Around Moab – Easter Weekend 2014

After an enjoyable First Weekend at the Easter Jeep Safari I was eager to get back down to the area as soon as possible. Fortunately my good friend Kurt, of Cruiser Outfitters fame, and I were already planning to head down to Moab and the surrounding area during Easter weekend, or more commonly referred to as “Big Weekend” in the 4-wheeling world.

Big Weekend is called such because the Easter Jeep Safari runs for nine days from the Saturday the weekend before Easter until Easter Sunday. And as the week progresses, the events in Moab and the crowds get bigger until finally peaking the Saturday before Easter when the Red Rock 4-Wheelers run 35 plus trails and have a parade through town in the morning. Much like it had been six years since I had been to Moab for the Jeep Safari, it had been almost 10 since I’d been down during Big Weekend.

Thursday

I took off from work on Thursday and headed down south with the plan of meeting Kurt that night at Crystal Geyser just south of Green River to camp. I made it to the geyser not long after dusk and managed to find a nice side canyon to tuck into. After setting up my Skydome (the greatest one man tent ever made), wandering around the geyser which unfortunately never went off, I got the fire roaring and enjoyed a beer and book while I waited for Kurt to show up.

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Kurt finally came roaring into camp around midnight with his many LED lights blazing through the night like a noonday sun. We stayed up for a while longer chewing the fat around the fire and mapping out the plans for the next few days. Finally, with the embers dying out on the fire we clambered into our respective sleeping bags and dozed until morning.

Friday

We awoke Friday morning with the sun. Well, Kurt did because he slept on his roof rack. The Skydome does a great job of blocking out the light and I awoke refreshed sometime around 7. We puttered around camp for a bit and decided rather than cooking breaky ourselves, we’d head into town to the Moab Diner. So we packed up and blasted out along the service road back to I-70.

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We arrived in Moab about an hour later to find the town a buzz with people getting their days adventures started. We pulled up to a packed Moab Diner, which is the go to greasy spoon in Moab since the closing of Smitty’s Golden Steak. We were lucky, though, and with only two of us we were able score a seat quickly. The place was bustling with people, mostly 4-wheelers, grabbing a full meal before the day. There were a few groups there that had a deer in the headlight look. Clearly, they were not here for Safari or the related events. And while they probably guessed that it would be busy in Moab for the holiday, I’m guessing that they were not prepared for what the town is during Big Weekend.

Kurt and I scarfed down our breaky while people watching and then made our way to Potato Salad Hill to volunteer for the RME cleanup activity there. But when we arrived, it was already clean! Now I had not been to PSH for well over a decade, and the last time I was there during Safari, it was trashed. Since it is the gathering spot for the shall we say less cultured visitor to Moab, it used to get littered with Natty Light cans and cigarette butts of people watching vehicles slam against the rocks. In the years since the last time I was there, RME stepped in and raised money for dumpsters and brought in volunteers to clean it up each morning. Which is exactly what is needed. Since PSH is so close to Moab, and had such a bad rep, it was a focal point for groups looking to close off public land for recreational access. Showing that a few bad apples do not represent the group as a whole does a great service.

Greg, one of the owners of RME, was there to meet volunteers so Kurt and I stood around chatting and reminiscing about PSH over the years. Times we’d tried it, how much it’s changed. Finally we decided since it was clean, we may as well head into town for the Vendor show.

The Jeep Safari Vendor Show was one of the main reasons that I was excited to come down to Big Weekend. Always tons of interesting things to see and people to run into. As Kurt and I arrived at Spanish Trail to find parking a premium. Kurt got a great spot, while I had to find my way through deep, soft sand in a corner by the horse track. Probably wouldn’t have been a problem had both my hubs been locked…

Anyway, we made our way into the show and quickly ran into Greg and Shane, RME’s other proprietor. The small arena was overflowing with vendors, and we started our tour at the Teraflex booth. Always friendly guys, we chatted with Dennis for awhile while admiring their beautifully built JK’s.

