Drive a dirt road
There are certainly plenty of places to get off the pavement in Utah. From the Northern mountains to the western desert to the southern red rocks. Years ago I picked up at book called Scenic byways and backways of Utah. Slowly I've tried to get to all of them. More recently I picked up the book called Utah Byways, 65 of Utah Best Backcountry drives by Tony Huegel.
I love the PONY EXPRESS trail. This 129 miles dirt road looks and feels much like it would have 150 yrs ago when stagecoaches and pony express riders rode the dirt playa to California.
I love the OUTLAW TRAIL out of Vernal. Here is where the Wild Bunch would hide, or take the trails between Wyoming and central Utah. It is still wild west with a few ranches, some good fishing on the Green and the John Jarvie Ranch restoration to explore.
The WEDGE OVERLOOK in the San Rafael Desert covers part of the old Spanish Trail. The route from Santa Fe to the missions of California had to go the long way around the Grand Canyon and desert plateaus surrounding it. There are views of the Little Grand Canyon of the San Rafael river, and in Buckthorn Wash dinosaur prints and ancient Indian petroglyphs.
The WHITE RIM TRAIL in Canyonlands National Park winds 103 miles along a plateau reached via several white knuckle roads down from the mesa top. Camping on the trail requires advance permits that go quickly in the prime Spring and Fall months.
The COTTONWOOD WASH or JOHNSON CANYON/SKUTUMPAH roads in Grand Staircase-Escalante provide great views and off the beaten paths options. From the Cottonwood road you can see Grosvenor Arch or the Round Valley slot canyons, explore the Cottonwood Coxscomb and narrows. From the Johnson Canyon you can visit Willis, Lick or Bull Gorge Slots.
There are plenty of others, those are just the ones I've been on. It is important with dirt road travel that you have the right vehicle that you are well prepared with vehicle repair items and have sufficient water and food for any emergency as you are often miles of empty desert or mountain away from help.Related to:
- Family Travel
Grafton Ghost Town
If the building in my photo looks familiar, maybe this will jog your memory:
”Raindrops keep fallin’ on my head ...”
Yes, this is the location for the famous “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” bicycle scene, as well as several other less well-known films. The building formed the backdrop as Butch took Etta for a ride on the then new-fangled invention.
Grafton is fairly well-preserved, although not restored to the extent that some ghost towns are, so it retains a lot of character and is very photogenic. It is also rarely visited despite its proximity to popular Zion National Park. Access is down a four mile dirt road, but perfectly manageable in a standard car – we were fine in our hired Toyota.
The town was established in 1859 as a settlement for cotton-growers farming the fertile plains next to the Virgin River. Frequent floods and Indian attacks caused problems for these early pioneers, but some persisted and the town became quite successful. It lasted until the 1930s when residents moved away to better land in Hurricane, 30 miles west. Today you can still see several of the buildings, including a church and the large house featured in the film. There is also an interesting the old cemetery, with a few dozen graves from the period 1860 – 1910. Inscriptions tell of the harsh conditions experienced by Grafton’s early settlers, such as the three Berry brothers (and one wife), all killed by Indians on April 2nd 1866, or the five children of John and Charlotte Ballard, all of whom died between 1865 and 1877, all under the age of 10.
Directions Turn south from UT-9 near Rockville on Bridge Lane, cross the Virgin River (on a single-track iron bridge), and follow road, which soon becomes unpaved. due west. After 2 miles the main road curves back south, while the road to Grafton turns off to the right, parallel to the river.Related to:
- Historical Travel
Hole N’ The Rock
Among the delights of touring in the US are the quirky “one of a kind” sights that you can come across from time to time. Often tacky, always somewhat kitsch, these make an occasional change from the wonderful landscapes and capture our imaginations in a very different but nevertheless enjoyable way. One such sight is Utah’s Hole N" The Rock, south of Moab. Here a 5,000 square foot home has been carved out of a sandstone cliff. This home was the dream, and in part the creation, of Albert Christensen. After 12 years of labour, during which he also carved this sculpture of Franklin D Roosevelt on the rock face above the entrance, he died in 1957, leaving his widow Gladys to carry on and fulfil his dream. She completed the 14 room house and developed it into a visitor attraction. She died in 1974 and the couple are buried here near the home they built and loved.
Since we visited it seems further attractions have been added, such as a petting zoo, but it is the house itself that you should consider stopping for. The interior is something to behold! Unfortunately photography was not allowed inside, so check out the photo gallery on the website to see what I mean.
Entry costs %5.00 for adults and $3.50 for children, who I imagine would love it here.
Directions 12 Miles South of Moab Utah on US Highway 191
Newspaper Rock State Park
While Utah is best known for its wonderful natural attractions, Newspaper Rock State Park gives us an opportunity to pause and think about the people who came this way long before us and no doubt were as awed by this landscape as we are today. Here etched into a 200 square foot chunk of sandstone are the images and symbols carved by different cultures over 2,000 years of human habitation in this area. The first carvings were made around 2,000 years ago, and although a few are as recent as the early 20th century, left by the first modern day explorers of this region, the main groups have been attributed to the Anasazi (AD 1 to 1300), Fremont (AD 700 to 1300) and Navajo (AD 1500 onwards). What is more, unlike many other similar sites, this one is very easily accessible and very clear to see. Time and weather have varnished the stone with a black patina and the carvings stand out very clearly, as you can see from my photos.
