Sawmill Hollow and Packard Canyon – July 2015

July 25, 2015

Now it was Jamie’s turn to enjoy (hopefully) some single track. Out plan was to enjoy a mixture of pavement, easy dirt roads, and easy and intermediate single track. Things don’t always go according to plan.

GPS track

GPS track

We parked at a pull-out part way up Diamond Fork Canyon Road and rode the pavement up to Sawmill Hollow. We stopped briefly at Three Forks to find the trailhead for Cottonwood Creek, which leads up to Second Water. We verified that there is no room for vehicles with a trailer.

Diamond Fork Canyon

The ride up to Sawmill was very pleasant. The road is paved, but it is a small and twisty road. You could definitely smell the sulfur from the nearby hot springs.

Sawmill Hollow trailhead

A few months ago I rode the single track at Sawmill Hollow both directions. I felt that it was easier riding up than down, so we thought we would give it a try. Our goal was to reach Packard Canyon, which is a fun and easy single track that I was sure Jamie would like.

The first part of Sawmill Hollow is very nice as the trail works its way up a small valley. But then you come to the first semi-rocky and steep climb. Jamie almost made it up, but stalled her bike and began rolling backwards down the hill. Luckily she was able to lean the bike into the hill and stop rather than slide to the downhill side.

I parked my bike and helped her walk the bike back down. I asked if she wanted to turn back, but she was willing to press on if I would ride her bike up this section. At my weight it was a challenge to get up the hill on her 250. It doesn’t have nearly the power that my 350 does. I then learned that she had the map switch set to “mild”, which really tames down the bike. I suspect she may have made the climb if she had it set to “wild”, and I think it would have been much easier for me.

The first steep climb

Most of the trail is pretty nice, but it does have a fair number of really steep climbs, exposed tree roots, and gulley crossings. At each obstacle I asked if she wanted to turn back, but she was always game to press on.

Flowing single track

I think she only got stuck on one step-up tree root (in the photo). I coached her a bit on how to rebuild momentum and gain traction. After a few attempts she made it up fine. I think I got stuck twice, so Jamie did really well.

Stuck on a tree root

Some of the climbs are quite long, but for the most part the long ones aren’t very technical. With her map switch set to “wild” she made all of the rest of the climbs without problem.

Another steep climb

More tree roots

Once we got to the top of Sawmill the trail follows the ridgeline towards Hobble Creek Canyon. This section of trail has a mixture of easy flowing single track through the meadows, short rocky stretches, and tight twisting turns through oak brush. There are also a few more steep climbs to make.

Open meadows

And there are a few steep and loose descents.

Steep descents

Great views

In the more open areas there are great views of the mountains and Utah Valley.

Jamie enjoying the view

Packard Canyon has a fork in the trail. On my last visit, I rode up and down the western leg. It was really nice except for one semi-rocky stretch. Ross rode the eastern leg and thought it was a nicer trail.

So, we decided to go down the eastern trail. I think this trail is not ridden as much as the western one. The western one has a trail marker, whereas the eastern trail does not. In fact, if I didn’t have a waypoint in my GPS, we likely would have missed the turnoff to this trail.

The trail starts off with a very steep descent. The dirt was loose and dry, so it was difficult to control our speed and not start into a skid. We both made it down okay and there were no obstacles along the way, so it really wasn’t as bad as we thought it might be.

Starting down Packard Canyon

At the bottom of the steep section the trail goes through an overgrown meadow. It was difficult to see the trail and some of the weeds were over Jamie’s head. The trail was narrow, but we didn’t find any rocks or logs hiding the weeds, so it was a fun ride.

The trail is very overgrown

The trail finally opened up a bit and made for an enjoyable ride.

Some of the weeds were over Jamie’s head

But then the trail vanished in one of those terraced meadows. There were faint tracks going off in different directions, but it was not clear where the real trail went. I went in front to try and find it. I finally found a trail and started following it and called for Jamie to follow. My trail turned out to be a cow trail that led to a water retention pond. Jamie thought she was on the same trail as me, but she actually found the real trail. We eventually joined back up and continued on our way.

