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Road Trip Utah

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Queen of the Walkabout

Joined: 15 Jan 2004
Articles: 35
Comments: 1
 Posted: 10/6/2006, 7:57 pm

One spring decided to take a short trip to Utah over a long weekend. 4 days, my So Cal friend Jerry meeting me at Kanab. It was April, about mid, and weather was a bit unstable. When he arrived a rain/snow/storm system had set up so we decided to bag much hiking and take a long drive, maybe photo ops, and some short walks weather permitting.
I was in the red Jeep, and it is set up for pretty much any rough driving conditions,or so I thought, mud terrain tires, low range gears, lockers, 9000lb Warn winch, heavy duty bumpers, etc. Plus I always carried spare parts, two tow ropes, chains, etc.

We decided on a big loop, drive down Hwy 89 to Big Water, take the road, the Kelly Grade, up to the top of Kaparowits Plateau aka WildHorse Mesa, drive to Escalante, then from there back to Kanab either via the pavement by Bryce Canyon or shortcut Cottonwood Canyon road.
The drive out of Kanab was dry but with thick gray clouds set back on the cliffs. Out of Big Water the Smoky Mountain road goes over some clay bed area badlands which fortunately was still dry. The steep climb up the Kelly Grade, normally 2wd HC had washed some, so I put it in 4wd just to make the driving a little easier. At the top the views of Lake Bowell--er Powell--was amazing, a great car camp spot up there. We stopped by the smoking coal beds, smelly and oily smoke, to look into the open veins of coal descending into the earth. Supposedly set on fire by lightning strikes some 800! years ago and still smoldering deep inside today.
The road shoots across the plateau following the base of short cliffs, through the PJ terrain, usually graded. It starts to get rocky as you cross multiple washes. At this point the clouds seemed to come down the cliffs and huge fluffy snow flakes rained out the sky, and the visibility dropped. We were climbing in elevation toward Escalante. The snow started to get thicker and accumulate, a beautiful winter wonderland of white coating the green and brown. The road was pretty dry as it just started snowing, no rain beforehand. The clouds raised and lowered. We made it into town to heavy overcast skys but the snow had stopped. We had warm clothing and I had camping supplies in the Jeep ( handy as years later I was stranded on the plateau some 4 days with a vehicle problem--not a lot of traffic up there at times).
Stopped at the burger stand and indulged, then I made a critical error in how we should go to Kanab. Decided we would take Cottonwood Canyon road. How bad could it be?? And we were in the right vehicle for it should it be wet. ( You can see where this is going).
Driving down Hwy 12 through rolling meadows and sandstone cliffs the snow soon appeared west of us. The roads were in good shape, as it was not cold enough to freeze them yet. The scene was from a Christmas time fairytale. White, soft, silent. We drove along enjoying the unusual sight. The turn off for Cottonwood Canyon road came at the beautiful little valley housing the tiny town of Cannonville. At lower elevation and not as much snow. Jerry voiced concern once we hit the dirt, it was wet and slippery.. I said "No Problem!!", went into 4wd again and away we went.
And did we ever.
Cottonwood Canyon road is pretty level with gentle sweeping curves at first, going by Grosvenor Arch. Then the first serious dugway occurred, we made it up handily but the road conditions were worsening. Going down the other side the snow was very heavy and wet. We encountered in the gloom a cattle drive, complete with rain slickered cowboys and a lot of cattle. We poked along behind them but as soon as they saw us they cleared the road and looked at us disbelievingly as I drove on by. I'll bet once the saw the California plates they thought "tinhorns!!".
At a turnoff I mentioned it would be fun to see a nearby slot canyon with snow in it. We were delusional in our thinking we could drive up and hike to it no problem. The road here is the Bentonite clay. The tires gummed up so fast I couldn't drive fast enough to clear them. It was a nightmare. The Jeep just drifted from one side to another. Turning around was terrible, we almost stuck twice, I just gunned it and left huge ruts, something I hate to do on any road.
Back at the main road we stupidly decided to go on. Now the road takes on some "character". When it's dry it is a scenic dusty drive, some ups and downs but nothing terrible. I've seen cars and RV's on here. However a small sign at either end of this road is to be believed when it says "Impassable when wet, even for 4wd".
The climbs and descents took a lot of concentration. Best to keep the wallowing vehicle right in the ruts. At some places a slip off the side would be a more than a one time roll over. Mud was tossed somewhat by the big tires and coated the vehicle, we had to run the windshield wipers to have two mud rimmed holes to see out of.
We stopped and got out for calls of nature, the mud was gooey and almost took our shoes, walking in it got it on your legs just from pulling your feet out of it's sucking grip. The Wheel wells of the Jeep were packed with a fraction of an inch of open space between mud on the tires and hanging mud, many pounds of it. We're talking about 6-8 inches between top of tires and wheel well at least. We got in the Jeep and disgusted ourselves with the mud that came in with us.

We staggered along, it was very challenging driving. At the bottom of hills we slowed, changed gears and took a run at it. Not so fast as to lose control, but losing momentum on the hills was a serious possibility and backing down without sliding off an impossibility. After getting through the last major difficult section, we paused at the top of a hill and stared down stunned at seeing a car mired in mud at the bottom of the hill. A couple from Germany were trying to dig it out and had placed the carpet protectors under the tires to provide traction.

We barely got around them, then used the tow rope to the bumper to pull them out. We advised them to turn around. We kept on going, and I supposed they came out later.
The last area goes by the Paria River and has a narrow single vehicle section along a cliff face. The river is not far below. This was tricky as not a lot of room for error. Jerry drove as I was tired and feeling ill with the stress. We got to pavement, got out of the vehicle and high-fived each other. When we hit the road at speed the vehicle pelted the surrounding area with dirt clods. At Kanab I spent 25 bucks at the car wash and slinked off as I left the bay an absolute mess although I tried to clean it up, I swear I did!!!

Several months later driving to and from Anza Borrego, after some good off road shaking, Utah dirt clods still came out of that Jeep.
Rating: 4.00/5.00 [1]

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