Spring break came late this year, which worked out perfectly for Jamie. She finished her finals at BYU the day before the trip, so she was able to join us for the entire trip. Sarah was able to skip some school at the U so she was able to join us as well. Lauren wanted to come, but didn’t make it. We had three families along this year:
- Barton; Scott, Terri, Ryan, Peter, and Allison.
- Bradley; Paul, Liz, Sarah, and Matt.
- Gardiner; Dee, Kim, Jamie, and Jason.
Wednesday April 20: Wickiup and Lockhart Wash
After picking up Jamie in Provo, we arrived in Green River at about lunch time. We hadn’t yet decided where to ride and considered riding north of town in the open desert. After taking a look at the area, we decided to head over to the San Rafael Swell and ride something a little more scenic.
For some time I had been wondering what Lockhart Wash was like. It is open to ATV travel and is rated as intermediate (blue) – but it is somewhat isolated so it would make for a short ride. I have also wanted to ride the northern half of the Wickiup loop, which we rode many years ago when Jason was small. (This is the trip where I crashed in the sand with Jason on the back of my bike. He got up and said; “Dad, I am going to ride with mom now (on her ATV)”). At that time the northern half of the Wickiup loop was not much of a trail. The road was mostly grown over with weeds and it was difficult to follow. Now the trail is in good repair and makes for a fun ride.
We parked at Exit 131. The wind was blowing hard. This surprised us because there was no wind in Green River. It was also about 10º cooler since the elevation is about 1000’ higher, and the clouds were building and growing dark. Once we got on the trail we were partially sheltered from the wind and had a nice ride – most of the time.
We rode north then northwest, from Exit 131, around the back side of the Wickiup. Some portions of the trail were a little rocky, but not very technical. Other portions of the trail provided a fun and fast cruise through open meadows.
We then rode along Oil Well Flat to the main dirt road that leads to Swinging Bridge and the San Rafael River and over to Lockhart Wash. I was hoping for some nice scenery since Lockhart Wash heads down towards the San Rafael Gorge. As we approached the gorge we were stopped at the Wilderness Study Area boundary before we had any spectacular views. This trail was a real disappointment. It had numerous erosion ruts across the trail, which made for slow going and a bumpy ride – especially for Kim on the ATV – and the scenery was not as good as hoped.
The Wickiup trail is worth doing again, but not Lockhart Wash.
As we headed back to the car the wind began blowing even harder and it started to rain. How many times have we been rained on (or hailed on) while riding in this area? It was scary riding on the freshly graveled road with such a strong cross wind – but we made it safely, loaded up, and headed to Green River to check into the motel. Our total ride was about 38.5 miles and took about 3 hours.
Thursday April 21: Fix-It-Pass to Eagle Canyon
A few years ago we rode this loop going the usual clockwise direction. This year we wanted to try going the opposite direction. Last time we also had two flat tires and one ATV that ran out of gas with 15 miles to go. Kim ended up towing the ATV for about 10 miles before someone siphoned some gas.
The Barton’s arrived in Green River late Wednesday night and the Bradley’s met us at the trailhead. How is it that every year they drive from Salt Lake and always beat us to the trailhead?
We rode the more common southern portion of the Wickiup loop. This is one of my favorite rides. It has a good combination of fast open terrain and tight and twisting turns through the Juniper trees. There is one surprise 90º turn to avoid a washed out section of the trail that usually catches someone off guard. This year Jason was the culprit that ended up missing the turn.
The trail then drops in to Cane Wash for a “warm up” section of sand. It seemed a little easier to ride this year – perhaps due to last night’s rain.
The ride up and over Saddle Horse Pass is also one my favorites. It seems that whenever you have red dirt through Juniper trees you have a fairly smooth and fun trail.
Fix-It-Pass has seen a fair amount of erosion since we were here last. It may have been difficult to get the ATVs up this year, but luckily we were going down. It was pretty easy on the bikes, but a little tricky for the ATVs. Paul and Scott brought down all three ATVs.
The trail then drops in to North Coal Wash for several miles of soft sand and gravel. A storm was forecast for the afternoon and the clouds were building, so we decided to eat lunch at Slipper Arch before it got much worse. Luckily, the storm faded and we had decent, although windy, weather for the remainder of the ride.
