Middle Fork of the Salmon River – June 2018

13-16 June 2018

Hannah managed to pick up a canceled Middle Fork of the Salmon permit – just a few days after our San Juan trip.  We had just enough time between trips to clean and dry the boats to pass the invasive species inspection.

We drove up to Boundary Creek on Tuesday, partially rigged our boats before hauling them down the steep wooden ramp, and then camped at the campground a few hundred yards from the put-in.

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Rigging the raft prior to launch

The Boundary Creek put-in can get really congested.  There is often a line of boats waiting for their turn to use the ramp.  Thus, once you get your raft on the ramp, you need to rig as quickly as possible and move down the ramp so the next in line can get ready.

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View from the top of the ramp

The launch spot is also fairly small, so you often have rafts two deep along the shore.  Each group is supposed to take no more than four parking spots on the bank.

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About half of the day’s boats are down the ramp

We had 19 people in four rafts and two catarafts;

  • Lloyd raft; Hannah (permit holder), Barry, Karla, and Jarem
  • Lloyd raft #2; Layne, Nick, and friend Ed
  • Gardiner raft; Dee, Jamie, and Jason
  • Redd raft; Lee, Kathy, Lindsey, and Mitch
  • McCandless cataraft; Russ, Leslie, and Christian
  • Ashworth cataraft; Jim, and friend Todd.

The water level was perfect!  We feared it would be too high, but it peaked and dropped just in time for our trip.  We launched at about 3.74’ and it dropped to about 3.5’ during our four-day trip.  Normally, we would take five days for this trip, but Hannah had to catch a flight out of Salt Lake City early Sunday morning.

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Flow from 3.74′ to 3.5′

We also had pretty decent weather.  It was chilly in the mornings but warmed into the 70s the first two days.  Friday was a little cooler as a storm moved in, and we got a few sprinkles at camp.  Saturday was the coldest day – probably only in the 50s.  We had a cold north wind blowing in our faces.  Luckily, it didn’t start to rain hard until we had loaded up the cars and trailers and were driving out to Salmon, Idaho.

The Middle Fork of the Salmon is one of the most popular rivers in the country, or perhaps in the world.  It is very difficult to obtain a permit, so when Hannah snagged a canceled permit, people were lining up to go.  My family has been applying for permits every year, without success.  I hadn’t been on the river in about 20 years.

Here is a slideshow with some of the best photos from the trip.

Here is my highlights video, but in my opinion, my daily videos are more entertaining to watch.  They give a better feel for the fun of the river and personalities of some of the boat crews.

Day 1: Boundary Creek (0.0) to Airplane Camp (24.8)

On Wednesday morning, we broke camp after breakfast and finished packing our boats.  It was fairly chilly, so we weren’t too anxious to get on the river, but we knew we had to cover a lot of miles.

I was impressed with the ranger as she told us of the river regulations and offered safety tips.  She was very easy going and wanted everyone to have an enjoyable time.  I think we launched shortly after 11:00 AM.

The last time I floated this river, I tried to miss every rock and every hole.  I was totally worn out within about the first mile.  The river is fast and furious at first.  It is also narrow and shallow.  This time, my philosophy was to just miss the dangerous stuff – don’t worry about the small rocks and holes – just avoid the ones that could flip the boat or wrap on a rock.

Furthermore, I had been feeling ill the past few days, and was still not up to par.  So, I volunteered Jason to take the first turn at the oars.  He is pretty strong and in the best shape of the three of us.  He did better than me – he lasted about two miles before he was wasted and asked to switch.  The river really throws you around and gives you a workout.

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Nonstop action for miles

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Jason dodging rocks

The first major obstacle was Murphs Hole, just before river mile 1.0, after a left turn.  I assumed that we could easily miss it at this level, but we hit it pretty much dead center.  We also hit it somewhat sideways, which launched Jason from his seat.  Luckily the hole didn’t have the punch to flip our 16’ raft.

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Jason after hitting Murphs hole

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Rocks everywhere

We stopped just above Sulphur Slide (mile 3.0) to scout it.  The guide book says to enter center and work left, but the center was full of rocks.  The left side had a nice tongue with a hole at the bottom of the tongue.

Layne was our lead boat, and he decided to try the center run to avoid the hole.  He immediately wrapped on a rock mid river.  Barry and I were able to pull back in to shore, but everyone else was following Layne and had to continue on down the rapid.  Barry and I started collecting ropes and Barry’s come-along to help get them off the rock.

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Sometimes the lead boat shows the way not to go

Luckily, Layne and Ed were able to climb out of the boat and wiggle the boat free.  It took about 30 minutes to get them free.

Meanwhile, another group came by and ran the left tongue, straight through the hole – for a very easy run.  My plan was to run the tongue but ferry right to miss the hole but ended up following the others through the hole for a fun ride.

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Approaching the left tongue in Sulphur Slide

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The hole everyone thought we should miss

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We hit it

Velvet Falls was up next, at river mile 5.2.  I spent a lot of time watching YouTube videos on how to safely run the rapid.  I also saw numerous videos on the wrong way to run the rapid.  I knew exactly what I had to do.

The Falls has a hole that extends from the right bank about ¾ of the way across the river.  Just above the falls is a large rock on the left bank, with a large Eddy behind it.  The idea is to back ferry into the Eddy, and ride the slot down just left of the deepest part of the hole.

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Approaching Velvet Falls

Sounds easy.  Well, it turns out that the Eddy is a lot smaller than it looked in the videos (thanks to wide angle lenses).  I had time for about two strokes, which isn’t enough to get my boat moving.  I soon realized we were going to hit the deepest part of the hole.  I did manage to straighten out the boat, and luckily, we punched right through.  I give myself a 3 out of 10 on that one since I did manage to hit it straight.

