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Utah Backcountry Discovery Route: May 2015

Adventure Riding the UTBDR

5-24-2015 UTBDR begins! Our group of four riders ride towards Moab, UT.

After a hearty breakfast at 3 Step Hideaway, we headed towards Moab.

Rob abd Bob Lovell, Aaron and Randy Reek

Actually, our UTBDR started over a month earlier. I drove to Ohio to pickup Aaron's KLR650, and then hauled it to Utah along with my Triumph Tiger 800XC. WE dropped off both bikes at 3 Step Hideaway the week before while my Wife, Laurie and I spent the week driving the backcountry with the goneMOAB group in My Nissan Frontier.

Bob and Rob trailered their bikes from Kansas City and Denver, arriving the night before after some drama with a blown trailer wheel bearing.

Leaving 3 Step, we rode down the paved county road for about 10 miles and then turned north on the UTBDR route on an uphill stretch of dirt road that was wet from a rain the night before. We made it less than 100 yards before Bob and I both tipped over on the slick mud.

This ADV ride was not starting out the way we had planned! After help from our younger Sons, we slid back down the hill to the highway. We made a quick decision to ride the highway into Moab and bypass the dirt section over the LaSal Mountains at over 10,000 feet.

After we made it to Moab, our first stop was the car wash to power wash off the gumbo clay-mud!

Following a lunch stop, we rode south of Moab on Hwy 279 to Canyonlands National Park and the fantastic views of the Colorado River. The first few miles of 279 follow the west side of the river with and sheer cliffs on the other side – complete with rock climbers.

As we gained elevation, the views became better and better. Eventually I pulled off on a side trail that led right to the edge of the cliff. This was “Thelma and Louise Point”, named for the movie that was supposedly staged here for the last scene. We had expansive views up and down the Colorado River. Also impressive was Dead Horse Point looming another 1,000 feet above us.

The gravel road continues a few more miles to a T and we turned west toward the canyon walls. We then started climbing the impressive Shaffer Switchbacks to the canyon rim. I had previously driven DOWN the switchbacks the week before during the Nissan offroad rally, “GoneMOAB”, so I knew what was in store. But the rest of the group was overwhelmed by the sheer mass of the scenery and the views that went on to the horizon.

Climbing the Shaffer Switchbacks

Looking down on the valley floor and our route from Moab

Exiting Canyonlands Park at the top of the switchbacks, we returned to Moab via Hwy 313 and 191 to a good meal. Then we headed south out of town on the east side of the Colorado River to find a campsite for the night. Since it was the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, all the designated campsites were crowded. We continued south on Kane Springs Road (FR 145) to the last official campsite and claimed a clear spot as our unofficial tent spots just as the sun was touching the horizon.

Our ride to Moab and our tour of the area totaled 136 miles.

5-25-2015 UTBDR Day Two

After a camp breakfast, we packed up and continued up the trail to the top of Hurrah Pass. Here we had another perspective of the Colorado River. The official “expert-only” UTBDR route approaches Moab from the south over this pass.

After taking pictures from Hurrah Pass, we reversed course and headed back to Moab for an early lunch and then headed east on the scenic Sand Flats Road.

The varied terrain around Moab was amazing. Completely different rock structures, colors and elevations occur in all four directions. For off road enthusiasts, this is truly a mecca.

Continuing east we topped out on the LaSal Loop Road, Hwy 73 and 96 before turning off on another forest road and climbing high above Castle Valley down below and to the west close to the Colorado River. Rob’s KTM was getting hot so we stopped to check the coolant level and take more pictures.

Looking towards Castle Valley to the west

We wound around the mountains just below lingering snow fields and skirted Fisher Valley. Then we descended a long series of ridges down to the very cool Onion Creek Road. Dark red cliffs surrounded us and the road crossed a small stream at least 25 times before reconnecting with Hwy 128 northeast of Moab.

After a short sprint up the highway, we came to the remains of the historic Dewey Bridge. A short ride up the highway and then we turned west onto the BDR route and climbed the mesa into mining country.

Much of southern Utah was developed during a boom in mining, particularly the advent of uranium mining for the dawn of the nuclear age. Most of the mining has closed since then, and towns like Moab have been reborn as tourist destinations.

We rode past some mining cabins on bare ridges. Then we sprinted down flat, straight sections of road toward I-70 and the Book Cliffs, our goal for the day. After crossing I-70, we found a secluded campsite just over a low ridge in the otherwise open country. The Book Cliffs rose just to our north and that set the stage for Day Three.

