San Rafael Trip Report – May 2013

May 16-17, 2013

My friend, Bob Dawson, asked me if I would show him some of the fun dirt bike trails in the San Rafael Swell.  How could I pass up an opportunity like that?

Since Jason just finished his last AP test, I decided to let him skip a few days of school and come with us.  The three of us headed off Thursday morning.  We arrived at the Swell at about 12:30 PM, found a nice place to camp, and ate lunch.


Thursday, May 16 – Dick Brass Trails

We headed off for our first ride at about 2:00 PM.  We ended up riding a lot further than planned, and didn’t arrive back at camp until about 7:00 PM.  We were all very tired and hungry when we got back.

Trail #927 went right through our camp, so we decided to explore that trail on our way to the Dick Brass single track trails.  This was a fun ATV trail and ended up making a nice shortcut.

Our route from camp to the Dick Brass trailhead

The main gravel roads got us from #927 to #842, which is one of my favorite trails in the area.  There were a few erosion ruts across the trail, but it was still a quick ride through the meadows and Juniper trees.

Our single track adventure began with the Green trail (#841).  This trail has a lot of whoops and a few tight turns, but for the most part you can ride it at a fast pace.

Jason getting some air on the Green trail

Bob enjoying his new KTM 300 XC-W

I had heard that the BLM recently reopened the VJ trail (for Victor Johnson, who helped map out the trails in the area).  There were even trail signs at both ends of the trail.  I later learned that this trail is NOT open.  The BLM still has it closed.

This is a black diamond single track that allows you to make a loop with the Orange trail.  I had heard it was a little easier riding north-to-south, so that is the direction we traveled.

Dick Brass & Temple Mtn trails

The VJ trail has a lot of small ledges to drop off as it follows a dry wash.

A portion of the VJ trail

One of many ledges to negotiate

There are a few rocky technical stretches as well as some side slope areas that I find somewhat intimidating.  I don’t know why a side slope tends to throw my balance off, but it does.

Bob negotiating the section where I suffered my first crash

On one section that wasn’t overly technical, I chose a bad line and hit a diagonal rock that knocked my front tire to the left.  This was my first crash of the day.  Luckily I was not injured.

It is unfortunate that this trail has NOT been reopened by the BLM because it makes a nice motorcycle loop when combined with the Orange trail.

After completing the VJ trail we quickly buzzed down to the base of Temple Mountain.  We tried to find the trail that goes over the mountain to the south, without success.  So we ventured around Temple Mountain via trail #849 and found the opposite end of the trail.

At this point Bob let me test ride his new KTM.  Riding a two stroke requires a different riding technique than I am used to, but it quickly became apparent why this is such a popular bike.  The bike is so light and nimble, and has quite a bit of low-end power for a two stroke.  It is a bike that encourages you to have fun while you ride.

Climbing towards Temple Mtn from the south

This trail dropped out into North Temple Wash (EM1015), so clearly the BLM map is incorrect – which explains why we couldn’t find the north end of the trail.  By this time I was getting my confidence on Bob’s bike, so I buzzed down North Temple Wash.  The gravel bottom was packed down nicely, so we could really fly down the slot canyon.

Bob then let Jason ride the 300 back through the wash.  That was a mistake because now he wants one.  This was Jason’s first trail ride with a bike with ample power.  He was having way too much fun.

Bob riding my Husaberg through North Temple Wash

Jason rode the bike through the wash, then along trail #845 to the southern trailhead to the Orange single track trail (#838).  Jason was really flying too.  We let him lead part of the way because he said I go too slowly.

I really enjoy the ‘blue’ portion (intermediate difficulty) of the Orange trail – especially riding south-to-north.  The trail has a good mix of wash bottoms, twisting single track, and rock ledges.

Some of the ledges on the Orange trail

The KTM 300 felt right at home amongst the rocks

On one of the ledge climbs I was too lazy to down-shift into first.  My front tire hit one of the ledges and I lost momentum and killed the bike.  Usually when this happens I quickly tip over to one side or the other, but in this case I just balanced there.  It was a really weird feeling.  The sudden stop knocked me forward enough that I bumped my GPS, but I was perfectly balanced with both feet on the pegs.  I remember thinking; “this is weird – I guess those DirtWise slow-riding exercises are helping improve my balance”.  For me, that was an unusual event.

After meeting the southern end of the Green trail, the Orange trail turns to a ‘black diamond’ (advanced).  It starts off by riding down a wash with several small ledges and one big one.  Here is a picture of Jason jumping off the ledge.

Jason jumping off the ledge on the Orange trail

Once the trail leaves the wash the fun really begins.  Assuming, that is, that you like rocky technical hill climbs – which I don’t.

It was getting late and we were all getting tired and hungry.  Through this section I suffered my second and third crashes of the day.

While approaching one of the rocky climbs, I hit a small rock that rolled out from under me.  This threw me down to the left quite hard.  I landed on my left wing bone and bumped my leg on a rock, followed by the bikes footpeg.  I got a nasty bruise on my leg even through my protective knee pads.  The pain wasn’t too bad, but my leg was pretty swollen when we finally got back to camp.  And the following day my ribs were pretty sore from the fall.

Of course this didn’t help my confidence any, so I slowly worked my way up through the rocks.  On the next major obstacle I took my third fall, but it was relatively slow so I wasn’t injured, although I did scratch my helmet as I slid back down the hill head first on my back.  Jason was just laughing at me.  But as usual, Bob was right there to pick me and my bike back up.