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Ferry left…

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…or not – right into the hole

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Looking back at Velvet

I then turned the oars over to Jamie.  Jamie may not be as strong as Jason, but she is very skilled at reading the river and managing the boat.  I don’t think we had any chaotic events while she was rowing.

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Jamie’s turn

She later turned the oars back over to Jason, just in time to run Powerhouse Rapid (mile 11.4).  Powerhouse is a very long rapid with a lot of rocks and holes.  Jason did a pretty good job through most of the rapid, but there was one large rock near the bottom that seemed to have a magnet in it.  It was easy to see since it stood about 6’ out of the water.  But it was hard to see which way the current would go.  We ended up hitting it sideways dead center and pinned.  Jamie climbed to the back of the boat, and I followed her part way.  That put enough weight on river left to let the boat slide around and off the rock.

We also stopped to scout Lake Creek rapid (mile 21.5) (not to be confused with Lake Creek camp) since the ranger mentioned that it had been flipping boats the previous week.  The hole had reduced in size with the reduced water level, so it turned out to be an easy run.

We also stopped to scout Pistol Creek, although I don’t really know why.  It is not like you can actually execute a plan in that rapid.  Actually, the entry to the rapid is worth scouting.  Since my last time on the river, a large gravel bar has formed mid river above the rapid. If the water is high enough, the easy entry is down the right bank.  The left side has a huge wave with a huge kicker that could probably flip boats.  In lower water it also has a hidden rock that can eject boaters.

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Scouting Pistol Creek

Although it is hard to tell in the above photo, Pistol Creek is basically an S-turn rapid.  The goal was to avoid the rock/hole on the right, and then not slam into the cliff on the left.  I am happy to give myself a 10 out of 10 on that rapid!  I didn’t hit the rock, and I didn’t hit the cliff.  I came within a few inches, and Jamie and Jason both reached out and touched the cliff – but my raft didn’t touch.  I was pretty happy about that.

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Ferry left to avoid the rock

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Perfect!

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Soft hand touch on the cliff

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Lee looking calm in Pistol Creek

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Layne pulling away from the cliff

It was easy sailing from Pistol Creek down to Airplane Camp (24.8).  Airplane camp had a lot of space.  Everyone spread out to have their own private campsite.  Some took an evening hike and came back covered in ticks (which the ranger warned us about).

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Airplane camp

Here are the videos for day one:

 

 

Day 2: Airplane Camp (24.8) to Hospital Bar (52.3)

Day 2 was pretty mellow.  We had lots of class II rapids and a few class III, but nothing as intense as the day before.  It was really a pretty relaxing day.  It was also the day for stopping at hot springs.

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Jason is ready for day two

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Jim and Todd

We stopped for a warm soak at Sunflower Hot Springs (mile 33.3).

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Sunflower Flat hot spring

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Jason at the oars

On my first trip down the Middle Fork in 1980, Hospital Hot Springs (mile 52.3) was a highlight of the trip because it rained hard all week.  Everyone just sat in the hot water trying to warm up.  No one wanted to get out to cook dinner or set up tents.

This time I was pretty disappointed with the hot spring.  It was really pretty small.  But the camping area was nice, and there were even good trees for a hammock party.  Christian enjoyed catching giant toads near the hot spring.

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Camp at Hospital Bar

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Hospital Bar hot spring

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Hammock time

Day 3: Hospital Bar (52.3) to Grassy Flat #1 (72.4)

Day 3 was also fairly mellow.  It warmed up nicely during the late morning, but then cooled off in the afternoon as a stormfront moved in.

We stopped to scout Tappen Falls, which is a great photo spot.  It is an easy run down the right side, but if you enter incorrectly, you could be in for a tough ride.  I have seen videos of boats stuck in the center hole for many minutes, getting thrashed.  The main wave is a lot bigger than it looks from the left shore – but it is a fun ride!

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Ed takes the hit in Tappen Falls

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Russ punches through

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Approaching Tappen Falls

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A great ride!

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Jamie at the oars again

We stopped at the Flying B Ranch (mile 66.0) for an ice cream bar, which wasn’t as appealing as we had hoped since the temperature had dropped.

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The Gardiner gang

Haystack Rapid (mile 67.4) is very wide and rocky.  The easiest run was down the right bank past the house-sized rock, then pull towards center to avoid some rocks around the bend.  Russ decided to take the more challenging route down the center, which required a fair amount of maneuvering.  As usual, he made it look easy in his slick cataraft.

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The big rock in Haystack

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Dee pulling away from the rock

Jack Creek Rapid (mile 70.0) was pretty fun with a lot of roller coaster type waves.  Just good clean fun.

We drifted past Wilson Creek camp, which looked like a fantastic camp.  Since we were only taking four days to run the river, we were now catching up with those that launched the day before us, so all of the best campsites were already reserved.  We ended up in Grassy Flat #1 (mile 72.4), which was our least favorite camp.

We set up the rain flies to ward off the rain, and it mostly worked.  We got a few sprinkles during dinner and during the night, but nothing too bad.

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Grassy Flat #1

 

Day 4: Grassy Flat #1 (72.4) to Cache Bar (98.3)

The Middle Fork starts off as a small, rocky, and fast river.  It grows and grows as side streams feed into the flow all along the canyon.  There are even several beautiful waterfalls along the sides of the river.

By day four, the river is pretty large and deep.  The river then narrows as you enter “Impassable Canyon”, making for some really big and wild rapids.

The big action starts at Redside Rapid (mile 81.8).  This is perhaps the most dangerous rapid on the river, so be sure to scout it.

The left side is choked with rocks, there is a huge rock in the center, causing a monster hole that is probably at least 30’ wide.  There is a narrow tongue on river right, which leads right into another large rock and hole.