The riding was slower than I had planned and we had only covered 104 miles.

5-26-2015 UTBDR Day Three

The sky was partly cloudy as we rode in the direction of Sego, a ghost town along the hills north of Thompson Springs. We stopped for some photos and continued on towards Green River where we would all need fuel, water, and lunch.

I was bringing up the rear and saw a few light rain drops on my helmet visor. The rain was too light to need to slow down for rain pants over my mesh riding pants. The sprinkles continued for maybe 30 minutes and I noticed the dirt curves were a little “squirrely”. Then I climbed a rise and headed down a long slope only to see Bob’s GS1200 flopped over in the mud. At the same time, I lost the steering on my Tiger 800XC. A cloud had dropped just enough rain ahead of us to turn the dirt surface of the trail into greasy mud.

I coasted to a stop behind Bob. Aaron and Rob had been ahead and they had already stopped and were walking back to help Bob right his bike. The four of us looked at Bob’s BMW and my Triumph and were shocked to see that all four tires were complete balls of gumbo. In less than 100 yards, the trail surface had become impassable.

Bob got back on his bike and attempted to ride ahead with both feet pedaling. The back tire spun, the front tire skidded and he went about 30 feet before tipping over again. We picked up dry branches and dug at the tires to create space between the fenders. Another attempt at riding ended with another fall over. No one was hurt and nothing was damaged in these 2 mph spills, but it was obvious that we were stuck. I went back to my Tiger and attempted to relay past Bob. No luck. My bike was immobilized the same way. All this was happening while Aaron and Rob had ridden through the same sections with no problem on their KTM and KLR “dirt bikes”.

It was now mid-morning. We had used most of our water for supper and breakfast back in camp. We had plenty of fuel, but would be forced to have a dry camp if we didn’t get out of this mess.

Thankfully, the skies were clearing and we decided to just sit it out for an hour, let the mud dry, and then make our way towards Green River.

After an hour, we gave it another try. Bob got his big GS rolling and the three of us walked along and pushed up a series of gradual slopes. A few slips and spills later we created a low ridge and could see that the road ahead of us was much drier just by the color of the dirt. I was able to ride up the hill with a few sideways slips and Aaron and Rob blasted past. Then we gradually gained speed as we rolled along to the west.

It had taken us about two hours to travel one-half mile.

Soon we came out on the frontage road that runs west into Green River. Mud was flying off our bikes as we rolled down the broken asphalt and gravel road. When we made it to Green River, we pulled in to refuel and get more water. I asked about Ray’s Diner that was referenced in the UTBDR map. Yes, it was just a mile down the road. By the time we arrived, it was time for lunch after making only 52 miles since leaving camp.

We were lucky that the brief rain had not turned into an extended downpour. The Moab area had been receiving abnormally heavy rain this spring. A heavy rain could have stranded us for the whole day – or maybe several days. We would have been forced to send a lighter bike ahead for water. If an ADV group consisted of only heavy dual sport bikes they would be in serious trouble on a section like this!

After refueling our bikes and ourselves, we made the decision to skip the next dirt section after looking at more dark clouds on the horizon. Instead, we took Hwy 191 north to Wellington, arriving just in time for a motel room and a shower, followed by a good supper.

Day Three ended with a total of only 113 miles. We were a half day behind my travel estimates, but this was adventure riding and we had found adventure! Just as we reached the motel, a huge thunderstorm rolled through and dumped buckets of rain.

5-27-2015 UTBDR Day Four

I had expected that we would have camped somewhere west of Hwy 191 on Reservation Ridge. Instead we were just leaving Wellington. To make up time and avoid the mud caused by the heavy rain overnight, we headed north on Hwy 6 to the UTBDR junction at Soldier’s Ridge. We topped off our gas tanks and then coasted back down the highway a mile to the trail route.

Turning onto the dirt road, we immediately encountered more mud. Within a few miles Bob’s front tire was locking up again. My rear tire was also starting to skid on even the slightest uphill grades. We hit the brakes and had a group meeting. Dark clouds were coming up from behind us. The off road route ahead was 30 miles over the mountain. What if the rain stranded us in the middle of this remote section?

