Colorado - Utah Trip 2014

Part 3: Moab, Utah

July 7th & 8th

We enjoyed a late breakfast with Bill and Kathy, finally departing their company at noon. We made a brief stop in Delta for a few items, filled the gas tank, and grabbed a couple of burgers. From there we headed up to the junction with highway 141 which goes west toward Gateway Colorado, an old uranium mining town in the far western part of the state. Since the decline of uranium mining many years back, there was little at Gateway outside of some ranching until John Hendricks came here and built the Gateway Canyons Resort. We did not visit the facility, but it looks to be very nice.

The resort has many activities including an auto museum which we originally intended to visit. Due to our late start from Hotchkiss, we skipped the museum so that we could move on to Moab. I will definitely return here another time in the future, however. I am getting ahead of myself here, so I will back up just a bit.

Highway 141 follows what is called the  Unaweep-Tabeguache Byway, which winds its way from Whitewater to Placerville through some very scenic country.

View toward Grand Mesa and Gunnison River Valley  Looking back toward Grand Mesa and the Gunnison River valley from the Unaweep-Tabeguache Byway

Stone face in the cliff along the Unaweep-Tabeguache Byway  We could not help but notice this unnamed stone face as we drove. I have looked everywhere but cannot find any references to it.

Ruins of the Driggs Mansion  Ruins of the Driggs Mansion. It was build by a New York attorney as a getaway and hunting lodge. The roof was removed in the 1940's to keep squatters from moving in and the rest of the building soon fell into disrepair. The arched entrance was designed to emulate the natural stone arch in the mountain behind the structure.

Arch near the Driggs Mansion  The arch above and behind the Driggs Mansion.

Thimble Rock and the Driggs Mansion  The Driggs Mansion and Thimble Rock. The Driggs Mansion is on private property, thus we have no close up photos.

The Palisade, Gateway, Colorado. This promontory is called The Palisade and overlooks Gateway, Colorado, located at the western end of Unaweep Canyon. Unaweep Canyon is very unique in that it has two mouths and is drained by two creeks, named appropriately East Creek and West Creek. The eastern end of the canyon is located just west of Whitewater, Colorado. It is thought that the canyon was carved by an ancient Gunnison River when it followed a different path than it follows today.

Highway 141 makes a turn at Gateway and heads in southeasterly direction, but we wanted to go to Moab, Utah, which is almost directly west of Gateway. The only problem is that there are no state highways between the two towns, leaving only forest service and county roads leading up through John Brown Canyon, and then up towards the LaSal Mountains before skirting to the north, overlooking Fischer Valley from the south, and finally dropping down into Castle Valley, where we were able to take Hwy 128 the rest of the way into Moab.

Rock formations in John Brown Canyon John Brown Canyon is very narrow and steep, much more so than I thought after looking at satellite photos. As a result, taking photos in the canyon is very difficult, but Dad did manage to get this one. I've never been in such a small canyon that actually had a road through it before, and it definitely had a close in feel to it. The camera had to be held almost straight up to get this photo.

Looking down John Brown Canyon from the top of the switchbacks.  Looking down John Brown Canyon from the top of the switchbacks at its western end. I told you it was narrow!

Terry and Jim at the Colorado-Utah state line  One of the most unceremonious state line crossings I have ever seen. In the distance are the LaSal Mountains. I suspect that this road turns to nothing but mud in wet weather and the Jimmer Van would most likely not be up to the task. With the dark clouds looming, we wanted to get across here before it rained, one of the reasons that we skipped the auto museum in Gateway. To go back out to Whitewater and around would have taken several hours. Besides, what adventure would there be in taking the interstate??

Map of trip from Gateway Colorado to Moab Utah the hard way  Map of our route from Gateway to Moab.

It is about 30 miles from Gateway to Castle Valley on this road. We travelled its entire length without encountering another vehicle, but we did see a few signs of people. We also encountered an individual on foot at a tee intersection. He was walking with his dog and had a backpack. He was a younger fellow, maybe 25 years old, and he started waving his hands in the air the moment he saw us. We stopped and he asked if we had a cell phone that he could use. This is pretty remote country, and NO cell phones work out here. His told us his name was David, but I will just refer to him as "Jersey Dude".

Jersey Dude works at one of the dude ranches along the Colorado River, not far from Castle Valley. Today was his day off and he decided to go for a drive on some of the back roads in the area. Along the way he ended up with a flat tire, but had no spare. He eventually had to abandon the car and he started out on foot with his faithful companion, walking about eight miles or so over several hours time before he encountered us. We were the first people he had seen since he departed on his day trip about six hours earlier. I figure he started walking about the same time we left Tembrock's. I must admit that I did not initially understand why he chose to walk out the way that he did, rather than go back the way he came, but that was his choice. It was obvious that he was totally lost and had no idea where he was. He said that if he had not encountered us he would have headed up the road in the direction from which we had come, towards Gateway, 16 miles distant by road. That would not have been a good choice, so it was a good thing that we came along when we did.

