Islands in the Desert

It all started in December. Guiding the few people who decided that after shivering all night during Freeze Your Tail Off 8, braving more cold to drive around the Silver Island Mountains was a good idea. As we skated about on the ice, snow, and mud I thought, “Why don’t I ever come out here when it’s warm?”

Mid-May, when it is supposed to be warm (though this year has disagreed with that standard) and the Silver Island Mountains Exploration trip got underway. We met at the Speedway Gas Station to top off tanks and grab our last provisions before venturing off into what was, for all intensive purposes, the unknown for many of us. The Silver Island’s, while close to home, are generally not regarded as a destination. To the casual observer, they are surrounded in salt, have no trees, and generally look like a miserable place to visit. After years of touring the loop road post FYTO, I finally did some digging and found that it is crisscrossed with dozens of old roads, mine sites, caves, and all sorts of other points of interest.

Our first destination on Friday was to find a suitable camp. We wound our way along a barely discernable two-track road up to a saddle between two ridges and were greeted with a fantastic camp spot.

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4274/34463061150_99853b09ef_c.jpg

Not only was it a great place to pitch a tent and have a campfire, it also had magnificent views to the south of the Salt Flats and Wendover Airfield.

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4267/34039365773_772e9e3fae_c.jpg

And to the north of the stunning Rishel Peak.

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4222/34039365293_2f901f1fa9_c.jpg

One thing that I noticed right away that was different about other trips around the Silver Island Mountains (aside from the lack of snow), and all the pictures that you find of them, is just how green everything was. It was almost surreal to stand there looking north at Rishel Peak and this lush, green valley spread out in front of it. It almost seemed like it would be fertile land if you didn’t know it’s true nature. But with all the water we’ve had this year, it’s made the desert bloom in spectacular fashion!

As the light faded we were greeted with beautiful cloud formations floating over us.

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4252/34039364683_19a152ae27_c.jpg

After an enjoyable night around the campfire, I drug myself out of my warm comfortable sleeping bag at 5:15 in the morning (much to Kit’s chagrin I’m sure) to catch the sunrise, which was beautiful!

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4199/34849364925_d78ac0a168_c.jpg

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4222/34849363855_3edab0848b_c.jpg

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4197/34849367825_1531b950b3_c.jpg

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4267/34810004496_be46bba2ee_c.jpg

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4252/34039363783_8c1d0d4c18_c.jpg

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4251/34849361645_6abec7b0ca_c.jpg

Once the day began for the late risers, we packed up camp and headed out. A short drive and hike later we were at a small cave looking out over the expansive Salt Flats.

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4246/34006591144_f4892a70b8_c.jpg

The centuries old soot marking the roof of the cave bare evidence to the ancient inhabitants.

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4227/34463030440_6cda6aa69b_c.jpg

One can’t help that they chose the cave for the view. Even back then, real estate was all about location, location, location!

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4197/34006518764_662edc42d7_c.jpg

Another short drive later and we were at another cave. This one a bit larger and with a small amount of water dripping in the back.

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4198/34039271253_10f1a7b277_c.jpg

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4270/34849250955_9396eb701d_c.jpg

From the second cave we made our way up a faded spur road in the next canyon over which eventually found us at the base of a network of small mines.

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4222/34685975972_e9d9313ed9_c.jpg

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4224/34849241185_4a78c19437_c.jpg

One of the more interesting aspects of these mines was a road that was built up to them. It looked like it was done by hand. Not my idea of a good time in the summer heat, but impressive.

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4270/34462918440_d53870fe44_c.jpg

After exploring these mines for a bit we meandered our way to another set of mines at the base of Tetzlaff Peak and enjoyed a relaxing lunch in the cool breeze.

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4198/34685967612_10ec64dc54_c.jpg

After lunch we started making our way towards the Floating Island Mountain to the south-east. Along the way we came upon a building foundation just off the main loop road. Not sure what it was for. Perhaps an observation point for the Army Air Force out of Wendover during the war? A store house of some sort? Not sure, but in 1970 the USGS thought it was a good spot to place a survey marker.

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4250/34685965172_d73f431da1_c.jpg

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4246/34685963632_e2bf2f558f_c.jpg

We found our way to the causeway that leads to the Floating Island Mountain and cruised along as it got larger and larger on the horizon. It’s an odd looking mountain with a large rock jutting out of it like a diving platform.

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4275/34462882930_2a64edccaa_c.jpg

We continued on along the east side of the mountain, skirting the edge of the salt flats until the ring road just seemed to vanish! To the south the road continued along an arrow straight causeway that ultimately ended at I-80, but the route to the west that showed on our maps was gone from what appeared to be the quarrying efforts to construct the causeway!

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4251/34849220615_078bb5c913_c.jpg

But with the map saying it was there and that it ultimately led us back to where we began, we embarked upon some cross country travel. Picking our way through the brush and loose rocks. Unfortunately for Brian in his Colorado, this meant a puncture to the sidewall of one of his tires. But with a quick patch and some air, he was back on his way shortly.

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4219/34039218693_24965805ae_c.jpg

Eventually we made our way to the west side of the mountain and were confronted with the vast expanse of mud flats near the end of the Bonneville Speedway. Hard and flat, we did our best to imitate the racers and sped our way back to the causeway that led us in.

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4228/34039216783_77bf5b7174_c.jpg

We reconnected with the Silver Island Mountain loop road and hurriedly made our way to our next point of interested, the Crater Island Mountains. Here we were greeted by an oncoming storm front which gave us beautiful vistas, strong wind and some welcome rain to keep the dust down.

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4222/34716991221_6593fecd95_c.jpg

As we worked our way east we were met with our first bit of mine ruins. What looked like some sort of loading dock. And below that, the overturned cab of a truck.

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4220/34039214323_2e5e37c286_c.jpg

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4276/34685924912_a46359c1b3_c.jpg

Onward we went in search to more mine ruins and we soon greeted with a small canyon full of relics. A test kiln with fired bricks labeled “golden”, what looked to be the foundation of a generator plant, and a shaft that led to a rather deep hole!

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4220/34462842750_874442cb9a_c.jpg

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4227/34849176895_79d78c2b1f_c.jpg

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4202/34006364154_5df6e94838_c.jpg

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4272/34685866962_507663b1d4_c.jpg

It was fast approaching o’beer-thirty at this point and we’d yet to come across an acceptable campsite. So the search was on as we made our way farther east along the Crater Island Mountain road. After inspecting a few potential spots, we finally found one high up on the crest of a hill that offered some spectacular views. As we were going through the motions of setting up camp, we were treated with some light rain and wind and beautiful clouds marching across the sky.

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4228/34685863982_01b434f85d_c.jpg

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4198/34685862452_0007502645_c.jpg

After a bit the storm moved on and we were able to get a nice fire going and started making dinner. But then the wind kicked up again. And boy, was it blustery! I’d set my trust Coleman stove up behind the Trooper and was boiling some brats and sauerkraut for dinner when a huge gust whipped over the hill. And that was the end of the planned dinner! The brats were salvageable (eating a bit of dirt never hurt anyone), but the sauerkraut was gone, and sadly my 1980 425E is going to have to go through a bit of a rebuild after it came crashing down.