Bob and I quickly decided that we did not want to risk it. On the other hand, Aaron and Rob were having no trouble on the lighter bikes. Looking at the map, we picked out a wayside near the junction of Hwy 40 and 208 and agreed to meet there in about two hours. Aaron and Rob took off over the mountain while Bob and I backtracked to Hwy 6, rode south and then northeast on Hwy 191 to Duchesne. Not long after cresting Argyle Ridge on Hwy 191 the sky opened and the rain came down heavily in cold sheets. Bob and I rode through the hard rain into Duchesne and had lunch, knowing now that we had made the right (conservative) decision to bypass the dirt section over the mountain.

After lunch, we headed up Hwy 40 to the wayside and meeting place with Aaron and Rob. As we turned in, we saw them waiting for us – all smiles! They had had some challenging sections of riding and confirmed that our bigger bikes would have been in trouble.

Now it was time for another decision: the UTBDR route continued northwest into the high Wasatch Mountains. Consulting the map again, Aaron and Rob decided to try riding through while Bob and I agreed to meet them on the other side where the trail intersected with Hwy 35 not far from Kamas.

The younger riders took off to find the trail and Bob and I rode up the highway to loop around. We covered the highway section quickly and stopped for a few photos on Wolf Creek Summit at 9,476 feet with heavy snow lingering on the slopes. Then we found the forest road where Aaron and Rob would be exiting the trail and rode south a few miles to connect with them. The air was cool but the sun was warm and we both took a nap on the soft grass.

After two hours of waiting, the temps were starting to drop as the sun was setting and we decided to head back down to the highway to make sure the riders didn’t miss us.

We waited for another 45 minutes or so and here they came, coming down the highway from behind us. They had run into deep snow on the trail above 9,000 feet and were forced to abandon the route, backtrack down to the highway and follow the same loop around the section.

The sun was going down, Rob was low on gas, and we needed some food. We headed down into Kamas, having to top off Rob’s gas before we made it to town. We were tired and getting cold but found there were no motels in Kamas. So we headed south (away from the BDR route) to Heber City and a motel, hot shower, and food.

We finished Day Four with 200 miles – or at least Bob and I rode 200 miles. Aaron and Rob probably rode another 40 or 50 miles. Now we were a full day behind my estimated travel schedule. I had hoped the motel tonight would be over 100 miles north of where we were in Evanston, WY.

5-28-2105 UTBDR Day Five

During breakfast we readjusted our travel plans. We agreed to ride back north to Hwy 35 and check out the trail over Soapstone Mountain and - if passable - then ride north to Bald Mountain. We would have to abandon our goal of circling into Colorado on the way back to 3 Step Hideaway.

We rode quickly north in the cold morning air and stopped on the dirt at the shoulder of Hwy 35. The road was wet but looked hard packed and we continued up the trail. We crested at the top of the round mountain and then took the long, looping road down the other side to Hwy 150.

We continued north a few miles to an overlook of a waterfall from a swollen mountain stream.

A few miles further north we rode past a small lake still frozen from winter, then we climbed above the snow line to nearly 12,000 feet on Bald Mountain. We took a bunch of photos of the snow and headed back down to Hwy 35 and eventually landed in Duchesne for gas and lunch.

After lunch, we rode down Hwy 191 until we reached Argyle Ridge. We needed to make another group decision: continue down the highway to Monticello or take a chance on the dirt UTBDR route down the ridge. With renewed confidence, and since the route was mainly down the ridge, we opted for the BDR route that would take us southeast and eventually link up with the paved road through Nine Mile Canyon leading into Monticello.

We headed down the ridge and had some challenging riding. In dozens of places small ditches had developed from the runoff and created jagged water crossings. Sections of ruts had formed from truck traffic on the muddy road that made for some challenging riding. And then as we approached the lower elevations we ran into herds of cattle. Some of the ruts in the road were full to hub depth with a bad mixture of mountain mud and cow crap!

After about 30 miles we made it to the “Nine Mile Canyon Backcountry Byway”, a paved road leading southwest towards Wellington. At the Hwy 191 junction we decided a quick run down the highway to Green River would bring us back to Ray’s Tavern in time for supper.

It was unanimous and we headed south at 70 mph. After supper, we found a campsite in the Green River State Park for the night.

A mixture of highway and dirt riding totaled 269 miles on Day Five.

