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White Rim Nonsense

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Queen of the Walkabout

Joined: 15 Jan 2004
Articles: 35
Comments: 1
 Posted: 8/10/2004, 6:19 pm

How do I get myself talked into these things?? Gee, would you like to be a support driver for our mountain biking group for the White Rim in Utah? See great scenery, yes, you could do a little hiking, and spend some time with a great bunch of people----sure, what could go wrong?

Shouldn't ask that--

I had a short week off for Utah that year, didn't really have firm plans so agreed to drive a 4wd truck my friend Eric had as one of three support vehicles for a group of mountain bikers. I knew about half of them. My friends Jerry and Eric; Debbie, Hans, Inga, Louie, Mark, Helen, Jim and Frank. Several of them had done this a few times. The White Rim is part of the Island in the Sky in Canyonlands, an approx 100 mile loop along an old mining road. It is by permit only for car camping at various sites along the loop. This is very popular with mountain bikers and is considered a "must do".


On my way up to Utah I stopped off at Canyon De Chelle and took the short hike to White House Ruins, a beautiful area of Navajo country- a bit touristy. I car camped at Valley of the Gods, then the next day stopped off on the Cedar Mesa, located and spent some time at the "Moon House".

I drove into Moab and noticed a large black smoke cloud. The Easter Jeep Safari was in full swing so I assumed a vehicle or RV fire. In town all the signal lights were out. The black smoke was an electrical and now a brush fire at the power plant. No one had power. At the motel we used headlamps and had a camp cookout with propane on the motel ledge. This was my first tip this trip may not go as planned.

Next a.m. it was off to Canyonlands Island in the Sky headquarters to pick up permits, park vehicles not on the trip and get oriented. I got to lead off down the Shafer trail switchbacks in Eric's lifted and tricked out Toyota Tacoma. I enjoy backcountry driving and his truck rode well on 35" mud terrain tires. A few bikers came down after me, then the next vehicle, the rest of the bikers and then the sweep vehicle. We had certain points we agreed to meet and of course CB radios. The vehicles were loaded with lots of what I considered gourmet food, camping stuff, first aide and spare bike stuff.

As you motor along, sites of interest include overlooks to the Colorado River, a few trailheads for hiking, some Indian ruins and an arch or two. The views are long reaching and spacious, especially to the La Sal mountains. Our first night out was at Airport--an ok site but not at all private--right off the road. The next night was to be at White Crack--I begged some time off to hike the next day and was granted that as long as I was at our next camp by 3:00--some 21 miles away.

I left camp early after a pig out breakfast. I only went a few miles before I parked off the road. I had spotted an interesting side drainage that looked pretty narrow. I decided to hike down that a ways. I had a map but could not find a name for this canyon. I started out climbing down a dry waterfall than squeezing by a 20 foot high boulder. The canyon abruptly opened up. I kept following it down. I came to a wonderful seep where the Navajo and Kayenta contacted and since it was warm sat on a ledge and let the water trickle down my back. Nice cottonwood trees were about. The canyon started to divide; I stayed with the main watercourse. The walls rose and were blood red.

I noted a deer seemingly alone and out of place in this harsh terrain. I had been hiking a while and knew I needed to turn around but as soon as I saw cattails and willows that was it. I knew I was at the Colorado. I tread carefully across the muddy isthmus and to the side of the mighty river. The water flowed tranquilly but it was a long way across. The water was very cold. No dips here. I double timed it back to the truck but was late getting to camp and got some dirty looks. I deserved it. Not a group player.

White Crack is the premier camp site--it has big views and is private. You can walk out to a rocky point and see forever it seems. Sunrise and set is an event. All sites have disturbed areas for the tents, parking for vehicles and a pit toilet, no water.

The next day we stopped off at Musselman arch, then prepared to ascend the Murphy switchbacks, rough even in a 4wd vehicle. At the top I noticed the other two vehicles stopped further back. Jerry was riding a while with me and radioed.
Bad news-- one vehicle had two slashed sidewalls, having come too close to a rock. We beat it back to the vehicles. Our campsite for the third night was Potato Bottom on the Green River. The decision was made for the bikers and one vehicle to continue to the campsite-- I would take Mark, the other driver into Moab, the tires were taken off his truck and thrown in the back of Eric's truck I am driving, the other vehicle blocked up. Jerry and Eric would stay with the crippled vehicle ready to help reinstall tires and help with the after dark four wheeling.

We are about halfway around a 100 mile dirt road loop-it's shortly after noon. I must get to Moab and to the tire shops then return before dark. Yeah--right.

I decide I must drive like I am part of the Baja 1000 (I much prefer slow rock crawling) and do just that. We tighten our seat belts, make sure stuff is strapped down tight in back and I book. We jump small hills, slide around turns, and I floor it on the few straight sections. Some slow stuff, up and down some hills, then we are out of the loop and soon to pavement. We roll into Moab to face more bad news. Marks' Dodge Ram is so new no one had the tires to fit his 17" rims. The tire guy calls around and the soonest we can get proper tires is 2-3 days out of Reno. They even check in Grand Junction several hours away. We get two old tires as closely sized for possible for free. We will put these on one axle and take the vehicle out in two wheel drive so as not to damage the transfer case.

We grab a hamburger drive thru and burn rubber again. We get back to Eric and Jerry at dusk, they are anxious to get to camp. They install the tires, then we decide Mark and I will camp at this vehicle and I will ride out with him the next day. Since we will have 2wd we will go back the way we came in, and meet everyone at the top of the Shafer trail. We shuffle vehicle contents and they leave. Jerry driving, Eric decides he wants to mountain bike in the dark. Silly me I let them drive away with my thermarest; I have all my other gear.

A storm is coming, the wind is just a pain in the rear end. I decide not to pitch a tent; Mark tries and ends up sleeping uncomfortably in the full truck. I hunker down behind a small ridge, make a soft area since I have no pad, lay out my bag and make a wind break with my gear and sleep pretty well for the constant wind howling around me. The next morning the sky is hazed with dust, the sun haloed, and I drink my coffee looking at the sullen sky. We break camp and start driving. Mark doesn't trust my driving after the experience of the day before and he drives. I have a hard time relaxing but soon enjoy the novelty of the passenger.

We finally ascend the Shafer trail; our cohorts in crime await us in down jackets at the top. The weather is turning and we are glad to be off the trail. We decamp to Moab, then we end up at Blanding and take a short group hike out on the Cedar Mesa. I take them to a great Kiva in Slickhorn canyon. Mark eventually gets his tires at a high price.

I go back home and vow to never drive one of these again. I appreciated the beautiful area I had not seen before but it was too much work. Solo hiking works for me.
Rating: 4.00/5.00 [1]

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