A Moab Christmas 2018


Active member
So we had some time between Christmas and New Years and what better way to end a year then 5 days in Utah.

Christmas day we set off from Boise, ID in gloomy conditions. A quick stop in Burley, ID to visit some of Morgans family members and we were on our way to camp near Diamond Fork Hot Springs for the night. Conditions around Burley turned to wet snow and the drive got a little slower and more treacherous after that. The pass and canyon between Snowville and Ogden were particularly bad. I was down to 30 MPH on 84 at times. Not deep or whiteout conditions, just super super slick. Saw a couple of cars spun off the road but everyone was fine, there was cell service, and I didn't think I'd be able to get enough traction to pull them out of the ditches. I also, right or wrong, don't have a ton of sympathy for the guy who blasted past me at 60 or so, when most of the traffic was going a reasonable speed for the conditions. Few miles later, guess where he was?

We made it to the Diamond Hot Springs area sometime around 9pm. My brief research had led me to believe we could simply camp at the trailhead. Turns out that is not true and we came to realize the trailhead I had read about wasn't accessible by car. They had gated off part of the road approximately a mile from it. There was another parking area at the gate but, somewhat surprisngly, there was quite a bit of vehicle traffic coming and going, so we opted to explore a group site a bit further back the road. Turns out those were shut down as well and after a day of driving chose to not keep searching in the dark and set up the RTT on the pavement next to the gate. A quick tailgate dinner and it was into the tent to try to stay warm. I'd brought a generator and small electric heater but had forgotten the extension cord. It being Christmas day, I couldn't find one anywhere. Turns out even the well stocked truck stops don't carry them. Learn something new everyday I suppose.

We woke on the 26th to a bit of snow, made breakfast, and got ready to go hot springing! This is when we realized we were a bit farther from the start of the ~2.5 mile trail I'd read about. Oh well, more hiking is fine by me. I did make the (thankfully not critical error) of not packing snacks and headlamps. It turned out to not be an issue but we likely would have spent even longer at the springs had we had those items.

The trail part of the hike in proved a bit treacherous. There was a nice ice layer under the very light snow and we hadn't packed any traction aids so it was slower going then I'd hoped. The trail in was pretty mellow. I'd read it gained something around 600 ft of elevation. Not bad at all over 2ish miles. We passed a fair amount of traffic on trail.

Once we made the springs they were quite busy, and it's why I don't mind at all mentioning them by name. They are far from a secret. There are multiple pools of varying temps. We ended up choosing one with some fun looking people who were also drinking beer, it being Utah and all. We had chosen right and enjoyed some good company and good conversation during our time soaking. While crowded, it's def worth a visit. The hike, water, and surrounding area are all worth it. It was also the day after Christmas so that may have added to the traffic.

Having gotten a somewhat late start in the morning, the hike/soak taking longer then planned, we didn't make it to Moab until around 9pm. That put a damper on my plans to relocate an awesome BLM dispersed camping area I had been introduced to by a friend (he was kind enough to send the coordinates for this trip) so I decided to cheat and we checked into a hotel for the night.

Day 3 was something of a slow start as well. I cook pretty well when I camp and as such, Morgan and I both agreed that the hotel breakfast (while a full, hot spread) was pretty disappointing. From there it was coffee and a bit of shopping for a few items before heading off to check out Bull Canyon. I can fully endorse the Moab Rock Shop as a place worth checking out, if you're into that sort of thing. It's probably worth a visit even if you aren't.

I wanted to start with something easy as I had a got awful clunk coming from my exhaust. Turns out I'd cracked the weld into the muffler and broken a few mounting bracket bolts. Bull Canyon is supposed to be an out and back trail. It was definitely that for us except I'm not sure we made it as far as some do. With some route finding difficulty a few miles in I chose to turn around when we encountered a decent rock garden. I wasn't worried about the rocks but a decent walk up where trail was supposed to be and I couldn't find much evidence of recent travel and after the rocks there was absolutely no where to turn around for as far as I walked. The garden was rough enough that I was certainly not comfortable having to back through it, although I'm sure it can be done. So I decided to turn around where we could.

