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  • Writer's pictureKelsey

Redrocks and Aspen Trees - UTAH - Day 2

It’s time for one epic day of ups and downs...

Good morning!!

The first morning of a trip is like Christmas. I can’t sleep! I’m itching to go and see the first new thing, the first turn onto a dirt road, making the first tracks down it. If you’re a skier, it’s the same feeling you get when you know it snowed all night and you can’t wait to get the first tracks!

We did stop by the “State Park” (more of a view than a park if you ask me) on our way to get the obligatory Goosenecks photo.

Time to go up the Moki Dugway. “The Moki Dugway was constructed in 1958 by Texas Zinc, a mining company, to transport uranium ore from the “Happy Jack” mine in Fry Canyon to the processing mill in Mexican Hat.”

In future years, I’ll site this as the reason for having lung cancer from breathing uranium dust. (Many mining roads were built with all of that extra dirt (Tailings) they had laying around. Which makes you wonder when it was a Uranium mine...)

In a rental car or on a Harley... (that was fun), this road is an adventure. Otherwise, it’s a nice graded dirt road with some pretty views.

It’s worth stopping for a minute to enjoy.

At the top of the Moki we cruised along looking for our turn. I try to never take the same road twice. Maybe I’m trying to maximize the new dirt, the fresh tracks or the total adventure, but whatever the case I turned on one dirt road early so we could take a different way in than we’d take out.

It was worth it.

We were making fresh tracks after last nights rain. I could tell this red dirt would be hell if it was soaking wet so we were thankful it was only damp as we slipped around.

We kept making our way along this random Cedar Mesa dirt road until we found our spot. A spot to abandon the truck and the cold brew coffee I had been nursing all morning trying to force my mind to WAKE UP. We grabbed our camelbacks, Spot Tracker, rain jackets and headed out.

It was still early morning and these views were hard to process in my dreary coffee soaked brain. I’m glad I had just enough sense to snap some pictures.

This hike had a pull out where we left the truck, but beyond that no formal trail. All I knew was that in this canyon were some Native American ruins. Not the type that are behind glass or with a paved walking path, but the kind that are seldom visited and still have the feel of a place that was left just a few years ago.

We walked up the canyon and realizing that via the topos on my phone we were leaving the canyon we decided to try down canyon.

What’s that one frog doing to the other one!

(What’s that one frog doing to the other one!)

We walked along the floor of the canyon and then realized a higher vantage might give us the view we wanted so we climbed up to the top.

It worked. There it is below. See it?

We barely did. Let me zoom in as we climb down.

Two of them. 1 up high and one down next to the wash.

(Two of them. 1 up high and one down next to the wash.)

(What’s this? A secret compartment inside of the hut? Grain storage? Gold storage, some important keepsake?)

I stared at the construction for a while. Amazing to see it up close and personal and all the more amazing to know it has lasted for hundreds of years like this.

Not a bad view from the front porch.

The upper homes were almost impossible to reach unless you came from the top of the rim like we did. We had to back track a half mile to get to the lower huts. Sure, natives could scale the wall better, but it left me wondering if they had a ladder of some sort.

On the other hand, the upper could have been storage and a place to retreat to, should someone attack. Who knows.

We made our way to the lower hut.

The lower hut had seen a lot more visitors and had a lot more abuse from erosion as well. We sat in the silent canyon and rested. I was in no rush to get back. Sitting around and just soaking in the fact that the vacation had officially started and we were long out of cell reception...

Eventually, we started to make our way back up to the truck.

As soon as we hit dirt again, we were ready to find some new terrain. Off to the Manti-La Sals we went.

We did a few miles of pavement before we found our switch-backing dirt road, and up we climbed. It went from the low 90's to the low 60's pretty quick. Right off the bat we started taking side roads and found the remnants of an old cabin.

Complete with an old water pump. I had to try it and was surprised to see that after about 20 or 30 pumps it worked!

Should you want one, they still make them...

It was time to head down into an area I’d found on the map and was excited to explore. Dark Canyon and the old ranching cabin that sits up in a side canyon. Sounds ominous.... If only I had the forethought to see the foreshadowing...

Down we went...

No, I don’t plan these animations. If I did, they’d be less shaky and smoother. Still,the thought of getting out the tripod to take sequential shots, sounds like a boring way to spend my vacation. ;-)

You don’t realize how high in elevation you’ve climbed until you descend. It felt like we were dropping down forever.

Arches were everywhere on this trip. Some marked and named and others you’d just catch site of as you passed by

(Arches were everywhere on this trip. Some marked and named and others you’d just catch site of as you passed by.)

We’d been following some ATV tracks down into the canyon and all of the sudden he passed us going the other way. He was headed back up and out. We soon realized why. The trail was washed out ahead so he’d turned around. With larger tires and a longer wheelbase it wasn’t too bad. We plopped off the ledge with just a little tripod three wheel motion and kept on our way.

