Grand Staircase-Escalante – May 2017

May 25-27, 2017

There has been a lot of controversy over the recent National Monuments formed in Utah.  But one thing I will say, is that it gives me a name for my adventure report!

This trip has been in a gradual planning phase for a few years now.  I have been studying other trip reports, watching weather forecasts, and checking on road conditions.  As soon as my son and daughter’s scheduled aligned, we set down a date and hoped for good weather.  We lucked out.  A few weeks earlier saw severe rain storms, which would have made some of the roads impassable.  We had hot and dry weather, with a fair amount of wind.  Temperatures were perfect at night for sleeping, and great during the day while riding, but hot for hiking.  The only real downside was the infestation of gnats.  We had a lot of gnats at both of our campsites.

Here is my highlights video.  More detailed road report videos are included farther down.

We left home late on Wednesday afternoon and drove to Cannonville where we stayed in the Grand Staircase Inn.  A fitting way to start our Grand Staircase adventure.

The next morning, we drove to Escalante and stopped at the National Monument visitor’s center just as they opened at 8:00 AM.  We picked up a backcountry camping permit and checked on road conditions one more time.

Grand Staircase May2017 (42)

Jason caught a lizard

We stopped at the Renegade Restaurant and ate a huge breakfast.  This allowed us to have a late lunch and a late dinner, which we would need due to the busy day’s schedule.

Grand Staircase May2017 (43)

Renegade breakfast

Here is a portion of the map provided by the visitor’s center, followed by my GPS track.

Grand Staircase map 2017

A portion of the visitor’s map


Grand Staircase A May2017

GPS track for most of our ride

Grand Staircase B May2017

GPS track for the southern part

The green track is day one, blue is day two, and teal is day three.

Day 1

Hole-In-The-Rock Road

We parked at a primitive camping area about six miles east of Escalante, just a few hundred feet down the Hole-In-The-Rock Road (road #200).

Grand Staircase May2017 (5)

Almost to the trailhead

While unloading the trailer and rigging our bikes, a nearby camper came over to ask where we were headed with so much gear.  We told him of our plans, and he suggested an alternate route.  His description sounded great, so we decided to follow his route and abandon ours.  This turned out to be a good decision as it added some fun and scenic roads and eliminated about 50 miles of pavement with strong headwinds and heavy Memorial weekend traffic.

Devils Garden

Getting ready to ride

It always takes longer to rig the bikes than I think it should, so we didn’t get started until after 11:00 AM.

Grand Staircase May2017 (44)

All clean and ready to go

The first part of the Hole-In-The-Rock Road is a nice gravel road.  The speed limit is posted at 35 mph, but it would be very easy to cruise at 50 mph on much of the road.

The road was in pretty good condition.  In fact, we passed two road graders coming back from Hole-In-The-Rock after finishing grading the road.  We were actually surprised to find that most of the roads in our 300 mile loop were recently graded.


Hole-In-The-Rock Road

The first part of the road varies between gravel, hard packed dirt, and sections of loose sand.  Luckily the sand wasn’t very deep, so it didn’t cause us much trouble.  The worst sections had wash board bumps in the bottom of ruts, buried in 2” of sand.

After about 10 miles, we took a short side spur to Devil’s Garden.  This is a fascinating set of rock formations.  It reminds me of a mini-Arches National Park mixed with Goblin Valley.  This would be a great place for families with young children to enjoy a picnic.  There are picnic tables and restrooms, and plenty of hoodoos and arches to explore.


Devils Garden A (3)

Hoodoos at Devil’s Garden

Devils Garden B (7)

One of several arches

We didn’t stay long since we had a long ride ahead of us.  We made good time as we rode in a southwesterly direction toward Hole-In-The-Rock.

Our next stop, Dance Hall Rock, is about 40 miles down the road.  The pioneers that blazed this amazing trail held dances here while work crews constructed the wagon road down through the slot to the Colorado River.  I was surprised at how uneven the sandstone floor was.  I suspect they suffered a few sprained ankles at their dances.


Dance Hall Rock (3)

A short hike to Dance Hall Rock

Dance Hall B (2)

A closer look

Dance Hall Rock (1)

The uneven floor


The road to this point was pretty easy, and somewhat boring.  But after Dance Hall Rock, the road immediately gets a lot rockier in spots.  It wasn’t overly difficult for us on our small dirt bikes, but it could be a challenge for those on larger adventure bikes lacking good off-road skills.  It would also require higher ground clearance for 4-wheeled vehicles.

We were getting tired by this time, and we were anxious for a change.  Luckily the last few miles get even more interesting with slabs of slickrock, more twists and turns, and more ups and downs.  A little variety really helps you stay focused.  The scenery also improves as you near the end of the road.

Hole In The Rock C (4)

Jason cruising along

HITR Approach

Jamie approaching Hole-In-The-Rock

We arrived at Hole-In-The-Rock just after another group left, so we had the place to ourselves.  We hiked (or hobbled) part way down the slot to eat lunch in the shade.  We had now ridden about 58 miles and finally wore off that huge breakfast.  It was nice to sit and relax and ponder how in the world those pioneers got horses and wagons down through this slot.  It was truly an amazing feat.


Hole In The Rock A (1)

We made it

Hole In The Rock A (5)

Jamie and Jason at Hole-In-The-Rock

Hole In The Rock A (6)

Jamie starting down

Hole In The Rock A (3)

Lunch in the shade


Fifty Mile Bench

Our plan was to ride back towards the car and camp somewhere before reaching the turnoff into Left Hand Collet Canyon.  We were also anxious for a change of pace, so we took some side roads and explored the area a little on our way back.

Fifty Mile Bench (2)

Heading back from Hole-In-The-Rock

Our first side spur was to an old coral at Fifty Mile Spring.  That would have made an excellent campsite, but it is too early in the day for us to set up camp.

Fifty Mile Bench (3)

Approaching Fifty Mile Spring

Fifty Mile Bench (4)

An old coral

After discussing our options, we decided to try riding up Sooner Slide (Road #280) to Fifty Mile Bench (#290).  If the road wasn’t in too bad of condition, it would bypass most of the rockier sections of the Hole-In-The-Rock road.

