Utah adventures via highway, dirt roads, slickrock and mud

desertracer79

Observer
We took this trip in April/May 2016 and although there were more highways and developed campgrounds than I wanted to* we still had an amazing time and managed to get in some good off road trails. On the trip with me (John) were my wife Kym and dog Sierra and our buddies Emily and Tyler. We drove a Jeep Wrangler TJ and him an LJ. The plan was to spend fourteen days exploring the national parks of Utah with stops in NV and AZ along the way. We left from San Diego, CA and did a large loop spanning over 2000 miles.

*compromise with wife

We left from San Diego and stayed at my brothers house outside of Victorville, CA. First stop was at the bottle farm located on Route 66 just south of Barstow. This guy had collected desert junk for decades and has some really interesting things. If you find yourself nearby, I recommend stopping.

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The next leg took us up the 15. Just over the CA/NV state line is an abandoned open pit gold mine called the Coliseum Mine. It is accessible via 4x4 road just outside the solar plant. The trail to get there was fairly easy but the wind blew hard and it was freezing cold. I could imagine on a hot day that water would be awfully tempting to swim in, not sure of the quality though.

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Our stop for the night was the Red Rock Canyon SP just outside of Las Vegas. It was a great campground and the park has some excellent hikes. We were glad to have the shelter, it rained quite a bit. Turned out that would be the theme of the trip!

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After a few hikes, we packed up the jeep and headed north again on the 15. Our next stop was Zion NP for the next three days to enjoy all the amazing scenery it has to offer. Unfortunately it rained the entire drive and most of our Zion stay but we still had an awesome time. Here is our spot in the Watchman Campground.

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I had been stoked on the Angels landing hike ever since I had heard about it and we weren't going to let the rain stop us! For those that don't know, at the top the trail gets extremely steep and narrow requiring a steady foot and chains to hold on to.

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Well, that bravado faded very quickly when I got to the actual climbing part. The slickrock and chains were VERY slick and I wasn't going risk it. It's a great excuse to make it back someday.

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It turned out to be a fantastic hike and there were few other people on the hike because of the rain.

Part 2 next.
 

desertracer79

Observer
So I left off last post with us on the Angels landing hike. Finally it quit raining later that afternoon and we hiked up to the observation point. It basically takes you from the valley floor all the way to the top and it's a ***** of a hike but totally worth it.

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Our friends arrived and it was time for some relaxing!

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The next day we played around in the Virgin River with the doggies and then got back on the road, with Bryce Canyon NP and Kodachrome Basin SP our eventual destination.

Normally a highway drive is nothing to write home about but the Utah scenery just blew me away at every turn.

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Bryce Canyon was pretty awesome. We couldn't hike down inside with the doggies unfortunately but it was an amazing view just the same.

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Kodachrome Basin SP is an out of the way campground that affords solitude and an excellent view. Bryce Canyon visible in the middle background.

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Here's where the trip got interesting. I was looking at our map and noticed there was a connecting route between our campsite and Escalante, UT, our next stop. Why not throw in some overlanding instead of a boring 30 mile highway drive? It seemed to be about 50 miles and was clearly marked, I figured it would take about three hours. We checked at the local BLM station which unfortunately was closed but the opening leg and the closing leg were both passable, stands to reason the middle leg should be fine too, right?

We packed up the jeeps and headed out on dirt roads. We were having a great time enjoying all of the scenery, even saw a few deer along the way.

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After about thirty five miles in the trail started to get super muddy. Like "our tires are getting zero traction" muddy. It was still relatively flat though and we figured we've only got 15 miles to go, why not just keep pressing on? (Hint to future self: TURN AROUND you dumb bastard!!)

We kept going and before we knew it we were at a point of no return. We came around a turn and started a descent that was so slippery I was almost sure we were going to end up upside down in that ravine off the edge. I couldn't have stopped if I wanted to, I was having a hard enough time keeping us on the trail! I know the hill doesn't look that steep nor the drop off very tall, but trust me, they were!

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Both jeeps made it down the hill safely but we knew there was no going back up in the condition it was. We had to keep pressing on.
 

desertracer79

Observer
So we left off at the bottom of a muddy hill we knew we could not get back up, it was just too slippery. Right about that time is started to rain and hail very strongly and the road just kept getting worse! What did I get us into ?!?

We came to a point where the road had been washed out entirely but found a creek crossing that didn't look too bad. My buddy's jeep had the winch so he went first and promptly got stuck, the banks were complete mush. We winched him out from a pine tree and on my turn I immediately got stuck as well. By the time we had both jeeps out that mild creek had turned into a full blown creek, it was flowing swiftly! We were also absolutely soaked to the bone and freezing our butts off.