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From there we meandered, stopping a various booths, always running into more people. Some of the highlights for me were the Nemesis Industries booth with their awesome old mail Jeep.

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This sweet Land Rover Series I at the Advanced Adapters booth:

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And chatting with Ben from Outback Proven. Just a super nice guy.

After touring the show for a few hours Kurt and I decided to head into town for some beer cheese soup at the ol’ Moab Brewery and then a stroll along historic Main Street. First of, and I hate saying this; Moab Brewery has really gone down hill. No more bread bowls. What the fuck? At least the beer is still good.

We walked up and down Main Street and poked into the Back of Beyond books for a minute. While Kurt sat on a bench like an old lady, I decided to wander over to the Jeep display. The display was set up in the vacant lot across from the Jailhouse Café. But I was distracted by the sight of a clean looking tin top Samurai and ended up coming at it from the back parking lot, and boy was I glad I did!

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The Mighty FC concept from last year was parked back there. The coolest concept from last year, for sure. Something that Jeep will never make, which is a shame, because it pays to be unique. And with the level that they seem to be trying to dilute the brand these days, they need something to spice things up!

Once I actually got into the display, I gravitated to the Cherokee Dakar concept. Now the new Cherokee is lame. I’m not going to debate that. But I thought the Dakar concept was basically what the Cherokee should have been out of the box. A moderately capable soft roader. So I poked around it a bit, and liked what I saw.

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And then I came home and read that the Cherokee can not be modified in any way closely resembling the Dakar. That’s a fail, Jeep. A big fail. Just rebadge them the Cherocar, which would be more appropriate.

Next to the Dakar Concept was a new Jeep Renegade Trailhawk. Personally, I really like the looks of the Renegade. And I am fully aware that it’s a FIAT car, not a Jeep. But if I were in the market for a small, AWD wagon for around town and an occasional trip out on a gravel road, I would have the Renegade on my list.

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I left the Jeep display and wandered back to where Kurt was. Our next order of business was to head out to Area BFE and meet up with some people out there for the night. When we got there we wandered around the main campground for a bit looking for Olly and Robbie’s camp. Back when I was in high school I had a friend named Sterling who had a 1987 Toyota 4-Runner that was lifted, locked, ect. We called it the “Magic School Bus” because he painted it school bus yellow one day in auto shop. So I found it quite humorous to see this down there.

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Camping at BFE was… interesting. While I enjoyed hanging out with many of the people there, some of which I hadn’t seen for ten years or more, even when I’m camping I like to get a solid night’s sleep in. And these guys had the party going into the wee hours. Needless to say, my sleep was adversely affected by loud music and Tacoma coming by shaking my tent every few hours.

Saturday

I drug myself out of bed around 6:30 the next morning and packed up so that Kurt and I could get to Potato Salad Hill to help with the clean up again. We got there to find that it was again, remarkably clean. But there was a little bit of trash around, so we spent an hour or so scouring the area picking up bottle caps and cigarette butts.

As we were cleaning up, people started showing up to watch the hill. It was 8:30 in the morning, and people were pulling up the base and setting up shade tents and lawn chairs. This amazed me. There is so much to see and do around Moab, and yet people are coming to PSH first thing in the morning and settling in for the long haul. I don’t get it. That said it was interesting to see a couple UTV’s make the climb.

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Not sure how I feel about the UTV explosion of late. It’s not for me, but I guess if it get’s people out and enjoying the land, it’s a positive.

Anyway, we collected a couple small bags of trash and then took off back to town to meet Ben from Outback Proven for breakfast at the Jail House Café. Always a great place for breaky, if you’ve never been I highly recommend it the next time you are in Moab.

After breaky, Kurt and I sailed south on US-191 to go check out the Mi Vida mine in Steen Canyon. For those of you uninitiated with the Moab area, Charlie Steen and the Mi Vida mine are perhaps the most important person and place in the area’s history. Very briefly, Charlie was a uranium prospector working in the area in the late 40’s and early 50’s. While everyone else was looking for uranium in the relatively shallow Morrison formation, Charlie was looking much deeper in the ground. People thought he was nuts, but Charlie was a geologist by training and was convinced. And it paid off. On July 6th, 1952 he found a massively rich ore deposit on one of his claims. He called it “Mi Vida”, or My Life. Charlie’s life from there is a fascinating story of ups and downs and I highly recommend finding out more about him.