This turned out to be a highlight of the trip.  The climb up Sooner Slide was long and steady, but the road was in pretty good condition.  Once we arrived on Fifty Mile Bench, the road was an absolute blast!  The road was fairly smooth (it hadn’t just been graded) as it wound through the Juniper trees.

Fifty Mile Bench (5)

Fifty Mile Mountain in the background, Fifty Mile Bench part way up

Fifty Mile Bench (6)

Climbing up Sooner Slide

Fifty Mile Bench (7)

View from Sooner Slide


Fifty Mile Bench (8)

Cruising along Fifty Mile Bench

Fifty Mile Bench (9)

Lots of fun twists and turns

Fifty Mile Bench (11)

One of the rockier sections


We eventually had to head back down off the bench, by taking road #260.  This northern end was significantly steeper than Sooner Slide, and the road was very rocky and eroded.  There were many bowling ball sized rocks and ruts about 2’ deep.  It was a tiring descent, but we all made it down without incident.  This would have been a real challenge for anyone on a larger bike or even an SUV.

Fifty Mile Bench (12)

Starting the descent from Fifty Mile Bench

Fifty Mile Bench (13)

Some sections were a lot rockier than this

Fifty Mile Bench (16)

It was a long and steep descent

Our last side spur of the day was towards Batty Pass Caves.  We never found the caves, but we did find a great place to camp.


Batty Pass Camp B (1)

Jamie teaching Jason a little yoga

Batty Pass Camp (1)

Freeze-dried dinner coming up

We quickly set up camp, took a short break while fighting off gnats, and ate our freeze-dried dinner.  The wind blew most of the time, sometimes keeping the gnats away.

It was hot during the day, but at night the temperature was just right for sleeping.  Everyone got a fairly decent night’s sleep – especially for a first night in a sleeping bag.

Day 2

We awoke to another gorgeous, sunny day, but the wind was still blowing.  For breakfast, we thought we would try scrambled eggs.  Prior to the trip I purchased a plastic egg cartoon that would hold six eggs.  Unfortunately, two of them broke sometime between lunch and dinner the previous day.  Fortunately, I was smart enough to place them in a zip-lock bag.  Otherwise, Jason’s backpack would have been a horrible mess.

Jason ate two of the remaining eggs, while Jamie and I each had one.  We supplemented with granola bars and clementines.

Twenty Mile Dinosaur Tracks

We broke camp and hit the road shortly after 9:00 AM.  We quickly buzzed down Hole-In-The-Rock Road and turned into Left Hand Collet Canyon.  We stopped to check out the Twenty Mile Dinosaur tracks, but we were not particularly impressed.  Maybe we didn’t find the right place, but what appeared to be a serious of footprints didn’t really look like dinosaur tracks that I have seen in other places.  But based on this report, I think we found them:

Dinosaur Hike

In search of dinosaur tracks

Dinosaur Tracks (3)

They are mounds rather than dents

Left Hand Collet

Left Hand Collet Canyon (road #230) was really fun.  The road follows a stream bed for several miles, thus it is subject to frequent washouts.  Luckily the road was in good condition and made for a really fun ride.


LHC (3)

Riding up the stream bed

LHC (2)

A fun canyon

LHC (1)

The popular photo rock

We had to stop at one point because my right-side mirror mount came loose.  The threads had stripped, so we had to remove the mirror before we could continue.  This was our only mechanical issue of the entire trip.

Near the end, the road climbs out of the streambed and goes up a few switchbacks, bringing you out on top with a junction for Croton Road to the left, or Smoky Mountain Road to the right.  Our original plan was to ride south on Smoky Mountain Road, but the guy at the car said Croton was in good condition this year and a much better option.  We ended up returning via Smoky Mountain Road, so we verified his report.

Croton Road

I was a little nervous starting down Croton Road (#340) because I didn’t have a track loaded in my GPS.  But the guy that recommended it said it was easy to follow and well signed.  It turned out to be a great ride.

Croton Road sits in between Smoky Mountain Road and Hole-In-The-Rock, being just west of Fifty Mile Mountain.  The road eventually swings around to the west and ties back into Smoky Mountain Road.

The first part of the ride was up in the Juniper trees.  The road was in good shape, so we were able to ride pretty fast.  The road crisscrosses a ridgeline several times, offering great views both to the east and the west.  We kept wondering why anyone would build a road here – but we were glad they did.


Croton Road (3)

Riding along the ridge

Croton Road (1)

First look at Lake Powell

Eventually the road drops in elevation and you get your first glimpse of Lake Powell.  There is little shade after you leave the higher elevations, and it was about time to eat lunch.  We finally found some shade at the junction with the Grand Bench Road.  The side spur crosses a small stream with Tamarisk trees.  Normally I don’t like Tamarisk trees, but we were glad for a little shade.

From the junction, the road works its way west until it finally merges into Smoky Mountain Road.

Alstrom Point

Alstrom Point is a side spur off the Croton Road to an overlook above Gunsight Butte and Lake Powell.  This was a really fun and fast road, and the scenery at the end was wonderful.


Alstrom Point Road (2)

Cruising out to Alstrom Point

Alstrom Point Road (1)

Getting close

Jamie was getting pretty tired by this time, so she was glad for a half hour break while we watched the boats down on the lake.

Alstrom Point (1)

Gunsight Butte

After our break, we hurried to Big Water for a promised ice cream bar.  We also needed to buy gas and refill our water bottles.  We each used about two gallons of water during the past 24 hours, and we were almost out.  My mileage read 206 miles from the car to Big Water, and my low fuel light came on about 10 miles out of town (with a 3.5 gallon tank and 3 liters of extra fuel).  As usual for dual sport rides, Jason and I averaged about 55 miles per gallon while Jamie got around 60.

Smoky Mountain Road

After a break in Big Water, we rode back the way we came.  Our original plan was to ride west on Highway 89 for about 11 miles and then go north via Cottonwood Canyon.  We decided that we didn’t want to fight the strong headwind with the heavy Memorial weekend traffic, and that it may be difficult to find a campsite in Cottonwood Canyon.  So, we headed back towards Escalante via Smoky Mountain Road (#300).

