Dirt touring routes south of Moab? Surely, there are more than a few ways to figure it, but the Colorado River, Highway 191, and the LaSal Mountains make for some natural barriers. Leaving town toward the south on the Lockhart Basin Road is an obvious choice.
The Lockhart Road is a Jeep track, or ORV route, one amongst a bevy of classic Moab routes. Thankfully, all but the most technical of these rock-crawling Jeep routes are ideal for riding. While the Lockhart Basin Route is signed as a “Most Difficult” route for motor vehicles, thanks to a few stair-step rock features scattered with boulders, the route is almost entirely rideable chunky doubletrack, with some fast dirt road riding in between. From the center of Moab to Highway 211 at the south, the route requires one big day, or two leisurely days of riding. Water is scarce– none is officially available on route– and even in cool October days, we were careful to watch our water consumption, choosing foods that do not require rehydration and sipping our bottles conservatively. The total distance from Moab to Hwy 211 is about 60 miles, along some of the most scenic, accessible, legal riding we have found anywhere. We left town with about 14L of water between the two of us. If it sounds like the riding is getting better and better for us, that’s because it is. Coming and going, via Moab, makes for some great riding.
Thanks to Cass for the initial route recon, back in the fall of 2009. That summer, he and I crossed paths for the first time at the Off the Chain Co-op in Anchorage, AK. He visited our humble trailer along the banks of the Nenana River a few weeks later after riding south from Deadhorse.
Leaving Moab at dark, we shoot for some public land. Camping in the west has spoiled us.
We awake to the sounds of a small spring only several miles from Moab. An early start is becoming more common, as food and water scarcity challenge us to keep moving at a healthy pace.
Seemingly, it is 30 degrees in the shade, but 70 degrees in full sun. Clear skies at 5000ft make October an excellent month to visit Utah.
Our first climb reaches toward Hurrah Pass, less than 1000ft above. Then, we drop down toward the Colorado River on the Lockhart Basin Road.
Leaving the Kane Creek drainage, toward Chicken Corners.
Up to Hurrah Pass.
Since landing in Denver, I’ve done extensive work on our bicycles to get them back into top (well-used) condition. Most notably, this includes new cables and housing, and some new drivetrain parts. To replace worn chainrings on my crank, I ordered a new RaceFace Ride crank for about $100. A new Shimano SLX derailleur was included to replace the uninspiring slop in the previous rear derailleur, which had been cobbled together from parts in New Mexico. In haste, I ordered a newer 10sp SLX derailleur, which didn’t like my friction shifters and 8sp cassette and chain. The system functioned, technically, although 10sp gear utilizes a different cable pull from the shifter (much like SRAM equipment), requiring a real big push of the thumb to access the climbing gears. The eventual solution is a used $20 Shimano XT derailleur from Moab Classic Bike, a hip little shop in a town obsessed with high-tech all-mountain machines. The SLX unit is shipped home in a box with some other stuff. The big ring — all 44 unnecessary teeth– is removed, in favor of: chainring to rock clearance, a shorter chain for crisper shifting, and a little less weight. Works great, with less room for mud to hide when the trail gets thick. For now, 32×22 rings up front, and an 11-32 8sp cassette in the rear. That’s 16 gears!
The view from the top, near Hurrah Pass, looking down on Kane Creek.
An unspectacular feat– the climb to Hurrah Pass is small change compared to the climbs on the Kokopelli Trail.
The otherworldly vistas are unlike anywhere we’ve ever been, certainly a long way from Ukraine. Note the broadly curving anticline, of the arch-like curvature of the sedimentary layers.
This might be the best weather of the year. Riding temperatures are perfect. Nights are cool to cold, but we are well prepared for much colder weather.
Stick to the Lockhart Basin Road, as the route to Chicken Corkers cuts right, toward the Colorado River.
This is where the trail gets tough. Excepting these few pushes over chunky, rocky, boulder-filled slickrock canyons, the route is extremely rideable. Just a few unrideable pushes in this section, before riding back onto something more like a ‘road’.
A road in there somewhere…
Rideable, once again.
The route is easy to follow, especially as all two or three major junctions are signed– there aren’t too many places to get lost. However, we were following a GPS track of the route, so navigation was a breeze. A few rock cairns help locate the route along the way.
The basin is a broad topographic low, adjacent to the Colorado River, characterized by canyons and valleys, and the resultant ridges and spires. The route follows the edge of the canyon the entire way, hugging steep cliff walls for miles.
While constantly undulating, the route hovers right around 4500ft.
There is no shortage of chunky road to navigate, although most of it is fun to ride quite fast. We’ve enjoyed these rides, like the Kokopelli Trail, that blend wide-open dirt roads and rough technical tracks.
Shadows grow longer, for a memorable early-evening descent.
Lael claims this might be her favorite ride ever!
A six mile road leads down to the Colorado River, but to preserve our southward trajectory, we stick to the main road. It looks like a worthwhile detour.
Ride until dark, camp, ride again. Overland travel by bicycle in the west has a nice rhythm.
Moments before dark, Lael laces up her shoes for a run. Not a day passes that she doesn’t aim to go running, often for an hour or more.
Sunset, and sunrise are worth a few moments of our time. So are the stars, and the mornings, and afternoons, and evenings– never a bad time of day or night, this time of year.
In addition to rocky, chunky tracks, sandy washes are also best navigated on larger tires.
Back on Highway 211, we detour several miles to the west to pick up some water. The Needles Outpost is a private facility near the entrance to Canyonlands National Park. Water is available in gallon jugs for a price. Free water is available inside the park, a few miles further, for a $5 entrance fee. Riding east on Highway 211, you should encounter surface water in several places along Indian Creek, although cattle ranching in these parts mean a reliable purification or filtration system is necessary. Not sure is these streams run dry mid-summer. Water levels seem good this time of year, or perhaps just this year.
At least the water is still cheaper than gas, which goes for $6.50 a gallon. Edward Abbey, who was a park ranger in these parts, would be happy to see the price of fuel.
Continuing south, we have our eyes on Elk Ridge Road over the southern portion of the Manti-LaSal National Forest, which eventually connects to Highway 95. From the end of the Lockhart Basin Road, the Needles Outpost is 4 miles west; the beginning of Beef Basin/Bridger Jack Mesa Roads (to Elk Ridge Road, FR 88) is about 8 miles east on Hwy 211, with a pit toilet and information board at the head of the road. Monticello is about 45 miles from here.
Lael devours the last few pages of her novel, Pretty Boy Floyd, by Larry McMurtry. to save weight in her pack. She’s already carrying the replacement novel by Tom Robbins, purchased for 50 cents at the Moab Public Library. She loves the Moab library.
She leaves it on the message board at the head of Beef Basin/Bridger Jack Road, amongst notes from climbers and hunters. The area is a very popular climbing destination.
Into the mountains!