What the Mi Vida did for the region was create a mining boom bigger than anything ever seen in American history. People came from all over to try their have ad finding their own Mi Vida. This turned Moab from a sleeping farming community into a boomtown; and left us with a massive network of roads. The majority of the trails that we enjoy in the Moab area are strung together from old uranium prospecting roads.

Kurt and I followed the route that thousands of trucks once did back in the 50’s and 60’s up Steen Canyon to the Mi Vida.

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Time was when you could drive straight up to the shaft entrance, but the spur is now blocked by large rocks meaning for a short hike down. No bother, it was a beautiful and quite day.

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This entrance to the Mi Vida is called the Comstock Shaft. And amazingly, it still has a fair amount of equipment outside of it. The BLM, in an attempt to make the world safer, has “reclaimed” every other mine in this area by removing all equipment, buildings and closing of the mine shafts. In reality, they are destroying history. But that’s a conversation for another day.

What is left here at the Mi Vida is the ore dump.

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Some of the railroad that took ore out of the mine.

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And some of the ore cars and the electric engine that pulled them.

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The engine and ore cars are on ceremoniously placed there on display. They are not linked together, and it appears that the track ends not far into the shaft. I suspect that the BLM, or perhaps the current owner of the claim, left them here this way because of the historical significance. It’s a nice gesture and I wish that the BLM had allowed us to enjoy the history of this region rather than plowing it under. It truly is a shame.

Kurt enjoys exploring the inside of mines, so he decided to clamber through a little man sized hole that had been dug into the back fill and get further into the Mi Vida.

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I, on the other hand, don’t go into mines. So I stayed outside and relaxed in the peace and quite of the day.

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Kurt wandered the interior of the Mi Vida for about an hour. When he finally poked his head out of the mine like a mole and scrambled back down the back fill, we hiked up to our vehicles in one of southern Utah’s typical short spring downpours. We conferred out maps and started to climb out of Steen canyon towards Lisbon Valley. After a few detours to check out spur roads, we were finally greeted with a breathtaking view of Lisbon Valley looking north towards the La Sal’s.

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We worked our way along the western rim of the valley, slowly descending towards Highway 113 that cuts the valley perfectly in half. All along both sides of the valley you could see the signs of the areas history. Old roads everywhere, the massive cut of an open pit copper mine to the east, tailing piles, faded signs. Truly an area that has a story to tell.

We reached the valley floor and connected with Highway 113 to head north into the town of La Sal. A quite ranching community that served as the jumping off point for the uranium industry, it’s reverted back mostly to its roots. Sitting majestically at the base of the La Sal’s, it looks and feels like it’s still in the late 60’s, early 70’s. The two commercial building along the main drag are simple, red brick structures with dusty parking lots.

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Pulling up to the La Sal Store, I half expected to see Steve McQueen walk out or Kowalski to blast by in his Challenger. We wandered the store for a minute and chatted with the clerk about two mines at either end of the town. The looked operational and we suspected them to be gold or silver mines. Turns out that they are uranium and that the come online and shut down every few years with the prices.

As we left the store a gentleman rancher who was curious about the snorkel on Kurts’ Cruiser stopped us. A very interesting man who’s managed ranches from California to Montana. He was eager to chat with us about the ranching history in the area and had a few choice words about the situation in Nevada, basically pay your range frees or you’re a free loader that deserves little sympathy.

As much as Kurt and I wanted to stay and chat, we needed to get moving to make camp at a decent time that night. So we bid him farewell and hit the road again. Before leaving La Sal, though, we quickly stopped at the semi-operational mine on the west side of town.

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From the looks of it, it was ready to start running again at the flick of a switch.