The clean run is down the tongue on the right, but then swing towards center and thread the needle between the two huge holes.  But this route leads you directly into “wrap rock”, so be ready to ferry left or right to avoid that.

Everyone made a clean run through this rapid except Russ.  He entered a little too far left, causing his left cataraft tube to snag the backwash from the center hole.  This spun him around and sucked him in like a vacuum cleaner.  I was very impressed with the way Russ was able to keep his boat straight and row backwards out of the hole.  Leslie and Christian had an ‘up close and personal’ view of that monster hole.

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Russ surfing the hole in Redside

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Side view of the hole

Shortly after Redside is Weber Rapid (mile 82.2) which has some really big waves.  This rapid flips boats on occasion, but mostly it is just a fun ride.

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Good times

Jamie spotted a brown bear sitting on its haunches just above Lightning Strike camp (mile 84.3) and a bald eagle somewhere along the river.

Rubber Rapid (mile 90.4) also has monster sized waves and can be really fun.

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Rubber rapid

After you pass Hancock Rapid (mile 91.4) it is really hard to keep track of where you are.  There are multiple “boulder chokes” which look a lot like the named rapids; Devils Tooth (mile 92.9), House Rock (mile 93.1), and Jump Off (mile 93.4).  We were pretty confused through this section, so we didn’t know what rapid name to say in our video clips and we didn’t know which instructions to follow from the guide book.

One of the rapids was covered in holes and the current was hard to judge.  I completely missed my planned line and ended up running a slalom course between rocks.  In the videos Jamie and Jason commented that we hit every hole, but we actually took a pretty good line threading the needle between them.

You reach the confluence with the Main Salmon at river mile 95.5 and have one last large rapid to run – Cramer Creek at mile 97.4.  I think Cramer Creek had a lot more kick when it was first formed back in 2003.  Now it has a large drop down the tongue, but the waves are pretty smooth and long roller waves.

We arrived at the Cache Bar takeout (mile 98.3) at about 2:15 PM.  We had the ramp to ourselves, so we were able to pack up the trailers fairly quickly and hit the road for home.  Two other groups came by while we were derigging, but I suspect they were doing a Middle Fork-Main combination trip since they didn’t stop at Cache Bar.

The Middle Fork certainly lives up to its reputation.  During the first day we weren’t sure if it was worth all of the work to get there and negotiate those non-stop rapids, but as the trip wore on, it became clear that this is a fabulous river.  We all had a great time and generated many fond memories.

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San Juan River Trip – June 2018

June 4-8, 2018

This year, none of our usual group of “river rats” obtained any river permits, but somehow Hannah managed to pick up a canceled San Juan permit and a canceled Middle Fork of the Salmon permit.  And they were back-to-back.

Here is a slideshow with some of our best photos from the trip:

Jamie and I floated the San Juan with the Lloyds back in 2010, but the rest of my family had never been.  This is a great river for young children, so my daughter Marcy and her family decided to come.  In fact, the primary focus of this trip was to make it enjoyable for the grandchildren.

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Aunt Hannah with Luke, Aspen, and Sophie

A five-day trip is a long time to spend on the river if the children aren’t having a good time.  We lucked out and had great weather (highs in the upper 90s), without any rain storms and almost no wind.  And the children absolutely loved it.  They were a little nervous at first, but by the end of the trip all three of them were in the water much of the day.

Our video:

The Kiddie Reel:

We drove down to Bluff on Sunday night and stayed in a condo.  On Monday morning, we drove to the put-in and unloaded the trailers (river mile 26.9).  Barry, Kevin, and I then drove shuttle while the others rigged the boats.  The shuttle took us about 4 hours round trip, and everyone was ready to launch as soon as we got back.

Last time, the river was flowing at about 1500 cfs.  The only notable rapid for our skill level was Government Rapid, and it was pretty easy for us.  This year, the water was much lower, averaging about 700-800 cfs.

San Juan Flow June 2018

River flow for June 4-8

I was pretty surprised when we came to our first rapid, Gypsum Creek, just a short way from the put-in.  The rapid was narrow, rocky, and had a much larger vertical drop than I expected.  The drop was so abrupt, it was difficult to scout the rapid from the boats.  But we all made it through okay and had our first rapid behind us.

Since we didn’t have the usual afternoon upstream wind, we made good time as we floated down river.

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Luke found a great seat

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Great scenery

I planned on camping at Mendenhall camp, but was reminded that we couldn’t camp on river left since we didn’t have a permit for the Navajo Indian Reservation.  So, we continued on downstream to Tabernacle camp at river mile 33.0.  This wasn’t the best camp, but it had a muddy beach for the kids to play on, so it worked out just fine.

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Jamie

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Sophie

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Isaac

 

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Bighorn sheep

On day two we floated through the Goosenecks section and camped at Upper Honaker (river mile 44.5).  We set up camp, and some started up the famous Honaker Trail.  It was getting late, so they didn’t make it to the top this year.  When you look at the cliff above camp, it is hard to believe there is a trail up there.

Twin Canyon Rapid was formed in 2014.  We stopped to scout it since it was new and rated as a Class III.  It reminded me of a miniature Black Creek Rapid on the Main Salmon – there was a narrow tongue on river left leading into a small hole.  We all ran it fine and had a good time.

We originally wanted to camp at Johns Canyon to play in the pour off pool, but another group also wanted it.  We decided to stop at False Johns camp (river mile 56.7), which turned out to be our favorite camp of the trip.  There was a large rock in the river with a sand bar downstream of it.  This allowed us all to climb onto the rock for group photos.

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Group shot

As we floated by Johns Canyon camp we were glad we didn’t stop there since it looked really challenging to scale the cliff to reach the pool.  I suspect it wouldn’t have been a good camp for young children.