The wind passed again for a few hours and we enjoyed sitting at a nice campfire, but eventually it came back with vengeance; forcing many of us to retreat to our tents. Kit and I had made the calculated decision to leave the rainfly off of ours, surmising that any rain that we might have would quickly move on. By about 11:30 that night, we’d found that was a pretty poor decision and I was sent out into the storm to batten down the hatches. With the wind ripping by at 40mph and the rain lashing at my face I struggle mightily to get the fly into place. But doing my best Horatio Hornblower impression, I got everything into place and dove back into the tent. And, as always seems to be the case, just as I got back into the sleeping bag; everything died down.

I awoke the next morning less than rested and in some ways just looking to get the day done with because I was so damn tired from the night. Breakfast was a solemn affair until I got a cup of coffee brewed. As I finally started to wake up with the aid of our friend caffeine, I looked to the north and wanted to see how far we could get on the road that stretched out from our camp. A few other decided to make the trek with me, while others opted to stay at camp. Our first stop was the beginnings of what looked to be designs for a mighty mining operation. The entrance tunnel was impressive, but quickly bottomed out.

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4267/34006349934_264da1d54e_c.jpg

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4198/34849146295_70d5b4941c_c.jpg

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4196/34849144835_405e460079_c.jpg

From the mine it was a short jaunt down to the mud flats where the road more or less end. Theoretically you could hop on the flats and make your way along the north edge of Crater Island and connect back to the Silver Island Mountains loop road. But with the rain we’d had the night before, I felt that risking getting stuck wasn’t worth the adventure. So after enjoying the sights for a minute, we headed back up to camp to join the others.

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4220/34849144635_d499ae7c88_c.jpg

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4225/34462800290_2af4a6043b_c.jpg

Once everyone was saddled up and ready to go, we started heading back towards the Silver Island Mountain loop road. We took a quick detour to inspect another abandoned mine site. It was nothing more than a small hole in the ground, but judging from the amount of tailings, it went down a ways!

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4200/34809700836_14060def71_c.jpg

We stopped again near the first abandoned mine site on Crater Island and headed up to see is we could find the actual shaft. At the mouth of the small canyon there was clear evidence of heavy use, so we surmised that there much be something up there of note.

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4199/34462798630_d57707bc10_c.jpg

As we clambered around, there wasn’t any evidence that we could find of a mine shaft. Just interesting geology and beautiful vistas.

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4251/34462798150_7ac8955793_c.jpg

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4197/34039125903_04568a5996_c.jpg

But on our way back down we stumbled upon the reason for all the equipment further down. A spring that looked to have been dug out for better access. With fresh water so rare out here, clearly a valuable find!

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4195/34462794180_3e61450480_c.jpg

From here our party split. A hand full decided to head back to Floating Island and take the causeway from the south end of that to I-80, and a few more decided to complete the Silver Island Mountain loop road to the north. The rest of us headed into Silver Canyon, and I have to say; the other missed out!

Not long after entering the canyon it was clear that is was the most beautiful area of our trip. There is clearly more water in the canyon that the rest of the area as the juniper grew large and it just had a much more lush and cool feeling.

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4267/34716895041_34deb2b80b_c.jpg

We wound our way up the two track stopping a few times at the scars of several aborted mining attempts.

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4247/34462790810_33dea2a4df_c.jpg

As we got higher up the canyon we were greeted by the imposing tower of Graham Peak.

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4221/34716892501_57022f7d51_c.jpg

Eventually we took a spur that promised to deliver us to another former mine site. The road got narrower and narrower and more technical, which made the journey worth it in itself!

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4226/34462789360_145b681c17_c.jpg

But it didn’t disappoint in the mine either. There we several horizontal shafts and one deep vertical shaft with a precarious looking ladder heading down into it.

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4268/34716890551_8a95dd22d9_c.jpg

We contemplated heading down into it, but without rappelling gear, we opted to stay topside.

https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4198/34716888411_c2e9c124ba_c.jpg

From here we headed back out to the loop road and split up again. With a few wanting to go and complete the loop to the north and the rest of us heading back along the south side. All told it was a very interesting trip into one of the less traveled areas of the state. Certainly whetted the appetite for further exploring!

A Maze, Poisoned Spring, and a Black Dragon

National Parks are generally marked by boring roads, bland views, closed roads, prepared campsites not allowing fires, signs telling you what not to do, and east coast tourists on an “adventure”. So in other words, places to be avoided at all costs. So when my good friend Joseph said that he was returning to Utah briefly from his exile in Florida to go to the Maze district of Canyonlands, I initially was non-committal leaning towards a firm no.

My Dad on the other hand, wanted to go. You see, the Maze district is probably the most remote area in the National Park system, you need a permit to stay there, and it is actually supposed to be a challenging drive to get to the bottom called The Dollhouse. My Dad had always wanted to drive this road, and with Joseph having the permit, here was his chance. But he wanted me to go, because, you know, who wouldn’t want me along?

While it’s remoteness appealed to me because that meant no east coast tourists (aside from Joseph), all the other detracting factors still existed. But, it’s my Dad, so I begrudgingly agreed to go along.

The plans for the main group was to head down on Wednesday night and camp outside of the park, then head in Thursday morning, camp along the supposedly challenging Flint Trail and then finally reach The Dollhouse Friday. My dad was going to join them Thursday morning, and because I’d used the last of my vacation time at work the weekend before in the Pavant Range, I was going to blast down Friday night and meet them at The Dollhouse.

The main groups plan went off without a hitch, and they moseyed on down to The Dollhouse at a leisurely pace. My Dad decided the week before that he’d rather accompany me down on Friday night. I had a very reliable person tell me, “Oh yeah, you can make it from Salt Lake to The Dollhouse in six hours. No problem!” So I figured I’d be able to leave work at 2:30pm and I’d be at The Dollhouse by 8:30-9:00pm no problem.

My Dad and I took off promptly at 2:30 Friday afternoon and cruised the familiar highways to Green River where we topped off out tanks and grabbed some Subway sandwiches for dinner. We left Green River about 5:00pm and found our way to the turn off for the Hans Flat road along UT 24. This is the 40 some odd mile road that takes us to the Hans Flat Ranger Station at the edge of the Maze District of Canyonlands. All reports said it was a well-maintained, high speed dirt road. Everyone was wrong.

Aside from Maybe the TL Bar Ranch Road north of Wendover, this was the most washboardy road I’ve ever encountered. Just miserable. In addition, frequent washouts and ruts from the recent storms slowed our pace considerably. But we still made decent time and arrived at the Ranger Station just after dusk around 7:15. As we aired down our tires, I concluded that reaching The Dollhouse by 8:30 or 9:00 was a bit optimistic at this point, but we’d probably still make it by 10:00.