Now it was a bit eerie. There were no tracks recent or otherwise along this trail. We soon hit a tight section of trees where the side mirrors snapped in before I had a chance to think to pull them in. We removed the HAM radio antenna because it was getting so much abuse. Right when we were thinking we’d have to turn around, the trail became open and passable again...

It’s like it was egging me on. A tough bit, and then smooth, a sketchy obstacle and then it was friendly again. Maybe we would make it to the cabin.

We drove over a section of dirt with a 30 foot drop on either side. It had clearly been there for a while, but with no tracks I wasn’t sure how long it had been since the last vehicle had crossed it. The water of the wash below had eroded both sides of it to a point where the sides were vertical. Another thought entered my mind. The drop off I drove off in the pics above crumbled under the weight of my truck almost instantly once I was near the edge. The only other vehicles we’d seen were a UTV and an ATV and my truck weighed immensely more. It wasn’t a great feeling as I had to drive within inches of the edge. I hated this section and there was no alternative.

We crossed it without incident, but alarms were going off in my head that this would give way soon. Maybe not today or while I was on it, but it would soon. I didn’t like the thought that we had to come back this way.


We came around a corner to see the road crossed the wash that we’d just driven next to. The problem was that it was still about 30 feet down a small flat section made of sand and branches and 30 feet back up the other side. Very steep on both sides. The red sand/mud was slick too. At the bottom the man-made crossing of sticks and logs pilled up to make it passable. I had a good amount of my brain saying:

“Hold on. Think about this. No one has been here for a while. If it doesn’t hold what will you do? What if you slide off? What if you can’t climb out the other side?”

Then K said. “I don’t know about this one. I think we should turn back.”

Damn ego. Dammit. In that moment of brief stupidity and bravado I said, “No, it’s not that bad. We’ll be fine.”

Something about not even using 4wd thus far in the trip made me think I had this. I would go into 4wd LOW and then I still had lockers “in reserve” as it were, not to mention the winch. “We have layers of gear to use, so we’ll be fine” I thought.

I creeped down into the wash and I started to slide to the downstream side. I turned, but the truck kept lurching the wrong way. This was all happening at a fraction of 1MPH, but it seemed fast. The tires bit in a bit and I started to correct so when I crossed the “bridge” I was only a little off center to the sloping downstream side. Now the truck was climbing the other side. Immediately as the truck got into about a 45 degree pitch, the tires dug in. I stopped immediately locked up the front, rear and center diffs. Still, even triple locked there was no more forward progress to be made. I rolled backward to get out of the small tire holes I’d created and heard the crunch.

The right rear tire slid off the side and cracked through the “bridge.” I was sitting on the rear bumper in the back. Things just got interesting.

Sitrep: Time to air down. Way down. We took all 4 tires to 5psi. We started stacking rocks, twigs and K started pushing dirt to create a road bed in front of the tires to drive on. I went to look for a tree to winch off of as the sound of thunder gave me chills.

It was not lost on me that we were in a wash. It was all I could think of in fact. Then I thought of something...

The winch controller. My stomach sank. The winch controller was in the rear drawer behind 2 swing outs, a tailgate, and inside of a sliding drawer. None of which could be opened at the moment.

We immediately started building up the area behind the rear tires now. We had to go back before we went forward. We shoved sticks in behind the rear tires.

In my serious tone, knowing that I would decide later if I wanted to share this moment of stupidity with anyone, I asked K:

“K, please take a pic of this mess. I know it’s not the time, but just take one and then we’ll get back to work.” (The shot above)

We backed up about 10 inches and then the millisecond the first tire slipped we stopped. The rear swing outs and drawers opened a bit. Not enough to keep all of the aforementioned components from hitting each other, but enough. Enough, if I treated them all violently. I had the winch controller in hand. The cheap Harbor Freight tie down straps caught my eye. Might as well grab them, and the shovel too.

I pulled winch line as far as I dare. Until “too few” 5 wraps were left on the drum. Dammit. We were about 15 feet short from the nearest tree and that’s with using the lifting sling, tree strap and winch extension. I wrapped the tree strap around 4 hearty looking bushes instead. I brought the slack up and immediately they moved in the soft wet dirt. Damn.

I decided it was the tree or I was going to spend a couple hours digging a ditch to bury my spare tire or a log. I used the tie down straps to get me the last few feet. I told K to get well away since we are now winching with a sketchy setup. As the tension took up and I started to crawl up the tie down gave way. This reoccurred three more times before I gave up hope that they would hold. Each time we’d add something to the situation hoping it would give us that last little bit of traction. Sticks, rocks, airing down a bit further etc.

...Each time we’d slide a little more into the wash at the bottom... The truck had a solid tilt to the passenger side.

Then I saw it. 1 silly, cheap, camo colored ratchet strap in the outer mesh pocket of my Trasharoo. Son of a ....