From there I decided to take a trail named Little Canyon which was listed on the map as difficult but wasn't actually in the book as a trail. It's supposed to connect part of Bull Canyon to Gold Bar Rim (about a mile from Gemini Bridges Trail) and was listed as an alternative exit to Bull Canyon. As I'd concluded the exhaust, while extremely annoying and clunky, wasn't going to fall off I decided it was time to make things more exciting. Another fail. After trying all possible/reasonable existing routes we had to turn around and back up several times but never found Little Canyon.

I later figured out why. I was using the 2nd edition guidebook which I'd purchased in 2014. Looking at my newer 3rd edition, Little Canyon is now listed as Little Canyon Bike Trail on the map. Which would explain why we failed. Oops. No worries though, Morgan took a little bit of wheel time in the drivers seat and started to get a feel for The Pig.

So it was back the way we came and off to find the previously mentioned BLM camp spot. After a bit of finding the proper route we succeeded and set up camp overlooking a pretty canyon and Morgan wasted no time getting the fire roaring in a nice, existing fire ring. The sun was already setting, temps dropping, and a bit of snow falling.

Here's where I failed again. I'd brought along my 2000W Honda generator and a small 750/1500W space heater to hang in the RTT. Problem was, even on the 750W setting the generator kept tripping itself. After some fiddling and some cursing I accepted defeat. I should have tested that combo before bringing it but had no reason to assume it wouldn't work, nor do I have any idea why. I need to look into that for future winter overnights.

That left us with no heat, again. So we accepted our fate (temps dropped to about 10-15 degrees this night) and Morgan set about making up the bed with everything we had. I tend to sleep hot and was okay with a couple layers and my side of the 30 degree double bag I have for the tent. She didn't fare as well, even with many added blankets, and eventually ended up in sleeping bag inception mode. She was inside a 30 degree bag, inside the double 30 degree bag, and piled with a down blanket, a space blanket, and a couple other blankets. Hopefully, perhaps, at least not shivering.

Thanks for reading. Days 4-6, pics, and video to follow.

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Day 4 was the first day of the trip we woke up to sunlight and how nice it was after the previous evening. It was also raining pretty early....inside the tent. Those of you who have tent camped in freezing temps know exactly what I'm talking about. The condensation builds up, freezes overnight, and starts to rain down on you when it thaws. Always the fun part! That amount of moisture and little ability to dry it is my least favorite part of winter camping.

But we had sunshine and fire so all was good! Epic breakfast was cooked, complete with what Morgan referred to as "man bacon". It came from a recent purchase of an entire pig and some of the slices more resembled ham steaks. Absolutely worlds better than even the best, thick-cut grocery store bacon. Coffee was watered down with Whisky and life was good! We took our time breaking camp and drying blankets and probably hit the road around 11am.

From there it was off to a trail I've wanted to run for a long time, Hell's Revenge. While most of the serious obstacles are optional/have a bypass I was dead set (I thought) on running Hell's Gate. The trail to Hell's Gate was quite a bit of fun. Epic views, steep slickrock, and plenty of optional ledges far larger than the easier routes. Those of you that have driven Moab slickrock understand, for those that haven't here is a little explanation:

The slickrock gives you far more traction than I've ever encountered on any other off-road surface. As such you have the ability to climb and descend grades that can truly be sphincter-puckering. My first real experience was years ago on Fins-N-Things and quite honestly if the black rubber lines hadn't shown to me that plenty of people had done it, I likely wouldn't have attempted it (I was solo). It's definitely something every off-road enthusiast should experience. It should also be noted that while I'm usually lazy and don't bother strapping down cargo, it's a good idea. The grades are steep enough that anything in the vehicle shifts, a lot.