Packard Canyon

Beyond this point the Packard Canyon trail was really fun. As hoped, Jamie really enjoyed it. I hope she felt it was worth the dues she paid to get up Sawmill so we could enjoy this ride.

We eventually made it to the Hobble Creek Road and rode up to the east and dropped back over into Diamond Fork Canyon. We stopped for lunch near the Diamond Fork Guard Station. After lunch we rode back down the pavement towards the car.

We also found the staging area for the famous Monk’s Hollow ATV trail. I have wondered about this trail for years, so we decided to check it out. We rode the first few miles of the trail to get the sense of it. It is a nice ATV trail so we want to come back with my wife so she can enjoy the ride.

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Center Trail – July 2015

July 24, 2015

A few years ago Jamie and Jason had a bad experience on some narrow single track trails with a lot of steep side hill exposure. I am trying to help them learn that single track can be fun, so I planned some rides that would hopefully be a good experience for them.

They were not able to go riding the same day, so I planned two outings. I decided to take Jason on some segments of Center Trail (#009) in Diamond Fork Canyon. These are some of my favorite trails. I planned a route that skipped the hardest sections, but included the easy and intermediate sections.

Jason hadn’t ridden single track in over two years, so he was a little rusty. He picked it up quickly and set a pretty quick pace right off the bat. Bob Dawson was able to join us. He elected to ride sweep, so he didn’t get in much of the video.

By skipping the harder sections, we had time to ride the northern most segment of Center Trail, which I had never ridden before. It took longer than expected, so we ended up taking the main roads back to the car to be home for our family 24th of July BBQ.

Here is our GPS track – just over a 50 mile loop, about half of which was single track.

50 mile loop

50 mile loop

We parked at the Unicorn staging area where a dirt road leaves Ray’s Valley Road and heads over to Strawberry Reservoir. Being a holiday, I was surprised that we were the only ones in the staging area. In fact, we saw very few people all day.

The southern end of Center trail starts about 5.5 miles from Unicorn along the dirt road. This is near the crossing of First Water drainage. The following map shows more detail of the southern end of our loop. Purple routes are paved, green are easy, blue intermediate, red advanced, and black is extreme.

The southern half of the loop

The southern half of the loop

The southern leg is by far the easiest segment of Center Trail. We let Jason lead, and he took off at a good clip. It was a bit of a challenge to stay up with him as I was filming. We rode the entire leg non-stop, taking roughly 7 minutes.

The easy part of Center Trail

Fast cruising

In my opinion, the segment between Second Water and Third Water Ridge is the hardest section – especially riding south-to-north. So, we skipped that section and took Strawberry Ridge to a dirt road going down Third Water Ridge.

Third Water Ridge

Most of the trail from Third Water Ridge to Fifth Water is really nice, but there are a few rocky stretches and one pretty long and steep downhill. Jason was riding very cautiously on the downhills, but seemed very comfortable on the flat and uphill sections. He dabbed his feet a few times on the downhills, but he never experienced any significant difficulty.

Center Trail heading north

Beautiful meadows

Many years ago my oldest son and I accidentally discovered the Fifth Water trail (#015) and it has always been one of my favorite trails. I hadn’t ridden up this trail in quite some time, so we decided to ride up to the top of Horse Creek on Strawberry Ridge and enjoy the view overlooking Strawberry Reservoir.

Jason on Strawberry Ridge

After a brief rest, we rode down Fifth Water Ridge (#014) back to Center Trail and continued north to Sixth Water.

The northern half of the loop

The northern half of the loop

More great single track

We decided to ride the northern-most leg of Center Trail which none of us had ridden before. I attempted it once, but was turned back by a beaver pond that flooded the trail.

The entrance to the northern segment

Since this was a new trail to us, Bob took the lead so he could scope it out. Shortly after passing through the entrance gate, you come to the same beaver pond that turned me back years ago, only now there are a couple of sink holes in the trail. Bob thought he could ride through the first one, but sunk in deeper than expected. Jason and I helped him get his bike through, then turned back and took the alternate route.