Government Rapid is much more difficult in lower water.  It is extremely rocky.  It is also shallow, making it difficult to take good strokes with the oars.  Kim helped the grandchildren walk around while we ran the boats through one at a time.  All of the rafts hit the rock on river right, but none of us got stuck.  So, I consider that a successful run through Government Rapid.

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Isaac and Marcy after they spun off the rock

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Dee and Kevin skimming over the rock

Our final camp was at Slickhorn D.  We were anxious to get there early and hike up Slickhorn Canyon, but we were disappointed to find the canyon mostly dry.  We were hoping for a nice swim in the pool, but it looked pretty nasty.

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Slickhorn Canyon

Our last day was the toughest of the trip.  We had the most miles to cover – 18 miles – and the slowest section of the river covered with sand bars.  We figure we added a few miles by zigzagging back and forth across the river dodging sand bars.  We also had to get out and push numerous times.  Luckily, just removing our body weight from the boats was generally enough to allow the boat to float over the sand bar.

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Luke and Jamie enjoying the slower current

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Isaac pulling the raft off a sand bar

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Hannah at the oars

After a long day on the river, we packed up at Clay Hills Crossing (river mile 83.4) and started the 7-hour drive home.  It was a long day, getting home at about 2:00 AM, but it was well worth it.  We had just enough time to wash and dry the boats and repack for our Middle Fork trip.

The San Juan River has fairly swift current and numerous small rapids.  But you mostly go for the spectacular desert scenery and wonderful playground for young children.  I think everyone had a fantastic time.

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White Rim Trail – May 2018

18 May 2018

Jamie and I rode the White Rim Trail back in 2014.  Last time we rode in a clockwise direction and it took us 10 hours to complete the loop.  This included two of the three side spurs; Lathrop Canyon and the White Crack.

This year we rode the third side spur – Taylor Canyon.  We also rode out to White Crack but decided to skip Lathrop canyon.  We rode counter-clockwise this year and made better time – completing the loop in 7.5 hours.

We made better time for two reasons; we had a smaller group, and we had helmet radios so we only stopped when someone wanted to.  We never had to stop and wait just to regroup.  We had six people in 2014, but this year it was just three; me, Jamie, and Jason.

Most of the White Rim trail resides within Canyonlands National Park.  They now require you to obtain a day use permit for each vehicle.  You can obtain a permit on-line up to 24 hours in advance.  We had no idea how difficult it would be to obtain a permit, so we each got one shortly after midnight.  You can also pay your park entry fee on-line so you don’t have to go to the fee station prior to starting the ride.

Our goal was to start our ride at about 8:00 AM so we could be finished by 6:00 PM.  We decided to go out for a nice cooked breakfast since we had a long day ahead of us, so we didn’t get started until about 9:45 AM.  Since we made such good time, we finish by about 5:30 PM.

The road out to the Mineral Bottom switchbacks was in good repair, so we were able to cruise at about 45-50 mph.  You can’t help but wonder how and why someone would build a road down the cliff as you descend the switchbacks.  You also get a nice view of the Green River, so be sure to keep your eyes on the road.

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Heading down to Mineral Bottom

The road then turns south and parallels the Green River for several miles.  In some places you can’t see the river due to the tamarisk trees, but in other places if you go off the road you will go right into the river.

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Following the Green River

We took the six-mile side spur up Taylor Canyon to see the Moses and Zeus rock formations.  I feared this might be a rough and rocky road, but it was really a very pleasant ride.

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Moses and Zeus – the rocks

Next, we came to the Hardscrabble section.  This is probably the hardest part of the trail.  It is a steep climb going either direction and some sections are loose and rocky.  Once you get up on the terrace, you have some great views of the Green River – so once again, pay attention to the road.

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Climbing Hardscrabble

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Riding along the terrace

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Jason on top of Hardscrabble, with Potato Bottom in the background

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Jamie enjoying the view from Hardscrabble

After a short break on top, we descended the steep road on the southern side, then rode through Potato Bottom and continued on the loop.  Some sections along here were really fun, but a lot of it is just straight open desert riding.  You do ride around a lot of small canyons, but from the trail they are difficult to see.  Because most of the trail is along the ‘whitish’ terrace (where the trail earned its name), you often can’t fully appreciate the scenery from the trail.

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Riding around one of many canyons

There are a few climbs and descents to make, but none of them are particularly difficult on a small dirt bike.  Less experienced riders on larger motorcycles could be challenged, however.

The second most difficult section is Murphy’s Hogback.  We stopped for our first lunch break once we got to the top.

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Climbing Murphy’s Hogback

After descending Murphy’s Hogback, which is also fairly steep, we continued on around the loop.  As before, the trail is a mixture of dirt, a little sand, and some sandstone.  We continued on, only stopping for periodic breaks, or to enjoy some great vistas.  By mid-afternoon, we were getting pretty tired of the sandstone sections – many of them are really bumpy.

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A view of the trail from Murphy’s Hogback

I think I prefer the ride in the counter-clockwise direction.  This way you get the soft sand along the Green River and the steep climbs at Hardscrabble out of the way before you get too tired.  But you do end up with lots of bumpy sandstone later on.  So, in general, the western portion along the Green River is the most technical, and the eastern section is easy, but rough.

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Washer Woman Arch in the background

It is also worth noting that there is only one short section of the trail where you can actually see the Colorado River from the trail.  You can get a great view of the river from an overlook side spur.  Whereas the western section has frequent views of the Green River.

We stopped to talk with a ranger that was raking out tire tracks near one of the campsites.  It always amazes me how many people just can’t seem to understand ‘stay on the trail’.  The ranger was very pleasant.  He asked if we had our permits but didn’t make us pull them out.  He asked about our opinions of the trail and which direction is our favorite.

