The allure of the desert is something to behold. The stark landscape results in harsh light for the eyes and a deadly thirst if left unchecked; it is wilderness in its most raw form. The endless sand peeling off of rocks and scarce resources do little for us physically but do much for our spirit.
While some areas of the desert have succumbed to our will for safety and comfort, others are less developed; left to the environment’s own tendencies. Explored, charted, mapped, and more; this wild terrain still invites us to explore, to draw in, and experience the untamed land.
Utah, out of all the states I am familiar with, offers more back roads and hidden gems than you can imagine. Perhaps it’s time to take the road less travelled to a trail less used. A quick adventure to ground one’s self in the beauty that surrounds us.
The Need to Escape
Spring in the mountains is an interesting time, especially in a resort town. The skiing has ended and the snow is melting off. Some trails are open, but are often closed again to accommodate passing snow or rain storms that are all too common in the mountains well into May. For those of us with the itch to stay outside, spring can be a hard time. So we head to points south, but where? Moab, no; too crowded, and too far to drive for the quick fix we are looking for. Same for Fruita and St. George, so where do we go?
The crew meets up on a sunny spring morning in May. Although just a short trip is planned, we pack for comfort; after all, this is all about relaxation, escape, and grounding. Stove, tents, chairs, camp pads, water, bags and bikes are loaded. Just one last stop for food, beer and wood before we escape to another world.
Our goal is the Good Water Rim trail and the Wedge Overlook in the San Rafael Swell. This area sees a lot less traffic than other popular Utah desert spots. And since it is only three hours from Park City, we can satisfy our desert itch without requiring too many hours in the car.
The drive out of Heber on Highway 40 can give the illusion of being bland or boring. And you could argue it’s a pain given all the truck traffic the road sees. However, this is not the lens to start your trip or to change your mindset. Instead, watch the world change from mountain to desert; from green to red and orange. Our destination is Myton and the entrance to Nine Mile Canyon, less than two hours to go.
Petroglyphs in the Desert
Nine Mile Canyon contains the largest concentration of petroglyphs in the world, and can be worked into a route that points south easily. For everyone in the truck this was our first drive down the canyon and we had no idea what to expect. Pavement became dirt, turning to pavement again before finally “T-ing” into Nine Mile. First stop, Fremont Granary just off the road. The guide says “Cross the cattle guard and stop. Sight down the road and then left/N 30 degrees, look up 300 feet and it’s there.” Where? All we see is a cliff band. We move on, disappointed in our skills, but not discouraged.
Finally we make it to the first easy-to-find petroglyph panel at Rasmussen Cave and Daddy Canyon. Yup, lots of petroglyphs here. What do the panels depict; hunts, migrations, harvest? We can only guess given our amateur knowledge, but are no less amazed and our imaginations turn to the past and the people who wrote these stories. We hike to, view and inspect other panels in the area. Commenting on what they could mean, and chastising those who have chosen to vandalize this place. “John 2000,” the year some person immortalized themselves as a complete jerk. We move on in search of more.
Our next stop takes us to the ruins of a Fremont village. The foundation is noticeable, but imagination is required to see how the Fremont tribe lived. The view from the village is commanding. It’s easy to see why the site was chosen. Standing on top of the ridge the scale hits you. You can’t help but feel tiny in this place and in time. Breathe, close your eyes and imagine; could you have survived here? What was this place like thousands of years ago?
The day is getting late but we are itching to see more. The “Great Hunt” panel is one of the most-photographed and well-preserved in Utah, and does not disappoint. Resources must have been abundant during this hunt. There’s no one else in the area, save a cold-blooded friend, so we take a few minutes to ponder about life in times long past.
Exiting the canyon we come across a fellow traveler as we attempt to spot the granary we missed. Serendipity is a crazy thing and this gent just happens to know where to find exactly what we are looking for. Within a minute he has the three of us sighted in on a perfect granary hidden in a cliff band. Small and well-preserved it is obvious once you find it, but otherwise camouflaged to the world. Our friendly acquaintance’s name is Dave and he offers to show us a couple more stops along the way.
Dave does not disappoint. Two more granaries we would have never found on our own, and numerous panels later, we part ways. Dave back to his camp, us onto our destination; The Swell.
Riding the Good Water Rim Trail
As we exit at Wellington, just south of Price, we are quickly brought back to the modern world. Traffic, industry, fast food; the usual suspects. We make a quick stop and hasten our pace for our final destination. The day is winding to an end, and an evening ride is in order.
The drive down Highway 10 to the south and on to the Good Water Rim trail is dotted with a couple small towns and that’s about it. A left in Huntington and you’re shortly on a dirt road headed into the vast San Rafael Swell.
There are a lot of places to camp, but the best spots are right on the rim (or close.) We find the perfect camp site; only 30 yards to the trailhead, surrounded by stunning views, and protected by Juniper and Cedar. Time is running short, so we set-up camp, prep a fire and hop on the bikes for a quick ride before it gets dark.
The Good Water Rim Trail is not a hard ride, but what it lacks in challenge it makes up for in views and sweet singletrack. We decide to ride the eastern section of the trail as an out and back. Fifteen miles of winding singletrack that follows the rim of the canyon in and out of washes. The light is incredible and the desert is glowing orange and red. It’s hard to keep your eyes on the trail as the evening light brings out new features in the canyon walls. We pedal hard and fast; pushing to challenge ourselves, hungry for speed and flow; stopping to enjoy the view as much as we can remember.
We return to camp with the sun setting below the horizon, so that only dusk remains. No one is overly tired, but certainly ready for a beer, maybe a whiskey, and dinner. We spark our pre-built fire and light up the stove for a little gourmet desert pasta. The night winds down as most desert camp nights do; drinks, stories, laughs, and then quiet.
Morning comes early but not too early, waking with the soft desert morning light. We exit our tents and already feel more grounded, centered in the world. It’s a feeling that only breathing fresh air all night and sleeping close to the earth can produce. There is no time to linger since more riding is in store. A quick breakfast of tea, oatmeal and fruit, and we’re off to the Western rim.
We cruise over to the Wedge Overlook and take in the morning view, while discussing the best way to start our ride. The eastern and western sections of the Good Water Rim trail are substantially different in look and feel, but the format is the same. Ride the rim, pedal hard and fast, create flow, and don’t forget the views.
We finish back at the truck shortly before noon, all smiles, prepared to face the “real” world once again. North on Highway 10 to Highway 6, and the traffic appears. We can feel the weight of the world pushing down on us again.
One Final Detour
We take one last escape route and head north on Highway 191 through Ashley National Forest and on to Duchesne. This is the only way to travel between Heber and Price and once again the drive does not disappoint. Great views and no traffic, a quick left in Duchesne and an hour or so later we’re back in Heber.
Thirty hours and a world apart from the place we left and returned to. Even though it was short, the trip did what it was intended to do; brought us back to what matters, grounded us in space and time, and gave us a sense of wonder and amazement.
It serves as a reminder that you don’t need to drive for hours in the car or spend weeks away to find your escape. Sometimes, the best and most-needed escapes can be found close to home, in places you would least expect. Adventure and escape are just out our front door, all we have to do is dream it up and make it happen.
By Scott House, Communications Director, Jans and Paul Boyle, Content Writer & Marketing, jans.com