Into the Desert; Our spring escape from winter

Its become an annual pilgrimage of sorts to head to the red rock country of southern Utah in the spring at the conclusion to ski season. It was a long, busy winter this year. Colorado had an incredible snow year and the skiing was great. We had been daydreaming of our spring trip since December. Originally hoping for something bigger and longer, when the time came, reality set in and due to work we only had a week to take advantage of. Thus far we have managed a couple bike outings in Fruita and some road biking in Glenwood Canyon but this was going to be a quest to unplug, get some mountain biking in, see some great backcountry, and unwind a bit. No firm itinerary, no obligations, just a loaded vehicle and a head full of ideas.

To prove how badly we wanted to get out of town, we actually departed on a Thursday evening after Julie got off work. We set off west from Minturn and made it west of Grand Junction, finding a secluded place to camp in Rabbit Valley near the Colorado River. We were bound for Hurricane, Utah to start the trip. A pretty good stretch of highway laid between us and Hurricane so getting a couple of hundred miles in the first night was great.

Morning 1 at Rabbit Valley. As always, I shot the trip on my iphone, so sometimes the quality is poor, sometimes I luck out and get some better shots.

The Swell. Part of the brutality of our route was burning up freeway getting to the extreme southwest corner of Utah knowingly passing all these amazing areas. We pressed on, into a rugged headwind the entirety of the drive. Our destination was Gooseberry Mesa. A large mesa just east of Hurricane that is accessible via dirt road. On top of the mesa is a large network of mountain bike singletrack and a variety of cool options to camp. Its become more popular each year and looks like by next year there will be pay camping and organized campsites. A victim of its own success. With that said though there are still some hidden gems for riding and camping in the area that are a bit more undiscovered.

Since we have our little guy with us these days, the key to Jules and I riding comes from the ability to take turns watching Kruz while the other rides. This is a great area for that. With a network of singletrack spider webbed across the mesa, it is easy to lap from camp.

Camp set up, a relaxing afternoon ensues. To our pleasure the wind had died down by the time we arrived.

Flip flops on our feet, smiles on our faces.

The beauty of car camping….. few luxuries need to be sacrificed. We didn’t eat poorly. Fueling up before a day of riding on Gooseberry.

Wakey wakey, eggs and bakey. I tell you, having the roof tent is a blessing for a now super mobile 9 month old. We can zip it up and he entertains himself adventuring around the thing, out of the sun and super happy. We also brought a pack and play which is essentially a portable baby crib that we setup for him to play in as well. We are fortunate that Kruz is happiest when we are outside or hitting the road. He is less content when we are home and he is indoors all day. Thats a good sign.

Our FJ is basically a house on wheels. Nice to have a way to live day to day in any weather and be comfy. Sleeping under the stars is amazing but in the 75% of the time I camp when it is blowing sand, rain, snow, bugs, or a combination of all those things, sorry the romantic image of camping takes a backseat to practicality.

This is why Gooseberry is special

The view from our camp.

Weather over Zion

Distortion of perspective

Twilight riding

My lovely coconspirator.

In the end we spent 2 and a half days on Gooseberry. Riding, relaxing, cooking, eating, slowing time down a bit. It was fantastic. Our last evening there we cheffed up toasted baguette with goat cheese and carmelized dates with sauteed onions and some steaks. Easter morning we cooked up a pretty big feast, finished up some riding then packed up camp.

We originally were hoping to do a night at Toroweap, then a night up higher on the north rim of the Grand Canyon with some more mountain biking. We didn’t have a confirmation yet though on Julie’s work schedule so we had the possibility of needing to get back to CO by Monday night…… So begrudgingly we bypassed the north rim completely.

We did a pretty leisurely drive east, 55, windows down, soaking in the sights along the way. Before we hit Paige, we did a little foray up onto the Pariah Plateau. Wide open places.

We saw this Austrian plated rig as we were going through Paige and had to get a closer look. I am always amazed by the number of European registered vehicles that you see touring this part of the country. Mostly Germans, man those people know how to live.

I have been through Monument Valley a number of times but never before at sunset, it felt surreal. Totally different experience.

Makes you long to be on a moto riding through this evening.

It was dark by the time we hit Mexican Hat. Julie had never been through this area before so I was giddy to give her a shock when it got light in the morning. I sometimes get a little carried away but I put us on the edge of the precipice of Muley Point, overlooking the Goosenecks. It wasn’t till morning that she was struck by the magnitude of the scenery. Thats Monument Valley in the distance.

Home is where you park it. Our guard dog stands guard, the mighty pugwhuahua.

The other sight Jules got to enjoy on this fine morning was the impressiveness of Moki Dugway. I spectacular road carved out of a seemingly impossible wall of rock.

