open range cattle by dirt road

Cowboy Up – Day 5 UTBDR

utah canyonWe were saying good bye to Currant Creek Camp sometime around 10:00 a.m. A new personal best.  This clear morning, the sun is out strong and the temperature climbing as we make our way around the reservoir, up to the Utah Backcountry Discovery Route trail.

fj cruiser in canyonsThe Utah backcountry discovery route is filled with unique visual experiences.  We found ourselves motoring off-road though the hills, where teams of loggers were actively working the stands of Ponderosa Pines and ranch filled valleys with magnificent green pastures.  But around noon we came to the truly strange and beautiful.

There is a reason this is called a discovery route…  we found ourselves rolling through an isolated canyon that put us in the heart of an alien land.  Canyon walls towering hundreds of feet directly above, giant slabs of rock littering the floor to remind us of the cliffs’ fragility. Limestone spinnakers shooting up to the heavens with alternating yellow, brown and white bands as the clouds sailed by. Although we would experience other canyons in the days to come, this was our baptism to a new world of the canyon floor.rock pillar

Leading up to the start of this off road adventure the news was filled with stories showing Colorado ablaze.  Towns and resorts evacuating, smokejumpers building firebreaks and  waterbombers attacking the treetops.  The news failed to mention Utah’s Church Camp fire which burned over 4,000 acres. Unbelievable desert heat, bone dry trees and kindling for ground cover it is easy to understand how fire quickly devours everything in its path.

This stretch of the route skirted along the edge of the still smoldering, charred remnants of the Church Camp devastation. rock slabsRavaged by fire and defined by steep cliffs, driving through the narrow valley brought concerns of flash floods erasing the path we’re on.  We kept one eye on the distant clouds as we gave witness to the devastation of past floods.  Scarred cliffs were water had cascaded down the removing everything in its way. The route through the valley was carved up with swales designed to funnel the floods from one side of the trail to the other with minimal damage.  For the next twenty minutes the swales presented themselves like Tijuana speed bumps to our little convoy.  We’d go from 30 mph to a 5 mph as the rig’s dove in and then climb up the other side of a swale every mile or so.

defender 90Coming around the bend in valley, we ran square into history. When our first ancestors wanted to express themselves, they didn’t use paper and pen.  Prehistoric people scratched their history on the valley rock.  The Utah Backcountry Discovery Route winds through Nine Mile which has several significant petroglyphic sites.  Not tourist traps with souvenir shops, t-shirt stands and little petroglyph shot glasses, just cliffs adorn with ancient rock carvings on the side of the off road explorerroute, allowing you to pull off and explore rock faces, as well as the more recent abandon homesteads.

Today we experienced the flatter, hotter, stranger side of Utah before finally rolling into Wellington, the end of the day’s leg and found our way to the Cowboy Kitchen.  Dirty, sweaty and parched (not the worst looking patrons in the bar) we ambled into the cool, air conditioned room and grabbed a table.  I  have been to the Great Wall of China, I have seen the Pyramids of Egypt, I’ve even witnessed a grown man satisfy a camel. But never in all my years have I nine mile petroglyphwitnessed something as improbable, as impossible, as what we witnessed here today, a giant basket of greasy, undercooked fries with hair!  Dinner was not the highlight of the day.

Around the table the conversation turned to where we would rest our heads tonight, peppered with memorable quotes from Stripes, Dodge Ball, Animal House and a half dozen of the off road photographerclassics.  We may be the only ones laughing out loud but clearly we’re not the only ones in the bar as locals through odd glances of disapproval our way.  But we’re loud, proud and heavily armed so not much was going to stop us from celebrating our day of wheeling.

The little town of Wellington is not overrun with camping or hotel options.  After ruling out the Pillow Talk motel, we double check our iPhones and found Green River filled with options.  Only 30 miles as the crow files and the next fuel stop on the Backcountry Discovery Route. A little wrangling back and forth, and we decided to cowboy up to Green River, even though it was approaching the nine o’clock hour.  Tonight…  We Wheel!

utah back road fence lineLess then 20 minutes down the route from Wellington and the sun is gone. The only light as far as the eye could see is coming from our rigs and the stars above. Motoring easily on a comfortable, wide, straight, well graded gravel road, cruising speed, 40 mph. We’ll be bedding down in no time. Then the route turned left.

Apparently, we had not accounted for this section of the route turning into a 4×4 trail.  Flat desert at night on 4×4 trails presents a unique challenge.  No markers to follow, no reference points or land marks visible in the dark old trucknight, navigation was limited to tracking our progress against the GPS waypoints. Each turn, fork in the road or disappearing two track was checked against the GPS.  Pick a trail, go 50 yards, and see if we’re still on track or turn around to try another direction. We opened and closed cattle gates, drove through washouts, climbed in and out of swales and crossed land bridges where our wheels brad at dinnerhung over the edge.  We drove on, into the sage brush, as we made our way through the desert night.

The crow may fly a straight line to Green River but the Backcountry Discovery Route meanders back and forth to keep you off the concrete. In stead of 30 miles, we’d already logged 60 miles of sand, gravel and 4×4 trails…  and we were pointed away from Green River.  This is where you separate the men from the boys, the wheat from the chaff, the awkwardly feminine from the possibly Canadian.  Did I mention we were on movie quote roll.

Desert nights are cool, still, dark and full of sound.  We were stopped at another sunset on 4x4 trailcattle gate, passing from one ranch to another and we could feel the sense of adventure we’d taken on. Driving off road in the dark is like taking a trip down memory lane.  You can’t see anything outside the glow of the lights and your brain starts to fill in the blanks.  Memories of past road trips, long lost thoughts of a child’s first step, your embarrassing high school date and fallen friends filled the dark shadows beyond the reach of the rig’s lights. Closing the gate behind us and saddling back upcattle gate at midnight in our rigs, we knew we could cowboy through whatever else there was between us and Green River.

Sometime around 2:30 a.m., six hours and 87 miles from when we started, the glow of Green River came into view.  Driving by the state camp ground and up to the Holiday In Express we bargained with the front desk in order to get the, you know we don’t have a reservation, AAA, its your last chance to rent these rooms to anyone rate.   Hot showers, soft beds, electricity to charge up batters and WiFi to check in…  not a bad way to end the longest day of this off road adventure.

Next : Utah Backcounty Discovery Route Day 6

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