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.
This entry was posted in
AMH News, Project Bikes, Project: Honda CRF250L and tagged abajo mountains, Benchmark Utah Atlas, Canyonlands, cedar mesa, elk ridge, Honda CRF250L, lockhart basin, moki dug way, Monument Valley, mormon pastures, Overland expo, Snow Flat Road, southern Utah, Utah Backcountry Discovery Route, utbdr, Valley of the Gods, Yamaha Ryoku, Yamaha TW200 on . May 25, 2013
Previously in SW USA:
Death Valley, CA Trans Nevada See also: White Rim Trail with KLX
Let me tell you, I’ve done my share of mind-blowing desert biking, seen attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion and all that stuff, but the WRT will be among the best 150 miles you’ll ever ride in a day.
You left me crossing into Utah trapped inside the lyrics of the Long-Legged Guitar Pickin’ Man. The rear tyre split hadn’t grown and overnight in Cedar City the temperature dropped by over 30 degrees to less than 50F; good for tyre longevity. So I plugged in my Aero’ Kanetsu vest and took off up UT14 into the pines planning to follow 143 over the Cedar Breaks and down to Panguitch.
Even before I got to the turn off it was getting on for 10,000′ but the CRF held it’s own. Altitude doesn’t really affect it – just strong winds and steep hills.
But at UT148 junction the snow barrier was down.
As I stopped, KTM man from yesterday in Pioche rocked up, this time on his Multistrada 1200, Ducati answer to the big GSs. Never actually seen one of these being used.
On the far side at the roadhouse on 89 I tucked into my daily Subway against a warm sunny wall. I have convinced myself they’re a healthy form of cheap, fast food.
Certainly healthier than these unidentified objects – battered lamb’s testicles on a stick?
North now, into the fierce and freezing northwest wind. By the time I got smart and added another layer, my arms were quite numb from the cold.
Did I say it was windy? The flags of the world do not lie.
I stop off at Koosharen (pop. 327) for a one dollar coffee and a warm up. ‘Ain’t it cold on that li’l cikle?’ asked a man in a John Deere cap. A small shed of his had just blown off down the road.
Next day, out of Torrey on the edge of Utah’s Tourist Zone, but even here they have a Subbie! (There are no less than 40,000 franchises in 99 countries rtw). From here farming and mining takes a back seat to scenic drives past red rock cliffs and canyons.
I follow the Fremont River after which the pre-Anasazi Indian culture was named. Their enigmatic petroglyphs adorn the canyon walls.
I detour down the Goblin Valley Road and doze out of the wind and in the sun for an hour. Then I cut off along an old road that leads to Green River, avoiding unnecessary interstate. I like these old roads with grass growing up through the cracks.
At the back the snowy La Sal mountains rise to nearly 13,000′
Green River has it’s own hooning hill. I like to think it helps reduce anti-social behaviour.
In Moab I score a cheap private cabin at the old Lazy Lizard hostel. I stayed here 20 years ago, but the Lizard has not responded to the ‘flashpacking’ boom; in Moab no one has. The Lizard is like an old style hostel, which is both good and bad. Then it dawns on me I’m in outdoor adventure central with a trail bike, cheap accommodation and time to spare; I better book up all the nights they got!
I go rafting on the Colorado just out of town, in an IK alongside.
Unfortunately this couple from SLC were in the IK for the best bit – rats!
My cheap online Kenda tyre won’t be here for another few days so I buy a Maxxis Desert up the road for around $110 and leave it on the roof to soften up. It’s an old Indian trick.
Then I go and rent an MTB and have a crack at the Slickrock Trail I remember well from ’94. I don’t get so far – it’s got a lot steeper over the years; I blame erosion caused by global warming though other age-related scenarios are possible. But on a $2000, full-sus Santa Cruz SuperLight 29 with more traction than a gecko in a jam jar it’s a lot of fun.
Creaking and screeching 4WDs share the Slickrock but not the same trail, although motos can ride the cycle trail. In fact, the Trail was invented by motards back in the 60s. I wonder about coming back on the Honda, but even unloaded I don’t want to risk the clutch on some of the sudden, very sharp ascents.
If you dig MTBs you must come to Moab for the Slickrock and all the rest.
That split never grew in 500 miles but I still think the right flake on a dirt road would have nabbed the tube, Slime or no Slime.
The Maxxis is a 110/100 – the worn OE was a 100/80, so new tyre is a bit taller but still black and round and on the road has been just as smooth and predictable.
Even sun-warmed it’s a stiff tyre, but with technique and a bit of WD40 it slips on with just two levers.
