Apr. 30-May 2, 2015
For some time Jamie has wanted to do a multi-day motorcycle adventure and camp along the trail. She was able to break free for a few days after finishing another semester at the University of Utah, so we put a trip plan together.
I had read several trip reports on AdvRider.com of scenic rides in southeastern Utah near Mexican Hat. The more I learned about the area, the more I wanted to go explore it. The area is rich with incredible scenery and vistas, ancient Indian ruins, and history from the Mormon Hole-In-The-Rock expedition.
The trick was to stitch together the most interesting trails in a way that would be appropriate for our small dirt bikes. We could take trails usually avoided by larger adventure bikes, but we wanted to minimize our time on paved roads – especially with 65 mph traffic. We also wanted to avoid trails that were overly technical or had miles of deep sand.
After several iterations, we came up with a plan that included Butler Wash, a portion of Comb Wash, Valley of the Gods, John’s Canyon, Goosenecks of the San Juan, Moki Dugway, Muley Point, Snow Flat Road, Elk Mountain Road, Cheese & Raisins (Whiskers Draw), and a portion of Cottonwood Wash. We also worked out a visit to at least one Indian ruin each day.
Be sure to watch the highlights video in HD on YouTube:
- Dee Gardiner (trip leader) – KTM 350
- Jamie Gardiner – KTM 350
- Bob Dawson – KTM 525
- Scott Barton – DR-Z400E
- Ross Vellinga – KLR 685
- Scott Connors – KLR 650
- Jordan Connors – XR350
The total loop worked out to be about 237 miles and took 2.5 days to complete. We started at 10:00 AM on Thursday, April 30, and finished our ride at noon on Saturday, May 2. The following map shows our route, with a different color representing each day’s ride.
Three-day loop covering 237 miles
We left Salt Lake City after work on Wednesday. Half of the group stayed in a motel in Monticello while the other half camped at the trailhead. Prior to meeting at the trailhead, we drove over to the Kane Gulch Ranger Station and picked up our reserved permits to hike into Moonhouse Ruin.
Day 1: Butler Wash, Comb Wash, Valley of the Gods, John’s Canyon
Our plan was to meet at the trailhead where Hwy 95 crosses Comb Wash at 9:00 AM. We arrived right on time, and after loading our bikes, hit the trail at about 10:00 AM. We rode pavement back along Hwy 95 through Comb Ridge and turned south into Butler Wash. Here is a map showing our first day’s route.
Day 1 – 88.5 miles
Butler Wash turned out to be sandier than I expected. It wasn’t deep sand, but it did take a little while to get used to riding a heavily loaded dirt bike in sandy conditions. Jamie and I had helmet radios, and after checking her status a few times I had confidence that she would do just fine. She ended up completing the trip without a single crash (not everyone can make that claim).
In spite of the sand, Butler Wash was a fun ride. We stopped about 2/3 of the way through and hiked to Monarch Cave ruin. This hike was not very difficult, and it was interesting to see some of the relics at the site. Jamie noted; “this is like a museum without the museum”.
Jamie hiking to Monarch Cave Ruin
Monarch Cave Ruin
After completing the hike we finished Butler Wash, took Hwy 163 to Comb Wash and rode down to the San Juan River. We got stopped for construction along the highway, which turned out to be a good thing. We were later able to ride all the way to Valley of the Gods without any traffic coming up behind us. Being on small dirt bikes I find high-speed highways the most nerve racking, and it was nice to just cruise along at 55 mph without cars passing us.
Comb Wash had the most sand and the deepest sand of our entire journey. Those on heavier KLRs struggled and had a few crashes through this section. But for those of us on smaller dirt bikes, this was one of the most enjoyable trails of the route. The trail has several tight banked turns as it winds down the wash towards the San Juan River.
We ate lunch in the shade of a cottonwood tree near the bank of the river. We enjoyed this break and a chance to get out of the sun since the temperature was in the 80s.
Lunch near the San Juan River
After lunch we wanted to visit San Juan Hill – the last and hardest hill climb of the Hole-In-The-Rock expedition, River House Ruin, and the remains of the old Barton Trading Post. The Barton’s that were killed here were ancestors of Scott Barton, so that added special meaning to our visit.
San Juan Hill
Scott near his ancestor’s trading post
There was a steep rocky section of the trail leading to those sites, and Jamie and I didn’t feel like attempting it with our fully loaded bikes (even though the KLRs made it just fine). In hindsight, this is my only regret of the trip – we should have made the climb so that we could visit all three historic sites.
We walked up the hill and down the trail to the base of San Juan Hill. Since we were in our motorcycle boots we decided not to walk all the way over to River House Ruin. We had already visited it on our San Juan River trip a few years ago. The rest of the group stopped to see the remains of the Barton trading post, but only Bob made it all the way to River House Ruin. It is unfortunate that we were so close, but missed out on that spectacular ruin.
After getting the group back together we road back up Comb Wash. Once again those on larger bikes struggled. They were excited to spend some time on the pavement, whereas those of us on smaller bikes were not looking forward to the pavement.
Luckily we had no traffic as we worked our way west to the Valley of the Gods trail. The Valley of the Gods trail is an easy 17 mile ride past a number of large monoliths. It was a relaxing and scenic ride.
