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This story courtesy of Robb Pennie and Vern Pennie

Mother Nature's Sense of Humor

I was sure that I was getting the other end of the raw deal that I'd driven out of a week earlier. The prior Sunday, sweeping six inches of snow off the car, I'd left Crested Butte in a blinding snow storm at five a.m. The plows had made a couple of passes through the darkness, but the roads were terrible, not drying out until Montrose. Though I could see that the dirt bike was still intact on the trailer when I turned on the rear wiper, that little voice in my head was hollering that I should have staid in CB for the powder day, that I'd never drive out of this storm, that my endeavor to get somewhere where there was dirt and sun and warmth would be for naught. But by the time I turned south off I-70 for the Ruby Ranch dunes, the windows were down with warm air blasting the winter away from me. It was a completely different world than the place I had escaped from just hours before.

Now, a week later, it seemed that winter had found me even in the deserts of Utah. Turning south off interstate, the landscape should have been a heat-induced shimmering of deep reds and browns. But on that 20th of March, it was pasted white with two inches of new snow. I shook my head at Mother Nature's irony, allowing me to revisit what I ran from the week before. Dad, who drove 1500 miles from Minnesota, didn't know what to think either. With that kind of mileage behind him, we weren't about to sit in the Green River Comfort Inn and wait for it to melt. So we pushed south down the Floy Road for the dunes.

Ruby Ranch Dunes

Ten miles south of I-70 at exit #273, being careful to turn right at the abandoned oil well and left at the derelict tanker trailer, you'll find dunes. Some people refer to them as the Dubinky Dunes, some as the Corral Dunes, and others call them the Ruby Ranch Dunes. Blocked in by the White Wash on one side and walls of red rock on the other, the Ruby Ranch dunes is a scraggly little sandbox, just a touch bigger than the Little Sahara dunes in Oklahoma. They stretch three or four miles in length, wrapping around a red-rock monolith before dead-ending near the top of the White Wash on the south eastern side and trickling out at the Ruby Ranch fence on the western edge. If you can't blast them end-to-end in an hour, it's probably because you're on your kid's Breeze.

On this chilled, gray day, traction was not an issue. With an inch of snow rapidly melting and wetting the sand, my mom's poorly shod Fourtrax 300EX was hooking up and climbing like a 250R with paddles. Okay, maybe not quite like an R, but at least as good as a Banshee. The fifty-foot-tall dunes made the little quad look like a super-star.

While the dunes don't offer a lot in terms of challenge and variety, there were a couple of good climbing dunes, a couple of good jumping dunes, and a couple of pseudo-bowls to rip around in. There aren't lava rocks to worry about slamming into at the bottom of the dunes, but this sand box is laced with slick rock. If you blow it and have to ride the rocks, it could actually be kind of fun on the grippie, smooth stuff.

Exploration

We explored the dunes west to east, looping around the big redrock mountain in the middle of the area. If you're into riding slickrock, you can get up on the big outcropping and test your technical riding skills. If you're afraid of tipping over and bashing your machine to pieces, you'll be just fine in the sand. We had fun cruising the little dunes and sand trails, stopping to take in the impressive sand stacked right up against the slickrock.

From the redrock mountain, we worked our way west, toward the Ruby Ranch fence. When we ran out of connected dunes, we opted for the White Wash and sixth gear. Sand washes and ATVs--you gotta love them. This wash was smooth, with only a small stream running down one side, so it was make-like-a-low-flying-aircraft time.

At the Ruby Ranch fence, we turned left and followed a whooped out trail south until the Red Wash Trail took off the left and our trail kept going straight. We opted to keep going straight along the fence.

Red Wash

We parted from the fence when we came to a spur of the Red Wash, carved deep into the slick rock. After scouting around a bit, we found a feasable place to drop in for further exploration. Working our way down a couple of slick rock drops, we went through a gate in the fence we'd been paralleling earlier. From there, we wandered through some different branches of the wash, being stopped by a fence line without a gate on the western end and having to turn around when we were closed-out near the top of the wash on the eastern end. It was interesting exploring the red-rock channels, but not so much fun that we'd go back and ride it again for kicks. It didn't really open up enough to get rolling in or continue in any one direction long enough to get the thumbs up.

Eventually we backtracked out of the wash and headed back along the fence line for the Red Wash Trail. Once there we turned on to grated trail and headed east.