Shortly after passing the turnoff to the Croton Road, we reached the base of the Kelly Grade – a steep climb up the face of the cliff.  This reminded me somewhat of the switchbacks on the Burr Trail, the Shaffer Trail, and the Muley Dugway.


Smoky Mtn Road (2)

Starting up the Kelly Grade

Smoky Mtn Road (3)

Part way up

Kelly Grade B (2)

Half way up the Kelly Grade

Kelly Grade (3)

Panoramic view from the top

Kelly Grade B (5)

Selfie time


We stopped at the top to take some photos and visited briefly with a couple that were set to camp right on the rim.  The wind was really strong there, so it didn’t look like an ideal campsite to me – at least with this strong wind blowing.

We continued on, looking for a place to camp.  The first site we found was near Pilot Knoll.  The campsite wasn’t as nice as the previous camp, but it would do.  It offered some shelter from the wind, but the ground was mostly sandstone so it was hard to stake our tents.

Smoky Camp (1)

Camp #2

Smoky Camp A (3)

A view of camp

Smoky Camp C (2)

Seeking shelter from the gnats



Seeking shelter from the gnats

It had been a long day, putting in about 138 miles.  This may be a record for Jamie and Jason.

We fought off the gnats for a while and then heated up our Dinty Moore beef stew and enjoyed a freeze-dried dessert.  Once again, the temperature was just right for sleeping.

Day 3

After enjoying some freeze-dried granola and berries, we packed up and got started by 9:30 AM.  The temperature dropped just after we starting, making for a brisk morning ride.

As with most of the other roads, Smoky Mountain Road had recently been graded, so we made good time.

Smoky Mtn Road (1)

Somewhere along Smoky Mountain Road

Smoky Mtn Road (4)

It was mostly good road

Alvey Wash Road

Smoky Mountain Road eventually becomes Alvey Wash Road, which leads right into the town of Escalante.

Alvey Road (2)

Alvey Wash Road

Alvey Road (1)

Jamie on Alvey Wash Road


Alvey Road (3)

Crossing the wash

According to the map I picked up at the visitor’s center when we got our camping permit, it looks like there is a dirt road, called Cedar Wash (#210), that leads back to Hole-In-The-Rock.  Had I known earlier, we may have taken that route back.  But since we didn’t think of it until after the trip, we ended up riding about six miles of pavement on Highway 12 to get back to the car.

We arrived at the car about 11:30 AM – much earlier than we expected.  Our total mileage was about 294 miles.  We quickly loaded up the trailer and drove the scenic part of Highway 12 to Boulder to get some lunch.  Being Memorial weekend, the restaurants were very crowded, so we ended up buying a burrito at a food truck at the Anasazi State Park.

We arrived at home with enough daylight left to unload and wash off all of the gear, bringing the end to another fantastic dirt biking adventure.


  • Water: 2 gallons/person/day.
  • Max fuel range: 206 miles.
  • Car to Hole-In-The-Rock: 58 miles (including Devil’s Garden and Dance Hall Rock).
  • Fifty Mile Bench: 16 miles.
  • Left Hand Collet Road: 12 miles.
  • Croton Road: 63 miles.
  • Alstrom Point: 7 miles, one-way.
  • Smoky Mountain Road: 80 miles.



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Defeating A Lawnmower Auto-Choke – Apr 2017

There is only one thing that really annoys me with my new Honda Lawnmower – the motor often dies when trying to mow tall or wet grass.  This is caused, primarily, by the auto-choke.  When the motor bogs down in the tall grass, the rpm drops, and then the auto-choke closes, causing the motor to die.

I figured out an easy way to defeat the auto-choke and thought I would share it in case others are struggling with the same problem.  The details are based on my Honda HRX217 lawnmower, but they should work for other mowers that use the same carburetor.  The motor is model GCV190.  It may be possible to adapt this approach for other brands and designs as well.

Mower Modifications:

My solution required me to drill three 1/8″ holes in the plastic shield around the carburetor.  I use a 16p nail and a piece of string.

The first hole is on the front.  Just be careful not to drill in too far and damage the carburetor.  Fasten one end of the string to the plastic shield and the other end to the nail, as shown below.

Three holes, a piece of string, and a nail

Drill another hole in the top of the shield.  This is used to store the nail when you don’t need to defeat the auto-choke.  Just make sure the nail won’t interfere with any moving parts on the carburetor.

The nail in storage position

The final photo shows the nail in position to defeat the auto-choke.  Remove the air filter so you can watch the choke butterfly valve.  Then move the choke mechanism so you can see the difference between open and closed positions.  With the motor cold, it should be in the closed position.  You want the nail to hold the choke in the open position (or choke off).  Figure out where to drill the hole so the nail will hold the mechanism in place.

The nail defeating the auto-choke


Operating procedures:

  1. Be sure the nail is in storage position when trying to start a cold motor.  This allows the auto-choke to operate normally.
    1. If your motor won’t start, check the nail – if you left it in defeat position after the last use, you may not be able to get the motor started.
  2. Begin mowing your lawn.  If the grass isn’t too long or wet, your mower may work just fine and there is no need to move the nail.
  3. If your motor bogs down and stalls, simply insert the nail in the ‘defeat’ position.  Make sure the nail goes behind the choke mechanism and passes through items on the top of the carburetor.  This will hold the nail in place, and the nail prevents the choke from closing.
  4. Finish mowing your lawn.  If you need to restart the motor while warm, there is no need to remove the nail.
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Sand Hollow RZR Ride – Mar 2017

Since Jason was still recovering from his broken arm and was unable to ride his dirt bike, we decided to rent two Polaris RZR 900s for spring break.  We rented from the Southern Utah Adventure Center in Hurricane, Utah, and rode right from the shop to the trail.

Sand Hollow Mar2017

Polaris RZR 900

We rode a loop of just over 55 miles that included portions of Sand Hollow and Warner Valley.

RZR Ride 2017

Our GPS track

The first few miles are paved.  Hurricane also ATVs and UTVs to ride the side streets as long as you obey all traffic laws.  Just after the pavement ended, we turned west and headed towards Sand Hollow on one of the lesser traveled roads.  Luckily I plotted an approximate GPS route prior to the trip, because it was easy to loose the trail as it entered the sand dunes.  This road turned out to be much rougher and bumpier than I expected.  Last time we rode RZRs in this area we were able to ride much faster because the washes were smooth and sandy.  This year everything was quiet hard packed and bumpy.

