On the Road Adventures

Thursday, July 26, 2012

July 25, Moab, Utah

We left Ogden on Monday and spent the night at Green River.  Tuesday we came on down to Moab, got set up and took a nice drive along the Colorado River through red sandstone country.

136 Rough Country 132 overlook to Arches

Today we re-created a moment in my history.  The backstory goes thus:  My father was fairly directionally competent, and he never hesitated to ask for directions, but he didn’t just ask for the bare bones directions.  He always wanted to know if there was a different road to get where he wanted to go.  His favorite road was one he hadn’t driven on yet.  This lead to a number of “adventures” in our travels, especially since he usually managed to forget at least one key piece of information.  The most memorable mis-direction was the short cut to Brussels, where he drove all the way into a farmer’s barn, blissfully confident that the road would come out the other side of the barn and take us to Brussels.  Somewhere there’s a Flemish farmer still telling that story.

The adventure in question, though, happened in 1966.  Father was stationed in Salt Lake City and I was going to the university there.  Canyonlands had been designated as a new National Park just a couple of years before, so we all decided we needed to see it, so the three of us set off for Moab in the Ford pick-up truck.  We made our way out to the new park, which had virtually no infrastructure at all, took in the spectacular views and Father asked the ranger his favorite question:  is there another way back to Moab?  The ranger told his there was – just take that road back up the way a bit and we’d end up back in town.  The catch was, the road had been carved out of the face of the cliffs decades before as a way to move cattle from the valley floor to the mesa tops and it was a series of hair-pin, hair-raising turns, dropping 1,500’ in less than a mile.  If he told Father that, he neglected to share the information with my mother.  At the first switch-back, Mother and I had to trade places because she couldn’t stand being on the outside edge, and she covered her eyes and just kept repeating, “at least we’ll all die together.”  But we defied fate and made it safely down to the valley floor.

In 2007, Gerry and I were on our first trip in our new motorhome and we came to Moab.  Out on the Canyonlands rim I told this story to one of the rangers, who laughed and said the road was called Schafer Trail and we could see it from an overlook.  Sure enough, there were all those switchbacks below us, but we decided the road was too rough for our shiny new Honda CRV, so I took a few photos and we traveled on

152 from above     

      Shafer Trail switchbacks from the overlook on Island in the Sky, Canyonlands National Park

But now here we are in Moab again, and we agreed that we wanted to make the trek down Schafer trail just for the experience.  We rented a jeep, hereafter referred to as OJ for Orange Jeep, and set out to discover if the journey was as harrowing as I remembered.

137 G T and Jeep Ready for adventure!

143 French touristThe first stop after a good, bumpy bit of road was to check out Gemini Bridges.  This is a crazy French tourist who got a lot closer to the edge than I was going to!
On to Canyonlands and the drive down memory lane.  First we checked out the overlook again.
That straight line in the middle of the photo of the valley floor is the lower part of Shafer trail.  All we have to do is get down there.

                  154 Road looks good

              159 Dropoffs

             See the line just below the vegetation?  Yes, that’s the road.  Think the picture above as far as a road with no edge at all on the left, and then picture it about half that width.  But it was still nice and smooth and not all that scary. 

165 sitchbacks start

No problems at all with those hairpin turns.  The road might have been narrow, but it was graded, mostly, and not a bad trip at all.  Here we have reached the first plateau and are looking back at that section in the center of the photo.  That’s where the road runs back and forth.  It’s almost impossible to see that there are four switchbacks through that piece of cliff!

173 trail and debris

that stretch of road that is the white line below the red
no where to go but onward.  We went on to the over-
look of the Colorado River and Musselman Arch, (which is actually more of a slab over the edges of a notch) and then bounced back to rejoin the Shafer Trail and head back to Moab.

178 Mussleman arch

These are the Walking Rocks.  Harder sandstone caps the very soft lower layer, so the rocks below wear away first, making a very Disney-esque landscape.
151 Valley floor

The first part of the road looks fine.  What’s the problem?

Now things are getting a little more interesting.  It looks like we’re going to drive off into space from here.

160 there is a road

I’m standing a few feet from the left bumper of OJ, looking down at the beginning of the switchbacks.  I suspect that first one was the place where Mother and I switched places so she could cover her eyes and I could be the bratty kid who hung out the window looking straight down and describing the drop.

171 can you see the road

When we got to the bottom of the cliffs, we took a detour off the Shafer Trail to go out for a way on the White Rim Trail.  This is a hundred mile loop that is strictly high clearance 4-wheel drive “road” that goes through the middle plateau of the park.  Oh, yeah,  THIS was the road I remembered.  Creeping along in the lowest gear, getting thrown back, forth, up, down, left right.  I may not have been afraid we were going to die, but there were a couple of moments when I wondered if this was a good idea.  Since we were on
cliff and above all the broken white rubble, there was

176 CO river valley

180 Walking Rocks

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