DIRT ORCAS CO / UT ADVENTURE RIDE 2019
By Paul Strubell of Dirt Orcas – 5/21/19
Here is a recap of our trip to Colorado and Utah in mid May of 2019. We packed a lot into the week. Riding some of the most prolific and challenging trails and roads in the area and also opting to leave a few out in search of better weather.
I like to ride motorcycles. I ride a 2013 BMW F800gs. I typically pack up my gear and leave from my driveway on all my adventure rides. Travelling across the interstate for a few days to get North or West of Iowa is pretty normal for me. Still I enjoy the ride. Settling into the Interstate Highway system with a good book playing on the Sena is a great way to travel.
For this trip I would be travelling with a friend who rides a Suzuki DR650. For reasons that are incomprehensible to me, my friend prefers to strap his bike to a trailer when more than one hour of highway riding will be required. In my opinion this is pathetic behavior that defeats the point of owning a dual sport or adventure bike, but I was still thrilled that he wanted to ride in Colorado and Utah with me, so I accepted his terms to trailer our bikes from Fairfield, Iowa to Grand Junction, Colorado and then start riding there.
We got a hotel in Grand Junction and planned to pick up the Kokopelli Trail in Rabbit Valley, outside of Grand Junction, and take it all the way to Moab, Utah in the morning. Once in Moab, we would be riding the White Rim Trail around Canyonlands National Park over two days, and then riding sections 2 and 1 of the Utah BDR south towards Mexican Hat over the remaining three days. Including the expert section of Lockhardt Basin. It was a pretty good plan and involved camping each night and riding some of the best trails in the area. Tackling 4 of the 5 must ride trails for adventure / dual sport bikes in Utah according to ADVPulse. We would be passing through Moab regularly with this plan to stock up on water and refill our tanks.
Trip Destinations and Distance
Saturday May 11th – Fairfield to Brush, CO – 692 miles
Sunday May 12th – Brush to Grand Junction, CO – 330 miles / Took the bikes through the Colorado National Monument Loop – 45 miles
Monday May 13th – Grand Junction to Juniper Campground (Sand Flats Recreation Area) – 165 miles (139 off-road)
Tuesday May 14th – Juniper Camp to Canyonlands / White Rim – 150 miles
Wednesday May 15th – Remainder of White Rim and La Sal Pass – 115 miles
Thursday May 16th – Back down La Sal Pass road / Hwy / Utah BDR to Devils Canyon – 75 miles
Friday May 17th – Devils Canyon Campground to Grand Junction – 180 miles / Grand Junction to Fort Morgan, CO – 320 miles
Saturday May 18th – Fort Morgan to Fairfield, IA – 702 miles
As we headed out to start the Kokopelli Trail we referenced a GPS track that my friend Kevin had downloaded to help us navigate the trail. We passed through the parking lot and passed the sign for the beginning of the Kokopelli Trail. In our excitement we failed to see that the trail we picked up was not authorized for motorized vehicles. After climbing the first mile into the trail we were flagged down by a woman who informed us that we were not meant to be on that part of the trail with our motorcycles.”There is a sign right at the trail head that says no motorized vehicles!” We apologized for our ignorance and headed back to the trail head to double check, steadfast in the validity of our GPS tracks. Sure enough, there was little motorbike image with a red slash through it. It’s about 3″x 3″ along with several other images stacked together on a small dusty post. Basically the sign post version of the fine print. The GPS track Kevin had downloaded was the Kokopelli Trail for mountain bikers. Whoops. In truth, I was relived. The trail section for mountain bikes that we started was very difficult on the 800gs and we were moving really slowly. We met a nice man back at the parking lot who also rode dirt bikes. He spent some time talking to us about the trails and filled us in on the correct location to start the Kokopelli Trail with motorcycles. We just needed to head down the road to Rabbit Valley and pick up the trail where the mountain bike trail meshed with the 4×4 trail. Soon we were on our way. The riding was quick and the two track was rolling along nicely through the Colorado hills. The trail had a few difficult sections with rocky two track on steep hills that kind of sprung up out of nowhere. I had a little get off on one such hill but was back on the trail shortly no worse for wear.
The Kokopelli Trail eventually gels with the Utah BDR around Onion Creek road. I thoroughly enjoyed riding Onion Creek. The deep red canyon walls and matching road were like traipsing over Mars. The color was a stark change from the grey gravely texture of the Kokopelli Trail in Colorado. The only thing that makes you sure you are still on earth is the many creek crossings you splash though on your way through the canyon. Onion Creek was a highlight of the trip for me.
As we crest the northern edge of the La Sal mountain range East of Moab, we started to pass dispersed National Forest campsites along the trail. It is always a gamble that the one you pass up might be a mistake. Not knowing if the campsite you pass up will be better than the next. We wanted to stay remote, but we also needed to be within decent range of Canyonlands the next morning. We had to check in at the Visitors Center with the Rangers before riding the White Rim. Eventually we settled on a developed site in the Juniper Campground in the Sand Falts Recreation Area about 20 minutes east of Moab.