Rather than follow the main trail straight forward, take a left turn immediately after passing through the gate. This leads to a steep hill climb, and then a descent on the other side, rejoining the main trail after the beaver pond.

Beaver pond

Shortly after passing the beaver pond you come to another rocky hill climb. If either of these first two climbs tests your skill limit, turn back now – the next two hill climbs are even harder, with much larger boulders.

Rocky hill climbs

Once you pay your dues on these rocky sections, the trail is really fun and well worth the effort. Most of it is fairly smooth and flowing through small valleys. There are a few sections with some side hill exposure, but nothing too intimidating.

There are a few sections with some side hill exposure

We stopped for lunch under some large cottonwood trees, and then finished up the single track. It was getting late when we finished, so we took dirt and paved roads back to the car, arriving at the car one minute behind our target time. We loaded up and headed home for a nice BBQ with the family. It was a great day with beautiful weather, great scenery, and really fun trails.

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Snake River – July 2015

July 20-22, 2015

Our family planned a three-day trip to enjoy the rapids on the Snake River through Alpine Canyon in Wyoming. The water was fairly low (~4460 cfs), so there were only a few rapids with large waves, but even a low water rafting trip is better than no rafting trip.

We decided to go mid-week to avoid the weekend crowd. We left home early Monday morning and got chased by a rain storm all the way to Star Valley, Wyoming. The temperature was quite chilly, so we decided to camp at Alpine Campground near the shores of Palisades Reservoir rather than deal with the colder temperatures up in the canyon. This also provided a safer campsite for the grandchildren.

Relaxing around camp

We arrived at camp later than planned and the weather was marginal, so we decided to hang out at camp rather than do a chilly run on the river that evening.

The girls loved playing in Jamie’s hammock

Dinner time

Jamie is becoming an expert at building camp fires

The weather warmed up nicely on Tuesday so we were able to enjoy two runs. We started the first run at the Elbow put-in about 2.5 miles upriver from the more popular West Table put-in. We let Sophie and Aspen float through this mellow 2.5 mile stretch and then the adults continued on for the main run.

Sophie and Aspen are ready to go

Approaching West Table

The best rapids at this flow are Double D, Big Kahuna, and Rope. On our first run we hit all three of the large waves perfectly, but unfortunately I left the helmet camera in the car. I did get video of the afternoon run and our Wednesday morning run, but we didn’t hit any of the waves quite square on.

Double D

Approaching Kahuna

Kahuna

Rope Rapid

After rolling up the raft, we headed for home at about 4:00 PM on Wednesday – just before a big storm front hit. As we drove through Alpine the wind was really blowing hard, with lots of dust in the air. On the drive home we passed through four such storm fronts and had lots of wind, lightning, and pouring rain. We got home fairly late, so we spent much of the day on Thursday drying out the tents and putting all of our gear away. It was a short trip and took a lot of work, but it was fun to spend time with the family and enjoy some time on the river.

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Duchesne Ridge Adventure Ride – July 2015

July 10-11, 2015 Last year, for my first over-night adventure ride, I spent two nights camping in the Uinta Mountains. I wanted Jamie and Jason to enjoy a similar experience, but we only had time for two days of riding and one night of camping. I decided to explore the area around Duchesne Ridge since I have never been in that area before. The scenery turned out to be spectacular!

Beautiful mountain scenery

We spent a few evenings prepping our bikes and loading our luggage. On Friday morning, we were ready to depart.

Ready to ride

The plan was to leave from home (in Sandy), go up American Fork Canyon, take Main Canyon from Wallsburg to Daniel’s Summit and stop for gas and lunch, then on to the West Fork of the Duchesne River. Our original plan was to camp along the North Fork of the Duchesne, but we got behind schedule and didn’t make it that far. That turned out to be a good thing – I doubt we would have found a place to camp along the North Fork on a Friday evening. The plan for Saturday was to cut through Soapstone Basin on our way to Wolf Creek Pass. Because we were behind schedule we decided to skip the Soapstone section and just ride the highway to the pass. From the pass we rode along the Duchesne Ridge, dropped down to Mill Hollow Reservoir, then worked our way to Heber, stopped for lunch in Midway, then returned home via Guardsman’s Pass and Big Cottonwood Canyon. We had a good mixture of paved road, easy dirt road, and somewhat rougher Jeep roads. We even threw in a little bit of single track along the way. We encountered rain and had to take a break for about 45 minutes while a lightning storm passed by. We covered about 235 miles over the course of two days.