We took off from the Ranger Station and found the notoriously challenging Flint Trail in much better condition than Hans Flat road. There was an occasional dip to worry about, but aside from that, easy 2-wheel drive cruising at 40 miles per hour. At this rate, we’d cover the 40 miles in no time!

We then hit the first “challenging” section. A series of tight, rocky, steep switchbacks. With only our headlights to guide us, we dropped into 4-low and slowly descended. Nothing seriously hard, but not knowing what was ahead of you, or off the edge of the trail, made it a bit interesting.

After a few miles of maybe moving at 10-15 MPH tops, the road straightened and flattened out enough again to take it out of 4WD and start cruising again. If that was the roughest we were to expect, we’d still make it to The Dollhouse in short order.

The next eight miles or so were uneventful. Marked by a few small rocky parts, but otherwise much like the road before the switchbacks, fast and smooth. We were rapidly approaching what the Park Service called the hardest section, a twelve-mile stretch of road between Teapot Rock and Standing Rock. We figured that if the road were like the switchbacks before, it wouldn’t be any bother.

And then we hit the first ledge. From Teapot rock to The Dollhouse took us nearly four hours. That’s how bad it was. Not that anything was terribly difficult, simply that it was rocky, technical driving made all the worse by being pitch black everywhere except in our headlights.

For twelve miles we lumbered, mostly in 4-low. At one point, I heard a tingling noise from my left rear. I hopped out, and there hanging down was my sway bar. A bolt didn’t break, the link didn’t snap. No, the sway bar itself had sheared off inside it’s bushing on the frame mount. This was ¾ inch steel that had just sheared. We quickly pulled the offending part of the sway bar off and continued, slowly, on our way.

At one point we saw headlights high up in the distance. We knew that was the rest of our group! But alas, due to the winding nature of the trail, it was still hours before we reached The Dollhouse.

When we did, it was 12:05am. Nine and a half hours after we left Salt Lake, in case you’re counting. It was, in 21 years of being involved with 4-wheeling, undoubtedly the most arduous trip I’ve had yet. But we had made it! The Dollhouse was ahead of us, and it was time to meet up with our friends… who were all asleep. We roared into campsites one and two to find all the lights out and all the available tent spots taken. So we turned around and made for the third campsite, which was a ways away and up a little rocky climb. Clearly a place where only Isuzu’s dare as there were no Jeeps or Toyota’s around.

Finally out of our vehicles, my Dad and I quickly pitched our tents and set up camp. We sat around our Coleman lantern (no fires allowed in National Parks) for a few minutes eating the remaining halves of our Subway sandwiches and sipping some cola to unwind for our long journey. Finally, though, sleep overpowered us and we turned in.

Saturday morning dawned at some point. Again, the thick canvas of my Skydome allowed me an extra hour or so.

Fortunately for me, my Dad is an early riser and his clomping around taking pictures awoke me. Or is that fortunate? I don’t know. Regardless, I finally struggled out of my sleeping bag and unzipped the Skydome to be greeted by this spectacular sight:

It’s these moments that remind me why I do this. Why I drive nine and a half hours, break stuff on my rig at 10pm and keep going. Why I love this state, and why I’m so happy that 24 years ago my Dad brought home a Suzuki Samurai and started me down this journey.

Despite the view, I was still groggy and stumbled about desperate to get the kettle on the boil so I could have some much-needed coffee. As I stood there watching the kettle, I could hear the sound of a motor coming closer and closer. Eventually, a KJ Liberty appeared from around the bend and struggled up the ledges to getting to our campsite. Once it arrived, Joseph hopped out of the passenger seat and proclaimed, “It’s a little sketch getting up here!”

“Only for Jeeps!” was my reply.

Joseph, the organizer of this grand adventure as well as the only east coast tourist of the bunch, and the KJ driver, Gary, chatted with us for a bit while my Dad and I ate breakfast. Joseph was surprised that we made it all the way in Friday night. He figured that we’d either head down on Saturday or camp somewhere along the way. Apparently another member of the party, Derek, corrected Joseph by saying something like, “No way, Stephen’s the fastest guy I’ve ever seen on a dirt road. He’s hardcore.” He was right, obviously.

Apparently the plan for the day was to hang out in camp, maybe do a little hiking, but that was about it. Joseph and Gary mounted the KJ again and scampered back to their camp. As my Dad and I finished up breaky, we discussed the day. Initially we had planned to drive more of the roads in the Maze district, but after last night’s harrowing experience, we figured that it might be more prudent to not to do that. Sitting in camp didn’t really sound all that exciting. And hiking is, on the whole, boring to us. We drive roads, that’s our form of entertainment. So we decided that we would hang out in camp with everyone for a bit and then head out via Poison Springs Road and camp somewhere along the way that night.

We finished breakfast, packed up and headed into Camp 1. We got there to find everyone gathered around also discussing the plans for the day. Derek and his co-pilot Brian were already planning on heading out as well. Everyone else was in a “whatever” kind of mood. So with a fancy sales pitch (Adventure! Excitement!), I managed to convince the whole crew to roll out with Derek, my Dad and I rather than sit around camp with the mice (apparently the mice were quite bad the night before).

Everyone quickly gathered their gear up and we headed out.

In the daylight, places that we only knew we were at because of mileage on the map or signs came into view.

We were able to make much better time along the Flint Trail in the day. Its amazing how when you don’t think you’re on the edge of a cliff and can see more than just a couple dozen yards ahead of you how much more confident you become.

We managed to traverse the section of the trail from the Dollhouse to the turn off to Poison Springs Road in two and a half hours as opposed to the nearly six hours of the night before!

We made the turn onto Poison Springs Road and quickly left Park Service land. The road was a fun, high-speed trail surrounded by beautiful vistas.

One of the more interesting things we came across was an old, abandoned trailer. Not the strangest thing to find out in the desert, but this one was definitely unique.

Apparently an enterprising individual had decided to turn the old family Hudson into what looks like a sheep trailer. Points for ingenuity! And apparently they had an early ARB fridge inside, as that was also abandoned nearby. Quite the luxurious setup!

After a poking around the old Hudson for a few minutes, we mounted up again. The clouds were looking ever more ominous and we wanted to make it to the fording point on the Dirty Devil before any rain might come.

From the river bed where the Hudson rested, the road climbed out of the canyon until we were finally hugging the walls high up and presented with spectacular views. I’ve been to New England, Chicago, Florida, all over the West. I traveled to the other side of the planet. I’ve seen beautiful works of art, exotic wildlife, amazing architecture, but this.

This is home. The grandeur. The vastness. I once had a man in New York City ask me if I agreed that it was the center of the known Universe. I laughed and said, “Go west, young man.”

Eventually the road, and its expansive views dropped back down to the Dirty Devil River where we were faced with fording its muddy waters. We piled out of the vehicles and started inspecting the banks.

Even though the water looked low and relatively slow, we still wanted to be cautious and make sure there were no surprises waiting for us. So Derek “volunteered” (he was the only one in shorts and sandals) to check the riverbed for us.

After confirming that it was solid, I eased the front wheels of my Trooper into the brown water and powered myself across. One by one the rest of our little band followed to the far shore.