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Rock formations along the way

We didn’t ride down Lathrop Canyon to the picnic area near the Colorado River, but decided to have our second lunch at a nice scenic view that kind of reminded me of the Maze District of Canyonlands.  We also skipped Musselman Arch.

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The view from our second lunch stop

Later we stopped briefly at the Colorado River Overlook, then pressed on to climb the Shafer switchbacks.

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The Colorado River

This is another very impressive road.  The road is much wider and in better condition than the first time I drove it back in the 1970s.  With good weather, you could probably drive this in almost any vehicle, although I would recommend having an SUV to give you some ground clearance and 4WD to get through patches of sand.

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Approaching the Shafer Trail

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Heading up the switchbacks

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View from the Shafer Trail

We made it back to the car ahead of schedule, so we had to time for a soak in the motel hot tub before heading out to dinner.

The White Rim Trail is not one of my favorite rides, but it is worth doing if you get the chance.  It isn’t overly difficult, but it is very long.  Be prepared for a long day out on the trail.  With the two side spurs, we put about 120 miles on our bikes.  Make sure you have enough to fuel to go that far and carry tools for trailside repairs – it would be long walk out.

White Rim GPS

Our GPS track

 

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Gemini Bridges – May 2018

 

17 May 2018

I hadn’t been to Gemini Bridges in many years, so I decided to take Jamie and Jason there for some dirt biking.  We drove down to the Moab area on a Thursday morning and stopped at the Gemini Bridges staging area.  You now have to pay to park here since it is on private property.

We unloaded our bikes with a strong wind blowing, then headed up the trail.  The main road is in much better condition than it was last time I was here, so it made for a pleasant warm-up ride.

The road starts by climbing a shelf road along the side of a cliff.  It then goes through a small valley and past “Gooney Bird Rock”.

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The shelf road

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Jason riding past Gooney Bird Rock

You then come to a T-junction; left goes to Gold Bar Rim, and right climbs a steep hill and heads towards Gemini Bridges and Arths Pasture (or Metal Masher).  The steep hill used to be loose and rocky, but not it is hard packed dirt and almost feels like pavement.

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The steep, but smooth, climb

After reaching the parking area, we walked about 300 yards to Gemini Bridges and took a few photos.

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Checking out the bridges

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Looking down toward Bull Canyon

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What looks like solid rock is in fact a fairly thin overhang

We backtracked a few miles then took a side spur into Bull Canyon.  The road used to go right to the base of Gemini Bridges, but it is now blocked off and you have to walk to see the bridges.

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Bull Canyon

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There are a few sandy sections

There is a ‘shortcut’ that connects the Bull Canyon road to the Gold Bar Rim trail.  Our hope was to ride out to the rim before it got too late, but unfortunately, this shortcut was much harder than I remembered.  Years ago, I rode most of this trail with someone on the back of my bike as we went in to recover his bike from the day before.  But this time I found the trail to be very technical with a lot of ledges, rocks, and short but steep climbs.

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Jamie leading us through the rocks and ledges

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Jason after making a climb up some ledges

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Jamie descending one of the rock gardens

We eventually made it to the end and were glad we didn’t have to go back the way we camp.  We all cheered when we reached the Gold Bar Rim trail.

It was getting late and we had a long day planned for tomorrow, so we opted to skip Gold Bar Rim and head in to town for a soak in the hot tube before dinner.  We had a few more obstacles to conquer before we were done, however.

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More ledges on the Gold Bar Rim trail

We eventually made it back to the car and started loading up just as a micro-gust of wind hit, filling the car with dust.  We later enjoyed that soak in the hot tub and a nice hamburger at “Milt’s Stop & Eat”.

Here is our GPS track for the ride.

Gemini Bridges GPS

GPS track

And our video:

 

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Poison Spring Canyon to the Dollhouse – Apr 2018

14 April 2018

This is my third dirt bike ride to the Dollhouse area within the Maze District of Canyonlands.  I was with Ross and Danny on this trip.  We stayed in a cabin in Hanksville rather than camping near the trailhead or along the trail.  We got a fairly early start because we had a very long ride planned – and then had to drive back home that evening.

Maze 14Apr2018 GPS

GPS track for the day

Poison Spring Canyon

For the past several days I had been monitoring the water level of the Dirty Devil River.  From reading other trip reports, I felt confident that we could safely cross the river if the flow was less than 50 cfs, and perhaps up to about 70 cfs.  For the past few days the river had been fluctuating between about 35 and 55 cfs, so we figured we would give it a try.

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Water flow for April 14

So, we parked at the staging area for the Poison Spring Canyon ride – the same one I did with Jamie and Jason a few years back.  Poison Spring Canyon is a fun ride through a pretty little canyon.  There are springs along the way, so there are numerous shallow water crossings and a few slightly deeper water puddles.

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Lots of small water crossings

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Enjoying Poison Spring Canyon

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Our first sighting of the Dirty Devil River

When we reached the Dirty Devil River, we stopped to scope it out.  There hadn’t been any flash floods in at least two months, and it was obvious that Jeeps or trucks had crossed recently, so we figured the mud would be fairly solid and not act as quicksand.  Nevertheless, I was pretty nervous being the first one to cross on a dirt bike.  The water got up to about my front axle in a few spots, and there were a few truck tire ruts hidden under the muddy water, but it was a fairly easy river crossing.

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Dee checking the water depth

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Ross taking a bath

Ross carried pretty good speed as he crossed, so his bow wake soaked him good.  Danny hit it a little slower so he wouldn’t get all wet.

North Hatch Canyon

Once across the river, we began riding through North Hatch Canyon.  I had never been here before, but I had read trip reports by others that showed washed out sections of the road.  But this year the road was in great condition.  It was a very pleasant ride, and the scenery was spectacular – especially in the first few miles as we got views down the canyon where the Dirty Devil flows towards Lake Powell.

