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Hole in the Rock, Mormon Expedition Trail, Utah, on May 1, 2001

February 7, 2007

Posted February 4, 2007

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So, took this jeep trip (well, 4 wheeler whatever) a few years ago, but I doubt if much has changed. So, if you want to visit a really neat place, and you got a few buddies with both 4 wheel drive vehicles and experience, then I definitely recommend that you check it out. It’s waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay out there : )

Before I go any further in the trip’s description, here is my standard comment. Please check my photo galleries here for all the larger and higher quality photos for this trip. In addition, you can view a topo map here and a Google Earth map here (you may need to adjust the scale bar on the left side of the Google map). All links open a new browser window.

The trail/road we followed was originally used by a rather large group of Mormons seeking a shorter trail to the Bluff, Utah area. Check this National Park Service site here for more information on that expedition. They came down from Escalante to the west side of the Colorado River (just below Halls Crossing), blasted a slot through the canyon wall down to the Colorado River, crossed the river, and then blazed a trail from there to Bluff, Utah. All this was done with families, wagons, cattle, etc. If you take this trail it will convince you that they were some pretty capable people.

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Also, I do not recommend this trip for anyone unless they are very experienced in back country 4 wheel driving over drop offs, steep slickrock, and very narrow “roads” (using the term extremely loosely) that could be dangerous to your health. And, I would recommend doing it only in very good weather in the spring or the fall of the year. Let me make this extremely clear. This…is….not….a….”let’s grab the kids and go camping for the weekend”….trip. But, if you know what you are doing, and are prepared to deal with issues such as broken axels, etc., then you will have one heck of a time.

As I recall, my “friend” Larry Metz told me one day that they were planning a little jeep trip in southern Utah and would I like to come along?

Larry said “..It’ll be fun. ..”

Larry said “….We’ll see neat country. …”

Larry said “…..It’s a historic trail. …..”

Larry did forget, however, to tell me “…You might die…..”.

I believe this was a sincere little bit of forgetfullness on his part and I hold no grudge against him (during the trip, however, I may at some times held a little bit of a grudge : )

Anyway, off we went with a bunch of 4 wheel drive vehicles (Jeeps, ex-Swiss army vehicles, etc.) and enough gear to keep us happy for either 1 week or 1 month (I couldn’t really tell). We drove through Moab, Utah (awesome place) and just kept going south until turning west on Hwy 95 just south of Blanding, Utah. Which, in case you are unfamiliar with that part of the USofA, is already pretty much in the middle of nowhere (that’s not true, actually I kinda like the area : ). We headed west on 95 until it intersected with Hwy 276 where we turned off towards Halls Crossing. Yeah, NOW we were getting to the middle of nowhere (well, actually that’s not really true either. I could tell you about Hanksville, Utah, which is the actual true location of “middle of nowhere in this Universe”, but that’s another story.).

Finally, we ended up in a big open space close to an airport (I say “airport” because it had a wind sock, a shack, and a single engine something or other that looked as if it was flyable).

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It took a while to unpack, unload, repack, reload, and then begin to drive down a dirt road that just kinda kept going south…for a long time…over lots of bumps…..did I mention for a long time? Well, anyway, we finally hit the Mormon Trail (also known as Rec Road 450), but I doubt if I could ever find it again by myself. Signs were not lacking, they just did not exist.

Now, I need to take a moment to relate to the reader about the other “travelers” that we met on the “road”. Which, in total, really only added up to one group. Which we met just as we entered upon the true “Rec Road 450”. This group, which did stop to chat with us, had just finished the trip that we were just starting. They related that, well, the “road” could, at times, be a little “rough”. There had only been one little “incident”, but no one had died (ha, ha). This group of 4 wheelers looked very familiar. But I could not place why. Anyway, they said “good luck” and passed us by. They kinda looked at us in a funny way. And then I knew where I had seen something somewhat familiar. I once saw a photo of a company of men coming in from a tour through enemy country in Vietnam and they were passing a new company of men just going in for their own tour. Well, sure they looked a little dirty, sunburned, beat up, tired, hungry, and desparate, but, really, I must be fantasizing.

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So, I’m saying to myself. This is not bad. It’s sunny, warm, slightly dusty, yes, but all in all, not bad. The “road” was starting to look a little more interesting. Through sandy bottoms, up over slick rock ridges, never the same. So, pretty fun. It was a good day and we ended up in a nice (well, somewhat exposed) camping spot for the evening. Since I did not know what was going to take place the next day, I slept quite well.

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The next day began and quickly evolved into something, ummm, “different” from the day before. The “road” turned into more of a “trail” and became “exciting”. As the day went on, it just became more so. To the point that I would get out ahead of the vehicles and wonder, as they passed certain “difficulties”, “…..Which one of the vehicles is going to turn over?…….” And other pleasant thoughts.

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And then, and then, and then (silence, then a roll of drums) we came to the “chute”. Yes, THE CHUTE. This little place still bears the grooves worn deep into the rocky trail from the ropes and cables the Mormons used to pull their wagons up a rather narrow, and steep, long, half-pipe section of slickrock. Well, yeah sure. I mean, really, how bad could it really be. Well, it was bad. Really bad. Really, really, horrendously bad. Ok, here is how bad it was. I looked down the chute and I realized that, well, it had been a good trip, but it was obvious that we could go no further. Well, ok, we could go down the “chute”, but we……would….die. So, we just couldn’t go any further. I saw the lead jeep head down and had to wonder, “Well, which could be worse? Dying while going down the chute? Or, dying while attempting to come back up the chute later? Neither seemed like a good thing.