We offered him a ride, something we normally would not offer to a stranger, but this was a different scenario, he was lost and stranded, had no food, was short on water and wandering aimlessly in an area where one can go for hours or even days without seeing another soul. This is high country,  elevation about 8500' and the temperatures can get quite cold at night. There are many side roads in the area, most of which dead end on desolate mesas. Choosing the wrong one could make the difference between life and death. We often hear stories of people getting lost and dying in some out of the way place, hopelessly lost, out of water and not properly dressed for the elements. Hypothermia is a nasty killer that fools a person's mind into believing that he is too warm before death sets in, victims are often found nearly naked. I cannot imagine what it must be like to die like that, and I hope I never find out. Obviously, we could not leave this young man up here all alone in his dire predicament, so we gave him a ride back to the dude ranch where he worked and lived. More about Jersey Dude's car later.

View down into the Fisher Valley  We stopped along the way at an overlook so that we could get a peek at the Fisher Valley.

Dinosaur tracks  While at the overlook Jersey Dude spied some unmarked dinosaur tracks. There are two in this photo, one of them made very obvious with the recent rains.

We passed on through Castle Valley, a town in the middle of no where with no stores of any kind, just some homes belonging mostly to retired dropped Jersey Dude off at his bunk house. He thanked us but commented that his girlfriend will not be very happy about the car. Under the circumstances they have much to be thankful for, but probably do not realize it.

Recent rockfall along the Colorado River, near Castle Valley, Utah.  Before departing, Jersey Dude told us about a rock fall that had occurred on the canyon wall only a couple of days earlier. On our way to Moab, the spot where this had occurred was very obvious.

We checked in at the Big Horn Lodge in Moab, then went to a local brew pub for burgers and a couple of beers, the perfect way to end the day. The Big Horn Lodge is an older motel, but has been updated and is very clean and well kept. Definitely a great place to stay.

After a wonderful 6 AM breakfast at the Moab Grille, we picked up our rental at Canyonlands Jeep and Car Rental, and hit the trails headed up into the LaSal Mountains. Our first trail was LaSal Pass.

View of Moab and the Spanish Valley from LaSal Pass 4WD road  Looking out over the Spanish Valley. Moab is the big green spot in the middle of the photo. Arches National Park is in the right center, behind the escarpment in the photo. The infamous "Lion's Back" is also visible in this photo, directly to the right of Moab. Not familiar with the Lion's Back??   Have a look at the video in this link:

Looking toward Canyonlands Nat'l Park from the LaSal Mountains  Looking out toward Canyonlands National Park, located out near the horizon in the middle of the photo.

Jim with large birch tree near LaSal Pass  Part way up to LaSal Pass we came upon these huge birch trees, the largest I have ever seen. Dad was amazed at their size also. No, he's not a tree hugger. He is simply demonstrating their size by showing he was unable to reach around the tree.

Jim with our rental Jeep - LaSal Pass road  Dad with our trusty steed for the next couple of days. 2014 Jeep Wrangler Sport, V6, auto trans, 3" Teraflex lift, 33" Yokohama Geolander tires, hard top with removable tee top panels. I really liked this one and hated to take it back when we were done with it. I guess I could have kept it for the right price!

Talus slope on LaSal Pass Road  This is what is called a talus slope, and is made up of loose flat rocks that can slide and move easily. Cardinal rule of crossing such a slope is never disturb the slope. Walking on these rocks has a strange hollow sound as you walk across them, even on the road.


Here is a video that I put together from some clips I took while Dad was driving on the trail. My first attempt at putting something on YouTube. I hope you like it!

Now, think back to the previous day and the point where we encountered a young fellow on foot, "Jersey Dude".  Well, after we topped LaSal Pass, we worked our way north and east to the point where we found him the previous day, then headed down the road that he had come up. This road is known by several names, depending on which map you happen to be looking at. Either way, the road heads toward Beaver Mesa, Polar Mesa, and Thompson and Hideout Canyons. We headed down this road and travelled on it for a short time, when we found a nice spot on Beaver Mesa where a nice breeze was blowing, so we decided to stop and make some sandwiches for lunch.

After pondering the quiet solitude of such a place, we continued down the road, then made the turn onto number 605, Hideout Canyon Road. We travelled a short distance down this road when we came upon a car.

Jersey Dude's car  You guessed it, Jersey Dude's car!   A Toyota Matrix.    2 wheel drive.     Ummmm.....  that doesn't belong back here, no matter how nice this part of the trail seems to be.