Anyway we made it to Hell's Gate where, despite having watched many many videos, I still managed to initially look at the entrance and confuse it with the exit (route usually in videos). When you're there, looking at it, your stomach gets a little tighter. At least mine did. Perhaps I'd watched too many roll-over videos.

That said, I was pretty set on running it. Thankfully, there were a couple of mostly stock jeep guys there checking it out as well (we did all of this solo). This time of year in Moab is off-season. In fact, many shops and businesses were shut down for their winter break. Don't go to Moab in January or Febuary and expect much to be open. You can find essentials but many shops and restaurants shut down completely. As such, trail traffic was pretty light.

So there I was with a couple (no offense) amateur spotters at the time to nut up or shut up. While the Jeep guys had already decided there was no chance they were trying it having them there was of some comfort. If I got too tippy they could at least get a strap on me from above. Between that and the extra eyes I decided to go for it. I'm honestly unsure what I would have done if they weren't there. I suppose I'll never know.

I'll post the video in a later post but I made it after some repositioning midway up. Looking forward to doing it better next time.

From there we had two options, finish the loop or go back the way we came. I chose the latter due to fading daylight and the drive out was uneventful and still extremely fun and beautiful. I'll be back, for sure, to run the rest of the trail.

At this point I'd made the executive decision to again cheat and get a hotel for the remaining two nights. Hot baths and no getting raining on in the morning won out. Unfortunately, that left two options for meals. Cook in the hotel lot or eat out. We chose to eat out at Sabaku Sushi. I can't overstate how much I would recommend a visit if you're in Moab. It was an absolutely incredible experience. One that, having eaten sushi at a stupid amount of often very high end sushi joints, I easily rank in my top 3. Morgan, also having eaten a lot of sushi, agreed. Some reviews complain of small portions and lacking service. I thought the portions were great given the very reasonable price and the rolls were perfectly balanced in their flavors. As for the service, they were absolutely mobbed (small place) and I thought the staff crushed it. I have 5 years of high end restaurant service experience and they held up and provided good service when many crews would have crumbled. It was go good that we went back again for our last night in town and I'll never be in Moab again and not stop for a meal.

Day 5 and it was time for Poison Spider Mesa trail. I had plans to try and get my muffler welded again in the morning but with the winter season I couldn't find an open shop up the the task. Oh well, hose clamps to try and tighten everything up it was! Breakfast at the Moab Diner was quite good (get the skillet, IMO) and we were off clunking along to the trailhead.

Today I offered Morgan to drive as much as she wanted, her first time (I think) driving anything of this caliber and she jumped at the chance. With me spotting she did extremely well driving the first 3ish miles of the trail, though some pretty intimidating lines. By that point, though, she was a bit fried and The Pig had a very uncomfortable squeak coming from the driveline. I've heard this sound before and replacing the U-joints fixed. That was only a year ago, however, and it had me nervous. We still had to make it 600 miles back to Boise the following day. Combine that with the trail taking longer then we assumed, mid-afternoon setting sun, and certainty that we couldn't complete the whole thing in daylight and we decided to enjoy our sunny spot, make lunch, and head down.

Morgan chose to reclaim the passenger seat and down we went. Let a couple pretty cool rigs go by on the way down but neglected to get pics. Another awesome trail that I look forward to completing in it's entirety someday.

Day 6 was the thankfully uneventful drive back home and the sucky comedown that always follows me at the end of trips. Jokes were made about saying screw reality and turning the truck towards Colorado. Reality prevailed, sadly.

Random thoughts from the trip:

-The backroads/4wheel guide book is well worth the money. That said, make sure you get the current edition. It's more comprehensive with a lot more trails (and some trail ratings have changed over the years).

-The guidebook is great but I think the trail times are a bit off. I'd wanted to make this trip relaxing. In other words, never having to rush anywhere. We won at that but didn't, technically, complete any trail in it's entirety. Longer spring and summer days would have made for a different story but I'd advise keeping day light in mind. Or be prepared to run some challenging terrain in the dark. Nothing wrong with that but it's never my preference.
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