Our goal for the day had been to get across the Dirty Devil so that we wouldn’t have to face it in the rain that was threatening for Sunday. And now that we had succeeded in that goal, our task was now to find a suitable campsite before sunset. This proved to be more of an imposing task that we had initially thought. All around us was beautiful redrock cliffs, sloping, rocky escarpment, and creek beds. There was nary a flat spot that wasn’t associated with some sort of drainage, and with rain possible that wasn’t terribly appealing.

Finally, as the last gasps of sunlight filtered down the canyon walls, we found a high part of the riverbed that likely only ever saw water during the most torrent parts of spring runoff.

After pitching tents and gathering some firewood, we congregated around the crackling fire pit to swap barbs and stories. I sincerely believe that sitting around a fire pit out in the desert could solve all the worlds’ ills.

The next morning I was again awoken not by the sun, but rather the sounds of others rustling about. I had fully expected it to rain the night before and to be greeted with a wet, gloomy Sunday morning. Rather, it was dry and warm with blue skies.

We prepared breakfast and packed our lovely campsite before heading out on the road again.

In our quest to find a suitable spot the night before; we had made it much further along Poison Springs Road than we had initially anticipated. So it was a fairly quick 10 mile jaunt to Highway 95 and pavement.

At this point, we bid adieu Mark in his JK who was returning home to New Mexico via Hite. The rest of us turned north and made for Hanksville for gas and to determine what the rest of our day was going to shape up like.

After topping off our tanks in Hanksville, Derek, Brian, my Dad, and I decided that we were going to head home via Black Dragon Canyon and the northern part of the San Rafael Swell. Mike and Joseph, unfortunately, decided that Hanksville was the end of their off road adventures. We said our good byes, wished Joseph luck in the flat, boring, humid land of Florida and the took off along Highway 24.

A little ways before reaching the I-70 onramp we turned onto old Utah Highway 24. Abandoned decades ago, this road leads to a pheasant farm, a dead end gate and eventually, the road to Black Dragon Canyon. But not long off the new road, was an old bridge crossing the San Rafael River.

The bridge, a mostly wooden structure that had been topped long ago with asphalt and a few steel plates, was in reasonable shape if you discounted the fire damage on the eastern approach.

Next to this bridge, were the remains of its predecessor, the pylons from a cable-stay bridge.

We wandered the bridge and the river beneath for a bit before heading out along the road again. Taking a wrong turn and continuing down old Highway 24 past the large afore mentioned pheasant farm before finding ourselves at the locked gate. After consulting our maps for a minute, we found our way back to a turnoff shrouded by brush and made our way along a very dusty road skirted by an old landing strip before we finally swept north into The Squeeze.

Aptly named as the canyon walls slowly squeeze in to a narrow point with I-70 on the horizon ahead. We sprinted along this road and under I-70 until we made it to the entrance to Black Dragon Canyon. Here we found a gaggle of road cars and mini vans. People who had braved the “rough” road up to that point before deciding to hike the remaining quarter mile or so to the iconic pictograph panel. We, being of sound mind and in far more capable vehicles, drove straight to the panel. Much to the visible ire of many of the hikers.

We arrived at the panel to gaze upon the ancient markings and contemplate it’s meaning. Personally, I think it’s graffiti, nothing more.

I know that’s sacrilege to say for many people, but I think that while it’s interesting to wonder what the people who created it were thinking, I don’t think it has any greater meaning than saying, “Hey, bro! I killed a horned beast. Check it! Ungh!” It’s like trying to find deep meaning in someone’s tag of an overpass sign. It’s just not there. I find the markings made by Pioneers far more interesting, but I’m in the minority, I know. Regardless of how I feel, Derek was fascinated.

After undoubtedly annoying the tourist at the panel with my inane ramblings about ancient graffiti for a while, Derek led us into the dark maw of Black Dragon Canyon.

Along the riverbed we found the remains of travelers less fortunate than us.

Eventually along the soft sandy river we reached a formidable obstacle that had to be conquered. Derek, in his mighty Toyota, decided that he would mount it with ease. Now, apparently on Thursday on the way to The Dollhouse it was discovered that the Tacoma was not engaging 4-Wheel Drive. That can be a problem when one tries to surmount obstacles. Derek felt that this was an issue easily overcome with the liberal application the throttle. With a loud bang of the right front hitting on a rock, the Toyota stopped. The silty sand. Not allowing any further progress.

Fortunately, unbeknownst to Derek and Brian, there was a bypass just to the left. So they backed up and slinked around.

My Dad, perhaps with some encouragement from me, decided to take on this little climb. Unfortunately, because of the Troopers wheelbase, he became high centered. I quickly scampered around the bypass, threw a strap to him and yanked him over. There is no visually documentation of this, so we can easily deny that it happened and say that his Trooper was the only vehicle to actually make it over!

We mounted back up and continued winding our way through the canyon until we finally ascended and found ourselves along the Jackass Benches.

As I was enjoying the view and hanging back to stay our of Derek’s dust, I came around a corner to find:

Yeah… So remember that loud bang on the Tacoma’s right front? Well apparently that caused some serious damage. Like, sheering several bolts ouf of the lower ball joint.

So we found that two bolts had completely sheered off, one had sheered off about halfway into the bolt hole and one bolt was just missing. This was probably an issue before the damaged caused by the hit on the ledge, but that likely finished the issue off. Fortunately, Toyotas and Isuzu’s share many AISIN components and I just happen to have eight bolts from when I replaced my lower ball joints in my toolbox that were an exact match for the Tacoma.

So we got to work.

Derek was super excited to use his Bushwacker exhaust jack.

In fact, Derek was just super chill about the whole thing. If it where me, I would have hopped out of my rig, swore up a storm, and then been in a bad mood. Derek let loose some choice words, but generally was just upbeat. He’s kinda the embodiment of, ‘A day on the trail, no matter how bad, is better than a day in the office!’

Since we had the requisite bolts, the trail repair was actually pretty quick and painless.

Within an hour of the breakage, we were putting the tire back on and getting ready to roll.

Now, the repair was just a bandage as we could only get one bolt fully in and another about halfway. Regardless, Derek was super excited that he’d be able to drive out.

The stricken Tacoma put a damper on our plans to head home through the Swell. While we were making repairs, Brian was on the phone and got his brother to start heading down from Salt Lake to meet us at the next I-70 exit we could reach with a truck and trailer to get Derek’s vehicle all the way home. Also, because of the weakness of the repair, we limited our progress to ten or fifteen miles per hour along Jackass Flats. So rather than being able to make it to exit 131 in 30 minutes, it took around two hours.

No matter. We made it without any further damage and in high spirits. We pulled into the trailer parking area off the exit and Derek and Brian pulled out their camp chairs to wait in the warm sun for their rescuers to arrive. Meanwhile, my dad and I aired up our tires, said our good byes and took off for home.