5-29-2015 UTBDR Day Six

We packed up and headed east from Green River along the frontage road parallel to I-70. When we reached the trail intersection to the muddy UTBDR section from a few days before, we turned south and looped over the Interstate to a dirt road that would take us in the direction of Arches National Park. Along the way, Bob had a short race with a few antelope that had let the first three bikes pass unnoticed.

We wound around a few roads until reaching FR 145 that enters the Park from the northwest. The road was sandy and we fought the suction of the powder with the heavy bikes. Just as we were about to connect with the paved Park road we stopped for one more water break.

Traffic was heavy in Arches Park – both vehicles and street bikes. We paused at a few overlooks and then headed out of the Park and back to Moab.

After lunch we took off in the direction of 3 Step. We had the option of heading over the 12,000 foot LaSal Mountains on the challenging route, or taking the alternate route a few miles south and at a lower elevation. Wanting to end the BDR on a positive note and not break anything on this last day, we headed south and connected with the alternate route, and then Hwy 46 and then back to 3 Step Hideaway.

We had completed 115 miles on Day Six for a total of 1,070 so far.

We had showers and Bob and Rob loaded their bikes on the trailer for the ride home. They had blown a wheel bearing on the way to Utah, but Scott had found a new bearing and the spacers necessary to get them back on the road during our absence. With everything back in working order, they were set for the drive back to Denver and then home to Kansas City for Bob.

Aaron and I would continue our UTBDR adventure south through Utah and towards Sedona, AZ the next day.

5-30-2015 Day Seven

Scott had warned us that the UTBDR route west of Monticello was still snowed in, based on reports from riders coming north a few days earlier. Aaron and I decided to ride down to Blanding the next morning before reconnecting with the UTBDR route to the northwest.

We rode the 53 miles to Blanding, gassed up and headed northwest to find the UTBDR route. The trail gained elevation and the surface was dried mud. Great traction!

We crossed paths with several bear hunters with hound dogs in the back of trucks cruising for scent in the high mountains. The views were spectacular and again very different from the red rocks around Moab.

We eventually wound down out of the mountains to the infamous Butler Wash. This is a flat and sandy section that puts cramps in your back muscles! But I found that accelerating when the front wheel wobbles cures the “shimmies” and gained confidence as the miles of sand passed under the knobbies.

We spilled out on the highway and then turned back north and west on Snow Flats Road. This “road” climbed back up the ridge and turned into a jagged, rocky, exhausting route. Finally, we reached the end of this section with 175 miles on the trip odometer. Then it was a sprint down the highway and a short gravel section to the goal for the day: Muley Point overlooking Monument Valley.

We had ridden 194 hard miles. We were tired, but the views were worth the trip. The camera can’t capture the sheer size of the landscape. We camped for the night and slept well. We had one more day of riding ahead.

5-31-2015 UTBDR Day Eight

After a camp breakfast we descended the “Moki Dugway”, a series of wide switchbacks engineered for the huge uranium trucks of decades earlier. The gravel road was not challenging, but the views were expansive.

At the bottom of the cliff we turned north onto Valley of the Gods Road and made a loop through this stark landscape of spires and odd rock formations. Then it was back on the highway to Mexican Hat, UT for some air in the tires befor the highway riding ahead.

We burned down the highway through Monument Valley and into Cameron, AZ for some gas. Next stop was lunch in Flagstaff. After Flagstaff, we took I-17 south a few miles to the exit for Schnebly Hill and the descent into Sedona.

This section of road is used by 4x4’s and ATV’s. It is not maintained for vehicles and is VERY rough with sharp rocks and abrupt ledges. I had to stop twice to replace broken zip ties that were holding my broken front fender in place.

Schnebly Hill proved to be some of the roughest riding of the entire trip and we hoped we would not have a pinch flat before reaching the bottom. (I was amazed to come up behind a Cadillac that was trying to make its way down the hill. I assume they had driven down and then got to a ledge that they could not climb. They were stuck – not being able to go forward or back. I wonder if they are still there?)

We pulled up to our destination in Sedona hot and thirsty after 259 miles for the day. We had completed 1,523 miles of riding in total.

What an excellent trip! The scenery in Utah can not be topped. I am going back again!

This was the fourth major ADV ride I have completed (the Trans-America Trail, the AZBBR, and COBDR) and I would have to rate the UTBDR a "required" ride for any adventure biker.

For more information, and FREE GPS trtacks, visit the Backcountry Discovery Route website and the Butler Maps website.

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