St. George Poker Run – Dec. 2011

Dec. 3, 2011

For years I have wanted to participate in a “poker run”.  A poker run is sort of a race – but without racing.  The sponsors lay out a course.  You follow the course, and periodically come to a waypoint where you draw a playing card.  At the end of the event you have five cards.  Whoever has the best poker hand wins a prize!

A few months ago I learned of the 19th Annual St. George Poker Run to be held on December 3 in Warner Valley.  Normally, my dirt bikes are winterized and sleeping cozily in the shed all winter, but this year I talked Jamie into heading down south with me (Jason was not able to go due to basketball practice).  I haven’t been to St. George very many times, but it is supposed to have nicer weather than Salt Lake during the winter months.  Don’t you believe it!

Late Friday afternoon I drove down to BYU to pick up Jamie.  I made good time and she was ready to go when I arrived.  We left Provo shortly after 4:30 PM and headed south on I-15.  We hit a few snow flurries near Spanish Fork and noted that it was a good thing we were not heading up Spanish Fork Canyon.  To our surprise, we hit heavy snow just before Nephi.  We thought it would soon pass – but we thought wrong.

Blizzard from Nephi to almost Hurricane

The conditions got gradually worse as we went further south.  In some areas there were numerous cars and trucks off the side of the road.  I never felt the Suburban slip at all, but I drove very cautiously to avoid having the trailer jackknife on me.  At times we were lucky to go 30 mph.

We stopped in Beaver for gas and to buy dinner.  We called Kim and Kevin and had them look up road conditions from Beaver to St George.  We decided to press on.

By the time we finished dinner it had stopped snowing.  We thought maybe the storm had passed through.  Perhaps it had.  If so, it was heading south, following I-15.  We had almost non-stop blizzard conditions from Nephi to 10 miles short of our motel near Hurricane.  It took us 7 hours of white-knuckle driving to make the journey.

Ice buildup on the trailer

After a brief night’s sleep, we arose and had a continental breakfast at the motel.  We headed out to Warner Valley at about 8:25 AM and arrived at our destination (Moon Rocks near Fort Pearce) shortly after 9:00 AM when the events were scheduled to begin.

The weather was partly cloudy and cool.  All right, it was downright cold!  But the worst part was the wind.  Luckily the sandy soil was moist from the previous storm so it wasn’t very dusty, but the wind was pretty unbearable until it warmed up a bit.

The wind blew over the “Escargot” course

One of my goals of the trip was to meet new riding families.  Those with families mostly stuck to the safety and warmth of their vehicles.  We did, however, get to meet some of the participants as they hovered around the bonfire they kept burning all day long.

Finally, at about 10:30, it warmed up enough that Jamie and I did a little warm-up riding near the base camp.  Shortly thereafter I noticed that the crowd had disappeared from around the campfire.  The poker run had finally begun.  The nice thing about a poker run is that you can go at your own pace.  Jamie and I started off on the course, following the pink ribbons that marked the trail (see the red dotted track in the following map).

GPS tracks

 We rode the loop counter-clockwise, starting from Moon Rocks.  The southern part of the trail crossed open stretches of desert and followed wash bottoms.

Typical single track through the desert

At the far eastern end of the loop, the trail turned north, following some nice ATV trails.  It then dropped into another wash as the trail turned back to the west.  Some of the washes were sandy while others were fairly rocky – but nothing too technical.

Some washes were rocky, some were sandy

The trail then climbed into the foothills of the bluff to the north.  This portion of the trail was really fun as it traversed the side of the hills, offering some spectacular views of the surrounding area.

A nice view from the “fun” portion of the poker run route

A really cool trail!

Dropping down from the foothills the trail entered a very tight and winding wash.  It was kind of fun to ride through such a narrow slot, but I soon developed cramps from holding my feet up in the air because the slot was so narrow.

Super-tight wash

Closer to the bottom, the wash opened up a bit, which made for some really fun riding with tight banked turns.

The wash opened up a bit near the bottom

The route brought us back to the top of “Moon Rocks”, which gave us a nice view of the base camp and the Escargot course.

View of base camp and the Escargot course

At the event trailer, we turned in our playing cards.  Jamie had a joker, which entitled her to a free tee-shirt.  She was excited, because she has been collecting tee-shirts lately.  Unfortunately, it was pink – not her color.  They exchanged her joker for another card drawn from a deck, which gave her three Jacks and two 2s – a full house.  She had the best hand of the morning run – by far!  Unfortunately, someone in the afternoon run bumped her out of first place with another full house – Queens high.

BBQ hamburgers were served for lunch, which gave everyone a chance to talk about how fun the poker run course was.  We hung around for a while waiting for the next event to start.  It soon became clear that there was still no sense of order, so Jamie and I headed down the main dirt road to visit the dinosaur tracks.  We found the parking area (green route on the map), but found that the foot trail was longer than we wanted to attempt in our motorcycle boots.  So we returned to camp in time to watch the last few contestants in the trials competition.

The trials course

The trials competition is a timed event, and you get docked points every time you touch your foot to the ground.  It was clear that those who entered the event were far superior riders to me.  They had very good balance and fine control of the brakes, throttle, and clutch.

The obstacle that no one could ride clean

Following the trials competition, we again waited for the next event – and once again nothing was happening.  So we took another short ride (blue route) and visited the ruins of Fort Pearce, which was built during 1866-67 during the Black Hawk war.

Fort Pearce ruins

We got back just as the Escargot race was about to end.  An Escargot course is laid out in a spiral.  You ride from the outside in towards the center, turn around, and ride back out spinning the opposite direction.  Jamie decided to give it a try.  She was the very last contestant.

Jamie starting the Escargot race

She won!  Jamie took first place in the women’s category.  When she decided to enter, she had no idea that no other females had entered the event.  So she was pleasantly surprised to learn that she won!

Jamie won the women’s Escargot and took 2nd in the poker run!

Following the awards ceremony, we packed up and headed for home.  We had a headwind for the first part of our journey, but the roads were clear and the traffic was light.  We made good time returning home.

So, was it worth going?  Yes and no.  The drive to St. George is pretty long for a single day of riding.  If we could spend two or three days down there, it would have definitely been worth it.  And if we hadn’t had to drive through a blizzard it would have been much less stressful.  And of course it would be more enjoyable with other families along.

Warner Valley has trails all over the place – single track, ATV trails, and Jeep roads.  Some of the trails we rode were extremely fun, but most of them were pretty tricky due to the soft sand and numerous whoops.  It would take a lot of time to explore the area more completely and find the really fun places to ride.  But if you are looking for a winter destination, Warner Valley offers plenty of trails to explore.

For more photos, check out my Picasa album at:

And here is my video of the event:


About gardinerfamilyadventures

A really great family!
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