Sand Hollow Mar2017-003

Taking a break

We eventually made our way to the rim overlooking Warner Valley.

Sand Hollow Mar2017-004

Overlooking Warner Valley

The red rock formations along the rim are quite interesting, and there are a lot of technical obstacles for those more daring than us – we opted to stick with the easier routes and not risk damaging our rental machines (or us).

RZR Mar2107 (1)

Snack time

We eventually found the road that leads down off the bluff to the western portion of Warner Valley, which was our route back to Hurricane.

One of the machines overheated (I guess we drive too slow), so we had to stop and let it cool off.  Luckily it was time for lunch anyway.

We didn’t bother to stop at Fort Pearce this time, but we did stop to see the dinosaur footprints.

Sand Hollow Mar2017-010

Jason and Jamie at the dinosaur track parking area

I have never understood how dinosaur footprints can be preserved in the sandstone.  It seems that a dinosaur would have had to walk in moist sand, leaving the footprint, and then somehow the sand turned to stone before a storm washed it away.

Sand Hollow Mar2017-012

Dinosaur footprint

Here is some video from our ride:


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Replacing My KTM Front Brake – Mar 2017

On my last few dirt biking rides last fall, I noticed my front brake was getting pretty soft.  So, I figured it was time for new brake pads and change the brake fluid.

For the most part, I have been happy with the stock brake pads, but I read good reviews of carbon fiber pads, so I thought I would try them.


EBC carbon fiber brake pads


New rear brake pads

I have also, on occasion, had the dreaded “Brembo soft brake” problem.  When the bike has been sitting for several weeks, sometimes when I pull the bike out of the shed, my front brake has gone completely flat.  This is a common problem with Brembo brakes, and there are many theories as to why this happens.  There are also many remedies that provide temporary relief.  The easiest temporary fix is to simply pull the brake lever into the bars and strap it there for a few hours.  Somehow this magically makes your brakes work again, but it doesn’t really solve the root problem.

Since I was planning on bleeding the brakes, I thought now would be a good time to replace the Brembo master cylinder assembly with a Nissin assembly.  From what I have read on the Internet, this is the only ‘real’ solution.  I looked on ebay for a used master cylinder from a Honda CRF, but only found cheap imitations.

I decided to order a new brake assembly.  I also ordered a new banjo bolt since the thread depth is different on the Nissin as opposed to the Brembo.  In my case, I needed a hydraulic brake switch since I made my bike street legal.  The brake assembly part number is 45510-MEN-305.


New master brake assembly


My Brembo front brake with RAM Mount ball for my mirror

Installation was really quite easy.  I placed a paper towel under the banjo bolt to collect any brake fluid drips, then removed the banjo bolt.  I then removed the brake assembly and installed the Nissin in its place.

Nissin brake Mar2017-006.JPG

Nissin front brake master cylinder

I added brake fluid to the master cylinder, and then carefully flicked the brake lever.  Each time I flicked it, air bubbles came out of the line.  I made sure the brake line didn’t have any high points prior the master cylinder so all of the air would rise to the cylinder.  I also tapped the line and the master cylinder periodically.  I continued to do this until no more air bubbles came out.  The brake lever felt firm, so I didn’t even bother to bleed the line.

My installation took longer than normal because my bike is street legal.  I had to connect the hydraulic switch and clean up the wiring.  I also had to move my RAM Mount ball where my mirror attaches because the mount of the Nissin is 90* rotated from the Brembo.  I had to use a different ball mount and move my ignition map switch to make everything fit and clear the throttle cables.


New bar arrangement with mirror mount ball

Now I just need to get out riding to break in these new brake pads and make sure everything is solid!

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Santa’s New Sleigh – Dec 2016

For the past two years I have been trying to decide what kind of car to buy.  I have considered most of the mid-sized crossovers and SUVs, but the vehicle that kept coming back to the top of my list was the Jeep Grand Cherokee.  I had a Grand Cherokee over ten years ago, and quite honestly, it was fairly expensive to maintain.  Reliability is important to me, and that has been my biggest concern about this purchase.  Hopefully Jeep has made improvements in the past ten years.

The next step was to decide which options I wanted.  I considered all three motor choices and decided to go with the 5.7L V8 Hemi so I could pull my utility trailer with it.  I also settled on Velvet Red for the exterior color.

Santa's New Sleigh

Santa’s New Sleigh

I generally go with a color less likely to show the dirt (since I seldom wash my cars), but decided to go with red primarily for safety reasons – I figure it will be a little easier for other drives to see.  Besides, all of the other choices were pretty bland.

Safety is another high priority concern for me, so I wanted the Active Safety Group with adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, blind spot detection, etc.  And, of course I wanted the Off-Road Package with skid plates, off-road tires, a towing package, and the top of the line 4WD system.  Basically I wanted a comfortable semi-luxury car that I can take off road if I wish.  I don’t plan on doing any serious off-roading, but I do expect to take the occasional dirt road to places off the beaten path.

I also determined there were several packages that I didn’t want – such as the 19 speaker stereo system – after all, I am somewhat deaf.  I also didn’t need a rear entertainment system or some of the other add-ons.  And I do not like black interiors.  It seems that 90% of the Grand Cherokees on the dealer lots have black interiors.

I used the “Build Your Vehicle” tool on the Jeep website to  pick the features I wanted, and omit the things I did not want.  The tool allows you to do a search to find exact matches for the vehicle you want.  I opened up the mileage range and found that my vehicle of choice did not exist – anywhere.  So, I would either have to settle for something not quite right, or wait 6-8 weeks and order one.

I periodically checked the website again to see if anything new had shown up.  I finally found an exact match in transit from the factory to a dealer in Durango, Colorado; Morehart Murphy Jeep.

So there was the car I wanted – on its way to a dealer that is 6.5 hours away from Salt Lake City.  Now the question was how to get it.  I could fly down to Durango and pick it up.  The salesman offered to pick me up at the airport.  I also considered driving down in my ’97 Jeep Wrangler and trading it in, but that is a long drive in a Wrangler.  With Christmas just around the corner, I really didn’t have time to make the trip.