The rock is right next to Utah Route 211, 24 miles northwest of Monticello on the main road into the Needles section of Canyonlands National Park. But I have placed it here as “Off the Beaten Path” because apparently most visitors to the region hurry past without even realising what they are missing, I’m so glad my research pointed me towards it so that we knew to stop and see this record of human history.
There are no facilities here to speak of, apart from a parking area and picnic site. Camping is not allowed. There is no entrance fee.Related to:
- National/State Park
Crystal Geyser near Green River.
Not far from Green River is a cold water geyser going by the name of Crystal. Apparently it goes off once every 10/12/15 hours. There's not a lot of people actually stay there long enough to have a good idea, so even in town we found no-one that could actually pin the time down. So, of course we didn't see it, but did witness quite a bit of hubbling and bubbling. The owner of the motel we stayed in gave us the reason for the pipe that is rammed into the head of the geyser and that it is a security measure. A while ago in another area, a small child slipped into a geyser's head as wide as this one, so there was a widespread panic over all geysers that are in un-watched areas such as this. Green River solved the problem of this one by having this long pipe rammed into it. Not very aesthetic but......
The road out is quite simple : Follow Main street out to the east past the truck stop (they do a great breakfast) and over the I-70. a hundred metres on take the left at the T-junction. Follow this through to the first crossroads and turn right. There is an information board here and a couple of old buildings that are part of an ancient missile site. From there follow the road round always keeping to your right. There are a couple of signs to help out.
NATIONAL SCENIC BYWAY 128
After our visit to Arches, it was time to head north and east toward the I-70. I looked at our map and saw that there was a scenic highway designated by dots along the road. It "seemed" like a short cut to the junction of the I-70 near Cisco --- a mere 43 miles.
NATIONAL SCENIC BYWAY 128 begins 3 miles north of Moab. Sheer walls of red sandstone contrast with the flowing waters of the Colorado River, which runs adjacent to this scenic route. This road, which gets quite narrow in some places, has some of the most amazing scenery I have seen in a long time. There was also so many great river side camping areas and as it was getting late, I even jokingly suggested to Hans that we camp there overnight, after all we brought a little two-man tent. hehe! Except that there wasn't any restaurants or even little MOM & POP places to eat and it was cold. So we carried on and carried on. We seemed to be getting nowhere fast. When the river faded away, the landscape got boring. Is 43 miles sooooo far? Finally, we got sight of traffic in the distance - yeah! It's the I-70.
Monument Valley may conjure visions of John Wayne and the Wild West but this is Navajo country. It is not a National Park as some would have it but a full fledged Tribal Park. While it is true that many a spaghetti western was filmed here and the scenic bluffs that dot the otherwise bleak horizon are about as American as apple pie, Native Americans have held the place sacred long before John Ford emblazoned it on celluloid. Would it be run better as a National Park? Probably. Would they be building a big hotel visible from its famous Mittens bluffs? Probably not. For better or worse, this is one park you will experience in all its Native glory. Its beauty shines through despite what feels like mismanagement. You will somehow feel you are no longer in the good old USA. That's okay, you're not. You're in Navajo country.
Monument Vally Tribal Park is in Arizona, but right up against the Utah border in the far north of the state. You can visit if from Utah at their state park with the same name.Related to:
- Road Trip
- National/State Park
Hole N' the rock
This looks like a really touristy stop and I guess it is but if you don't do any shopping it can be a very pleasant place to have lunch. There are your usual trinket shops and a restaurant but there is also a free park with nice rest rooms for the budget traveler. It's just on the outskirts of Moab but it came in handy for us as we'd spent a bit of time checking out the Matrimony Springs and gorge north of town. It gave us a place to enjoy a nice lunch before tackling the drive to Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, about 100 miles away.Related to:
- Budget Travel
- Food and Dining
- Road Trip
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park would likely have National status if it were not for its misfortune of being located within a day's drive of eight other National wonders in its home state alone; not to mention the North Rim of the Grand Canyon a stone's throw below in Arizona. Framed by scenic red cliffs ala Zion and dense green forest of Juniper and Pinyon, the coral colored sand dunes stand out in stark contrast to form the 3700 acre State Park. ATV drivers rejoice in their good fortune but at least some of the stunningly scenic area is off limits to motorized vehicles and the gorgeous campground remains fairly tranquil. Climb the dunes or sit in serenity, but most of all let nature's beauty seep into your heart like tiny grains of sand trickling from above.Related to:
- National/State Park
- Road Trip
Kodachrome Basin State Park
Kodachrome Basin State Park both benefits and suffers by its proximity to neighboring Utah National and State Parks. While true those drawn to parks like Bryce Canyon National Park will likely be intrigued with a stop here if time permits, it is inevitable there will be comparisons between the two. Most would probably rate Bryce as more spectacular than Kodachrome but each park has its own merits and if one is seeking a little solitude it is far more likely in the latter. With evidence of a Geothermic past ala Yellowstone, Kodachrome Basin stands as a more profuse conglomeration of colors and its array of odd shaped and multi-colored chimneys stand testament to being dubbed Kodachrome after the Kodak Film Company's popular product of the time of its inception. However you shoot it, Kodachrome Basin State Park offers a great place to camp in a beautiful desert terrain with nice short hikes amongst some very scenic rock formations.Related to:
- Road Trip
- National/State Park
Goblin Valley State Park
Though only under state protection since 1964, Goblin Valley State Park was already an attraction as dubbed “Mushroom Valley” by Arthur Chaffin during his photographic shoot in 1949. His attraction to the area dates back to the 1920s but cowboys ran cattle through here long before that. Despite the remoteness of the valley, it would seem very unlikely that Native Americans did not hold it in some reverence when one looks upon the amazing conglomeration of mystical rocks.
