The Utah Back Country Discovery Route. Pt. 1

Winter kept a tight hold on Colorado this Spring, But Dezso and I finally found a window of opportunity to get out for a trip. Granted we had both gotten some short rides in during the winter months, but it’s not the same as loading up your gear and disappearing into the back country for a week. We looked at our options. The Rockies still held an abundance of snow, but Dezso and I figured we could ride around a great deal of Utah without getting snow on our shoes.

We rode hard from Denver to get to Mexican Hat, UT, arriving at dusk and checking into the hotel. We wanted a good night’s rest before hitting the beginning of the Utah Back Country Discovery Route. So after an insipid dinner and a restful night we got started on the first segment through the Valley of the Gods.

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Located in the Southeast corner of Utah, the landscape is sandstone and desert flora—desert poppies, sage, and a few cacti. We got on the road and up to our turn off in a matter of minutes and began to ride through the dirt toward an escarpment to the north.

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Between Hwy 163 and the mountains to the north are stand-alone red sandstone towers.  We rode between these, taking our time and shooting photos and videos when the opportunity arose.

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We met one other Beemer rider headed in the opposite direction, and after a brief ride report about the road ahead we continued on.

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Still clean and uninjured!

Now, I hate to admit this, but this was the first time I got to try out my new(ish) knobbies. I took my time, testing my ability to turn, swerve, and stop in the dirt. Little did I know they’d get the ultimate test a few more miles down the road.

 We passed a B&B way out on the western edge of the Valley of the Gods that looked like a great place to stay. I can only imagine that without all the light pollution, this would be an excellent place to photograph at night.

We exited Garden of the Gods Rd onto Hwy 261 and climbed the Moki Dugway—a narrow, gravel road full of switchbacks and, oddly enough, an RV or two. On every horseshoe bend you could look down over the edge at the road below. Looking up, you can’t even see where the road goes next.

At the top, we turned left and took a dirt road toward Goosenecks State Park. Now the best part of this ride is that I’ve let Dezso go first. The downside is that when there is dust getting kicked up, I’m usually eating it. The upside, as I learned on this segment of road, is that when the road suddenly changes, I get to hear about it first hand over our intercom.

Dezso soon disappeared ahead and I was left to ride dust free. Then the silence broke as Dezso’s voice crackled in my ear.  “Whoa!” A pause. “Watch out. There’s sand up ahead.” I slowed down and saw a wobbling line of tire tracks.  I’m not that good at riding in the sand and silt. I know I need to learn, and I am trying to learn, but damn! It’s one thing to watch a video, another to take a class using small Honda 250s, and a whole different galaxy when you’re on a fully loaded F650GS! Where are those classes?

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Having safely ridden through the sand, we made it to the edge, looking out over the San Juan River and the vistas afforded from this view. We took some photos and moved back onto the UTBDR. It was just a short jaunt up the paved road to Snow Flat Rd. Once we started down the lightly sandy road we had to stop and let air out of our tires. A trick first developed by early pioneers crossing the plains in Conestoga wagons* and later used on motor vehicles to give better grip on tricky surfaces.

The road quickly deteriorated into more technical riding, but that’s what we wanted. And since I hadn’t fallen, life was grand. We went from dirt to bare rock, and all variables in between. Brush and juniper grew high on the sides of the road which contrasted nicely with the red sand we rode on. Aside from the tail end of jack rabbits, or the shadows of crows overhead, we didn’t see much wildlife. This was fine with me since I wondered if I was capable of avoiding little critters as well as sand pits and chunks of rock in the trail.

True enough, the road started throwing rocks our way and just after one engine-guard-scraping occurrence, I took my first spill right over a rocky ledge that turned into deep sand. I had lined the bike up to go over a few rocks, made it, then noticed the sand drift creeping onto the right side of the road. I tried to correct, turning my handlebars and slowing down (you know, all the wrong things to do), but with my weight forward, the front wheel dug in and I was down in the dust. It is because of such (cough) unscheduled “dismounts” that I am a firm believer in ATGATT, and the pinnacle of such events was still two days away.

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My left pannier had busted off (I abuse the hell out of that left pannier) and a little gas had leaked out making me think the incident was much worse than it actually was. Luckily it turned out just to be the gas tank overflow. We picked the bike up and moved it to a more level place. I tried to reattach the pannier, but laws of physics-of which we are bound to-had tweaked the mounting bracket and bolt and it wouldn’t go back on. We found a good-sized rock and banged on both until the mounting bolt would fit.

Photo Courtesy of Dezso Adai

Photo Courtesy of Dezso Adai

As if a precursor to the road’s deterioration, it soon became nothing more than sections of bare rock, interspersed with large chunks of rocks as we moved off the escarpment. Each time a rock jumped up and twanged against my engine guard I was happy to have it in place. We continued down onto the desert floor and the roads turned to dirt which soon enough turned to silt, often in the most unexpected placed. Again, Dezso tested the road ahead as I heard exclamations and expletives once he found deep sand. This is where I fell the second time.

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After a rather large stretch of deep and rutted sand, Dezso turned around in time to see a big puff of sand: My second ejection from the saddle; this time to the right. News flash: It turns out if you fall over, oil can run into your air intake area. I busted the lens cover off my turn signal and bent my rearview mirror.

This was the beginning of 5-10 miles (I am still hesitant to count) of off-and-on deep rutted stretches of silt. Not quite dirt, not quite sand, but fine enough to kick up clouds with each passing, and deep enough to make travel through it highly questionable.  Dezso would lead, I’d hear a curse, and he’d ask if he could film me going through the sand trap. As I write this and reflect, I should’ve had him film it so that I could possibly learn from what the hell I was doing and to give you, gentle reader, something to laugh at.

There’s a theory about your mentality and riding. You can easily psyche yourself out and after a few more falls I felt myself improve, but I also started to second guess my abilities. I rode slower, hesitated on curves and rocks, and even though I knew this was bad, I couldn’t change it. Only more practice and experience gets rid of this feeling and I got a lot of it the following day.

By the time we hit pavement again I was beat. The area holds lots of archaeological ruins, but I no longer felt like riding down long stretches of sand. I was covered in dust from the inside of my helmet down into my socks. After a brief discussion, we beat a hasty retreat to Moab for Margaritas and showers.

Stand by for Part 2!

*this may or may not true. Oh wondrous internet! The things you can make up!

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