(The English/Welsh/Scottish instructors I work with at Overland Expo are right, always right. When times get bad, stop, put on the kettle and make some tea. It gives you a second to think about the mess your in and come at it with a clear head. We don’t carry a kettle, but it’s a good point. Make a sandwich. Grab a seat on a rock, do something to slow down and think. I might have remembered that extra strap if I had)

I used this strap to double up the last link in the winch line. This time we dug a path up the side of the hill and lined it with small flat rocks. (This try had to count) We had a nice little road bed made. I pulled up the winch line's slack and eased on the throttle. K’s job was to let me know if there was ANY wheel slip in case I didn’t sense it. We eased up and I heard the winch line creak...

I eased my front tires over the lip of the hill and the truck immediately went from slipping to gripping. We were out and on top of the other side.

A half sigh of relief. We made it.

The good, we were out. (For a host of reasons I won’t explain we had to move forward through our mess.) The bad, we had to go back through it. It was the only path and we were up in a one way canyon.

The good part was that heading this direction we could try to prevent the heavy vehicle from putting itself into a situation. We had control. I love control. This time, we must not loose it!

We eased it down into the wash. Tires still aired down, winch line in a coil on the passenger seat next to me. Winch controller still plugged in and wrapped around my window wiper and then rear view mirror. Tree picked out that we could reach with the winch line across the wash.

The truck started to slide down stream just like before and I kept it clawing up stream for traction. We made progress. At the bottom we were in the center with all 4 tires on actual ground. From our vast experience with this mud/sand combo I knew that momentum was our friend. I asked K to get out of the way and I slowly rolled on throttle. No wheel spin, but heavy enough to get some momentum before we got onto the bigger incline.

It worked.

We were out. On the “safe” side of the ravine.
Time = 11:00 AM - Day 1 of actual exploring. It had been quite a morning...

Now, on the safe side, I immediately parked the truck.

K “What are you doing.”

T “I’m getting our camp chairs out.”

K “Why?”

T “We’re covered in dirt, ants, bushes, sweat and it’s time to stop for a sec. Want a beer?”

K “Absolutely.”

We sat there and laughed. Went over the situation. Went over how every damn thing I did BEFORE we got stuck I could have done differently. Everything we did after stuck, was about what I’d do again. We looked around at this beautiful canyon that we hadn’t looked at in a couple hours.

T “pretty, isn’t it.”

K “It’s amazing.”

T “Winch controller lives in the center console from now on.”

K “that’s for sure.”

We were almost giddy. I knew every single thing I’d done wrong. I thought of all the things I’d told folks to do at Overland Expo in my classes. I thought of which rules I’d broken. Which ones I’d break again and which ones I’d follow.

Everything seemed prettier now. This place seemed all the more special. We were thankful to be able to enjoy it. We were thankful we’d survived it as a couple and grown because of it. This short little side trip had turned into a mess.

We kept the pace slow and measured. Held our breath as we crossed the section that looked like it could give way and kept on climbing out of Dark Canyon. The washouts were now step ups, but seemed so small and insignificant. We crawled up each without issue.

T “Remember on the way in these worried you?”

K “Yah, not so much anymore...”

We crawled back up the small access road in low range. Enjoying the sites. At the top of the trail was a small information stand about Dark Canyon. THIS time we read the laminated piece of paper posted next to the info board. “Dark Canyon is washed out and making it to the Cabin is no longer possible.”

Once back at the higher elevation and safely off the rougher ATV track we cruised around looking for a camp site. I thought it would be apropos to camp on the point directly above the canyon where we got stuck. Heck, maybe we’d even see the cabin we couldn’t make it to.

We turned off onto a less traveled forest road and then onto a 2 track where the grass was growing a foot high. This one hadn’t seen a vehicle in a while. Perfect.

Time to relax? Almost. That squeaking had been with us since Arizona. It wasn’t the loud kind that gives you alarm, but it’s the kind that says “hello, is it me your loooking for?” Again and again. Now that we had camp and some spare hours of light left I decided to dawn my coveralls and figure out what that noise was.


Birkenstock’s are proper wrenching attire.

(Birkenstock’s are proper wrenching attire.)

I pulled the tire and caliper off to find metal shavings. Fine little ones, from the rotor itself. I knew the pads should be fine since they had a lot of life when I rebuilt the axles last year. This caliper piston had stuck and slowly ground down the pad to the metal backing... that was the noise. It was now metal to metal. Oh great. I could clamp off the line, but I hate to off-road for days with three working brakes. I could also try to look for a replacement, in Mormon country, on a Sunday, during a holiday weekend. I buttoned everything back together and let it go. No point in worrying and we’d handled tougher things this day. This was a problem for tomorrow.

NOW, it’s time to relax. We put an audio book by Louis L'Amour that is set not far from the country we were exploring and cooked up a nice big steak. I was a special kind of exhausted, but I had a giant smile on my face and that’s what matters.



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