And into Valley of the Gods…..

We ran into an old friend. If you ever need some inspiration, life philosophy, or maybe a recipe, check out Ara and Spirit’s blog We caught up for an hour or so before we had to roll on. I tell you, if catching up with friends was always in a landscape this beautiful I might be better at doing it.

Taking the scenic way north, Comb Wash

Comb Wash is swarming with traces of the ancients.

The fam taking a break in the shade at an Anazazi cliff dwelling ruin.

If you look closely at the rocks to the right of the ruins, you see the scooped out shapes in the rocks where they crushed and worked the grain.

A view from down below. If you didn’t know where these were, they would be hard to find. They aren’t labeled nor is there any signage to them. I was fortunate enough a few years back to be shown them by some friends. Word is there are more ruins if you keep hiking up the canyon further. Looking forward to coming back again and spending some time here.

The view from the ruins. No wonder this was such a prime spot, its an oasis in the desert.

Me and my little guy. A firm grip is needed since he has no fear and wants to head dive off everything. Danger baby.

We hit pavement and head north to Moab. After grabbing dinner in town we start a leisurely drive along the river road east of Moab. The light is amazing and we don’t want the day or trip to end. It must have been a sign. By the time were coming into Fruita heading towards home, Julie had a voicemail pop up on her phone. The hospital that she works left a message saying that they didn’t need her to come in. Boom! That meant two more days! Problem was, we were already to Fruita. Normal people would have probably camped in Fruita and rode but we actually pulled a U turn and headed back to Moab.

Ah, Moab. I love it, I despise it, I have the full range of emotions. I love it because, swarms of people withstanding, it is gorgeous. It is a great jumping off point for a bunch of places I really love. I hate it because it is like a desert Disneyland of rednecks and eco friendly adventurers all converging on the small town. It is a zoo. Back to the love part…. I love Moab because it attracts all of the folks…. and leaves such an amazing swath of southern Utah virtually unvisited.

We returned that night with the plan of spending two more days in Utah. It wasn’t ideal, we would have rather used those extra nights on the north rim like we were hoping initially. Sometimes you just have to roll with it though. Julie had never actually ridden Moab so that was going to be the final deciding factor. Slick Rock is an institution and you can’t really call yourself a mountain biker if you haven’t at least ridden it once.

The forecast was lousy the first day. 60mph winds and blowing sand were forecasted. We settled for a campsite off of the Potash Rd. I normally avoid campgrounds but this was great. I think we found the one spot where there was NO wind. Totally worth it. We unloaded the bike rack off the back to aid our departure angle and set off for a day of touring around in the FJ.

Airing it out on the Poison Spider trail. The blowing dust made driving with the windows down on a technical trail not all that great. We returned back to the Potash Rd and headed out for Canyonlands.

I first travelled this road back in ’96 in a beat up old Isuzu Trooper with shocks that were on their last legs. It still takes my breath away every time I drive it. If you read the blog from our trip last fall, Lockhart Basin, we are essentially on the other side of the Colorado River from that outing. There is fantastic scenery as you travel under Dead Horse Point and into Island of the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park.

Looking across the Colorado to Chicken Corner.

Kruz and I hanging out on Musselman Arch off the White Rim Trail.

Climbing back out from the White Rim Trail via the Schafer Trail. This is one of the more epic roads in North America.

That evening at camp we were still graced with no wind. Elsewhere in the area, tents were blowing away, and plenty of campers were just plain, miserable. We lucked out.

The following morning was cold but the wind had died down alot. Julie got to ride Slick Rock. I noticed for the first time the small pond and oasis at the bottom of the Abyss while hiking with Kruz. It was a nice last day of the trip for us. Returning home loomed over our heads. We spent 6 nights and 7 days out on this trip. We were no worse for the wear and could have kept going for another month if we were able.

We grabbed a bite in town then headed the wagon east.

Milking every last bit of two lane and avoiding the freeway, a photo opp in Cisco.

Perhaps we could have spent more time traveling this spring, but truth be told, we are in the process of getting ready to move back to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in May. Our hope is to be able make some lifestyle upgrades and be able to have some more free time and be better able to do what we love, travel. So, the next update will likely be back from the shores of Lake Superior, until then… happy trails.

The End

Categories: camping, Mountain Biking, Overlanding | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Into the Desert; Our spring escape from winter

  1. Don Childers

    I always enjoy your trip reports. Looks like a great trip.

  2. Just stumbled across your blog while researching our upcoming trip to CO and UT in our VW Westy. Can’t wait to get out there but NOT looking forward to the highway miles between there and Michigan. Maybe we’ll run across you in the U.P. sometime. Cheers!

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