I had also been working with my good friend, Aaron, at Young Brothers Automotive.  He has helped me buy several used cars in the past, and even got one from New York state for my daughter.  He offered to help me out.

Young Brothers

Young Brothers

He worked a deal with Morehart Murphy that gave me a very good price and allowed me to trade in my Wrangler locally to Young Brothers.  He also handled the paperwork to get the vehicle registered in Utah.  Aaron flew down and drove the vehicle back to Utah for me.  It was a very long day for him, but luckily he got back just before the next snowstorm hit.

Safely arrived from Durango

Safely arrived from Durango

My old Wrangler and my new Grand Cherokee

My old Wrangler and my new Grand Cherokee

That is how Santa got his new sleigh – just in time for Christmas!

Ready for Christmas!

Ready for Christmas!

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Magruder Corridor / Lolo Motorway Loop – Sept 2016

Sept. 14-17, 2016

Just over one year ago I started planning this trip.  I was studying the Idaho Backcountry Discovery Route (IDBDR) and I was intrigued by the Magruder Corridor and the Lolo Motorway.  With my small KTM 350, I am not really interested in riding any of the BDRs, but I enjoy learning about them.  The Magruder and Lolo looked interesting from a historical perspective as well as an enjoyable dirt bike ride.

I also studied the T1 Tour of Idaho routes.  While the BDRs are aimed at large adventure bikes, the T1 is designed for small dirt bikes.  The route consists of a lot of very technical single track trails.  I don’t have the skill or strength to tackle most of the T1, but I found that by taking the union of the T1 and IDBDR it formed a nice loop.

The western connection between the Magruder Corridor and Lolo Motorway did not consist of extreme single track, but what looked to be really fun ATV trails.  Perfect for my small dirt bike and my skill level!  But the eastern connection consisted of a lot of pavement – which I don’t like on my small bike.

I spent months looking for alternatives to avoid the pavement, but that made the trip get longer and longer.  With a time constraint of only four days, and road closures due to fires, my original loop ended up being the route of choice for this trip.

Here is my highlights video from the trip:

My GPS track for the four-day adventure is shown below.  I would point out, however, that my GPS randomly powered off a few times each day – usually while traveling fast.  Thus, it didn’t record an accurate track of the entire route.  If you look closely you will see straight lines.  This indicates the section where my GPS was off.  (I think the GPS battery vibrated loose, causing the GPS to power down even though I was running off 12V from the bike.)  Each days ride is shown in a different color.



GPS track from our four-day Idaho adventure

I originally wanted to do an Idaho ride in July so my son and daughter could join me.  But about one week before we left, we learned that the Magruder Corridor was closed for repairs until August.  So we opted for a central Utah trip and explored some of the Arapeen ATV trails.

I rescheduled the Idaho trip for mid-September.  My children could not come because they were back in college, but some work colleagues were able to join me; Ross (KLR 685), Scott (KLR 650), and Danny (DR-Z400).

Day 1: North Fork to Poet Creek

We left work a little early on Tuesday so we could drive from home (Salt Lake City area) to Salmon, Idaho, where we had a motel reservation.

We awoke to a chilly and cloudy morning with a forecast for rain.  After breakfast we drove to North Fork, and then headed west along the Salmon River Road until we found a nice place to park.

We started our ride at about 9:30 AM and continued west on the Salmon River Road.  We rode about one mile past our turnoff to visit the small store at Shoup – even though it is currently out of business.  Most of this stretch was paved.

Salmon River Road

Salmon River Road

The Salmon River

The Salmon River

Shoup - out of business (again)

Shoup – out of business (again)



Day 1 track

Just as we turned north on Spring Creek Road, it started to rain lightly.  Spring Creek was an enjoyable ride as we climbed rapidly into the mountains.  I saw about a dozen deer through this section.

Deer crossing the road

Deer crossing the road

We stopped to regroup on a pass and Danny noted that it was snowing lightly.  Great!  That is all we need!

Danny cruising up Spring Creek

Danny cruising up Spring Creek

We pressed on and took a side spur to Blue Nose Lookout.  The view was somewhat limited due to the cloud cover and drizzling rain/snow.

Blue Nose Lookout

Blue Nose Lookout

Light rain falling at Blue Nose LO

Light rain falling at Blue Nose Lookout

A short time later my GPS powered off for the first time.  Rather than figure out what was wrong, I pressed on from memory.  That is generally not a good strategy.  I ended up taking a wrong turn, which took us down to Horse Creek Hot Springs.  That would have been great if we had more time – but we were running behind schedule.  I figured that to make our desired camp by about 5:00 PM we would need to average about 23-24 mph.  We were riding about that fast, but we had far more stops than I expected.

Anyway, we powered up my GPS and returned to our designed route.  We wanted to stop for lunch at Painted Rocks Reservoir, but it started to rain harder and the temperature was dropping fast.

We opted to find shelter under a tree in the Alta Campground.  I dug my down jacket out from my luggage and pulled out my balaclava and glove liners to help stay warm.  This was also the first time I have used my grip heaters all day long.

Ross seeking shelter under a tree

Ross seeking shelter under a tree

After lunch we pressed on to Painted Rocks Reservoir.  It was raining pretty hard, but the road is paved in this area so it wasn’t a serious problem.

Painted Rocks Reservoir

Painted Rocks Reservoir

When we arrived at the dam we discussed our options.  We decided to press on and see how muddy the trail was.  To our surprise, mud was not an issue.  We crossed the dam and then rode along the other side of the reservoir.  We then took the Tough Creek trail over the mountain to the Magruder Corridor.

Painted Rocks spillway

Painted Rocks spillway

We were surprised that a section of the Magruder was paved.  In fact, I was surprised that the entire Magruder Corridor was in really good condition.  It was a much easier ride than I expected – but it was thoroughly enjoyable.

We stopped at Nez Perce Pass and at the Magruder Ranger Station.  Just before we got to the ranger station, the rain stopped and the ground was bone dry.  We were surprised how quickly we went from wet to dry conditions.

