babylon. I went up and down it last time, but it was now late, I was a bit weary and fuel was low, so I took the Potash Road back east to town via the salt works. What a great day out.
Next day the BDR trail into the Lockhart Basin was closed. Still off the tile, I didn’t have the wits to find another way round so instead road-hauled south to Blanding and worked my way towards a little sandy valley I discovered last time (left). I parked up under the rustling trees, read a bit, ate a bit, dozed a bit and moved on.
At the far end I took a ‘wrong’ turn onto the road, but it’s all good around here as long as the fuel lasts. Riding next day up to the 7000-foot rim on which Flagstaff rest, it was one final blast of cool air before rolling down into the 36-degree cauldron of Phoenix. Oil change, jet wash, pack up, fly home.
After 4000 miles I feel the same way about the great little KLX250 as I did following last February’s rides. Compared to the very popular CRF-L, it’s an under-rated 250 that’s almost certainly all the better in efi form. My one’s for sale in Phoenix for $2500. See Craigslist.