Valley of the Gods
Valley of the Gods
By the time we reached Hwy 261 it was getting late, so we decided to ride out to John’s Canyon and find a place to camp. John’s Canyon Road was a fun ride. It was also about 17 miles long. It reminded us of the White Rim trail since it followed a plateau above a river. We found an excellent grassy place to camp about a mile up John’s Canyon. Most of us enjoyed steak and potatoes for dinner.
Jamie and Bob enjoying the ride along John’s Canyon Road
Jamie’s tent and bike
Steak for dinner
Sunset in John’s Canyon
We were all tired from the heat, the hikes, and the 88 miles of riding. It was nice to sit and relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery at camp. As the sun set we even got serenaded by a bunch of frogs.
Day 2: Goosenecks of the San Juan, Moki Dugway, Muley Point, Snow Flat Road
We awoke to another beautiful sunny day. After a nice breakfast (Jamie and I had our family’s “Super Scrambled Eggs”) we packed up and rode back out along the John’s Canyon Road and out to Goosenecks of the San Juan State Park.
Day 2 – 100 miles
Jamie and Dee at the Goosenecks Overlook
We then rode down to Mexican Hat for fuel, water, and an ice cream. After a short break, we headed to the Moki Dugway. I first encountered the Moki Dugway many years ago on a spring break trip during my college days. I then visited it again while doing shuttle for our San Juan River trip. But for most of the group, this was their first time here. As you approach the dugway you wonder where the road goes. It climbs 1200’ to the top of the mesa, and the road continues on almost directly above where it approaches the bottom of the cliff. The switchbacks are really spectacular. The scenery is also spectacular, so you really have to focus on staying on the road. We stopped at the top to enjoy the view and take some pictures.
Dee and Jamie at the top of Moki Dugway
Panorama from Moki Dugway
Our next stop was Muley Point. We ate our lunch overlooking John’s Canyon Road and the San Juan River. You could also see Monument Valley off in the distance. It is amazing how far you can see from this vantage point. This is another popular place to camp, but it would have been quite exposed to the wind we had the day before.
Lunch near Muley Point
Panorama from Muley Point
After lunch we tried to take an old dirt road that paralleled the pavement, but it quickly became obvious that this road is no longer in use. It took us a while to regroup back on the main road, but once we did, we made good time riding the pavement to Snow Flat Road.
I wanted to ride the entire length of Snow Flat Road, but since we didn’t want to ride through the sand in Comb Wash, we decided to do an out-and-back on the trail.
Snow Flat Road had recently been graded, so there was a fair amount of soft silt to ride through. It wasn’t overly difficult, but I was surprised that the road had so much loose material.
Our destination was a side spur to the trailhead for Moonhouse Ruin. We were lucky enough to reserve 7 out of 20 hiking permits for the day. The short spur down to the trailhead was perhaps the most enjoyable trail of the entire trip. It had fun twists and turns as it meandered through the Juniper trees. There were even some fun banked turns.
After changing into our hiking shoes we began the hike down the cliff to the ruin. It was a fun hike and the ruins were well worth seeing.
Hiking to Moonhouse Ruin
Upon completion of our hike, we rode back the way we came and continued north on Hwy 261. We found a nice place to camp near the bottom of Elk Mountain Road. The temperature was a little cooler than the night before since we were at a higher elevation.
Day 3: Elk Mountain Road, Cheese & Raisins (Whiskers Draw), Posey Overlook
Jamie had a wedding reception to attend in Salt Lake that evening, so we got an earlier start for our last day of riding. It was a little chilly as we climbed in elevation and rode between the “Bears Ears”. The Elk Mountain Road was in pretty good condition and it was fun to ride through the pines instead of open desert.
Day 3 – 48.5 miles
Panorama from Elk Mountain Road
We made good time and decided to take a fun ride on a trail the Jeep community calls “Cheese and Raisins”. I have no idea why it is called that, but it was a really fun trail with a lot of fun banked turns. There was one semi-challenging part where the trail crosses Whiskers Draw, and there were a number of deep ruts that required caution. Nevertheless, it was a really fun ride.
Jamie crossing Whiskers Draw
From there we rode out to Posey Overlook. We hadn’t seen many other people on our entire trip, so I was surprised to see how many people hauled their camp trailers out to the edge of the cliff on top of Comb Ridge. There were campers at almost every possible pullout. The view of Comb Ridge and Comb Wash was spectacular. It seems that I keep using that word – but that is because the entire trip really was spectacular.
Group shot (except for Jamie) at Posey Overlook above Comb Wash
Our last stop was a short hike to Tower House Ruin at the head of Butler Wash.
Tower House Ruin
Tower House Ruin
We arrived back at our cars at noon, packed up and headed for home. Those in my car decided to take the scenic route past Lake Powell while the others went via Moab. We stopped for a hamburger at Stan’s Burger Shack in Hanksville, which is a tradition amongst adventure riders.
A few in the group suffered a few crashes along the ride, but there were no serious injuries. Jordan broke off his front brake lever, but was able to rig up a makeshift lever with some vise-grips and tape. I believe everyone enjoyed the trip and felt that it was well worth the time. The riding had good variety for our skill level, the scenery was spectacular, and we had great weather. It was a great trip!