Life Beyond the Moki Dugway

April 6 – 8, 2021

This blogisode features action packed adventures at Goosenecks State Park, Valley of the Gods, and Johns Canyon, all tucked neatly between the frightening white knuckle descent down the Moki Dugway through the arid land smattered with amazing named eroded rock features to Mexican Hat, Utah.

On a personal note, being back on the road was a bit tough for me. I struggled with finding the enjoyment of the journey while in Fruita. Maybe it was being in a place familiar versus new and unknown. Maybe it was a comparison to us leaving Golden almost a year ago filled with excitement of the unknown while this time it was more the new normal. For whatever reason there was a sore emotional brick in my stomach, an emptiness that would last through our time in Natural Bridges. It wasn’t until we made it to the area reported in this blogisode that the exciting mystery of travel started to return, replacing the heavy emotional brick in my gut with the wonderlust of being back on the road. The feeling of owning the freedom of what each day could bring, the possibilities of new knowledge at each turn, where every decision and the things we might experience bring a renewed interest in what lies ahead. A position in life filled with new the curiosities leading to new found wisdom. Meeting new, interesting people, finding out that humans, stripped of political and religious noise, are kind generous people. The many who we meet on the road share the same curiosity of life as travelers. Each interaction, again, making the travel experience grow within me. We are back, the brick of emotional stress gone, and our conversations now on how we spend the next few months knowing that we could possibly be on the downside of this event, trying to squeeze every bit out of our finite time left on the TWT journey. 

Travel Journal

Our drive south from Natural Bridges National Monument was completely unknown to us, new territory that neither of us had experienced. From a risk management standpoint all we knew was we had a half a tank of gas and that there was a convenience store in 40 miles at the small hamlet of Mexican Hat. We turned south down highway 261 with large yellow signs emphasizing that rigs over 10,000 pounds, trailers, and RV’s are not recommended. Mostly the drive for almost 30 miles was along nice black-top road surface with a big wide bike lane. It was mostly straight south with views over the vast space of Cedar Mesa, a similar topography to where we just spent a few days camping – rolling hills of pinion pines and junipers, deep rocky canyons, all spread over miles of earth. The view of Bears Ears landmark was gradually disappearing in the rear view mirror. After 20 miles or so we saw a second large loud yellow sign posting warning of the dangers of the road but now followed by posted speeds dropping from 65 to 45, eventually all the way down to 15 mph when suddenly the featured event of fear finally presented itself. The Moki Dugway, a road that seems to drop off the face of the earth but in reality it just drops off Cedar Mesa down to the Valley of the Gods below. The road which has its own listed web page for a most dangerous road, becomes gravel and steep with grades that can exceed 10%, switchbacks that if missed would launch you to certain death. Several chunks of glistening metal objects could be seen down the cliffs below the edge with the team photographer speculating from her view point that they were likely cars whose brakes failed miserably sending the humans off to an early death much like could happen here if I don’t pay attention and keep my eyes on the road. I quickly moved the 4-wheel transmission shifter to 4-Low giving me lots of engine torque to slow our descent without wearing out the brakes. The scenery was spectacular according to Lysette, my wife, co-pilot, team photographer, who commented that she can’t take pictures and help me drive at the same time. So, as my hands remained on the steering wheel and eyes forward on the road unable to see the remarkable, we descended. This event played out over a three mile stretch of steep, twisting, winding, gravel road with us finally reaching pavement and the valley floor.

https://www.blm.gov/sites/blm.gov/files/documents/files/Utah_BENM_Valley-Of_Gods_Brochure.pdf

I moved the transmission back to 2-high from 4-low as we hit asphalt and with speeds back up to the mid 40’s, we quickly passed the left turn which went into the Valley of the Gods and about 5 miles later took the right turn towards Goosenecks State Park. It was another 5 miles along this road to the park gate where we stopped at the shack to greet the ranger. We were told there are plenty of sites for $10 cash per night so we paid for two nights. 

The park has a day use area to the right as you enter with several cap sites with shelters for shade. When you turn left, there are another three camp sites that sit away from the view shelters and three without shelters that sit along the edge of the cliff overlooking the great Goosenecks of the San Juan River. The road gets more bumpy, less maintained from there but has plenty of other rustic camp sites all along the narrow mass of land that sits equally high, extending between two turns of the river for about a mile. In fact, Goosenecks Park gets its name from the meandering turns of the San Juan River, reportedly the best example of a meandering river (…ologist would likely refer to them as, entrenched meanders) in the world and likely in a few millions years, will carve some natural bridges beneath the rock as the water continues to erode the tight turns. The proverbial elephant in the room is will the state rename the park at that point? Time will tell.

The TWT team set up camp in the middle, or second campsite, along the cliff overlooking the river just across from what we’d learn are the cleanest kept pit toilets in the world, if not the universe. The view was amazing of the gooseneck in the river below our campsite, a mesmerizing feature for sure. We could see the tops of a few monuments in Monument Valley and other interesting desert rock features off in the distance. 

