San Rafael & White Wash – May 2011

May 6-7, 2011

Eight adventurous souls were lucky enough to spend two beautiful spring days enjoying the scenery and exciting dirt bike trails in the San Rafael Swell and Green River areas.

Back: Ed Lamborn, Dee Gardiner, Trent Zahm, Matt Zahm
Front: Tanner Rich, Ward Rich, Troy Sterr, Burt Lamborn

Friday May 6: Devil’s Racetrack (1st day, 1st ride)

Our group gathered for breakfast at the Super 8 Motel in Green River.  We were on the road to the trailhead by about 8:00 AM.  We parked at Exit 131 in the San Rafael Swell and unloaded our bikes and prepared for our first ride – the famous Eagle’s Canyon/Coal Wash/Devil’s Racetrack loop.  This is a classic trail that traverses some beautiful country in a Wilderness Study Area.  The loop is about 56 miles in length and takes many groups a full day to ride.  Figure 2 shows a GPS record of our journey.

Devil’s Racetrack GPS track

Exit 131 is on the far right side of the map, along I-70.  An easy road (green) takes us south and then west to the head of Eagle Canyon near Swasey’s Cabin.  We met a large ATV group at Swasey’s Cabin, but they were nice enough to let us enter Eagle Canyon first so we wouldn’t have to eat their dust.

Swasey’s Cabin & Broken Cross

Eagle Canyon is a fun ride.  The old Jeep road winds its way down in elevation as it zigzags through beautiful desert county.  Portions of the trail are a little rocky with some slightly exposed sections.  The trail is rated intermediate (blue), but it is not a very technical ride.  We made good time and enjoyed a short break beneath Eagle Arch.  Eagle Canyon was so named because early explorers claimed the canyon was so deep that an eagle could not fly out.  Somehow we doubt that statement.

Group photo at Eagle Arch

Beyond the arch the trail entered a dry (most of the time) sandy wash with some fairly large boulders.  The trail was a little rougher as it passed under the twin bridges on I-70 high overhead.  We then took a rocky climb back out of the canyon on the Eva Conover Road.  After we passed a freeway maintenance shack the trail turns north for one of my favorite rides in the area.  Some portions of the Eva Conover road are fairly rocky, but there are also some very fun sandy banked turns.  It is really fun to ride this section while closely following someone and recording the action with a helmet camera.  The scenery was spectacular as well, so it pays to slow down now and then to enjoy the view.

We got our first glimpse of South Coal Wash when the trail crossed a slab of slickrock with a sheer cliff dropping into a side fork of the wash bottom.  The view here is worth the stop for some photos.

Special thanks to Burt and Troy (Highline Recreation) for organizing the trip

South Coal Wash had some water, which made the sand easier to ride and the trail all that much more enjoyable.  Along with some flowing water there were a few oil seeps that generated some bizarre color combinations.

Oil seep in South Coal Wash

At the confluence of North and South Coal Wash the trail continues down the wash to the north, but our path led us up (south) North Coal Wash towards the famous “Devil’s Racetrack”.

North Coal Wash was dry and consisted of deeper, softer sand.  Burt and Troy periodically traded bikes with me so they could try my Husaberg and I could try their tuned suspension, trials tire, and steering stabilizer.  I learned that those three items made riding in the sand a much more enjoyable experience.  For the first time in my life, I could ride the soft sand and feel like I was somewhat in control!  It was a much more pleasant experience and I felt significantly safer.

North Coal Wash continues on towards Slipper Arch and Fix-It-Pass, but we exited the wash about half way up at the Devil’s Racetrack turnoff.

Ward and Tanner read to start Devil’s Racetrack

Devil’s Racetrack is an advanced trail (red).  It contains numerous rock ledges, exposed roots, loose rocks, and a few sandy spots – nothing but pure fun for those that love a challenge.  Actually, most of the trail isn’t all that technical in spite of the rocks and ledges – it isn’t easy, but it isn’t all that hard either – until you get to what I call the “ledges” and the “steps”.  In fact, there is one really fun sequence of banked turns right in the middle of the trail.  Last time I rode this section I was following closely behind my son, Jason, filming him with my helmet camera.  When we finished, I noticed the camera was off.  So, we went back and did it again!  Again the camera was off.  It turns out my memory stick was full.  This time I made sure to reserve space for this section of the trail. Hopefully my video turned out okay.

When we got to the ledges section, Burt and Troy “played” on the ledges going up and down just for the fun of it (and to practice).  They probably wondered why the rest of us weren’t doing the same.  As for me, I was content to go down it once – only because I had to.  But we got to enjoy the excitement when Troy slipped on a sand covered rock and crashed.  Luckily he wasn’t hurt too badly – other than maybe his pride.

We then came to the “steps” section.  It is probably mostly mental, but I have never been able to ride this section cleanly.  Some of the steps are spaced so that your front and rear tire each hit a step at the same time.  I usually don’t carry enough momentum to make it up these steps and end up killing my bike numerous times.  But at least I got through it without crashing.