As I accelerated up the onramp to the freeway, my Trooper was vibrating like crazy. Initially I thought that it was just mud stuck in the wheels and it would eventually even itself out. But, even as we reached 75mph, it persisted. We quickly pulled off at the next truck pullout and I dove underneath to find that my rear u-joint was shot. Not falling apart, but clearly in duress.

We made the decision to risk it and power on to Price and hopefully find a replacement there. I found that it was happiest at about 70mph, so we cruised along I-70 and US 6. Along the way I managed to get ahold of AutoZone and have them place a u-joint on hold. When we got into town about 7pm I hopped out again and took a look at the joint again. No change, which was encouraging. I still bought the replacement, but decided that doing a parking lot replacement in the failing light was not what I wanted to do. So we decided to risk it again for the drive home.

After a stopping in at Groggs for some dinner, we embarked again along US 6 through Spanish Fork Canyon. The whole while the Trooper would start vibrating heavily every time it dropped below 70mph, which was frequent. I had visions of the driveline coming apart and just destroying the underside of the vehicle. I wondered if perhaps I had made the wrong choice.

But it didn’t. It held all the way home. And when I checked after pulling up to my garage, the u-joint looked exactly the same as it did there on the side of I-70. Lucky me. And when I replaced it later in the week, I can tell you, I was sure glad I didn’t try and do it in the parking lot! Holy hell, was it a rusted POS!

The weekend on a whole was a fantastic trip. Arduous and frustrating at times, but without a doubt, one for the books! It was great to see Joseph and fantastic to finally get into The Maze, explore Poison Springs Canyon and wander through Black Dragon Canyon, all places I’ve been meaning to get to for years.

Exploring the Middle Ground

I have made the drive to and from St. George, Utah along I-15 hundreds of times. Generally, I stop in Fillmore because its pretty much half way and makes for a good place to stretch you legs and top off on fuel and food. I’ve always looked at the mountains to the east and thought, “I wonder what roads are up there?” But I’ve never taken the time to find out.

Mid October that changed. One of my oldest friends, Spencer, who is generally the reason that I make that drive to St. George, and I decided to meet in the middle and do a little exploring and camping. The middle was Fillmore and the Pavant Range to the east.

Our meeting place in Fillmore was the old Territorial State House.

It’s easily been 20 years since the last time I went to the State House (god, that sad that I can actually remember 20 years ago…), so it was interesting to stop off at the museum again. In reality, though, nothing much had changed. An interesting, if trivial, piece of Utah history and I would recommend anyone going, but mostly pretty staid exhibits.

From the State House, we decided to grab a bite to eat before hitting the trail. Like so many small towns that have been bypassed by the freeway, there isn’t much left on Main Street, which is really sad. But there was one burger joint called Cluff’s Car Hop, and it’s fantastic. In all these years blazing past Fillmore, I never came here. Totally worth it.

After enjoying a delicious cheese burger and fresh raspberry shake, it was time to leave pavement and head east into the Pavant Range. We decided to start our journey along the Chalk Creek Canyon road. A fairly major gravel and dirt trail that winds its way higher and higher into the mountains offering some stunning views of the valley below and magnificent fall colors.

As we climbed and climbed it became apparent that we were not going to be finding any flat areas to camp until we reached the summit. So we powered on until the light started to fade a bit and we reached a cattle corral at the top. It was flat, already had a fire ring, but… was next to a cattle corral and the associated material. There were spur roads heading off in either direction so we split up to find a more suitable spot.

I wandered an aspen shrouded trail called “Bear Hollow”. With leaves so thick on the road, it seemed like I was the first traveler into a forbidden land. But then, there about half a mile in was the perfect camp spot. Off the road a ways, guarded from the wind by tall aspens and low bushes, a flat spot with plenty of room for our two vehicles and a coupe of tents. Exactly the kind of spot you dream of. I radioed back up to Spence about the choice spot I had found, and he quickly headed back down.

We quickly staked our camp as the last rays of light departed and then stoked a roaring fire to sit around and enjoy for the rest of the night.

The next morning we woke with the sun. Well, Spencer did any way, the joyously thick canvas of my Skydome blocked the sun out until about 8:00, which was glorious! After a quick breaky we packed up and headed on out. We had no destination other than exploring and finding another suitable camping location for the evening. As we glided along the surprisingly smooth main road we saw a sign for “Hans Ridge” and a rocky ledge. Never one to turn down the chance to pop it into 4-Lo for some adventure, I turned off.

The trail led us along the afore mentioned ridge via a narrow two track, but not much more. When the trail finally squeezed itself down to ATV size, we stopped for a moment to enjoy the view and wax poetical about Jason Statham’s fine acting career.

After reflecting on such fine works as Safe and The Feather Men, we pulled out the trusty Benchmark Atlas and surveyed our surrounds. The next point on interest along the main road was called White Pine Point. Sounded like a logical place to head to.

As we wound our way up the mountain, I started to notice terracing leading up the peak. It reminded me of the anti-erosion terracing that you see in American Fork Canyon that was completed by the CCC. But my research thus far has not indicated that this was done at the same time.

Eventually we found our way to White Pine Peak, which is dominated by radio and cellular towers.

Which would explain why I had maximum cell signal all throughout the Pavant Range! So, while we sat there at 10,200 feet getting fried by various microwave signals, we also took in the absolutely spectacular views!

From here, Spencer and I ran into a problem. The roads were in great shape, and both of us are notoriously fast drivers. So where we reached at noon, was where we had planned to be by five. So we decided that rather than munch on ham and cheese sandwiches, we’d head into Richfield for lunch.

I’ve passed through Richfield a handful of times over the years, and I’ve always been amazed at how vibrant the little town feels. I think it’s in large part due to Snow College being there, which is good. I’m always saddened when I pass through a town that is well past its prime, like Fillmore. So finding a Main Street with life is always pleasant.

We parked in front of the post office, which proudly shows it’s cornerstone marked “1917” and began wandering. Our first stop was the Liquor Store. I had brought plenty of beer to help make the evenings by the fire go a little smoother, but Spencer has a slightly more sensitive pallet than I. So he bought himself some hard cider for the evening ahead. We then made our way up to the restaurant district. A whole two, right across the street from each other. One, the mainstay of Richfield, Little Wonder Café, is your classic Diner. In business for 70 some odd years, it’s definite stood the test of time. Our next option was the brand new Main Street Grille.

We decided to try out luck and give the Main Street Grille a try. Totally worth it. A delicious Ruben and some fish and chips were much more filling than the ham and cheese sitting in the fridge.

Our next order of business was to improve our communication set up. Spencer, not being a seasoned 4-wheeler, lacked a CB in his Dodge and we’d been relying on FRS radios. So we headed to the local Radio Shack and bought the bargain basement CB model. After setting this up and rolling out of town, we quickly learned why it was so cheap. While he could hear me fine, his transmissions sounded more like the adults from a Charley Brown cartoon. After fiddling with is a bit, Spencer decided he’d just deal with it for the time being.

It was time to head back into the mountains. We decided to tack southwest a bit on I-70 and head back into the Pavant Range just outside of Elsinore. It was about 3pm, so we wanted to find a nice camp spot and set up for some target shooting before it got to dark.