The team decided to drive the 7 miles into Mexican Hat to fuel up then to drive the Valley of the Gods. Mexican Hat was small with one lodge and a 7-11 convenience store with gas. I fueled up while Lysette went inside to see if they had water which we didn’t need but when in the desert the good risk manager always checks for water sources. We drove back north towards the Valley of the Gods drive deciding on the clockwise route so as to keep the good monuments on the side of the truck where the photographer sits. We got to the entrance, turned right onto the road and headed out into the valley along the 17-mile gravel road. The road was wide enough in most places for two cars to pass without fear of mirrors hitting. There were some small hills where the road went in and out of washes. But nothing most two wheel drive cars couldn’t manage. There were campers boondocking off the road in really scenic spots. Our only guide for landmarks was the Utah Gazetteer, so with that, we attempted to identify all the named red rock monuments. These huge mountains extending up from the desert floor had names like battleship, castle, laying hen, and rooster. We easily provided names of those without existing names as it was easy to find things in the rocks like trains, teeth, cruise ships, and other object that these red rock structures looked like. 

We drove back to camp in time for Toohey’s numnums and enjoyed a nice evening. We strolled the one mile park “drive” to the end of the campsite passing all the rocky rustic campsites. The sunset was slightly beautiful, the night sky clear, the stars bursting. 

We slow started the next morning spending time sitting on the edge of the canyon viewing nature while sipping coffee and talking. There’s something magical about a place like this that allows thoughts and enriching conversations to naturally emerge, easing away all unimportant thoughts of life, just being present in something so majestical. So we sat and enjoyed this space, this spec of life on the edge of the goosenecks of the San Juan River, sitting on a piece of future cliff debris about 1000 feet up from the water below. 

We left for a bike ride along Johns Canyon Road after a hard boiled egg breakfast. The plan was to stage the bike start from along the road on a pull out so as to eliminate the “junk” miles of open desert and scrub brush thereby saving the time and energy for the canyon part of the ride. We left camp and made the turn on Johns Canyon Road. It is the only turn off the state park road heading northwest through the desert. We drove out about 3 miles where we found a wide open pull off sitting beneath one of the many large tall red buttes. The contrast of the red with the rich blue western sky was astonishing and something that would stop us all during the ride. 

We let Toohey out to mark a security boundary around the Tacoma as we prepped our gear. We set off on our bikes with Toohey now on duty inside the truck to protect the assets. The road winds tightly at times, between the tall red and sandstone walls leading up to Cedar Mesa above. There are washes at each turn leading water when the rain comes several miles to the San Juan River. To say the land around us was striking is an understatement. We passed through a cattle gate along the way, bolted between large boulders and turned around at the second closed gate. As we were stopped, a dude and his girl came riding up on a Red Bull edition motorcycle and said we were close to the end of the road where a sandy trail lead from there, likely a difficult ride on our bikes. Based on his comments and it being close to our time limit, we decided to head back to our protective pooch in the pickup. The ride back was equally as gorgeous and fun, pushing through the short steep rolling hills and winding turns with amazing views. We saw one other truck along our ride giving it the added bonus of solitude. 

We got back to camp mid-afternoon and spent the rest of the day relaxing, talking about stuff, and took a quick nap while trying to read. We met new neighbors and watched as day trippers stopped to take selfies of the amazing view, many of them in our campsite. With night came the interest of the changing colors as the sun set, shadows rising from the deep gorge, across the desert landscape then to the mountain tops sitting off in the distance, until everything was encapsulated inside earth’s shadow. 

The next day came with the need to move again. A move south through Mexican Hat, Monument Valley, crossing the Navajo Reservation, and into Arizona. Monument Valley is a special place with large red mountain rock features that served as backdrop to movies through the years. We drove through the area capturing many photographs of the famous monuments and not so famous nerd playing characters from one movie. We finally reached the town of Tuba City at the intersection of highway 260 and 264 where we had internet service so we could research information needed for our destination. We ultimately chose a site at Homolovi State Park with access to Winslow, where there is a girl, my lord, in a flat bed Ford.., proximity to Petrified Forest National Park and Meteor Crater.  

Update: We have covered so much ground and the natural rhythm of our travel has slowed to an enjoyable pace. Our direction has us currently in Page, AZ. Before Page, we spent a few nights in Lee’s Ferry, a place equally rich in history as it is with adventure and desert beauty. We have now showered a few times to wash off most of the red dust and restocked the food bins. Toohey got to kayak to Antelope Canyon yesterday and the team is now prepared for more fun as we head towards Kanab and the Grand Staircase National Monument. Until then.

4 thoughts on “Life Beyond the Moki Dugway

  1. My favorite formation in Valley of the Gods is the “Lady in the Bathtub” right when you enter from the bottom of the Moki Dugway! We passed through Mexican Hat on April 9th and were looking for you!

  2. Such incredible country. Wish we were there… We’ve had so many back-to-back spring snows in Golden – I thought maybe you hadn’t left town!

  3. I hope you did not run very far in those crocs! Kevin tried to get me to do that shot in Monument Valley but we had gotten up at 4 that morning to drive there so he could get the perfect lighting for a shot of the location of the hanging scene in Once Upon A Time in the West. By the time we were driving back, I was a zombie and just wanted to nap!

    If you are still in the area, and haven’t seen it before, be sure to get to Hovenweep! It’s a small monument but incredible. And Canyon of The Ancients is also out of this world, but it’s been years since we last hiked it so I’m not sure what it’s like now.

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