Jason going right of the rock ledge that did me in

Bob made everything look easy

After cresting that climb we decided we needed a rest and some food.  While resting I told Jason and Bob that I only remembered one more tough section remaining – the only section that I crashed on last time.

After the break, Bob decided to take the lead so that I could watch his line selection.  Unfortunately I did not have the camera rolling when Bob suffered, and I mean suffered, his one and only spill of the day.  While going up a sloped rock his rear wheel spun out from under him and he fell downhill to the right.  He landed on some rocks and his bike landed on him.  This hyper-extended his knee laterally, tearing some ligaments in his knee.  The pain wasn’t too bad, but he was unable to prevent his knee from buckling inward.  Luckily we were through the final obstacle and he was able to ride about 10 miles back to camp by supporting his knee against the side of the fuel tank.

We rode a total of about 58 miles and arrived back at camp at about 7:00 PM.  We cooked up some hot dogs for dinner then set up our tents and sat around reminiscing about the day’s ride and Bob’s misfortune.

Friday, May 17 – Eagle Canyon loop

Bob was wise enough to not risk further injury by riding more, but he felt bad about ending the trip for Jason and me.  Since Jason and I rode our planned trails last autumn, we didn’t feel too badly about quitting early.  Bob offered to sit at camp and read while Jason and I took a quick ride.

We didn’t want to ride anything too difficult since I was pretty stiff and sore from yesterday’s falls.  So, we decided to go explore some trails that have been on my ‘to do’ list for quite some time.  We avoided the main roads as much as possible, and put together a fun loop that was about 25 miles long.  This would make a great family ride that my wife and daughter would enjoy.

Eagle Canyon loop

Since Jason had so much fun riding Bob’s 300, I decided to let him ride my 450 so he could compare the two.  I also let him lead so that I could film him and eat his dust for a change.

We buzzed up the main road to ATV trail #924.  This is a small double track trail that provides a fun alternative to the main road while heading over to Swasey’s Cabin.  Before going to the cabin we turned north and visited the Lone Warrior petroglyph (labeled as waypoint 003 on the map).

With just the two of us we made quick time riding down Eagle Canyon (#820) without any stops.  I had a hard time keeping up with Jason to film him.  He is able to take the corners faster than I can. I would occasionally call him on my helmet radio and ask him to slow down a bit.

This was the first time I had ridden the CRF250X since buying the Husaberg FE450 a few years back.  I had forgotten what a fun bike it is to ride, but it certainly lacks in the power department.  In fact, it reminded me a lot of Bob’s 300 because I had to shift more frequently, it was more nimble, and it had less engine braking than my 450.  But it certainly didn’t have the zip and power that the 300 does.

At Eagle Arch we traded back to our regular bikes and rode up South Fork of Eagle Canyon (#822).  This is a fun trail.

Interesting scenery in South Fork of Eagle Canyon

We then turned east to explore some trails I had ridden before.  First was trail #929.  Most of this trail was pretty easy, although there were a few short rocky stretches.  This trail climbs up over a pass and then drops back down to one of the main dirt roads in the area.

Along trail #929

Next was trail #926, which was even easier than #929.  For the most part the trail was fairly smooth as it wound through the Juniper trees.  Jason enjoyed practicing ‘drifting’ on the corners.  When he would succeed, he would ask if I saw it, but there were usually trees in the way.

Terrain type on trail #926

Trail #926 meets up with trail #925 about in the middle.  Since it was not yet lunch time, and we were getting pretty close to camp, we decided to explore some of the side spurs in the area.  There are a lot of dead-end trails that lead to some really nice camping locations.

Our final spur was the only part of the day’s ride that would not be good for a family ride.  It involved some very steep and rocky hill climbs which led on top of the bluff just west of our camp.  From here we did have some nice views of the valley through which trail #927 travels.

Overlooking trail #927

The trail actually dropped down the other side and connected back into trail #927, so we were able to make a complete loop out of the ride.

Upon our return it was time for a quick lunch, then load up the trailer and head for home.  We arrived back in Salt Lake shortly after 5:00 PM, which gave Bob time to visit the doctor.  Luckily his doctor’s evaluation indicated that his knee may not require surgery.  Bob and I both feel it may be worth investing in better knee protection – especially when riding such technical trails.

It was unfortunate that Bob was not able to experience the Waterfall trail, the Behind The Reef trail, and Devil’s Racetrack, as we had planned.  But that just gives us a good reason to go back again!


About gardinerfamilyadventures

A really great family!
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4 Responses to San Rafael Trip Report – May 2013

  1. Del Hanks says:

    I enjoy reading your articles and reading about some new areas that I have not been to but are excited to try out. it is also nice to read about “normal “people that ride instead of just the so called experts. thanks again.


  2. It is not very often that I am referred to as “normal”. Thanks!

  3. Al Hill says:

    Ouch on the knee 😦 My knees hate me and dirtbiking… In the past, I’ve had Don-joy and Asterix braces, but have settled on the EVS RS8s for now, I like how light they are and they still have the hinged protection. If you can get your insurance or health savings accounts to pay for them, I’ve heard good things about the podmx customs.

  4. Pingback: San Rafael Swell Recreation Area Utah - Devils Racetrack ATV Trails UT | Rider Destinations

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