Nez Perce Pass

Nez Perce Pass

Magruder Ranger Station

Magruder Ranger Station

After a short break and snack, we pressed on as the road follows the Selway River for a few miles.  We were also surprised that just about every camp spot had an outfitter with their large white tents and horses.  Hunting season was ramping up, so there were a lot of people in the area.

One of many burn areas

One of many burn areas along the Magruder Corridor

Scott on the Magruder Corridor

Scott on the Magruder Corridor

Ross reading about the massacre

Ross reading about the Magruder Massacre

View from the Magruder

View from the Magruder

The only technical trail of the entire trip was the side spur to Burnt Knob Lookout.  We would like to rename this to Broken Fibula Lookout in honor of Scott, who dropped his KLR and smashed his ankle.  He was in a lot of pain, but didn’t learn that he also scraped his elbow and knee until we got to camp, and he didn’t learn that he had fractured his fibula until after the trip.  What a man!

The Burnt Knob LO trail is very rocky and technical

The Burnt Knob Lookout trail is very rocky and technical

Burnt Knob LO

Burnt Knob Lookout

Burnt Knob Lookout

Burnt Knob Lookout

This side spur doesn’t look very hard in my videos, but with a loaded bike it was quite a challenge.  Ross and I made it to the top, but it was quite a workout.  It is a long and rocky climb with a lot of loose dirt.  Danny stopped to help Scott, so he was not able to make the top.

While Ross and Danny helped get Scott and his bike off the trail, I went on ahead to find a campsite before dark.  Our target was Poet Creek, which is one of the nicer campsites along the route and has a nice stream for filtering water.  The main campground was full, but there was a nice spot alongside the road just outside the campground.  We covered about 162 miles on our first day.

Poet Creek campground

Poet Creek campground

We were able to get camp set up before dark, but we ended up riding until about 7:00 PM instead of our desired 5:00 PM.  We were just glad to have a nice place to camp and be out of the rain.  It did, however, get quite cold during the night.  Both of my water bottles froze.  I was glad I had the down throw blanket I got for my birthday a few weeks earlier!


Our camp spot near Poet Creek

Day 1 video:

Day 2: Poet Creek to Smith Creek

The skies cleared during the evening, which is why it got so cold at night.  In the morning our tents were covered in frost, so we didn’t get as early of a start as we had planned.  But we enjoyed a nice breakfast and beautiful clear blue skies.



Day 2 track

We continued along the Magruder Corridor for about 15 miles.  We passed our backup campsite at Granite Springs – we were glad we didn’t end up staying there – the place burned to the ground a few years ago.

Granite Springs Campground

Granite Springs Campground

In the Mountain Meadow area we split up.  Scott continued down the main road to Elk City while the rest of us tried the first of three planned ATV trails.  I don’t know the name of the trail, but I learned about it while studying the T1,  Tour of Idaho.

This turned out to be an absolute blast!  This trail is my new all-time favorite trail.  It starts off as a standard ATV trail through the forest.  It then enters a large burn area that is covered with 3’-4’ tall pine trees.  It was like riding through a Christmas Tree plantation.

More new growth

Small pines along the ATV trail

And then things got really interesting.  We took a fork in the trail, but the trail almost disappeared into thick brush.  According to my GPS we were on the right track, and there were a few tire tracks on the trail – but the trail was seriously overgrown.  We bushwhacked our way through and found it to be a really fun gem.  The trail drops down off the mountain until we finally popped out on the Red River Road.  The trail was about 12 miles long.

Bush whacking on the trail

Bush whacking on the trail

We planned on taking forest road 423 to another ATV trail called the Divide Trail #505.  Unfortunately, road 423 closes for wildlife management on September 15 – the day we were there.  The road was gated closed, so we had no choice but to find an alternate route.  Since we were running behind schedule (again), we opted to take the pavement in to Elk City and meet Scott for lunch.

Elk City

Elk City

We had a great lunch and filled up our bikes with fuel.  We covered about 217 miles on our first tank of gas.  With my 5 gallon tank, my low fuel light came on at about 213 miles.  I think the tank gives me a range of at least 250 miles.

After lunch we discussed our options again.  Our plan was to ride the third ATV trail – the Boundary Trail #835.  But Scott wasn’t up to riding an ATV trail and as I mentioned, we were behind schedule – so we opted to take the easy road up to the Falls Point Road #443 and head over to the Selway drainage.  This was another pleasant ride.

The Falls Point Road descends fairly rapidly for about seven miles.  It was an easy and fun ride, but it was amazing how long the descent was.  There were a lot of water bars and water dips to avoid erosion.  These were a little tricky with fully loaded bikes.

Descending Falls Point Road to the Selway drainage - lots of water bars

Descending Falls Point Road to the Selway drainage – lots of water bars

Danny on the Selway Bridge

Danny on the Selway Bridge

We stopped to take pictures of Selway Falls and continued on to Lowell and the confluence of the Lochsa and Selway Rivers.  The road along the Selway was under construction and had some sections with slippery, gooey mud.

Selway Falls

Selway Falls

Construction mud

Construction mud along the Selway

Our planned camp for the night was at Rocky Ridge Lake up on the Lolo Motorway.  We knew we couldn’t make it that far before dark, but we decided to press on and find a place to camp along the road.  My plan was to ride up Big Hill to Smith Creek #101, which leads to the Lolo Motorway #500.  Either I picked the wrong trail, or Big Hill is not open to motorized travel (at least this time of year).  So we bailed on that plan and buzzed down Hwy 12 to Syringa and started up Smith Creek #101 from the bottom.

Smith Creek is on a steep side hill and there are no obvious places to camp.  While Scott rested, Ross and I spent about 45 minutes scouting for a decent place to camp.  We finally found a flat patch of ground in the middle of a seldom used, overgrown trail.  There was no fire ring, but it turned out to be a nice place to camp.  The thick trees sheltered us from the wind and we were at a lower elevation than either of the other camps.  Ross entertained us by showing a Big Foot video on his phone.  Just what is needed before sleeping in the forest!

Mileage for the day was about 142 miles.  Once again we rode until almost dark.

Day 2 video:

Day 3: Smith Creek to Horseshoe Lake

We awoke to another gorgeous day.  We continued up Smith Creek road until we came to a side spur to Walde Lookout.  I told everyone where we were headed, but being early in the morning no one seemed to remember.