Erosion and the raising of the Colorado Plateau may explain this unusual formation but the story of its effect on man when he first saw it can only be imagined. Fortunately for us, we can imagine it pretty well as it is likely the same one we have when stumbling upon this jumble of red rock that seems to stand to this day as an army of goblins acting sentry to the Henry Mountains just beyond. A visit here at sunset is truly magical.Related to:
- Road Trip
- National/State Park
This is a wonderfully hidden gem of a place. Most people speed through Capitol Reef quickly anyway and most never hear about or have the vehicle to allow them to reach this northern section. Thus it has remained remote, and a quiet desert place seldom visited. It is only recently that I was finally able to reach this place myself and it was so worth it. The round trip loop which I highly recommend is a 60 mile dirt road suitable only for high clearance vehicles, 4x4 may be needed at times and it is completely unpassable when wet due to it going through the Bentonite hills which form a particularly sticky, heavy clay. If you have less time then you can take the Caineville Mesa road (portions are very rough) into the Lower Cathedral Valley (30 miles rt) where you can see the Temples of the Sun and Moon and Stars. You will also pass a great section of Bentonite hills...Queen of the Wash is a 400 foot pyramid of maroon and gray stripped clay.
We loved learning about the monoliths which are the stars of the valley. They are so much better in real life than any picture - which cannot convey their massive presence.
The one campground on Hartnet Mesa has a pit toilet, six sites with tables and firepits, but no water and all waste must be packed out. From here you can see 360 degress around to the Henry Mountains, Caineville Mesas, Thousand Lake Mountain, Aquarius Plateau and Upper Cathedral Valley.Related to:
- National/State Park
Paria River Valley Road
In the south of Utah, more or less at the border between Utah and Arizona, Paria Canyon stretches out for miles.
(however, this would be another off-the-beaten-track tip).
For now, Paria River Valley Road leads through a stunning scenery of the typical rock formation of Utah - all different red-orange-yellow-pink colors, depending on the iron oxide content.
Paria River Valley Road starts at HWY 89 (between Kanab/UT and Page/AZ) at milepost 31 (that's what the website says; when we were there, we just saw the roadsign saying "ghosttown") to the north. It's non-paved, so drive carefully (but possible with a non-4x4 car).
At the end of the road, there is a kind of ghosttown, with an old abandoned movie set (however it might be destroyed by now).
Wonderful quiet landscape, small hikes are possible. Remains of the old mormon town Pahreah, even with an old cemetry.
- Hiking and Walking
Horseshoe canyon unit II - Canyonlands N.P.
The spectacular Great Gallery is awesome to behold with ghostlike images, most without arms, just long flowing robes. Some of the images are over 2 metres high. On other parts of the gallery can be seen hunting scenes, the bighorn sheep are quite clear. But, what does it all mean ? Nobody has worked it out yet, although there are plenty of theories.
I urge you to have a look at the pdf file booklet on the archaeology of the area from the NPS site address or directly with address given in the previous tip. Very interesting for those interested. The Moab visitors centre has a leaflet available to help you find other sites, but nothing as large as the Great Gallery.
Although I haven't visited it yet there is another major pictograph and petroglyph site at 9-mile canyon near Price, Utah. http://climb-utah.com/Misc/ninemile.htm
Hell's Backbone road near Boulder.
This is an experience for those that have a sense of adventure and a head for heights. This road takes from near Boulder to Escalante as an alternative to Hwy 12. Constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930's it is an unpaved spectacular drive up through the Dixie Forest. I stopped at the Hell's backbone bridge for a walkabout and to take in the views. The bridge is actually just a one lane wooden one with steep drop-offs down to Box/Death Hollow Canyons that meet up at this point, and it is nearly 2800 metres high. On the way back down we met up with some curious wild mule deer.
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This is the only campground in Arches National Park. There are 52 site to choose from. Current...more
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