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Our next obstacle was a hill that looked like it might afford some decent traction. Well, that was wishful thinking. I went first this time and slipped and slid my way about halfway up till I lost momentum. I could feel the rear driver tire was on the edge of a ditch so I very gingerly tried to steer away from it. No luck, both driver side tires fell in! Our three hour tour just turned into something totally different.

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At this point the wives and dogs were a little freaked out, we were all cold and wet, but thankfully it stopped raining. We put our heads together and decided to camp for the night. We had enough food and water to last us almost a week but we were over forty miles away from civilization in one direction and fifteen in the other. We hiked our gear up that muddy, slippery hill and put together a pretty nice campsite.

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At the time none of us enjoyed it much though, we were a bit worried about getting the jeep unstuck and the steep muddy hills we came down. We hiked ahead a bit and there was a section that was completely impassable so that settled which direction we would take to get out, it was going to have to be the way we came in. I didn't get much sleep that night and neither did the wife. We both had thoughts of having to hike the forty miles out if we couldn't get the jeep righted.

Fortunately it did not rain another drop the entire time out there. We woke up early and got to digging. We filled in the ditch as best we could and very slowly got it back on level ground. Our first success!

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After very carefully backing down the hill, we filled in the creek we had crossed with logs and branches and neither jeep had to be winched out. It felt so good to have the sun shining on us, it was a great morale boost compared to the grey skies and darkness.

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Thankfully the mud had dried out quite a bit since the day before. We got back to the slippery hill we were all worried about but followed our same lines up very slowly and we both made it. Another success! This pics better shows the steep grade and drop off.

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After a couple hours of slow going we were back on dry ground! I felt very relieved that none us of had been hurt and the jeeps were ok.

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We rolled into Escalante about 24 hours late and checked into our B & B. We were filthy and the jeeps had a couple hundred pounds of mud cake each. The bed and shower felt excellent, we had been camping for 6 nights in a row without either.

In retrospect, our night in the Dixie National Forest turned out to be the high-lite of the trip for me. It was gorgeous wilderness with complete solitude. I learned valuable lessons and memories that I'll keep forever.

Is anybody enjoying this? Should I keep posting? After reading the "travel writing how-to" I'm self conscious about my style. Anybody have any suggestions to make it better?
 

dstn2bdoa

Adventurer
Good write up. I'm also interested in the route you took, I see a jeep trail heading west out of Kodachrome, is that what you took?
 

mjmcdowell

Explorer
Utah...... you were able to get yourselves back

Well... your trip turned into an adventure, that you were able to pull it together and get back.......now you have a great story to tell and some great photos also.... believe me you will have some great laughs! Good on you guy's! mjmcdowell, participant, DE I thru VI
 

desertracer79

Observer
Thanks for the replies everyone. Here's a google earth overlay of the GPX file. We started at Kodachrome Basin SP and headed SE on Cottonwood Canyon Road to Horse Mountain Road to Death Ridge Road and were hoping to come out on Smoky Mountain Road into Escalante.

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After the three hour tour (our affectionate name for it) was complete we relaxed in Escalante the rest of the day and scraped mud off the jeeps. Our host at the B & B (Rainbow Country B & B in Escalante, super nice folks!) was very familiar with the area we were in and wasn't surprised with our woes in the mud. Apparently there is a section on Death Ridge Road called the hogsback that is extremely narrow. It sounded scary even with perfectly dry conditions. If I ever get the chance I might try that trail again but come in from the other direction, albeit during the driest months of the year.

After our night in Escalante we did a hike called Lower Calf Creek Falls, which is a must do if you're in the area. Flat with awesome scenery and a freezing cold refreshing waterfall at the end, good times.

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To keep with our theme of dirt as much as possible, we chose to take the Burr Trail to Notom Road. This would take us on a North-Easterly route up to the 70 Freeway were we'd drop down into Moab. The Burr/Notom section was probably my favorite scenery from the entire trip. It was a very relaxing drive and somewhere I'll definitely explore more of in the future. There looked to be some pretty amazing camping.

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The Burr Trail switchbacks are an engineering marvel, they are cut right into the side of a mountain.

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We picked up highway at the entrance to Capitol Reef NP and headed for Moab. If you ever find yourself in Green Valley, Utah late at night and starving with no restaurants open, look for a taco truck parked at an old gas station on the main drag. It looked shady as heck but the food was absolutely delicious!

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We made it to the Sand Flats recreation area in Moab and set up in the dark. We were lucky and got a prime spot with a nice view of the valley.

More to come soon.
 
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