After following the Red Wash Trail for a couple of miles (it gradually begins swinging from the east to the south), we came to another section of the Red Wash that begged to be explored. We headed upstream on smooth sand, able to hit fourth and fifth gear in some sections. We explored a couple of tributaries--they tended to be total slick rock, complete with rock steps that took a little studying to climb cleanly. Dropping the steps were a hoot on the return. While Dad tended to ease down them, I was more into the hit-it-in-second, launch and let-the-suspension-do-it's-job scene. We both had fun. Within a half-hour of turning into this section of the Red, we explored just about all the options and headed back out. The downstream option looking like it might be promising, but quickly dead-ended at a waterfall.

We returned to the Red Wash Trail and continued to follow it east and south. After going through a gate, the trail seemed to disappear onto a large field of slick rock. On our first attempt, we lost the trail, heading where we thought it was going and then finding nothing. On our next try, we made an effort to go straight across all of the rock and found the trail again on the other side.

From the edge of the rock, we rode another five miles, looking for the Ten Mile Wash, but didn't have any luck. By that time, we were on the Duma Point Road and had missed our unmarked turn-off. Though the snow had let up when we started our ride earlier in the day, it had been coming down pretty good for the past hour. We'd managed to stay dry throughout the morning in the sand, the high speeds on the road had us catching a lot more snow, getting cold and wet. We gave up on Ten Mile for the day and headed back.

Though the 300EX is pretty easy on the gas, I hit reserve about ten miles from the truck (Dad's 400EX was sucking from the bottom of the tank, too), so using our Honda gas consumption computer, we know we logged around sixty miles, total.

Headlights glazed over with frozen mud--good omen, or bad?

See the Map further down the page . . .

It wasn't to be the prettiest day to ride, but when you're on the road for days just to get there, you can't be picky.

 

We were hoping the spring conditions around Moab would be a little more, well, springlike.

 

Redrock, dunes and snow all in one picture. Only in Utah . . .

 

One method of shining up your skid-plate's as good as another. This was about the smallest rock step on the ride.

I laughed pretty hard at Dad for having red ice caked all over him--figured he was riding too slow or something. Then I noticed how stiff the front of my jacket was and looked down . . .

 

Gold Bar Rim

The next morning found us at the Gold Bar Rim/Gemini Bridges trailhead, about nine miles north of Moab on highway 191. It appeared to have snowed there through the night. The deep reds and browns that usually paint the the canyon landscape were almost completely hidden by a two-inch frosting of white. With the sun barely breaking through the wall of clouds obscuring the LaSalle mountains to the southeast and a crisp breeze to fully chillily the mid-30-degree morning, we headed for the Gold Bar Rim.

The trail takes off to the south on a railroad grade for the first mile, then climbs up the red rock bluff before dropping into a high canyon further south. Staying on the sandy main trail brought us to a fork in the road with a sign offering the options of either the Gold Bar Rim or Gemini Bridges trails. The Gemini Bridges themselves, twin arches at the end of a long wash, were pretty cool, but the trail there is a yawner. The Gold Bar Rim trail puts you at the top of the massive rock bluffs overlooking Hwy. 191. Not only is the view staggering, but the trail to get there is a technical hoot. While not extreme by any means, there are several rock steps that require either four wheel drive and good ground clearance or a skilled, confident pilot and a machine with a skid plate.

The rocks covered with black tire marks and oil spots warn of what happens if you don't have it together for ascending these obstacles. We found that shorter wheelbase and lower geared 300EX was preferable to the tall first gear of the 400EX for negotiating these places. A 4x4 with soft suspension and a granny gear would have been even better yet, but we had fun following the cairns up the slick rock to the top of the rim.

Trying to describe the staggering view from the top of the Gold Bar Rim is pretty futile. The rocks along the very edge were solid, so a good rush was to be had by crawling out on my belly to look over the edge. Whew! It was about 1000 feet straight down, even further to the highway below. After verifying that it was extremely unlikely that there were any live creatures down there, I even did the rock-huck test. Major hang time for the projectiles, with their falls ending as they were pulverized into dust at the base of the bluff. Very cool stuff.

The ride back to the trail head is a backtrack--the entire ride was a three or three-and-half-hour endeavor.

Sights from the Gold Bar Rim ride. Prepping to ride against a snowy, redrock dropback, just off of Utah Hwy 191 at the trail head (below) and taking in some impressive scenery (left).

Looking north from atop the Gold Bar Rim. Utah highway 191 is running north-south at the bottom of the bluff.

We'd run out of spit at this point, so I started using rocks.

Ten Mile Wash

Back at the truck, we loaded up the wheelers and headed for the second part of the days ride, Ten Mile Wash. Aptly named, Ten Mile is at least ten miles as it winds its way through bleached slickrock canyons to the Green River.