Looking at the maps, we decided to give Forest Road 496 a try.

It was a spectacular two-track road with a few fun little spurs, that were often a bit of a tight fit for the Trooper, and subsequently the big Dodge!

After a few hours of poking our noses down every spur road looking for a suitable camp spot, we found one up on FR439 just a little ways away from Joseph Peak nestled beneath a grove of bright yellow aspen trees. We set up Spencer’s dueling tree and plinked away with our .22’s for a good long while.

That night was windy. Very windy. And it boded poorly for Sunday. As morning broke, cold weather and ominous looking clouds crowding the horizon greeted us. Our initial plan was to heads south and cross I-70 and head into the Tushar Mountains. But the brewing weather and Spencer’s general dislike of all things cold prompted us to change our plans and turn west for the desert.

First, we made our way out of the Pavant Range towards Kanosh through the absolutely spectacular fall colors.

We made a quick stop in Meadow for gas and had some of the worst gas station coffee ever before we decided to make our way out to a place on the map called Clear Lake. As we passed through Flowell, we could see this long black strip on the horizon. Having never been out here before, neither of us were sure what it was. But as we got closer, we saw that it was a huge lava flow.

On the map, it’s simply referred to as “The Lava”, which was apt enough. Easily a quarter mile wide and several miles long, it was an impressive site to see with the farmland butting up against it.

After poking around on the lava for a minute, we continued towards Clear Lake, which really wasn’t much to talk about. A waterfowl management area, it reminded me of Fish Springs along the Pony Express Trail, but less grand.

Being disappointed with Clear Lake, we again consulted the map and decided to head back to Fillmore. As we drove, ahead of us stood Pahvant Butte (yes, with an “h”), atop it I could make out structures that looked very familiar to me. Something I’d read about before, but I swore it was further west. So we detoured off the main road to head up the butte and check it out.

As we neared, I was positive that this was the structure I was thinking of, but first there appeared to be only one road getting up to it. A rather steep climb on loose gravel with a rough patch in the middle. I wasn’t phased, dropping the Trooper in 4-low and hitting the gas I abled up it with nary a wheel spin.

Spencer, on the other hand, had a bit of a struggle. Getting stuck in the middle and having to back down a bit before he could get the lumbering Dodge the entire way up.

And there we were, atop Pahvant Butte and one of the oddities of Utah.

Back in the early 1920’s a gentleman by the name of A.H. Hood came to Millard County and proposed building a wind turbine power plant on the top of the butte. He managed to get some investors and construction began in 1923. It was never completed.

Supposedly the project went bankrupt and Hood was eventually convicted of mail fraud and sent to prison. As far as anyone has been able to find, there are no remaining photos, plans, or blueprints. So we can just wonder what it would have looked like.

For having sat abandoned on the top of this windy butte for 91 years, it’s in remarkable condition. Only one tower has collapsed and the main building, which I assume would have held the generator, still stands.

And surprisingly, has very little graffiti. Likely due to it’s remoteness.

Just an odd, fascinating place. The type of place that you can only hide in the vast emptiness of the desert.

We poked around the very windy butte for a bit before we decided it was time to make our way back to the interstate and home. It turned out that the steep climb we had made was not the only way up. And on the other side of the butte was a road that had been cut in no doubt for the construction of the wind turbine. We ambled down that and then blasted along the desert roads until we connected with US 50 and ultimately I-15.

Spencer and I parted ways, him south to sunny St. George and me to less sunny Salt Lake. It was a great trip to go and explore a part of the state that so many of us just fly through to other points. It definitely merits further exploration on my part and I look forward to coming back!

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.

13912592889_ff8e8f82a5_b.jpg

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.

14099222705_c38e4d8dbe_b.jpg

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.

14096009081_df52a457c2_b.jpg

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.

14099653234_8673ddd3f0_b.jpg

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

14096008171_5369d2fc8a_b.jpg

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!

14099220795_eb63c6ebf7_b.jpg

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.

13912590209_86bb74dcef_b.jpg

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.

13912614730_c432ae2ece_b.jpg

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.

14096006591_1eb4be125c_b.jpg

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.

14076118176_c4a6356d6e_b.jpg

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.

14076117766_190cefa9b5_b.jpg

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.

14096120192_91ee0d26bb_b.jpg

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.

13912611510_5ae9bce068_b.jpg

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

13912610570_f5381203d7_b.jpg

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

14096002551_24daf32e44_b.jpg

14096001481_d7b044edf5_b.jpg

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.

13912618938_55fb2fae6d_b.jpg

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

13912582819_9027204649_b.jpg

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.

14096114972_e6fefc7e58_b.jpg

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.

14119298203_375eb855a3_b.jpg

13912570107_923fd59ca5_b.jpg

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.

14095981271_9e303494f7_b.jpg

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.

14119279733_094fe9e1d4_b.jpg

14095979051_f45d553837_b.jpg

13912595538_ffa559dba4_b.jpg

13912594568_b2b316d203_b.jpg

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.

13912593288_2f40156e9d_b.jpg

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.

14096089632_0e49dee825_b.jpg

14099616834_dec4e18c0f_b.jpg

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.

14119270783_6faa152b55_b.jpg

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

14119268433_fb5b7fa48d_b.jpg

14096082172_3562669fa1_b.jpg

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

14099607694_f25f9139db_b.jpg

13912570380_1563fcb56a_b.jpg

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.

14095961191_869ed61d7b_b.jpg

Across from the depot was the Desert Moon Hotel.

14099604304_4f2919be6b_b.jpg

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.

13912566200_ae414910b2_b.jpg

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.

14096073662_5c4b65f077_b.jpg

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

14096071712_eb243884b3_b.jpg

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.

13912571808_d82838b701_b.jpg

14099596944_63d1953f56_b.jpg

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!

Quick -n- Dirty

Saturday evening Micah, Kurt, Jakester and I met up at the Chevron in Lehi/Saratoga Springs/Wherever Sprawlburbia with the intention to blast out along the PET for the evening. After talking Micah out of buying some Swisher Sweets, we headed out into the light rain and made our way west.

Once we reached Cedar Fort, we decided over the CB that the weather out west wasn’t looking of hot, so we made a quick turn down one of those many straight as an arrow ranch roads that shoot south. Right off of the road was the Camp Floyd Cemetery and we decided to take a minute to look around.

12960929934_de08117aba_b.jpg

The plaque at the entrance gave a little info about the cemetery and evidence about it’s use for target practice at some point. The area cordoned off for the cemetery was quite large, but some group, perhaps BYU, had taken time relatively recently to find the actual graves.

12960644293_9255d0f9b6_b.jpg

From the looks of it, the bodies were buried rather hap hazardly. Every headstone was quite new and marked “Unknown”. At the gate there was an information sign that told who was buried there and how they died, but not which grave was who’s.

From there we continued south along the ranch road until we reached Allen’s Ranch. There Kurt wanted to head up to a place called Pink Sandstone Caves. A cave network where he had done rappelling training. The road up the the caves was steep and loose rock requiring a little 4-Low crawling.