Luckily the sand wasn’t as bad as some years. Those on ATVs love this section, but it was still a bit tricky for the bikes. The key to riding sand is to go fast and hang on – so the bikers would occasionally take a break and wait for the ATVs to catch up.
South Coal Wash was a little easier because it was wet and had some water puddles. Matt even got muddy without Jason’s help.
Starting up the Eva Conover road
The trail then leaves the wash and follows the Eva Conover Road. This section was much rockier and more technical than I remembered. Perhaps it is just because we were going the other direction, but it seemed pretty challenging and rough.
Allison just obtained her ATV safety certification, so she got to drive for much of the day. For the most part she did really well, but she did roll the ATV in one rocky section along this portion of the trail. Luckily no one was hurt.
The lower portion of Eagle Canyon is also very rocky and rough, but it gets pretty fun between Eagle Arch and Swasey’s Cabin. From Swasey’s Cabin it is a fast ride back to the car on easy dirt roads. The total trip length was just shy of 60 miles. Everyone was tired and ready for dinner by the time we were finished. It was a fairly long and hard ride, but it is a classic and I think everyone enjoyed it. The trail covers some amazing terrain and has spectacular scenery. It is very rare to have a legal ATV trail through the midst of a wilderness study area.
Friday April 22: The 3D Trail
This ride was a subset of a more challenging ride that Jason and I did last fall. It included some points of interest along the way, and a good variety of terrain types. We chose this ride for Friday because the Moab Jeep Safari did not have a ride on the 3D Trail scheduled for this day. We did, however, encounter the Sevenmile Rim group and had to backtrack and pick an alternate route towards Determination Towers.
The weather was beautiful – bright and sunny. We parked at the main staging area on Mill Canyon Road (waypoint DT01).
We rode south on Cotter Mine Road (which is very easy) and then followed the first few miles of the Sevenmile Rim Jeep route. This section is pretty rough and rocky which probably made everyone wonder what I was leading them into. We left the Sevenmile Rim trail prior to hitting any of the serious obstacles and enjoyed a fast cruise across Courthouse Pasture. This is a smooth and sandy road. The sand could be called “ego sand” because it is so easy to ride in. It gives you a false sense of confidence – leading you to believe you really can ride sand (which we tested the next day).
At DT04, the ATVs continued straight over to Wipeout Hill while the bikes took the more challenging route behind Merrimac Butte. The ATVs could venture that way, but there are some steep side hills that I am sure the ladies would not enjoy.
There was quite a crowd at Wipeout Hill watching a few Jeeps go up and down the two different routes. The Jeep Safari group was not there, so the bulk of the crowd consisted of various ATV groups that came to watch.
After a nice break, we headed north towards Determination Towers and then down Tusher Wash. This is a really fun section with numerous banked turns. You do, however, need to be careful since there are many blind corners.
We then followed what the Jeep Safari groups call the “3D Trail”. This first section had several steep, rocky ascents and descents. An easier route would be to continue north to Mill Canyon Road and then west to Bartlett Wash Road.
We enjoyed a nice lunch at the eastern end of Tusher Tunnel. Following lunch, we continued on the 3D Trail, which consists of Hidden Canyon and Hidden Canyon Overlook trails. Hidden Canyon is a beautiful secluded canyon with sandy roads (more ego sand).
The trail turned west again and climbed to the Hidden Canyon Overlook trail. We passed through “Lunar Canyon” with its odd rock formations and desolate terrain. We then crossed a vast expanse of slickrock and stopped and enjoyed the view at Hidden Canyon Overlook.
After a much needed break, we continued on and came to the two most challenging obstacles on the trail: a steep slab of slickrock called “The Wall”, and a steep rocky climb with loose rocks called “Mean Hill”. The Wall was much harder going up than down but everyone on bikes made it fine; although it took Jason two attempts due to an encounter with a small bush. We found a nearby bypass for the ATVs. Taking an ATV up “The Wall” would be very risky. It would be advisable to use ropes or winches to prevent flipping over backwards. The wall seems much steeper in person than in this photo.