Jersey Dude's car, missing a tire  He not only had a flat tire, it was completely GONE! He must have driven this thing on just the rim for as far as he was able before he gave up and started out on foot.

As we headed farther down the canyon, we soon began to wonder how he ever got as far as he did. How a tire was destroyed was easy to figure out, especially a passenger car tire, as they are simply not made for this type of terrain.

View of Fisher Towers from Thompson Canyon  We came upon this view of Fisher Towers in the distance. Our discussion quickly turned to the fact that when a person visits Fisher Towers and takes the trail, he quickly assumes that this entire area is devoid of activity, but lo and behold, there are roads out there in that waste land that enable uncommon views of commonly known places, such as this one. Take note of the high cliffs near the right side of the photograph. The top of them is accessed via a couple of trails called "Top of the World" and "Rose Garden Hill".  More about them later.

We travelled along, following the side of Thompson Canyon, then into the bottom of Hideout Canyon. Where the road exits Hideout Canyon, there is a very steep climb to get out to Onion Creek Road and the Fisher Valley. Making this climb required four wheel drive, and we soon realized why Jersey Dude continued up Hideout and Thompson Canyons:  He could not get out the way he got in!! He had no choice but to keep going in hopes of finding another way out, but ending up with a flat tire added to his misery that day.

Onion Creek Road is for the most part passable in a two wheel drive vehicle. There is a ranch at the end of the road, with irrigated farm land, something a person would not expect to find out here in a place so desolate. The road is graded but is extremely susceptible to flash flooding as the road more or less follows the bed of Onion Creek, and crosses it many times. I would not travel this road if there were signs of severe thunderstorms or heavy rains to the south or west of here. Flash floods in this area are DEADLY and can occur even when the sun is shining. What the weather does up in the LaSal Mountains is often more important than what the weather is doing in the valley.

Onion Creek Road   A view on Onion Creek Road. As mentioned, the road itself is very good, and received regular maintenance, along with complete rebuilding after every flash flood.

Views along Onion Creek Road  Another view along Onion Creek Road. The mineral and soil colors here are quite something to see.

Views along Onion Creek Road  The color contrasts here are simply amazing.

Views along Onion Creek Road  The geology can also change drastically in a very short distance as seen in these photos.    White, green, then red.....

Views along Onion Creek Road  And now brown!

Priest and Nuns near Moab, Utah  A well known rock formation in the area: Priest and Nuns.


Here is a short video taken on Onion Creek Road:


From Onion Creek Road, we headed over to Dewey Bridge and checked it out. It is an old, historic bridge built in 1916, and was important in the settling of the area. In 1988 a new, modern bridge was built to replace it, and efforts were taken to restore the old bridge and keep it as a historic site.

In April of 2008, a youngster at a nearby campground was playing with matches and started a brush fire as a result. The brush fire moved up the river bank and lit the bridge deck on fire as well, destroying the wooden deck entirely. Rebuilding the deck is a possibility, though nothing has been done as of this writing. A restoration fund is accepting donations.

I don't know why, but we did not take any photos of the remains of the Dewey Bridge, so I have none to share here.

From there we headed for the Top of the World Trail, which ends at a cliff top overlooking the Fisher Valley and Fisher Towers. This trail is quite rugged, (the roughest one we travelled on our whole trip) and we were so busy driving and holding on that we never took any photos. We made the first half mile of the trail and realized that it would take us another hour to get to the end. A quick look at the gas gauge told me that going to the end, then attempting to drive back to Moab thirty some miles away might just leave us walking. Jeeps do not have large fuel tanks, and I figured that we had about three or four gallons left. When on the trail, fuel is consumed and measured in gallons per hour instead of miles per gallon because of the very low speeds. My gut feel was that we would have just enough gas, but I did not care to find out the hard way, afterall, we were here to have FUN, not walk back to town!  Being late afternoon, with Top of the World being to the south east of Fischer Towers, we realized that the light would be far better the next morning, so our primary plan was to turn around and head for town, then return in the morning.

We headed into town, got gas, had dinner and still had some daylight to burn, so we headed out toward Potash to have a look at some of the petroglyphs along the road. The light was poor, and you could not get close to them, so photos did not turn out at all useful.

Sunset color along the start of the White Rim Trail  We did manage to get this colorful post-sunset photo out near Canyonlands National Park before heading back to town and calling it a day. This was taken from the beginning of the White Rim Trail, just west of Potash.


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Home Page Trip Contents Part 1 - Getting There Part 2 - Hotchkiss Part 3 - Moab
Part 3 - Moab - Page 2 Part 4 - Durango Part 5 - Ouray Part 5 - Ouray - Page 2 Part 6 - Buena Vista