12960925414_5d8480c37f_b.jpg

But it was nothing for these Expo rated rigs!

12960923294_2feb0a1b55_b.jpg

Micah was hanging on Kurt’s every word!

After the caves we made our way into the mountains north of Eureka in the waning light to find a camp spot. Initially we were just going to find a nice wooded area and set up, but Kurt’s encyclopedic knowledge of generally useless mining and railroad history (unlike my completely useful knowledge of post war US-Soviet foreign relations) proved fortuitous in leading us to an abandoned railway tunnel that was perfect for setting up camp in.

12960638433_62a071bb49_b.jpg

After allaying Jakester’s fears of ghost trains, we entered the tunnel and proceeded to build a comfortable fire for some delicious pie iron dinners and sat around enjoying some beer and stories. Just what was needed to after a stressful work week.

The next morning we rolled out of bed, made some breaky and sat around the fire for a bit longer and then ventured out into word once more.

12960921334_c7a8d07c8f_b.jpg

It was a beautiful Sunday morning as we followed the old Tintic Railroad grade towards Eureka. We made a few stops along the way, most notably at an abandoned mine shaft that Kurt decided to jump around on the rebar covering it, almost dropping his phone (which would make number 236 lost or destroyed).

Once we hit Highway 6 we worked our way towards Eureka, but decided to detour up towards the old Knightville townsite.

12960635603_fb020dc17c_b.jpg

Not much left but the foundation of the school and a view of the tailings. But it was fun to poke around for a bit and find shards of plates, bottles and tin can’s around.

12960916744_f284931ebd_b.jpg

After taking copious amounts of photo’s of our vehicles, such as this future promo shot for Cruiser Outfitters, we voted Micah off the island and headed into Eureka to check out a little gun shop there called Brad’s Guns. It was a well stocked shop (though no .22lr) with a friendly proprietor who tolerated our windows shopping for a bit.

From there, Kurt, Jakester and I did some ghost towing looking for Sandtown and Lower Goshen. Unfortunately, all our efforts led to closed gates and No Trespassing sign’s. No mind, it was a good time anyway. In the process of this, though, we crossed through the intersection in Elberta with the oft-photographed Sinclair station. So we decided to play tourist and take some happy snaps.

12960914784_7562dbc823_b.jpg

12960480375_6086b6acd0_b.jpg

12960626493_de0a494745_b.jpg

After blocking the front of the building for awhile with our impromptu photo shoot, we headed into Santaquin for some quick grub at the Family Tree, a local greasy spoon serving up some fine cuisine. Thus ended an enjoyable, quick -n- dirty trip with some good friends.

2014 Wasatch Cruisers Dunes Run

I was fortunate enough to tag along with the Wasatch Cruisers for their annual Little Sahara Dunes run today. The Wasatch Cruisers always put on a top notch event, and this was no exception. A group of us met up at the Highland/Alpine offramp on I-15 before hitting the freeway again and caravanning south to Santaquin where we hopped on US 6 and headed west to Eureka. If you’ve never done this drive before, make the time for it. It’s beautiful country and there is something particularly stunning about it in the winter.

In Eureka we stopped at the gas station/supermarket/pawnshop to top off our tanks before continuing on towards Little Sahara. In the past, WC dunes runs have usually had poor weather to Eureka, then it clears up west of there. As we continued west, that appeared to not be the case (which is why there are no pictures thus far). Once we got to the base of Sand Mountain to meet up with the rest of our group, we were greater with ominous sky and a biting wind.

12398914374_66c99f557c_c.jpg

But as everyone was airing down and signing release forms, something miraculous happened…

12398460785_127317aa3d_c.jpg

Sun! Could it be?!?! The wind still chilled us to the bone, but there was hope that the sun would warm us up through the day. With that hope in mind, we struck out into the dunes.

12398600223_f1b1d977c9_c.jpg

We played around in the dunes for a while. Flying over crests, ripping around banks, and sliding through snow. One person (Micah) opined that with our flags made us look like bumper cars, which coming from him is terrifying.
During all the playing, I found time to take an obligatory poseur shot.

12398950274_67807f3624_c.jpg

Looking back towards Sand Mountain from expanse that we’d covered, I was again struck by the beauty of the state that we live in. I don’t care what anyone says, Utah is amazing.

12398908214_257f19e4e9_c.jpg

Among the dunes that we were playing in, we found on that proved to be of particular difficulty. Brian in his sturdy FJ80 failed to ascend it, and my trusty Troopy also struggle to find the top. The first to conquer this challenging obstacle was Chance in his awesome Hummer H3 (and it is awesome. It’s the Adventure package, which is about the most epic out of the box SUV you can buy).

12398454715_8536b0f544_c.jpg

After Chance showed us how it’s done with a little American muscle, Micah… well, even with the awesome graphics, the 80’s failed him.

12398904514_fafe848764_c.jpg

Next up, Adam in his truly impressive Taco reclaimed a little honor for Japan after Micah’s sad showing.

12398609663_6865b5339b_c.jpg

Finally, Roy in his clean little FJC gave it a go, but decided with all the rutting to play it safe and wait for another day (or dune) before romping to hard on the skinny pedal.

12398466665_b0c9021d94_c.jpg

After watching the challengers from the top for awhile, we set out again for more shenanigans amongst the dunes.

12398606873_3cb368e578_c.jpg

As we made out way back towards Sand Mountain, the sun that we had been enjoying so much gave way to clouds once more.

12398592213_86de2815d4_c.jpg

Not to be deterred, we continued racing about until eventually, the group slowly split up. Several left us at the base of Sand Mountain as we headed to the other side. Then, Steve, Kyle, Chance, Cody and I left to explore some roads less traveled away from the dunes.

After much wheel spinning, sliding, gate opening an closing and CB chattering we ended up at what Cody called “The Bottomless Pit”

12398590353_d54c012a3b_c.jpg

Which, if you have no fear of heights, falling, or the Hellmouth below, you can stand above it!

12398605653_0e308c63eb_c.jpg

After tempting fate at The Bottomless Pit, Steve guided us on what was promised to be a challenging adventure back to the highway. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a pretty bland plowed, graded dirt road. No matter, a day on a dirt road anywhere is better than a day at work.

And with that, we hit pavement and the end to another great day on the trail with the Wasatch Cruisers.

A Swell Break

Sometimes you just need a break. It’d been a long tail end of the winter and nearly three months since my last camping trip to the Newfoundland Mountains. So while I was doing some maintenance to the Trooper a few weekends ago I figured that it was time for another trip. Nothing, big or fancy, just a chance to get away from it all for a few days.

So I called up my good friend Scott who had finally found an acceptable camping vehicle in the form of a 2003 Toyota Tacoma and saw what he was doing the next weekend. Fortunately nothing, so we planned to take a short trip into the San Rafael Swell.

Accompanied by Scott’s wife Manda and my girlfriend Katy we battled rush hour traffic Friday afternoon until we made it to Spanish Fork canyon, where we stopped at the delectably vintage Little Acorn inn for burgers before continuing on to our final destination of The Wedge.