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Of course, we survived. Which, in my opinion, was almost worse than dying since now I had to spend days thinking about having to go back up it (and die for sure this time). But, I put it from my mind and got on with the trip. We eventually ended up on a high ridge that allowed you to look all the way down to Lake Powell (the Colorado River). The sunset was extremely pleasant and everyone was in a great mood (because we were alive : ).

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We did hike down to the lake the next day. The hike was fine, but the lake was a bit of a let down. There had been a lot of boats in the area and the shore was pretty trashy. That should be a crime for such a starkly beautiful place. As long as you did not look at the shore, the surrounding red cliffs and view across the lake were great. Unfortunately, I must not have taken my camera since I don’t have any photos of that part of the trip. O well.

Eventually, we headed back to civilization. And I have to admit, it was much easier (maybe because I was used to it) going back. Except for the chute. Again, it seemed pretty hairy.

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We ended that day along a canyon filled with green grass and cottonwoods. A very pleasant (and very uncrowded) place to camp. There were even a few ruins around to look at (not to mention a lot of great red sandstone rims to run around on : )

We retrieved our other vehicles from the “airport” and spend a night or two camping near the Comb Ridge. A rather striking geological formation that runs mostly north and south for a good 100 miles or more. But even more interesting about the area (aside from the fact that it appeared to be made just for jeeping : ) was the amount of canyons and native american ruins that resided in those canyons. One day we spent a good portion exploring such a ruin. Part of the fun was just getting to it across a deep canyon.

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Just as much fun was exploring down the canyon, along a very pretty little stream, looking for signs of other ruins. Great time doing that.

Anyway, we eventually made our way back through Moab (did I mention that was a great place : ) and on to Fort Collins, CO. Although it is true that I did come very close to dying at least a dozen times or more, I will admit that I had a blast!

– Geoff Weatherford

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. December 6, 2007 3:50 pm

    you need to have more pictures on this website so theat people will be more interested in it.i’m looking fora picture of how the mormons slept when they were on the mormon trail.

  2. December 7, 2007 4:01 am

    Amber,

    You are probably correct. But, this web site is primarily about my experiences on the trails. Not about the history of the trails. But, I did add the link to another web site that has more information. Hopefully people who are interested in the history of the trail will find some other web sites with much more detailed information on the history.

    Part of the reason for my web site is to spark interest for people to go out and “do their own thing” : )

    Anyway, if I ever get back to that area, I will probably try and spend more time researching some of the history. We were pretty constrained as far as extra time to do anything besides following the trail and then getting back home.

    Thanks for visiting.

    GeoffW

  3. Bruce Redd permalink
    June 8, 2008 9:06 pm

    Geoff,
    Enjoyed your blog on the Hole in the Rock trail.

    You really captured the essence of the trail.

    As a decendent of a few of the people that built the trail I, along with my brother his son ad my two youngest children decided to mountain bike the trail with a twist. We came up Cottonwood Canyon from Lake Powell. Our first day we made it about three miles from the edge of the lake. I had no idea what was in front of us. Needless to say we did very little riding and a lot of pushing. We had prepared for a two day trip. Or should I say a day and a half trip. So it was fortunate that we were there while a contingent from the Moab Jeep Festival were there to aid us in getting out. I heard a rumor that a scout troop had successfully done this trail on mountain bikes. I wouldn’t advise anybody to try mountain biking this trail without support vehicles to carry equipment, food and lots of water.

    This spring, May 2008 we tried the trail again. This time on Rhinos. They move about the same speed as other 4 wheel drive vehicles so the time advantage we had hoped to gain wasn’t there and we had to spend a lot of time road building because of the smaller size of the wheels. We got to the bottom of Grey Mesa and were forced to stop because of the 5 foot drop into the top of Iceberg canyon.

    The road into Lake Canyon washed out in the fall of 2007. San Juan County has marked out a new trail that takes off from the Nokai Dome road. The trail has a couple of “exciting” hills on it and adds a few more miles to the trip. We had a great time and a Rhino isn’t a way to go on the trail if you want to see all of it.

    Will we be going back? Yup!! This time we’ll try small motorcycles. We know dirt bikes will make it since we’ve seen them as far abck as Gray Mesa. I hope this info is of value to you and other adventurers.

    BruceR

  4. June 11, 2008 1:43 am

    Bruce,

    Now that sounds like an adventure : ) Really, please take photos and let me know how it turns out. I’m going to have to look this area up again (for the trails you are talking about) because I sure want to go back. But, not by mountain bike : ) Dirt bikes (motorized) sound like a good idea.

    Thanks,

    Geoff Weatherford

  5. Lynn S permalink
    September 14, 2009 2:59 am

    Geoff,

    Sure enjoyed your pics of Hole in the Rock. I am now reading “The Undaunted” a historical novel by Gerald N. Lund about the Hole-in-the-Rock Mormon pioneers. This is an exciting account of their perils which I am sure you would enjoy since you were there!

    Thanks again. Your pictures were informative!

    Lynn S.

  6. September 15, 2009 1:23 am

    Lynn,

    Thanks for the feedback. I’ll look that book up and check it out. After being there, I have nothing but respect for what they accomplished.

    Thanks,

    Geoff Weatherford

  7. Anonymous permalink
    October 23, 2009 10:17 pm

    thanks. We are planning a trip and found this very interesting and useful.

    • October 26, 2009 12:17 am

      No problem. Have a great trip. This is a very good time of year to visit that area.

      Thanks for visiting my site.

      Geoff Weatherford

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