Southeastern Utah Traverse
Two weeks to go before Summer semester begins and there’s a break in my days, a perfect time for a quick trip to knock off some bucket list items, like the Shafer Trail, Valley of the Gods, Moki Dugway, Halls Crossing and a bonus – the Burr Trail.
Other things had come together as well, the Tiger for one, and the right gear for this 902 mile trip in three days, from 1200 feet to almost 10,000, 56F degrees to 103.
After living and riding in Southern Utah for twenty years it’s a switch to start my travels now from the Wasatch Front with cooler temps that tease you into thinking status quo on weather conditions and temperatures, all of which are amplified on a motorcycle.
The Tiger is packed for the range of temps mentioned above, along with gear for the random squalls that pop up down south. My route south took me through Emigration Canyon, over Parley’s to Heber, through Starvation State Park to Duchesne, on to Green River and then to the Canyonlands National Park turnoff, U313, that also goes to Dead Horse Point. This turnoff is a few miles north of Moab.
The road turns into Island in the Sky after the Dead Horse Point turnoff and delivers you to the Canyonlands National Park entrance. The Shafer Trail road starts beyond the entrance and the east side, well marked. On topo maps it’s U142.
The surface was a clean recent grade at the beginning. Within a mile you’re delivered to the first view of the canyon and the road as it stretches to the White Rim/Potash fork.
A rider on Softail passed me at this point ascending the trail, boosting my confidence. I felt a bit overdressed compared to his shorts, wife-beater and bare head. To his credit he wore sunglasses and fingerless gloves, but those were more accessories than gear.
Under another mile and the switchbacks begin.
In the above image, just after the second switch from the left there’s a patch of new grade on the descent that looks like sand, but it’s hard packed and easily traversed.
The descent is a battle between concentrating on your line and being distracted by what’s beyond it. I quickly learned the Tiger’s nuance in feathering braking and second gear’s control in steep descents and cornering.
At the bottom of the canyon looking back to the descent. The great Interweb will tell you it’s an easy traverse, or it’s terribly dangerous, the road is in terrible repair, blah. It is what you make it and what you bring to it. This was a first for me and I loved it and compared to what was ahead the next day on the Burr Trail, it was a walk in the park.
The Shafer Trail road ends at the White Rim/Potash Road fork. I chose Potash since I got a late afternoon start. The White Rim Trail would’ve required more time. Gives me a reason to go back.
Potash, U142, follows a technical route along the South Fork of Shafer Canyon delivering you to the surprising vista of the greens of Shafer Canyon carved by the Colorado.
Below is a look back where Potash traverses to this point. The trail can be seen on the right.
Potash Road has its challenges from lose shale to limestone steps, some a foot or more depending on your line. I spent much of the descent on pegs, picking best lines and being grateful for the Tiger’s front wheel diameter. I forgot about the load in and on the panniers behind me and enjoyed the traverse down the canyon.
“Enjoyed” is relative since temps were at the century mark. I stopped in shade where I could find it and by 1700 I reached the evaporation ponds.
These super-blue ponds serve to remove brine that’s infused into potash in the mining process of slat that contain potassium. The ponds are actually dyed blue to expedite the evaporation process.
U142 meanders through mining land and turns back to asphalt at Intrepid Potash where the product is shipped via rail. It turns into U279, following the Colorado River all the way back to Highway 191 just north of Moab.
I camped along U279 at William Bottom campground, known, I’d imagine, to locals as Bill Butt. It’s primitive compared to Jaycee Park campground further north, but it was all but deserted and I could park the Tiger next to the tent.
I was treated to this light at dusk and the satisfaction of completing the most challenging ride yet, until the Burr Trail.
I slept well that night.
The next morning I struck camp and got back on the road to Moab, my ride taking me past Wall Street, so named for the climbing opportunities in the cool of the Colorado. I stopped in Moab at a favorite spot called Sweet Cravings.
Great coffee and even better baked goods, bagels, breakfasts, sandwiches, with an array of offerings. Forego the commercial attractions in Moab and support the local shops.
I hit Gearheads on the way out of town to pick up some better tent stakes. This is a place that could suck in any outdoor enthusiast for hours, but I had places to be.
One hundred seventeen miles to the south on Highway 191 is the turnoff for Valley of the Gods. I stopped in Blanding along the way to hydrate and fill up my Camelback with ice and I’m glad I did. Staying ahead of dehydrating is the trick for me.
This area lost the protection of being a National Monument when it was excluded as part of the Bears Ears Monument reduction. I guess we’ll see what that means for this area, but Utah hasn’t been terrific in protecting public land, and while it might seem like there’s not much out here to protect, there are mineable assets just waiting to be exploited.
For the most part, the seventeen-mile road, FR242 is an even, graded surface with some mild technical spots, nothing that’d stop the average tourist in a rental car.
If you’re a John Ford fan you’d feel at home out here. I enjoyed the ride despite the heat, appreciative of my mesh jacket and vented pants.
The road ends at the junction of UT 261. Heading north there’s a couple of miles of pavement to remind you of civilization before the road mounts Cedar Mesa, known as Moki Dugway. The road climbs 1,200 feet at grades of eleven percent.
While rounding one of its more treacherous blind corners I came upon a stopped Ford F350 pulling a long travel trailer descending the road. It was on the outside of the road where it turns the corner in the image above which gave them a better view for pics without getting out of their goddamned air conditioning, forcing me to find a line between the truck and the drop off making the female passenger of the F350 scream.
Above is a look back over Valley of the Gods.
Hot temps abated at the top of Moki Dugway and I enjoyed a cool ride along 261 to its terminus at UT 95. The remaining 55 miles to Halls Crossing became a convection oven, peaking at 103 degrees when I landed at the ferry ramp.
Fifteen bucks will get you across Lake Powell to Bullfrog. Actually, the ferry will. It costs $15.
The crossing takes around 25 minutes. I took some refuge in the shade.
Landing at Bullfrog felt even hotter. I found an empty picnic area where I made lunch, got rehydrated and draped my shoulders with my cooling towel, and made my way to the start of the Burr Trail.
Just beyond the turnoff to Bullfrog primitive camping (which is closed) is the beginning of the Burr Trail, a well-marked paved road, BLM 12000 that goes back into and then out of Glenn Canyon National Park.
This 78 mile road is paved right up to the boundary of Capitol Reef National park where it turns into a graded road.
The scenery is incredible, more rewarding for me than Valley of the Gods in terms of its geological variety. I didn’t stop but once before the Burr Trail Switchbacks to photograph it due to the heat, way past the century mark. I was pushing on to get to the cool air of Boulder Mountain where I’d be spending the night.
But before any of that I had to ascend the Burr Trail Switchbacks.
It’s graded with some mild technical rolling until right after a turn the surface turns to deep sand for about fifteen feet at a grade of at least ten percent. I didn’t have the momentum for both the sand and the grade and the Tiger stalled and started to slide. Can’t turn around, can’t go around, can’t back out and try it again. I stuck it in second, fired it up and powered it out of there to solid grade, stained sphincter notwithstanding.
Not far after the top of the switchbacks the road leaves the Capitol Reef NP boundary, turns to pavement and climbs and winds around Utah’s best kept secret.
Don’t go. It’s terrible. Too dangerous.
The trail terminates at Boulder where I stopped at the Burr Trail Outpost and thoroughly enjoyed a lemon and mint smoothie.
I went on up Boulder Mountain and found a spot at my favorite small campground at Oak Creek, made camp, had dinner and listened more to the book that kept me company on this trip, Jupiter’s Travels.