I generally like starting my excursions to the Swell at the Wedge because usually I’m heading out from Salt Lake after work and its an easy place to find any time and in any weather. Its prepared camping, which is not my preferred form, but if its 10 o’clock at night and all you want to do is light up a camp fire and not find a fire rind or build one. Bam, its there. And that’s exactly what happened this trip. We rolled into camp around 9:30, staked our tents, lit up the fire, sipped a few beers and chatted until we felt the need to hit the sack.

The morning brought a brisk sunrise after some light rain in the night and the typically spectacular views of The Wedge.

We had a leisurely start to the morning, and thus set the tone for the day. Katy, Scott, and Manda had never been to the Swell before, so I took them out along to some of the highlights, the first stop being the MK Tunnels along Buckhorn Draw. The Readers Digest version of the MK Tunnels is that the government back in the late 1940’s hired a contracting firm called Morrison-Knudsen to blast a number of tunnels in the Swell as a test. The reasons for the test were, and still are, classified. Rumors are that they were blasting to test for places to build ICBM silos (unlikely because ICBM’s had yet to be invented as we know them today), to a place to store weapons, testing weapons, and my preferred options, a location to house bunker facilities such as what eventually ended up in Cheyenne Mountain. But obviously it was found that the sandstone wasn’t quite as strong as granite when it comes to planning to survive a near miss from a nuclear attack.

You used to be able to actually get into the MK Tunnels, but in the last few years the BLM took it upon themselves to “protect” the public and block them off. Not only did they gate this tunnel entrance, they also covered up all the holes that the blasts left in the top of the mesa. Truly a shame.


Despite Katy’s best effort, she couldn’t open the gate.

Just a little ways down from the MK Tunnels is the famed dinosaur print. Just up on the ridge to the side of the road is the paw print of a giant lizard creature thing.


Katy was not a believer.

Opposite of the dinosaur print there is a short network of roads and some campgrounds. We walked a little down them just to see if it was worth it to take a detour (it wasn’t) but looking up I saw a cave I’d never noticed before! It was up a very steep and loose incline, but very much worth the climb.

After sliding down (literally in some spots) from the cave, we continued our journey down Buckhorn Draw to the Buckhorn Pictograph Panel. As the name would suggest, this is a panel of extensive Native American paintings. Many people feel that this was some sort of ritual site or meeting place. I tend to err on the side that these were done by bored teenagers who decided to tag a wall. Much like people today people writing their names in a cave. Today its graffiti, two thousand years from now it’ll be art! Maybe. I don’t condone writing on walls, but the skeptic in me says that this is as likely a possibly as this being the Anasazi Louvre.

There are some really pretty flowers at the base of the panel.

A short jaunt down from the Buckhorn Panel is the San Rafael Bridge, which spans the river of the same name. There are actually two bridges, the original suspension bridge and the modern steel and concrete one. The original was built by the Civilian Conservation Corp between 1936 and 1937 and is an impressive structure. All wood and steel wire aside from the concrete towers and anchors. You can no longer drive across it, but walking gives you a sense of what it must have been like. Even on person taking a heavy step can cause it to bounce slightly. Must have been a fun drive for sure!

And for all you Relic Runners out there, the dam we built last year to keep cool is still standing!

After relaxing by the river for a bit we continued on down the road to what the BLM refers to as “The Sinkhole”

To the untrained eye it looks just like that. A hole sunk into the ground in the middle of a flat. Interesting, but nothing terribly special. I’ll let you all in on a little secret here. Its not a sinkhole. Noooo. It’s a Graboid hole. Yep. True story. Don’t believe me? Go look for yourself and you’ll become a believer.

From here we blasted down the rest of the Cottonwood road to the I-70 underpass to the southern side of the swell. Our goal was to get to the Lone Warrior pictograph panel and stake camp there before heading into Reds Canyon for the evening. Well, as with so many things, that’s not what happened.

We rolled into the Lone Warrior camp around 2:30 and found a nice spot to set up. As I was staking the tent, Katy decided to take a nap in the car. When the tent was set, she chose to move into the tent for her nap. Apparently, the same thing happened with Scott and Manda. And then Scott decided to also take a siesta. So that left me with my Winston Churchill biography in the shade for several hours.

The siesta ended about 5:30, plenty of time to head out and explore for a bit longer. But apparently long desert naps make people hungry. So a fire was lit the satisfying crackle and sizzle of pie irons and hobo dinners replaced the crunch of tires over dirt.

I’m not complaining, sometimes it’s nice to just relax in the warm desert breeze and read for a while. And as our food cooked and the sunset I relished the long, evening of just chatting and joking by the fireside.

The next morning we all rose relatively early. After breakfast and taking down camp we headed out to out first stop of the day: Swasey’s Cabin. This is where a family of early settlers in the area had lived. A small one room log and grout cabin. It’s amazing to think that they eked out a living down here running cattle.


At least they had a spectacular view!


Katy listening intently to my interpretive tour.

After Swasey’s cabin we made our way to one of my favorite areas in the Swell, Red’s Canyon. I regret that I didn’t get any pictures of Red’s Canyon really, as I was driving, but it really is just a beautiful area. And it has my favorite entrance sign of all:

Red’s Canyon was the scene of extensive uranium mining in the 1950’s and ‘60’s, so there are quite a few mines to explore in the area. One of the biggest was the Lucky Strike Mine. You can just tell by what is left, sixty years later, that this was an huge operation.

And it’s situated in a spectacular side canyon!

Now I’ve been to the Lucky Strike Mine camp a number of times, but I’ve never taken the time to actually hike up to the mine itself. This time I made it a point to, and I was not disappointed! The first shaft that you can see from the camp has a large entrance, but quickly gets narrow. And since I’m not one for spelunking really, I opted not to venture to far down. Katy, who is short, managed to get a little further than I.

This shaft is nothing compared to what is across the canyon. There is what clearly was the main hub of operation for the mine. I counted not less than five shaft openings.

And then once you get inside, wow! Amazing. The pictures don’t do it justice, but just think about how bustling this place must have been in its heyday!

We explored inside the mine for a while and then emerged to find clouds gathering to the west.

And with it being Sunday afternoon everyone (but me) wanted to get home at a decent hour. So rather than head through the rest of the Reds Canyon Loop, we backtracked a bit and then headed out towards Temple Mountain and ultimately Highway 24 near Goblin Valley. This proved to be fortuitous because Scott’s worn BFG AT’s had seen just about enough of the high speed dirt roads in the Swell. First, the particularly angry left front decided to blow out its sidewall.

Fortunately he had a good spare and we were back on the road in no time. Unfortunately by the time we reached the Temple Mountain campground, and just a few hundred yards from pavement, the right rear got a puncture. No pictures of that one, but three plugs and a friendly traveler with a compressor since my air tank ran out and we were on our way again.

All in all it was a great weekend. Perhaps we didn’t hit all the highlights, but it was much needed relaxation in one of my favorite areas of the state.