Once back on top of the plateau, the trail became easier, but still somewhat rocky. We enjoyed another break at Bartlett Wash Overlook with some spectacular scenic views. Beyond this point, the ride was pretty easy and fast. We rode out to the Dubinki Well Road and then the sandy Bartlett Wash Road back to Mill Canyon Road. The total trip length was about 42 miles and took about 6 hours including many scenic stops.
Saturday April 23: Salt Wash and Mary’s Trail
Our original plan was to ride the ATV trails at Buckhorn Flats in the San Rafael Swell, but the weather caused us to change plans. The forecast called for colder temperatures and rain and thunderstorms. We decided to head over to Salt Wash (near White Wash).
I have ridden the Salt Wash road many times, but I have never ridden in the wash bottom which is open to ATV travel. Within about 10’ everyone (on bikes) learned that yesterday’s fun sandy ride did little to improve our skills at riding deep sand and gravel wash bottoms. What a pain! At our first opportunity the bikes abandoned the wash and took the easy road. The plan was to meet the ATVs at waypoint SWW on Figure 16. Unfortunately, they encountered a pipe across the wash and also had to abandon the wash. With the help of our radios, helmet headsets, and GPSs we eventually got everyone together again.
The plan was then to ride Oil Well Wash. After a short distance we found a junction with a new sign indicating the “Orange Trail”. We knew Oil Well Wash was full of deep whoops, so we decided to explore the Orange Trail. This was a fairly fun ride – typical of many of the old Jeep roads in this area, consisting of rocky patches as well as fast easy sections through the desert. It eventually dropped back into the wash which came out right above White Wash Sand Dunes.
(Back in March, I noticed some new trail signs in this area, but I never bothered to look closely. It turns out the BLM has now mapped out a huge complex of trails and one of them they named the “Orange Trail”. I don’t know why, and I found it confusing since there is an Orange Trail in the San Rafael not too far away. I later found an updated map on the BLM website that shows the Orange Trail is a vast network of existing Jeep roads.)
Upon arriving at White Wash, we again split the group and sent the ATVs up White Wash to the dead-end box canyon. The bikes ventured over to Mary’s Trail which Jamie, Jason, and I rode in March. We quickly learned that Mary’s Trail is harder and more intimidating going west-to-east than the other direction. It was still fun – at least for me – I am not sure everyone enjoyed it. We stopped for a break and took some time to kludge a repair on Peter’s battery ground wire so his electric start would work again. It pays to always carry Duct Tape and baling wire.
Mary’s Trail consists of steep climbs and descents on slickrock. It is amazing how steep of a hill can be climbed on a dirt bike with sandstone for traction. This trail reminded me a lot of the Hell’s Revenge Trail near Moab.
After completing the first half of Mary’s Trail, we switched over and rode north on the harder half of Brian’s Trail. This has a few challenging ledges. The first one has a bypass, but a few of the boys made the steep and sandy climb. Scott also attempted the climb and gave us, and another group, a good laugh as he stalled his bike and got stuck.
After dropping off the last ledge, we rode through deep sand that gave me fits. I finally lost control and crashed, bruising my ribs on the handlebar. (So much for my confidence in riding sand).
We arrived at the box canyon, late as usual. To our surprise Paul and Sarah never showed up. They turned right instead of left when they dropped into the wash. After numerous search attempts, we figured they must have ridden back out of the wash, and sure enough, we later met up with them right where we split into the two groups.
On the way back to the car, the bikers took a short single track trail that is part of a long enduro race loop. It is a fun section, but it has some rocky bumps that can really throw you if you aren’t careful.
Upon arriving at the car, Jamie was the first to notice that our car had a flat rear tire. With great teamwork, we finally overcame the poor GMC engineering and managed to remove the jack from the car, remove the spare tire (which was flat), slowly put some air in I,t with a wimpy compressor, and replace the flat tire. We then started the journey home, encountering rain and snow as we crossed Soldier Summit.
One of my criteria for a successful vacation is that I come home exhausted so that I want to go back to work and rest. By this criterion, this vacation was a total success! We rode approximately 170 miles of intermediate and advanced trails in a very scenic part of Utah. And we had great company to enjoy it with! After a few days of rest, I will be anxious to get out and ride again.