To access the wash, we took the Blue Hills Road northwest from Hwy. 191 just south of the Canyonlands airport. After driving on it for a few miles, we came to an intersection with a rusted out barrel on the right and a smaller road heading to the west. This was the Levi Road, but was unmarked except for the barrel. From our last riding trip in the area, Dad remembered it as being the place to turn to easily access the wash, so we pulled over and unloaded. On ATVs, we followed Levi Road west, traversing below red rock buttes on either side of us. After going through a gate and passing some dunes to our north, then crossing through a smallish wash, we found back in Ten Mile. Once in the wash we headed to the west--downstream.

I had been looking forward to really ripping through the sandy wash on the 300EX, but was a little dismayed to find that there was a pretty good creek running through it. Though there were areas where we didn't cross the creek for several hundred yards, we found ourselves on the brakes more than we would have liked to because of the water. Keep in mind that it was a 45 degree day and the idea of having to ride wet for a couple of hours was anything but appealing. Show me the same creek in the same wash on a warm day and I'll show you one silly, wet rider.

Wash This

Once you get into the wash and go a quarter mile, you'll come to a fence. Rather than going through the fence, we stuck to the trail running out of the north side of the wash. This led us to a gate and easy access to the rest of the wash. Back in the wash it was fast and fun trying to pick the least wet, least whooped-out sections of trail to ride on. There didn't seem to be any rule as to which side of wash to stick to and it didn't seem to matter if we were on the inside or the outside of the turns. Sometimes we ran out of trail and were riding in the creek, sometimes we were riding on fun, bermed little trails or flat, smooth sand. The further we rode into the wash the higher and more red the rock became.

After riding in the wash for an hour we came to another gate--probably half way down the wash. At the gate, we met a guy on a YZF426 who said that it was just a couple more miles to the Green River. We took off thinking that around any corner we'd find the Green and be ready to turn around. The guy must have been distance perception impaired.

A couple of miles after the fence, with the wash getting deeper and more narrow, we found it harder and harder to not ride in the stream. Finally, we were out of other options. The only route was down the three-inch-deep creek, through a swath of trees not much wider than our machines. If this were a creek bed anywhere else, I would have opted to save it for a dry day. Running any wheeled vehicle through creek or streambeds is a good way to do some serious damage to it. But the bottom was solid and the stream full of silt to begin with, so we rode on.

The creek bed turned to slickrock again, with the creek dropping through some rapids. We were able to find a way through the rapids, but it was pretty tight. Continuing on, we rode through another mile of water before the wash began to open up and the creek disappeared into the sand. I was into sixth gear quick, charging for the river.

 

After riding the Ten Mile wash for what seemed like 20 miles, watching the rock rise to some 200 feet on either side of us, it finally opened up to show us the Green. Though we were psyched to be there, we were kind of amazed that it had taken over three hours from the truck to do so. After testing the echo effect in the canyon and taking couple of pictures to prove that we were there, we reversed course, backtracking our way out of the wash. It didn't seem quite as long coming back, but riding through and across all the water made it a long one.

Back at the upstream end of the wash and the intersection of road that we came in on, we headed north out of the wash, instead backtracking south the way we came. From there we connected some roads together on our way to the truck, putting another ten or fifteen miles on the day's ride.

We were loaded up around five, cooking dinner on the end gate and enjoying what was turning into a comfortably warm evening. Mother Nature served up a beautiful sunset to do the dishes by and we were back in Green River just after dark.

The open, dry part of the wash.

Vern doin' the turn-&-burn.

Climbing the falls at the top of Tenmile wash.

You'd be nuts if you tried to navigate by this map. Rather swing by the Moab visitor center and pick up some more detailed cartogrophy, like the "Recreation Map of the Moab Area and Canyon Country Vicinity" by F.A. Barnes. The six bucks you spend on it will pay off in spaids!

Exploring Kokopelli

Onion Creek

On the first day of our ride, Dad and I were looking for something that neither of us had ridden. I heard from a Crested Butte mountain man that Onion Creek, north and east of Moab on hwy. 128, was a beautiful little canyon to camp in. Our map showed that there were trails branching off of the Onion Creek Trail, so we checked it out. After turning off of 128 and driving a mile or so in to park, we unloaded and started up the canyon. We'd read in a Jim Scharf article in DIRT WHEELS that there were over a dozen water crossings on the road, but we figured that was just because he was there during a monsoon. What do ya know--ol' Jimmy was right. It wasn't as crazy as Ten Mile, but we were in and out of the water 17 times--enough to coat the fenders with red sand.