Troy went back for a second ride using my bike.  It was no surprise that he proved it is the rider and not the bike that prevents me from a clean run.

Troy testing my Husaberg

On the way back to the car we made brief stops at Dutchman Arch, Cane Wash Overlook, and the pictographs at Locomotive Point.  We arrived at the car about 2:00 PM, took a short break, gassed up our bikes, and headed out for our second ride of the day (normally 60 miles is a full day for me).

Friday May 6: Dick Brass Trails (1st day, 2nd ride)

Most of the group had never been to the Dick Brass trail system before, so we thought it would make a nice second ride.  The trailhead is about 15 miles away, but it is easy gravel road and doesn’t take long on a dirt bike.

We turned off the Temple Mountain road and headed east towards the trailhead.  Ed wanted to try my bike, so we traded.  This is a fun and fast road with small bumps and curves through the trees.  As I approached the first corner I learned that Ed’s brakes are much softer than mine.  After a brief panic, I managed to get the hang of riding his bike with the soft rear brake and the front brake that pulses in and out with the front suspension.  Ed was used to the pulsing, so it didn’t bother him until I pointed it out.  We later added some braces to his brake cable to reduce this effect.

When we arrived at the trailhead, Ward and Tanner noticed a flat tire, so they headed back to the car to get it repaired for tomorrow’s ride.

I have ridden the Green, Blue, and Orange trails a few times in the past, but always in a counter-clockwise direction.  We decided to try it clockwise this time.  I concluded it is a little more challenging this direction, but perhaps that was because of fatigue.  It is really pretty fun either direction, although there are a few technical challenges along this advanced portion of the Orange trail.

Dick Brass route

For me, the most enjoyable part of the Orange trail goes south from the Orange-Green junction.  Even though I enjoy this section, I opted to skip the ride because I was sore and tired.  Burt, Troy, Ed, Matt, and Trent did an out and back on this section (not shown on the map).  This section also offers some nice views of Temple Mountain (so named because it looks a lot like the Manti Temple when viewed from certain angles).

The Dick Brass Trails are all single track.  The Green trail is pretty easy, with a fair number of mild whoops.  Blue is similar, but winds through the trees more.  Orange is more challenging.  To the north there are the Red trail (harder still) and the famous “Five Miles of Hell”.  I have seen many videos of FMOH, but so far I haven’t figured out why people think it is fun.

We completed the ride and returned to Green River for dinner and a good night’s rest.

Saturday May 7: Dead Cow Loop & Mary’s Trail East (2nd day, 1st ride)

On Saturday we awoke to clear skies and warmer temperatures (mid-80s).  In spite of the heat it was a beautiful day to be riding in the White Wash area.  After finishing the repair of Ward’s tire, we drove down to the White Wash staging area (labeled “car” on the GPS record shown in Figure 10).

We rode down the dry wash bottom until we hit the fence line.  The route follows the fence line and then drops into Red Wash.  Upper Red Wash is now closed, so we just passed through on our way to the Dead Cow loop.

The Dead Cow loop is an amazing single track ride.  You travel through miles of open desert to get there, and then you drop into a “U” shaped slot canyon with pools of water.  The first pool was probably the deepest. I hit it with some speed to make sure my momentum carried me through.  I over did it a bit.  The wave of water went completely over my head!  I was drenched head to toe.  It was very refreshing, and I knew that I would want another dunking later in the heat of the afternoon.

The ride down Dead Cow Wash is truly spectacular.  The trail goes all the way to the Green River.  Because the river is starting to rise with spring runoff, the log crossing at the bottom was either washed away or completely under water.  We therefore returned to the high-water exit which is a steep sandy hill that exits the canyon.

White Wash ride

From the exit, the trail consists of a few miles of whoops and then drops back down to the river bottom.  We followed the trail back towards Dead Cow Wash and rode through a narrow slot between Tamarisk trees and a cliff.  We had a nice refreshing break under the shade of the trees.

We then followed the river downstream to the entrance to “the Tubes” – a slot canyon even narrower than Dead Cow Wash.  The Tubes is more of a “V” shape so the riding is a little trickier – but it is totally awesome!

Thumps up in the “Tubes”

After completing the Tubes, we attempted to take the “cutoff” route that drops back in to Dead Cow Wash.  We made a wrong turn and took Dead Cow Road back to the whoop trail.  We recognized our mistake and returned in search of the cutoff trail.  We eventually gave up and decided to head over to the slickrock area east of White Wash so that Matt and Trent could ride some slickrock before they had to leave.

We rode part of a trail called “3 Miles of Whoops” until it intersected the Ten Mile Point Road.  We followed this easy road north to the entrance to the White Wash single track trails.  The single track is really fun as it winds through the red desert terrain.  We moved in a northern direction until we got on top of the slickrock and joined “Mary’s Trail”.  I do not know who Mary is, but she must be really something.  Mary’s trail is extremely intense!