We kept moving until we got to the ghost town of La Sal Junction on US 191. This was little more than a couple of gas stations, a motel and a service garage. I even remember one of the gas stations being open into the mid-90’s. But now, they just make interesting photo subjects.

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We hopped back onto 191 northbound and made one last stop for gas in Moab. Being the afternoon of Big Saturday, many people were getting off the trails and starting to head out of town, just as we were. It’s always somewhat melancholy in Moab on Saturday afternoon, and I had the same feeling that I did when I was a kid. Sad that I was leaving, but glad that I had made it down; looking forward to another year. I will definitely come back to EJS next year, perhaps even Big Weekend again.

Even though we were leaving Moab, we were not done with our journeys for the weekend. After topping up our tanks we got back on the road and found our way to I-70 and then just east of 191 a bit to the sleepy town of Thompson Springs. Now Thompson Springs was a vibrant little community that has slowly withered as transportation has advanced over the last century. Originally a railway stop for cattle and the coal mines in Sego Canyon, it also become and important waypoint on Route 6 before the Interstate system passed it by in the 60’s. From there it was just a matter of time until it began to die. Eventually, the railroad depot was closed in ’97 and now the town is barely a shadow of its former self.

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Fortunately its long history has left us with some interesting buildings.

The Silver Grill, an old Café, claims to be under restoration and opening again soon.

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And one is tempted to believe it. The place looks ready to go with table setting and comfy looking booths. The only give away is that the ceiling has given way in the center of the building.

Just down the street is the old Thompson Motel. Surly once a welcome sight for travelers along Route 6.

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Now, after years of neglect and use by transients, little more than a place that will give your children nightmares…

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The railway was very important to the town, and what used to be the center is built up around the old depot.

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You can get into the place, and it appears that Union Pacific may still use it to store some equipment. And it was clearly used as a base for repair operation up until 2001 according to some papers that we found inside.

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Across from the depot was the Desert Moon Hotel.

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It looked lie it was only recently closed and was in fact for sale. An enterprising individual could easily take it over and turn it into a quaint Bed and Breakfast.

Out behind the hotel was a cool little junkyard of old Chevy trucks.

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I always am intrigued when I see vehicles abandoned like this. Obviously, they had outlived their usefulness. But I always wonder, why didn’t they try to sell them? Or did they think that they might be able to fix them up one day?

As we explored the remained of the old buildings, we were once again greeted with some of Southern Utah’s spring rain. So we headed back to our vehicles and began to make our way up to Sego Canyon and camp for the evening. As we found our way out of Thompson Springs, we stopped at the old school house, built in 1911.

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While the school didn’t look like much, the view the student’s had was certainly breathtaking.

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As we continued up towards Sego Canyon, the clouds and rain followed us. The town of Sego, which I unfortunately didn’t get any pictures of due to the rain, has little left. There are a few foundations and the shell of the old general store still standing. There used to be a two-story boarding house next to the store, but several years ago it finally collapsed. The choice camping spot in the courtyard right outside the old boarding house was unfortunately already taken, so we had to hunt around for another one. Eventually we found one under a big tree down the canyon a ways. The rain continued to pour for awhile as we lounged underneath Kurt’s very useful ARB awning.

Eventually the rain broke, giving us a chance to get a fire burning and some steaks and brats cooking. Dinner was quick, and after our limited sleep from the night before, we both decided to turn in early.

Sunday

We woke with the sun shining down Sego Canyon to gorgeous blue skies. Truly, if there were a financial way to make it work, I could live in Sego Canyon. We fashioned some delicious breakfast burritos and packed up camp to quickly get into Green River as Expedition Utah was hosting a tour of the Utah Launch Complex at 9am.

On our way down the canyon, we stopped at the mouth where there is the cemetery.

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Always solemn places, cemeteries at ghost towns, it appears that this one is still getting some attention from either relatives or other good Samaritans.

And then it was back to I-70 and Green River, where we would tour some fascinating sites of Cold War history. But that, is a whole other trip report!

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One thought on “Around Moab – Easter Weekend 2014

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