The trade-off for the numerous fjords was a redrock canyon that looked as though it had been constructed by a giant kid making red rock drip castles. The road wound through the canyon, staying relatively smooth and easy--nothing I would think twice about driving the family roadster through. Once through the tightest part of the canyon, the road begins climbing up to the Fisher Valley. Just after we climbed up to the valley floor, we went through a gate and opted to turn left and go north west up the Cottonwood Canyon Trail.

Cottonwood Canyon Trail

The Cottonwood Canyon Trail is part of the Kokopelli trail that runs from Grand Junction, Colorado, to Moab. From what I know of it, the trail consist primarily of jeep road, which we found the Cottonwood trail to be. For the most part, it was sandy, then rocky double track, with small washes crossing it. The trick was to go slow enough to handle the obstacles in the road and be able to look around high bluffs and canyon that the trail was cutting between.

The most challenging part of the ride was the ravine encountered about four miles out the Cottonwood Canyon trail. Getting in was no big deal, dropping a couple hundred feet down relatively good jeep road. The other side was pretty hairball, though. It was rough and steep to begin with, then became infested with rocks and slabbed rock steps. I clawed over a couple, but lost my line at the third and had to stop. Dad was behind me and decided to stop one step below me. Problem was, he stalled the 400, left the clutch out and didn't get to the front brakes fast enough. Before he could recover, the front end was in the air, helping him do some tumbling maneuvers off the backend. No major damage to man or machine, but the hill was steep enough so that there was no room for error.

After looking at it for a while, I found a line and horsed the 300 up the last two steps to the top. It wasn't pretty, but there were no clanging noises from rock/quad contact. The top offered views in the Cottonwood Canyon, some two- or three-hundred feet deep at this point. There was a gate at the top that I went through and explored on ahead a mile or so. I was more interested in whether the trail looked dirt-bikeable for a future all-out Kokopelli trail overnight ride. There were a couple more technical short ascents in that mile, but nothing like what we'd just encountered. Satisfied that the wife and I could work through the couple of tricky sections with the wife on a future ride, I turned back.

Back-tracking along the Cottonwood trail and Onion Creek Road had us back to the truck and supper on the end gate in an hour or two.

Skunked at Rabbit Valley

On our last day of riding, we decided to check out the Rabbit Valley area just off of I-70 in Colorado. What we found at the last exit heading west to Utah, is a torn up OHV area that the BLM is making extensive efforts to rejuvenate. I have to hand it to the government for trying to fix it rather than just closing it, but the place just didn't have a good feel. From what we saw, if you have any other places that you're thinking about exploring, check them out first. Lots of trail closed signs and other restrictions.

The Kokopelli trail running through the area attracted me to it. To make a long story short, there was much better riding in Moab, but we worked the ATV-legal Koko trail for three or four hours, heading west for an out-and-back ride. We saw some good views, banged the skid plates on some rocks and had an alright time. But if you've got the cruise set, the air conditioning on and your favorite song comes on the radio, you'd be crazy to turn off the freeway to ride there.

Logistics

There are plenty of motels and camping options around Moab, so whether you're looking to rough it or are into air conditioning, they'll have something for you. Riding season varies from year to year, but is usually good from the end of March through October. With temps in the 100s, it's a little nutty to be out there riding in the summer--fall and spring are preferable. Take a quick look at the current Moab weather if you'd like. If you have other questions about the area, email me and check out the above links. Be prepared when ever going into the desert. Water, snacks & sunblock are a good start. When looking around the Moab website, be sure to check out their "be prepared" area.

Tread Lightly

While we were in Utah riding, a part of the San Rafael swell was closed down to OHV use. The BLM felt that the area was being used and abused by too many careless people. Not only did we lose a place to ride, but we further showed that we can't regulate ourselves and take care of our riding areas. I'm not going to lecture on not unnecessarily tearing up our riding areas, but do us all a favor and take the time to hit these links (UTMA, Blue Ribbon Coalition ) and write a letter that might help persuade the powers that be from shutting down more areas. Thanks!

The Cottonwood steeps, where Dad's 400EX picked up it's first top-o'-the-bar scratches. You can see the road dropping in on the other side. And you gotta love those Southwestern blue skies. Scary what clicking the wrong thing in photoshop will leave you with.

Where'd all the great views go?  Oh yeah, we're riding at Rabbit Valley--there aren't any.

 

Again, please don't navigate by this map.
But with all the yellow lines being trails, you can see that you'll be saddle-sore before you run out of trail.

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