Our GPS track

Our GPS track

In general I don’t like riding on pavement on a small dirt bike – especially with heavy traffic. I therefore planned our route to stay off the main roads as much as possible. We worked our way south by taking the Dimple Dell road, then over Traverse Mountain to Highland, and then up American Fork Canyon.

American Fork Canyon

American Fork Canyon is fairly steep with a lot of switchbacks and turns, so it is perfect for a motorcycle. But to add to the excitement, we rode two sections of my favorite single track just to see what it was like with a fully loaded bike. These are some of the easiest single track trails in American Fork Canyon, so we didn’t have any problem, but we found that having a heavier bike certainly took some of the fun out of the ride.

Single track

Weaving through the brush

We then rode down to Cascade Springs and took the dirt road to Charleston. The road was in good repair this year – last time I was here it had severe wash boards. We took a short jaunt down the highway along Deer Creek Reservoir, and then turned east towards the small town of Wallsburg. This is where the rain started.

Rain in Wallsburg

The rain was a little annoying, but the scary thing was all of the lightning in the mountains – right where we were heading. So, we decided to seek shelter and found a bench under an overhang in the Wallsburg LDS Girl’s Camp (which was unoccupied).

Waiting out the storm

We let the storm front – and the lightning – pass us by, and then decided to press on and see how muddy Main Canyon would be. Main Canyon turned out to be quite rocky, with somewhat sandy soil, so the rain didn’t pose a problem.

Still raining in Main Canyon

There is one hill climb with bowling ball sized rocks that were a little slippery due to the rain. Jamie and I made it up fine, but Jason took a spill.

The rockiest section of Main Canyon (and our trip)

We arrived at Daniel’s Summit Lodge at about 3:00 PM. We bought gas (expensive) and had a wonderful, but late, lunch.

A late lunch at Daniel’s Summit

When we came out from lunch, the sun was shining and it looked like we might have some good weather going forward.

Closeup of the mountain trails

Closeup of the mountain trails

A short ways down the highway from the summit is a dirt road (#143) that heads over towards Currant Creek Reservoir. This road is somewhat rocky and the soil isn’t as sandy as Main Canyon. Luckily the mud wasn’t a problem. We continued east on #92, then turned north on #82 and #83, which leads to Mill Hollow.

Beautiful country

Wildflowers

Scenic overlook

We turned east on trail #50, which follows the West Fork of the Duchesne River. I was surprised that the trail was rockier and rougher than I expected, since I was under the impression that this was a popular ride for those with large adventure bikes. With our smaller bikes the ride was quite enjoyable, and the scenery was great.

Starting down the West Fork of the Duchesne River

We decided to ride until about 6:00 PM, and then find a place to camp. Most of the good campsites were taken, but we finally found a site with a fire ring that was unoccupied. It turns out that this was probably the very last available campsite within an hour of riding.

Camp

The campsite wasn’t the best – but it would do. The only semi-flat ground was on the dead-end road – but that meant you ended up sleeping in the tire trough. We collected a bunch of firewood from downed Aspen trees, and then spent about 45 minutes trying to start a fire so we could warm up our pre-cooked tin foil dinners. Even with two Eagle Scouts in the group we could not get a fire going. We need to add a few essentials to our packing list! I did, however, have a small backpacking stove, so we were able to convert our foil dinners to beef stew, so we didn’t go to bed hungry. We even topped it off with freeze dried Crème Brûlée. It rained again during the night, so our tents were nice and wet in the morning. Rather than wait for them to dry, we packed up and pressed on. Shortly after leaving camp we came to a small reservoir. Beyond that point the road was much smoother and wider and there were far fewer campsites. But the scenery continued to amaze.