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The view to the north

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Looking west – from where we came

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The scenery makes it hard to keep your eyes on the road

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Looking south

At one point I traded Danny bikes since he has been considering buying a lighter bike.  I used to own a DR-Z400 similar to his, so I was extremely surprised at how unstable his bike felt.  No wonder he wobbled around every time he hit a little sand.  I was very nervous riding his bike – I felt like I had little control over where the front tire would go.  I don’t recall my DRZ behaving like that.

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Ross enjoying North Hatch Canyon

Ross took one spill in a soft sandy wash crossing, but otherwise everyone had a safe ride so far.  We eventually reached Sunset Pass where I quickly scoped out the primitive campsite there (reservations required).

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Looking towards the Maze after crossing Sunset Pass

A few miles beyond the camp, we came to the four-way intersection at Waterhole Flat.  It took us 2-1/2 hours to travel about 40 miles to this point due to us scouting the river crossing and stopping to take photos several times.

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Approaching the junction at Waterhole Flat

The Land of Standing Rocks

Our original plan was to ride up the Flint Switchbacks and out to Panorama Point, but that is a long ride from the junction.  So, we decided to ride the 20 miles out to the Dollhouse section.  This would be my third time on that trail, but I was okay with that because it is a really fun ride on a dirt bike (street legal of course).

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Just proving I was there

The road was rougher than I remembered (that happens a lot).  For a time, I thought I could perhaps drive out there in my Grand Cherokee and camp, but after riding it again, I concluded that the road is too rough for a stock SUV.  You really need good ground clearance in several areas along the trail.

We made pretty good time, but I think Ross and Danny were somewhat surprised at how technical some sections were.

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A typical mixture of sand and sandstone

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One of the technical challenges is on this rock shelf

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Danny carving a turn with Mother and Child rock formation in the background

We stopped for lunch at one of the Wall campsite in the Land of the Standing Rocks section, then quickly rode out to the end at the Dollhouse.

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Approaching the Dollhouse

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Ross at our lunch stop

We had now been riding for about 5 hours (including lunch), so we figured we better head back to the car before dark.

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Group shot at the Dollhouse

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Some of the dollhouse rock formations

We were all getting tired, and somewhat sore from our ride on the Hole in The Rock Trail the day before.  Ross and Danny each crashed a few times on the way back attempting some of the steeper ledges.

When we got back to Waterhole Flat we wisely decided to take the easy, but longer, way back to the truck via the road that comes out near Hite.  This road was about 30 miles long, followed by about 30 miles of pavement on Hwy 95.  The dirt road was in great shape this year, so we made good time – but we were getting pretty tired.

Hwy 95 goes through a scenic canyon as it leaves Lake Powell and heads towards Hanksville.  The speed limit is only 55 mph, which is perfect for me on my small dirt bike.  Ross took off in front on his more highway capable KLR while Danny followed behind me.  About 20 miles into the paved ride, my bike instantly died and I coasted to a stop on the side of the highway.

My bike wouldn’t start, so I suggested that Danny head to the truck and come back and pick me up.  Just as he left, I realized he didn’t know where my keys were.  I locked my trailer to Ross’ truck, and we locked Danny’s spare bike to the side of the trailer.  They couldn’t go anywhere without finding my key.

I figured they would look for my key, then come back and ask me where it was.  While I waited, I did a few experiments to try and get my bike running again – without success.  I pushed my bike back down the highway a few hundred feet to a side road where they could safely stop with the trailer to pick me up.

Sure enough, Danny came back, asking about the key.  He informed me that Ross got a flat rear tire about 100 yards from the truck.  We were both lucky to have our mechanical issues within easy reach of a rescue.

Once we got all of the bikes loaded, we headed for home.  We were a few hours later than we hoped, but I got home just after midnight, so it wasn’t as bad as I feared.

On the drive home, we shared stories about the great rides from the past two days and marveled at our good fortune for having breakdowns at the end of the trip and right along the highway.  It really was a memorable adventure!

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Hole In The Rock Trail – Apr 2018

13 April, 2018

Last year I took Jamie and Jason on a three-day adventure ride that included the historic Hole In The Rock Road where the Mormon Pioneers took their wagons down a narrow and steep crack in the cliff above the Colorado River.

This year, Ross, Danny and I attempted to ride part of the trail on the other side of the Colorado River.  Whereas the Hole In The Rock Road is a very easy ride, the Hole In The Rock Trail is very difficult.

The trail is about 35 miles long and stops about two miles before reaching the river.  The trail gets harder as you go.  We only made it about 25 miles before turning back – and we were exhausted when we got back to the truck.

HITRT Apr2018

Our GPS track (in brown)

We didn’t realize there was a nice staging area at the start of the western trail entrance (waypoint hr08), so we parked at a pull off along the highway in between hr09 and hr08.  We decided to start our ride via hr09 and finish via hr08 so we could see which way was best (hr08 is the primary road).

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Our staging area

The first 10-12 miles of the trail is pretty easy.  It starts to get a little rough as you go up an extended climb and come to waypoint hr06.  From here, you turn right, off the main road and onto the Hole In The Rock Trail.  The trail instantly becomes a lot more rugged.

The trail is mostly slickrock, with numerous ledges to deal with.  In between slickrock sections there are sandy sections.  I didn’t find the sand too difficult, but Danny and Ross struggled with their heavier bikes.  Ross was on his KLR650, which is really not a good bike for this type of ride.  The bike is really heavy and has very little ground clearance.  I hit my skid plate twice on this ride, and I very seldom hit bottom on my KTM.  Ross was hitting his skid plate frequently.