As I passed the last junction on the trail to the lookout I wondered if I should stop and wait for the group – but it was obvious that you want to take the trail that goes up since we were heading to a lookout tower.  Well, I thought it was obvious.

I pushed aside my fear of heights and ascended the 100’ tall tower (which seemed more like 500’).  The lookout host gave me a private tour of the small shack on top while we waited for the rest of the group to find their way.  They eventually remembered that we were heading to the Walde Lookout waypoint that I provided along with all of the other GPS tracks and points.

Walde Mtn Lookout

My bike at the base of Walde Lookout Tower



Day 3 track

The tower was really interesting and well worth the time and the climb up the 165 stairs.  One of the steps has 5280 engraved on it – indicating that the step is one mile above sea level.

Smith Creek road is a well maintained road but it was covered in loose gravel.  This made cornering a little sketchy, but it gave us a chance to work on our cornering technique.  I think we all improved – a little.

We eventually arrived at the junction with Road 500 – the Lolo Motorway.  The Lolo is a really fun ride!  The middle section was a lot rockier than I expected, but it wasn’t difficult on a small dirt bike – you just have to pay attention and pick your line carefully.  There was, however, one long rocky climb that didn’t seem to want to end.

Like the Magruder, we rode through a mixture of forest, meadows, and burn areas.  The forests are so thick you can’t see very far, whereas the burn areas really open up the view.  The biggest challenge on these trails is paying attention to the trail and not over enjoying the scenery. Going off the trail could be fatal.

More Lolo

Lolo Motorway, Road 500

We were surprised to learn that this area of Idaho does not have Quaking Aspen trees, which we expected to give us beautiful autumn colors.  The undergrowth was changing color, but the pine trees made it difficult to see much of the time.

Fall colors on the Lolo

Fall colors along the Lolo Motorway

We stopped for lunch at Rocky Ridge Lake.  What a beautiful spot!  It would have been nice to camp there, but it would have been a lot chillier than the place we did camp.

Lunch at Rocky Ridge Lake

Lunch at Rocky Ridge Lake

We planned on camping somewhere near Lochsa Lodge for our third camp, but since we were running about ½ day behind schedule, we decided to camp at Horseshoe Lake.  This isn’t quite as nice as Rocky Ridge, but it wasn’t bad at all and we were the only ones there.  Unlike the crowded Magruder, we only saw a handful of people all along the Lolo.

The rockiest part of the Lolo is the part between Rocky Ridge Lake and Horseshoe Lake.  It wasn’t overly difficult, but it was the most tiring section of the entire loop, not counting Burnt Knob Lookout.

We took another side spur to Castle Butte Lookout.  This is a very nice lookout shack, but it was not manned while we were there.  The last portion of the trail is really rocky, so if you aren’t up for it, just park your bike and walk up to the lookout.

Castle Butte Lookout

Castle Butte Lookout

The gal at Walde Lookout told us there was a prescribed burn scheduled for that day, and it really filled the air with smoke.


Smokey view along the Lolo Motorway

We only made 85 miles on day three, but it was nice to stop for camp at about 5:00 PM.

Horseshoe Lake

Horseshoe Lake

Camp 3

Camp at Horseshoe Lake

Day 3 video:

Day 4: Horseshoe Lake to North Fork

As we were packing our bikes in the morning, a cold front came through and the temperature started to drop.  It was also getting cloudy.

The eastern portion of the Lolo is the smoothest.  There were a few rocky parts, but most of it was pretty smooth flowing trail.


Hazy day at Indian Post Office

We stopped to talk to two guys riding the IDBDR.  They said that they got about 2” of snow on Wednesday night at Trinity Lakes.  We were glad we didn’t have to camp in snow because we weren’t prepared for that extreme of weather.


Day 4 track, part 1

We stopped at Lochsa Lodge to get gas (208 miles) and air up our tires.  Our original plan was to ride the Elk Meadows dirt road, but since we were behind schedule we just rode the pavement all the way back to our car in North Fork – approximately 160 miles of pavement.

The others are quite used to riding pavement, but my bike is geared so low that it really buzzes if I push it above 60 mph.  The ride up and over Lolo Pass wasn’t bad since the speed limit was only 50 mph, but the last portion, heading towards the town of Lolo jumps up to 70 mph.  I pushed it to 70 mph for a few seconds, but I didn’t like it so I backed off.  Luckily the traffic was really light.

Highway 12 to Lolo, Montana

Ross passing me on Highway 12 to Lolo, Montana

The long, straight stretches of Hwy 93 through Montana were the most stressful for me on my small bike.  We skipped portions of Hwy 93 by taking the East Side Highway – that really helped.


Day 4 track, part 2

The last portion goes up over Lost Trail Pass.  This wasn’t bad because I could keep up with the traffic – and I even passed an old Subaru that was burning oil.  And twisty roads are fun on a bike.


Day 4 track, part 3

We got back to the car at about 4:00 PM, loaded up, and started for home just as it started to rain – again.  We lucked out by beating the storm, but we did have a really stiff side wind as we rode along Hwy 93.

Day 4 video:

All in all it was an extremely enjoyable trip.  Even Scott enjoyed it in spite of his pain.  We were all glad he was able to complete the trip with his injuries.

Our total mileage for the trip came in at around 588 miles, which includes the time Ross and I spent looking for a place to camp on day two.  My only disappointment was that my children were not there to enjoy it with me.  Maybe next year.

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Arapeen Adventure – July 2016

July 18-20, 2016

I have only been to the Arapeen trail system once before.  Back in 2006 I took my two oldest sons on a three-day trip to explore some of the trails.  It was not one of our favorite trips.  I picked trails that were either too easy and boring, or too rocky or muddy.  And it rained every afternoon, turning the trails as slick as grease.  In fact, we bailed after two days and went elsewhere for our third day of riding.

The highlight of that adventure was building a bridge.  After spending almost an hour trying to get our bikes across a small mud bog, my oldest son suggested we build a bridge to make it easier for those that follow.  So we spent about two hours hauling logs and constructing a make-shift bridge across the small stream.