West Fork

After passing the Moon Ranch we arrived at Highway 35. We rode east, then north to scope out the North Fork Road. This road was paved about half way, then dirt. It was a very scenic ride.

North Fork Road

We returned to the highway and rode up to Wolf Creek Pass. After a short break at the pass, we took road #91 along the Duchesne Ridge. I planned on stopping for a snack while we enjoyed the view, but there was a cold wind blowing and we wanted to get off the mountain before an afternoon storm hit.

Mud along Duchesne Ridge

This was a fun ride, but there were numerous mud holes along the way. Some of them were much deeper than they looked. Luckily no one had trouble getting through.

Mud and meadows

Great views

The temperature warmed up as we dropped in elevation on our way to Mill Hollow. I hadn’t been there since 7th grade science camp many, many years ago. It didn’t look familiar at all. The parking area was extremely full, so we opted to press on.

Mill Hollow Reservoir

A few miles further down the road is an old guard station that is all boarded up. There was a nice fire pit with log benches, so we enjoyed our snack there.

Snack time at the guard station

After our break we took trail #122 up to trail #60. Trail #122 was somewhat rocky, but not too difficult on small bikes.

Trail #122 is somewhat rocky

Trail #60 was a blast! It was mostly smooth dirt that twisted through the pines. Frequent mud puddles added to the pleasure as we wove past them. This was the most enjoyable dirt road of the trip.

Fast cruising on trail #060

Trail #96 was also really fun. Our plan was to take trail #310 west, and then drop down into Heber. We quickly found that #310 is private property, so we had to take the pavement down to town. But that wasn’t all bad – this road was really fun on a bike. It was very smooth and wove through the trees and various cabin properties.

A fun ride down the pavement

We stopped in Midway for gas and another late lunch. We each got a nice hamburger and milk shake – which really hit the spot.

Lunch in Midway

Just as we were finishing our lunch a gust of wind blew my bike over – and just like dominoes, my bike knocked Jason’s over, which in turn knocked Jamie’s bike over. The bikes didn’t sustain much damage, but all three of our helmets did. The temperature really dropped as we climbed towards Guardsman’s Pass, and it began to rain once again. Luckily it was a small storm and quickly blew over. We arrived at home with just enough time to unload and wash our bikes before dinner. It was a great trip and a great introduction to moto-camping for Jason. We learned a few lesson and will go better prepared next time. Jamie also learned that the KTM 250 lacks the power of the KTM 350. She did fine except on steep climbs on the pavement. The bike just didn’t have the power to maintain speed in 6th gear. That will soon be remedied with a few minor mods. Until next time…

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Skyline Drive – July 2015

July 3, 2015

Now that Jason has completed his two-year service mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, it was time to get him back in the mountains and enjoy a day of dirt biking. We decided to start off with something easy, so we did a variant of a ride from a few years ago on the Skyline Drive. Last time we rode the 50 mile loop clockwise and rode up Fish Creek Ridge. This time we went counter-clockwise and rode down Bear Ridge. We parked at the staging area near the old Tucker Rest Stop in Spanish Fork Canyon. Here is our GPS track.

GPS track

GPS track

Here is our helmet camera video:

This portion of the Skyline Drive is very easy. It quickly climbs in elevation, starting at around 6400’ and climbing to around 9000’.

Heading up the Skyline Drive

Once you get up on top, the terrain opens up with great views in all directions.

Up on top

We decided to explore a few side spurs in the area since we have not spent much time in this area. Our first side spur was Garret Ridge. The first part of the trail, as shown below, is wide open, but the trail soon enters a dense wooded area. We didn’t go all the way to the end of the trail (if it does end), but we enjoyed the ride for a few miles before turning back.

Garret Ridge

Our next spur took us out near Brown’s Peak. This trail was fairly rough and rutted, so Kim didn’t enjoy it much. I think the trail continues on all the way down to the valley near Indianola, but we stopped at the first scenic overlook.

Jason near Brown’s Peak

I asked Jason how he liked the new KTM (he didn’t know we had it until after returning from his mission). He said basically the same thing that Jamie did after her first ride; “this bike goes where I aim”. He felt it was a great improvement over my old crf250x that he used to ride.