Figure 13 shows a group photo taken at the eastern end of Mary’s Trail.  Our first climb was on the steep hill behind us in the photo.

Group shot on Mary’s trail

I went first.  From the side, the hill doesn’t look too bad.  From the bottom it looks like a sheer cliff!  It is a steep climb with a few small ledges that cause you to wheelie.  It takes fine throttle control to find the balance between flipping over backwards and keeping your momentum moving you up the hill.  I think I popped three wheelies going up, but I managed to hang on and made it to the top.

I was glad I went first.  The next two riders failed in their first attempt.  Some took three attempts to make the top.  If I would have seen others struggle, it would have blown my confidence and I doubt I would have made it.  It was, however, entertaining watching the chaos as everyone attempted the climb.  Of course, Burt and Troy flew up with ease.

The trail then descends a similarly steep hill, climbs another one, descends again, and then we come to the hard part.  Actually the hard part probably isn’t all that hard – but it is very intimidating.  You cross a gully then traverse left across a side slope.  Right at the top there is a ledge almost 3’ high.  I don’t have the confidence to ride a ledge that tall, so I considered going around to the left – but this sneak route was very close to a steep cliff edge that drops 40’ or 50’ into the wash bottom.  It was too risky for an old man like me, so I called for help.  Burt was kind enough to ride my bike up the ledge for me.

I felt good about my decision (to be a chicken), and felt even better after watching others in the group wipe out on their attempt.

Ed went straight for the ledge with his low geared IT490.  He made the top, barely, and then his motor died.  He slowly rolled backwards – just out of reach from those of us standing nearby.  As his bike hit the slickrock I noticed his front brake lever bend out to the side.  I thought for sure he broke his lever – but no, he broke his handlebar!

So there we were, several miles from the car, with challenging obstacles in front of us, and behind us, and Ed’s right side handlebar is pointed straight down!  There was no way he could ride it like that – so we attempted to straighten it.  We almost had it, when “crack,” the bottom half of the bar tube snapped.  The top half was still holding it in place, but with no strength.  Someone (sorry, I don’t remember who) had the brilliant idea to strap a tire iron across the handlebar.  You can fix anything with bailing wire and duct tape – and a tire iron.  The repair actually worked quite well.  Ed made it safely back to the car.

Handlebar repair

We were lucky and did not hit any more real challenging obstacles on the remainder of Mary’s trail until it intersected Brian’s trail.  We took Brian’s trail south, which is pretty easy, but does have a fair number of whoops.  From there we rode the Red Wash Road and then up “Kid’s Trail” and through White Wash back to the car and lunch.

Matt and Trent had to depart at this point.  The rest of us enjoyed an overdue lunch break and then returned to White Wash for more adventure.

Saturday May 7: Brian’s Trail & Mary’s Trail West (2nd day, 2nd ride)

After lunch we went out into the White Wash sand dunes to play around.  This, however, didn’t last too long.  When the wind blows the sand around the sand dunes constantly shift position.  They tend to form a nice gradual slope on the windward side, but a very steep drop-off on the leeward side.  These steep slopes often catch you by surprise.  If you are not careful you can easily plunge down a 15-20’ cliff.  Sometimes you may hit a pocket of really soft sand.  Burt did a nice slow-motion “endo” when his front tire hit one of these sink holes.

We decided to work our way over to the wash and ride White Wash up to the box canyon, and then on to Brian’s trail.  This portion of Brian’s trail is more challenging than the southern end.  It consists of a steep slickrock “waterfall”, two ledges to climb, plus a little bit of sand and some slickrock.  Once up the ledges we crossed over a pass and dropped down to Mary’s trail, which heads west.

This portion of Mary’s trail is very fun.  It reminds me of the Hell’s Revenge trail near Moab.  It consists of numerous steep slickrock ascents and descents.  None of them are as challenging as the eastern half – they are pretty smooth and fairly easy climbs.  They look a little intimidating at first, but it is amazing how steep of a slickrock hill you can climb on a motorcycle.  (In case you weren’t aware, “slickrock” received it name many years ago because horses would slip on the sandstone.  Rubber tires get amazing traction.)

After completing Mary’s trail we worked our way back to the car, loaded up and headed for home.  In total we covered about 46 miles and traveled on some of the most amazing trails in the Green River area.  I believe everyone had a great time.  When can we go back?

About gardinerfamilyadventures

A really great family!
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2 Responses to San Rafael & White Wash – May 2011

  1. Jared says:

    This is a great trail review! I remember riding here when I was 14. I have got to get back down there. Love the San Rafael Swell area. Have you ever ridden there in the winter is there to much snow? I am always looking for new places to ride in the winter since most of my favorite mountain trails are closed for several months.

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