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Gary and Kevin building the bridge

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This year, my youngest son and daughter where willing to tag along with me on another moto-camping adventure.  We planned on doing a six-day trip around the Frank Church Wilderness in Idaho, but it turned out that the Magruder Corridor was closed for repairs.  So we decided to do a shorter three-day trip, and settled on taking another stab at the Arapeen trails.

The week prior to our trip was hot and dry throughout most of Utah – perfect conditions for the Arapeen mountain trails.  I was therefore quite disappointed when it started to rain 10 minutes before we got to the trailhead.  I knew that the trails could become as slick as grease with just a light rain shower.

It sprinkled on and off while we were unloading the trailer and prepping our bikes, but we decided to press on and give it a try.  We figured if the weather got worse, we could easily bail out and ride the pavement back to the car.

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Our staging area at the top of Fairview Canyon

We parked at the top of Fairview Canyon at a staging area along the Skyline Drive.  From there we worked our way south towards Joe’s Valley Reservoir.  We planned on riding trail #12, which is an ATV trail that parallel’s the highway.  Because we got a later start than hoped, we bailed and took the pavement most of the way to the Miller Flat road.

The Miller Flat road is easy and fast, but has a fair amount of vehicle traffic.  Being a Monday, the traffic wasn’t really a problem, but the weather was constantly a concern – we continued to have on and off light sprinkles.

I had heard that the Potter’s Ponds ATV trail was fun, so we turned off of the Miller Flat road and enjoyed that section of trail.  We stopped for lunch at a group campsite not far from Potter’s Ponds.

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Heading to Potter’s Ponds on trail #57

After lunch we intended to take trail #53 to Joe’s Valley Reservoir, but we missed the turnoff and ended up taking the easier route on trail #51.  By now the rain had let up, so we figured we were safe to continue on our adventure.

After arriving at Joe’s Valley Reservoir, we turned west and rode up trail #5; Reeder Canyon.  The loop made by trail #5 was our favorite trail from our 2006 trip, so I was anxious to ride it again.  Reeder Canyon was steeper and rockier than I remembered (I get that a lot), but it was a fun ride, even with a fully loaded bike.

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Reeder Canyon, trail #5

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They now have very nice bridges over the wetlands

When we reached the Skyline Drive up on the ridge, we could see another storm system moving in.  We figured we better keep moving and set up camp before it hit.  So, we continued down the other half of the #5 loop hoping to camp at Grassy Lake.  It started raining just before we got to the lake, but we noticed a nice campsite in the trees about ¼ mile from the lake.  We quickly set up our tents just before the rain stopped again.  But then it started raining again, a little harder this time, so we strung my thermal blanket between some trees and cooked and ate dinner under our small shelter.

After dinner we walked down to Grassy Lake and then it really began to pour.  It rained hard for 15 or 20 minutes as we sought shelter under some trees.  The walk back to camp reminded us how nasty the trails can be when wet.  The mud was sticking to our shoes, making us feel taller with each step.  Luckily the storm passed and it didn’t rain during the night.

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Grassy Lake

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Camp #1

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Our dinner shelter

On day two we didn’t hit the trail until about noon.  We waited for the sun to burn through the clouds and dry out our tents.  This also allowed the trails to dry out.

With our late start we were anxious to make it to Manti for lunch.  We rode up trail #52, then along the Skyline Drive south to the top of Ephraim Canyon.  I had planned what looked like an interesting ride down to Ephraim, but with our late start we opted to stay on the main road.

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Trail #52

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Trail #52

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Approaching the Skyline Drive

It sprinkled on us again as we rode down to Ephraim, but the temperature steadily climbed as we dropped in elevation.  We took the pavement from Ephraim to Manti, filled up our fuel tanks, and enjoyed a nice burger and shake at the local burger shop.

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Riding past the Manti Temple

After lunch we rode up Manti Canyon, being careful to avoid the trails my boys didn’t like ten years earlier.  I remembered that the mud bog was on trail #3, but trail #3 seems to go everywhere, so I wasn’t exactly sure where.  This time we rode up the main road and then veered left on #3, up past Logger’s Fork Reservoir and on to Jet Fox Reservoir.  That was a fun trail.

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Riding up trail #3

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Logger’s Fork Reservoir

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Storm clouds moving in again

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Jet Fox Reservoir

After crossing the Skyline Drive, we rode down trail #73, which made me quite nervous at first because the trail was quite wet.  Luckily it wasn’t very slippery even though there were many muddy sections.  As we dropped in elevation (rather quickly), it got warm and dry.  We rode past Cove Lake, which could have made a nice place to camp.

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Cove Lake

We came to a junction and opted to go left onto trail #74 guessing that it was not as steep as the lower portion of #73.

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Jason crossing a stream on trail #71

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Jamie’s turn

We joined #71 and finally #72 as we worked our way to Duck Fork Reservoir – our planned place to camp.

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Duck Fork Reservoir

There was a restroom near Duck Fork Reservoir, but no good camp spots near the outhouse.  We found a nice meadow below the dam near the stream.  This was a great camp with clear water in the stream (which we filtered to refill our water bottles) and thick grass to sleep on.

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Camp #2

After dinner we took another short hike to look at the reservoir and visit the restrooms.  It was a pleasant evening with no rain and everyone slept great that night.

On our final day, we rode #72 back up to the Skyline Drive and then buzzed back to our car about 45 miles away.  Some sections of the Skyline Drive are in really good condition, but the middle section was covered with 10” deep truck tire ruts.  The ruts didn’t give us any real problem, but they got old quickly and we had to stay focused to not wash out in a rut.

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Bridge crossing on trail #72

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Skyline Drive

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Spectacular views along the way

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Group shot taken somewhere along the Skyline Drive

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Another group shot

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Our faithful steeds

We made good time, arriving back at the car well before noon.  We loaded up the trailer, changed clothes, and drove down to Fairview for another burger and shake.  That was a good way to finish off our three-day, 170 mile ride.  In spite of the weather, we had a great time.  The scenery was spectacular.  We had a good mixture of ATV trails, Jeep roads, gravel roads, and pavement.  We found great places to camp and were well prepared.  Our only mistake was not bringing enough food to satisfy Jason.


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