Kim approaching the overlook

Kim was not excited to learn that we had to ride back over the rough road, but she took her time and made it just fine.

Heading back from Brown’s Peak

Our final spur was Johnson Ridge. At the end of this short road we stopped and ate lunch in the shade. After lunch we rode back to the north on Skyline Drive and then east down Bear Ridge road.

Bear Ridge

The top part of Bear Ridge was really a fun family ride, but it got fairly rough later on.

Bear Ridge

The rough part of the trail wasn’t overly difficult – it was just rough with rocks embedded in the ground.

The rough portion of Bear Ridge

Just prior to merging with the Starvation Road you get a nice view of Scofield Reservoir off in the distance.

View of Scofield Reservoir

Starvation Road is fairly low in elevation, so it was a pretty warm ride back to the car. Luckily the road is in good condition so we could keep moving to keep cool. Our total ride, including spurs and lunch, covered about 52 miles and took about 4 hours.

Having not ridden for two years, Jason was a little nervous as we first started on the ride, but it didn’t take him long to get comfortable on the bike. It wasn’t long before I couldn’t keep up with him.

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Hobble Creek Single Track – May 2015

May 30, 2015

I have ridden many of the single track trails in Diamond Fork canyon, but not the ones in Hobble Creek. The Uinta Trail Council cleared the trails from tree fall the prior week, so we decided to explore the trails. Four of us went; me, Bob, Ron, and Ross. Ross borrowed my Husaberg for its last ride before I sell it.

The red track on the map below shows our route. The blue dashed lines are the single track trails that we didn’t get to.

Hobble Creek trail map

Hobble Creek trail map

We staged at the Kirkman Hollow trailhead up Hobble Creek Canyon. We met up at about 9:00 AM and beat most of the crowd.

Kirkman Hollow (trail #012) was a little more challenging than I expected, but it was within my skill level. I hadn’t ridden tight single track for some time, so I was a little nervous at first. But my confidence and pace picked up fairly quickly. Soil conditions were just about perfect. The recent rains kept the dust down and gave us nice tacky soil. There were a few small mud puddles in the low spots, but they didn’t pose a problem.

Trail #012 tees into trail #013, which we rode east through Burnt Hollow. This trail primarily follows the ridge line, so it was significantly easier than Kirkman Hollow. It was a very enjoyable trail with occasional views of the nearby mountain ranges. There was one section that followed a barbed wire fence, so you want to stay focused on not go off the trail.

The trail eventually merged with the Pumphouse Ridge road (#115), then forks off and down to Sawmill Hollow. I had heard that this section had loose and steep switchbacks, but they really weren’t that bad. There were a few steep sections and some exposed tree roots and rocks, but for the most part it was a fun trail. To my surprise, it was much easier coming back up. It seemed fairly challenging going down, but quite easy coming up (but not a beginner trail).

Next we rode down Packard Canyon (trail #091). This was the easiest trail of the day. I think my children would really enjoy this trail. We took a short break at the bottom, and then headed back up.

Right after starting back up, we took a wrong fork in the trail. This trail soon faded out, so we fanned out trying to find the trail. Most of us quickly gave up, but someone (I won’t say who), pressed on and bushwhacked his way through trying to find the main trail. It turns out he found an old trail that went up a different canyon. We spent the next 3 hours trying to find him and make sure he wasn’t hurt. By the time we met up again, we were tired and decided to call it a day. We will have to return another time to explore the remaining single track trails.

Below are  a few video clips and some screen grabs from my helmet camera.

Kirkman Hollow staging area

There were some rocky sections

And some side hill exposure on narrow trails

But mostly smooth trails winding through the brush

Beautiful scenery

Stopping to enjoy the view (or wait for me)

Winding through the trees

And meadows

Sawmill Hollow

Heading back up #013

Be careful riding along the fence line

Beautiful trails

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Cedar Mesa Adventure Ride – Apr-May 2015

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:

Participants included:

  • 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

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

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

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

Day 2 – 100 miles

Breakfast time

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

Moonhouse Ruin

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

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!

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