Time for a ride. I set out on a 90 mile loop, part of the UTBDR north of Moab.
Up lovely Onion Creek with a dozen or more shallow fords to cool the feet.
Then steeply up onto the La Sals at some 8000′. A bit chilly now and the over-sprung, shock chatters on the rocky ascents.
La Sal – don’t know which one.
Castle Valley, I do believe.
Helmet-free riding is a rare pleasure, especially doing errands round town.
And back east, down part of the MTB Kokopelli Trail and along easy Sand Flats Road past Slickrock where I detour for a quick one just to say I did it.
In town I spotted this old 136cc 2wD Rokon on a trailer. Little changed from the 1960s, I think you could call that a ‘functional-brutalist’ design. They still make them today: rokon.com.
It’s time to finally tick off the White Rim Trail. Twenty years ago I tried to rent an XL500 off Arrowhead to do the WRT but the guy was not so keen. Even today it’s hard to rent a road legal DS in Moab. Plenty of other OHV stuff to be had if you have a trailer or a ute.
The weather was not so good; it had rained overnight, hopefully enough to settle the sand and dust but not turn it into mush. I saw a few bolts of lightening through the day but only got rained on for a few minutes.
At the end of Mineral Bottom Road is the big drop to the Green River valley.
A plucky MTBer takes the last big climb after 3 or 4 days on the WRT.
From then on it was kind of sandy, but only for 200 yards at a time. No rain dampening here so to be on the safe side I paddle laboriously. I hoped it wasn’t a 100 miles of this… How do these MTBers manage?
At times you’re right by the river; lose the front and you’ll make a splash. Elsewhere you climb ‘inland’. I think it was the sandy climb up Hardscrabble Hill that made me glad I wasn’t towing luggage. I actually stopped and looked back over my shoulder at the 1 in 2 sandy hairpin on the way down and thought, cripes, that would have been hard to get up.
I’ll let a few pics do the talking…
At the top of another long climb, possibly Murphy Hogback around Mile 70, I meet a guy on a fully loaded 1150. And I mean fully loaded like he was going to Alaska. And on Anakee tyres too…
I didn’t know it then but I’d nearly completed the harder, sandier half of the WRT which he was heading into. I warned him about Hardscrabble Hill and doubted that tank would make it. but he seemed a confident rider.
The 1150 is a speck at the bottom of the photo.
Soon after I turned back north at the halfway piint: White Crack turn off, I stopped to fill up and finish off my footlong Sub. Someone had advised not to bother with this side – I presume because it’s easier?
But that suited me just fine at that stage; I was riding more fluidly after the morning’s efforts and the spectacles kept on coming, now with the Colorado River on my right.
I reached the Shafer Trail turn off about 5pm; the Trail seemed to disappear into the cliffs. Many had raved about the Shafer Trail.
So I rode up to the top; Island in the Sky.
And coasted back down to keep the pads warm in the evening chill.
I learned later that I’d passed under the rim of Dead Horse Point where Thelma and Louise took their fateful leap, gunning their T’bird into the abyss, yelling “You’ll never take us alive!”. For a Hollywood movie, that was a great ending. I continued along the Potash Road, 30 miles back to Moab; a bit rough, or I was starting to feel the miles by now.
The mining works after which the road is named were originally a regular mine. Then they adapted it to effortless ‘solution mining’ by dissolving the subterranean potassium out with the aid of brine, pumping it up and then allowing the water to evaporate and the minerals to crystalise in shallow ponds.
Blue dye is added to help the solar process. They separate the salt from the potassium later.
I rode back into town nine hours after setting out, just as another deluge got ready to drop its pants over Moab.
Let me tell you, I’ve done my share of mind-blowing desert biking, seen attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion and all that stuff, but the WRT will be among the best 150 miles you’ll ever ride.
I’m now waiting for the weather to clear before heading down through Canyonlands’ Needles District and on to the AZ border. It seems the temps are about to take another 20°F hike up the scale.
Last episode here.
This entry was posted in
AMH News, Project Bikes, Project: Honda CRF250L and tagged Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion, bmw 1150gs, Butler Maps, Canyonlands, Colorado river, Colorado white water, Dennis the Menace, Ducati Multistrada 1200, Hardscrabble Hill, Honda CRF250L test, Koosharen, La Sal Loop, Maxxis IT Desert tyre, Moab, Onion Creek, rokon, Shafer Trail, Slickrock Trail Moab, Subway, thelma and Louise, utbdr, white rim trail on . May 9, 2013