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An easy section of slickrock

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Ross trying to get going in the sand

 

 

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A typical section of the trail

Some of the trail is difficult to follow.  It really helped to have a GPS with an actual track to follow.  Keep a sharp eye out for black tire tracks on the slickrock, rock cairns, or metal bars drilled into the rock.  There are also several side spurs, so without a GPS track, you could easily end up going the wrong way.

The trail gets harder as you go; the ledges get taller and the climbs steeper.  We eventually came to a section that had rocks piled up to make the climb easier for Jeeps and UTVs.

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Danny walking his DR-Z400 up the shelf

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Ross popped a nice wheelie coming up the last step

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I thought I would just ride up the ledges…

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…but quickly chickened out and waddled up like everyone else

 

Right at the top of this climb is a historic marker for the Grey Mesa Wagon Road.  The pioneers sent scouts out ahead of the main group to search for the best route through this rugged country.  They struggled to find a way off the mesa until one of the scouts saw a mountain sheep and followed it down off the mesa.  I walked part way up this route (no motorized vehicles allowed on this part of the historic trail).  It was steep and difficult to negotiate on foot.  I wouldn’t want to ride my motorcycle down this trail – I can’t imagine what it was like in a horse drawn wagon.

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The historic marker

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Note the road cut just to the right of the sign

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Another road cut – narrow and steep

A few hundred feet past the historic marker, we came to a ‘waterfall’ on the road that looked pretty challenging.

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The ‘waterfall’

The waterfall itself was about 5-6’ tall, with three smaller ledges above it.  We decided we could probably get down it okay, and probably get back up – but there was a high risk of getting out of control on the upper ledges and taking a nasty fall.  Because it was getting late, and we were getting pretty tired, we decided not to take the risk.  We wanted to make it as far as the even more challenging “chute,” but decided to take a lunch break and head back to the truck.

 

Thus, we had to go back down the rocky ledge that we had just come up.

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Danny coming back down the rock pile

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Our lunch spot at a nice primitive campsite

The return ride seemed a lot harder than the ride out.  I don’t know if the trail really is harder going the other way, or if it was just because we were tired and sore.

Danny and Ross both took a few spills on the way back, which further wears you out when you have to repeatedly pick up your bike.

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Ross softly laying his bike over after not quite making the climb

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Danny’s bike fell hard, but luckily, he stayed on his feet

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Danny going up one of the steeper, but easy, climbs

 

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Enjoying the view towards Lake Powell and the Henry Mountains

The weather was fairly chilly and very windy, but for the most part the weather wasn’t a problem.  We were working hard, so we kept warm, and since most of the trial is on sandstone, the wind wasn’t too much of an issue.  The wind did, however, blow around enough sand to jam up the lens cap on my camcorder.  So, I wasn’t able to film as much of the trip as I had hoped – other than with my helmet camera.

 

We rode approximately 50 miles round trip and were very tired by the time we finished.  We were all glad we didn’t go any farther along the trail or it probably would have been dark when we got back.

We loaded up the trailer and drove for about two-hours back to Hanksville for dinner and our cabin at Duke’s Grill and RV Park.  We just wish they had a hot tub to soak in.

It was a challenging ride, but we all really enjoyed it.  It will be a memorable ride for us.

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Mojave National Preserve – Mar 2018

 

14-17 March, 2018

Bob invited me to go explore the Mojave National Preserve in southern California.  He wanted to visit some of the places he used to go with his family when he was young.  I was able to arrange my schedule to join him, and at the last-minute, Ron also decided to come.

We were able to cram all three bikes and all of our luggage into Bob’s pickup truck, so we didn’t have to haul my trailer.  We left early on Wednesday morning, for the seven-hour drive to our starting point just west of the small town of Nipton, CA.  We rode for four days and returned home late Saturday evening.

We covered approximately 315 miles.  Some sections were paved, some were easy dirt road, and other sections were more rugged Jeep roads – in particular, parts of the historic Mojave Road.  We also crossed an almost dry lake bed and played in the sand dunes around Crucero Hill, where Bob used to ride years ago.  Here is our four-day GPS track.

Mojavi Track 2018

Four-day GPS track

Day 1:

We arrived at our staging area at around noon and quickly loaded our luggage onto our bikes.  We rode south along the Ivanpah Road, then southeast towards the New York Mountains.  The mountains were much larger than I expected – this is supposed to be a desert after all.

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Getting ready to ride

Rather than stick to the main road all the way, we took a side road and explored Sagamore Canyon.  This gave us a chance to adapt to riding our bikes with luggage, as well as make any adjustments to keep our luggage from bouncing around.

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Miles and miles of Joshua Trees

When we arrived at the OX Ranch, we decided to backtrack and head up into the New York Mountains.  I read of a nice camp location up in Caruthers Canyon and wanted to check it out.

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OX Ranch

We really had no intention of camping there, but when we found the spot, all three of us wanted to camp there for the night.  It was a wonderful campsite with a nice picnic table built out of rocks and concrete and it offered a fair amount of shelter from the strong wind that had been blowing all day.

It was only about 3:30 PM when we got there, so we decided to go ride a portion of the Mojave Road and then return to this campsite.  The trail dropped into a sandy wash for a few hundred feet.  Bob and Ron missed the exit and continued down the wash.  I decided to wait at the junction and hoped they would return to find me – which they eventually did.  We then worked our way back up to the campsite, rigged our tents, and cooked our dinner.  We rode about 62 miles on day one.

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Great campsite

Bob went to bed as soon as it got dark – at about 7:00 PM.  Ron and I wanted to stay up longer, but the cold soon drove us into our tents as well.  I spent a few hours reading, then went to bed.

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Day 1 GPS track

 

Day 2:

I woke up at about 5:00 AM and heard the pitter-patter of light rain.  I slept a few more hours and was surprised to wake up at 7:00 AM with about 2” of snow on the ground – and still coming down hard.