We pack up early the next day. We enter Moab to fuel up the bikes and pack up a lot of water. We each ended up with about 20lbs (2.5gallons) of water on the bikes in addition to all our gear and food. You notice this added weight as your luggage becomes suddenly strained for space and looks stretched under the added weight. Keep in mind we are packing enough water for a long hot day on the White Rim Trail. We also need enough water to make our dinners, a tiny bit to brush your teeth and clean the dust off your face, reserves to get us through the last 25% of the trail the following day, and enough that, in an emergency situation, we wouldn’t run out if we had to go back the way we came or wait on help.
We packed up and took the road out to Canyonlands to speak with the Park Rangers about our permit. There is a section of the White Rim Trail that becomes impassable due to flooding at certain levels of water flow on the Green River. We were told that the road was clear and we would be allowed to go ahead. We took a few pictures from the visitors center and headed down the Shafer Trail to begin the White Rim around 10am. It was rockier and bumpier than I remember it being. Seemed like the trail in general was harder to glide over this time around. Still it was just as beautiful and fantastic as I remember. We made pretty quick work of the trail, coming over Murphy Hogback before 1PM. Murphy is more or less the half way point.
We arrived at our campsite around 2:30pm in blistering sunshine. The sun high overhead and the rocks below our camp radiating heat back up at us like a tennis court. Not exactly anywhere to hide. So we tried our luck at finding a path down to the Green River for a swim. No such luck. The tree line around the river is very thick and about 30 feet deep. So we pulled out our camp chairs and sipped some tequila under a shaded overhang in the little canyon just off the campsite.
Later we explored a bit further down the road and found a place where bighorn sheep had carved out a small path to the water and we swam in the silty cool current of the Green. We actually got in the water twice, before and after dinner. The usually brilliant stars in Canyonlands would not be seen this night but the overall atmosphere was still great. The moon lighting up different rock formations as the clouds allowed.
In the morning we packed up and completed the White Rim Trail. We then headed to Moab for our usual amounts of fuel and water. We grabbed lunch at the Atomic Grill and made the decision to change our plans. We had originally planned to take the afternoon off and grab a campsite just outside Moab and then ride Lockhardt Basin the following day. However, the heat was much greater than expected and we had been riding in it for three days now. The amount of water we could carry would also have to be conserved to last us for two nights and two full days, instead of our usual one and a half. Plus after three days of riding in the red rocks and high heat, we wanted to change it up and decided to head for the cooler temps of the La Sal Mountains. We would follow the Utah BDR section 2 tracks and seek cooler temps. Weather apps showing us 65 during the day and 45 at night in the mountains sounded ideal. We took section 2 of the Utah BDR south from Moab and made it almost to the top of the La Sal pass before we ran into snow. We tried both the upper and lower pass options but couldn’t go any further, but we made the best of it and posted up at a beautiful little camp spot along the trail and a crisp stream. We built a fire (the first of 2019 at this spot) and enjoyed the cool temps. Around 9:45pm two gentleman in their mid 60’s came walking past our camp with their bikes. They said they have intended to come over the pass on their bikes but when they ran into snow kept walking because they thought it wouldn’t last that long. They claimed that had been biking and walking for nearly 14 hours and had walked over at least 7 miles of snow on the other side the range. We offered them some water and they made their way down the mountain with headlamps to get into cell phone range to call one of their wives. She was waiting on a call to pick them up and must have been very worried, but I am sure they made it down eventually.
We woke the next day and bounced our bikes down the rocky trail back into Moab. It was an unusually tough long winter in Utah, but to consider this road the easier route was a bit of a surprise to us. We have ridden several BDR’s and we typically find them to be easy enough with appropriately labeled “expert sections” that may provide a more difficult challenge. The trail on this day was extremely challenging. By the look of the road, we were some of the first bikes to ride up that year. Riding these trails later in the year, when the Jeep’s and side by sides have beaten down the trails and moved the biggest rocks away from natural tire tracks would have made for smoother sailing, but we were certainly confused by the difficulty of the route. We made our way down the trail and back to Moab in about an hour. We resupplied and took the highway down to the town of La Sal on the other side of the range and picked up the remainder of section 2 of the Utah BDR towards Monticello.
We rode some nice old mining roads and some sandy two track in the open sage lands before running into some severe winds. We were pressing along towards the end of section 2 where the winds kicked it into high gear. We were dealing with 35mph sustained winds and gusts up to 55 according to our weather apps. We rode a twisty paved section of road called Hart’s Draw Road into Monticello and eat some lunch out of the wind.
Assessing our options here, it felt unsafe to ride the hwy’s in these winds, so we decided to continue on for a bit on the UtahBDR to see if there might be some reprieve from the winds away from the pavement. There was not and it seemed to be getting harder to keep the bikes in line. We were very fortunate to be near Devils Canyon National Forest Campground and found the one spot out of the wind. it was protected just perfectly by some rocks and trees. We immediately snatched it up and settled into camp about 3:30pm. We did some hiking around the canyon and collected wood for a fire. We had a nice night here but for the wailing hounds at 4am who were no doubt in search of a mountain lion. I will never understand the person who elects harassing wildlife as their personal hobby. In the morning we had intended to ride the remainder of section 1 to Mexican Hat, but since the winds were still high and I was just in Monument Valley the month before, I had little incentive to ride down there. We opted to ride with the wind at our backs and made our way back to Grand Junction.
From there we packed up the bikes and started our ride back east to Iowa.