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2″ of snow covering the ground

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Frozen kitchen

Bob and I stowed most of our gear under our tent vestibule, but Ron’s tent didn’t have two vestibules so he left much of his gear outside.  Everything, including his boots, was covered in snow.

I left my cook stove out, and found it frozen to the table and difficult to light due to the water in the stove head.

By the time we ate breakfast and packed up our gear, the sun came out melted most of the snow in the areas sheltered from the cold wind.  The soil was fairly sandy, so we didn’t have to deal with slippery mud as we rode down out of the mountains.

We were surprised by the snow because the forecast for Baker called for highs around 70° and lows around 46°.  We later learned that Baker is only about 1000’ in elevation and our camp was at about 5600’.

After exiting the mountains, we took the Cedar Canyon road west to the Black Canyon road.  Both of these roads were being graded, which made them somewhat muddy and slippery.

Mojavi Day2 2018

Day 2 GPS track

Rather than continue on the muddy Black Canyon road, we turned west to explore the more rugged Wild Horse Canyon road.  We stopped to check out the Midhills campground, which was still covered in snow even though it was at about the same elevation as our camp.  This campground offered almost no shelter from the wind.  That would have been a very cold place to camp for the night.

We also checked out the Hole-In-The-Wall campground.  This is much lower in elevation but offers even less shelter from the wind.  There were numerous motorhomes in this campground since the access road from the south is paved.

Our original intent was to camp at Hole-In-The-Wall campground so we could explore the “Rings Trail”.  With the cold wind, we decided to skip the hike and press on.

Our next destination was the Kelso Visitor’s Center.  Rather than take the paved road all the way around, we took a shortcut over the mountain on the Vulcan Mine road.  This road was fairly rocky, but not all that difficult on dirt bikes.

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Kelso Visitor’s Center

After eating lunch and checking out the visitor’s center, we took a quick sandy road north along an old telegraph line.  The bushes and cactus hung over the trail, so our hand guards took a beating.  I also found numerous cactus spines stuck into my luggage.

We then rode another section of the Mojave Road west.  This was a fun section of the trail, which lots of smooth whoops formed from the local terrain drainage.  We stopped to sign in at one of the Mojave Mailboxes.

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Bob at the mailbox

From there, we rode north on the Aiken Mine road to check out the lava flow cave, and then camped at the base of an old volcano cinder cone.  We put in about 92 miles on day two.

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Entrance to the lava tube

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Ron inspecting the light shafts inside the tube

This camp was only at about 3300’ elevation, and the wind died down once the sun set, so it was the warmest night of our trip.

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Cinder Cone camp

Day 3:

After breakfast, we continued west on the sandy Mojave Road, then took the paved Kelbaker Road into Baker for gas and supplies.  I had to try three different gas stations before I could find one that would take my credit card.  I have no idea what the problem was.

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Day 3 GPS track

We worked our way south and picked up the Mojave Road again as it crossed the Soda Lake bed.  The lake bed was mostly dry, but the middle section was still fairly wet and muddy.  We were able to ride through it okay, but you had to ride carefully.

We stopped at the Traveler’s Monument rock pile and read the secret inscription on the plaque at the top.

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Bob checking out the monument

We then worked our way over to the Crucero sand dunes.  I was carrying a heavier load than Ron and Bob, and I am not very good at riding in sand.  While crossing a steep side hill, my rear end spun out and down I went.  My left foot and knee buried in the sand and I was wedged under my bike.  I tried to wiggle free for about ten minutes before Bob and Ron came back to rescue me.  I decided to take my lunch break and rest while they explored the dunes a little longer.

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Crucero sand dunes

We hit another patch of mud on our way east to the Jackass Canyon road and ended up riding along the railroad tracks to avoid the mud.  Bob hit a sharp rock and sliced his almost new rear tire.  He installed a few tire plugs and was able to get the tire to hold air long enough to get to our next camp (we all have Tubliss inserts in our tires).

The road between the railroad tracks and Jackass Canyon was very sandy and fairly tricky to ride with a loaded bike.  We stopped at the base of Old Dad Mountain for Bob to top off his tire again – a fitting backdrop for us three old men.

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Old Dad Mountain

We then rode east across the fun section of the Mojave Road that we rode the day before.  We found a nice place to camp at the base of some large rock outcroppings.  This camp was at about 3800’ elevation, and once again we had a cold wind blowing all night.  We logged about another 92 miles on day 3.

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Camp #3

Day 4:

The wind blew again all night long and was quite chilly in the morning.  I ended up cooking breakfast under my vestibule to get some shelter from the wind.  We packed up and got an earlier start than the other days since we had a long drive home.  We wanted to be back at the truck by noon but enjoy some good riding all morning.

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Day 4 GPS track

We rode the Mojave Road east until we hit the Ivanpah Road.  We took a short break to visit the Rock Spring cabin.

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Rock Spring cabin

We had a little extra time, so decided to go check out the Indian Well petroglyphs.  There is a natural well about 15’ deep with water in the bottom, so the Indians marked many of the surrounding rocks with petroglyphs.

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Stopping at the Indian Well petroglyphs

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Some of the petroglyphs

My GPS showed a shortcut back to the Ivanpah Road, but it led to some private property, so we had to backtrack.  We then buzzed back to the truck on the Ivanpah Road and arrived at about noon – right on schedule.  We logged about 68 miles, loaded up the truck, and began the long drive home.

This was my first time to the Mojave Desert, and it was quite different than I expected.  It was certainly more mountainous than expected, and the scenery was impressive.  There were a lot of Joshua Trees and other forms of cactus.  We didn’t see much wildlife other than jack rabbits.  The weather was windy and colder than expected, but overall, it was a great early spring adventure.

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