View Full Version : Road Trip: 65-mile Capitol Reef National Park, UTAH Dirt Road Trek

01-26-2010, 10:17 PM
Here's another great drive I'd like to share. In October 2008, my husband and I zig-zagged 3500 miles throughout the Southwest in our 1999 XC70. The Southwestern states always amazes us with the tremendous variety of geological formations and upheavals. Every visit is always a new adventure.

On this drive, Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico were the first stops. We also spent an afternoon at the Jemez Pueblo. Because our dogs were with us, we were warmly welcomed by the local children. They adopted us for a few hours and taught us much of their culture.


Near the Jemez Pueblo, the Gilman Tunnels were blasted thru the Jemez Mountains in the 1920's for logging access. The surrounding area is also famous as the backdrops for Hollywood. The tunnels were recently in the movie, 3:10 to Yuma.


Driving west and past the Petrified Forest National Park, we stopped at Jim Gray's Petrified Wood Company in Holbrook, AZ. Their selection is incredible! An amazing number of "whole" large trees cut into logs. There were also many individual pieces measuring up to 4-feet wide and 5-feet high. Besides the petrified wood, I was enthralled by the selection of fossils and minerals. There is even a small "mountain" of geodes consisting of thousands of specimens! Our purchases ended up weighing over 80-pounds. It's a good thing we're driving a wagon. Here's a photo of Jim Gray's petrified wood... and these are the smaller pieces!


A Southwest adventure isn't complete without a stop at Grand Canyon National Park.


After driving through Monument Valley and Mexican Hat, the road seemed to go right into the sheer wall of a high mesa. We've arrived at the Moki Dugway on Hwy. 261. It was constructed in 1958 to transport uranium ore. The three miles of narrow and unpaved, but well graded, switchbacks descend 1100 feet from the top of Cedar Mesa at a steep 10% grade. The hairpin turns are truly tight and the State of Utah recommends that ONLY vehicles less than 28 feet in length and 10,000 pounds in weight attempt to negotiate this road. There's a great 7-minute YouTube video on driving the Moki Dugway. WARNING: Do NOT watch the video if you are afraid of heights.

We're at the last hairpin turn at the top... notice the bit of asphalt road next to the car? A view of The Valley of the Gods was worth the drive.



Arrived just in time for a few hours of sightseeing before the sun disappeared.


The next day started early in Capitol Reef National Park. This park is characterized by sandstone formations, cliffs and canyons, and a 100-mile long bulge in the earth's crust called the Waterpocket Fold.


Our destination was Cathedral Valley, a scenic backcountry area in Capitol Reef National Park. It is a remote, stark desert characterized by amazingly beautiful sandstone monoliths that resemble cathedrals. It is only accessible by several dirt roads.

Option One: The Fremont River Ford crossing. My husband was excited to try it out. We approached the crossing and assessed the river depth. I suggested being tied off with the dog leashes and walking into the river to test it out, but we decided against it at the end. It actually looked too deep for our XC and it didn't be fun to get stuck in a river!


Option Two: 7 miles east is the Caineville Wash Road entrance. This is much better. The drive was amazing and full of twists and turns as well as a few steep climbs.





Going over the many dry river beds was fun until we came across one that was much steeper than anticipated. When our XC hit the bottom on the last deep river bed, a loud hissing noise immediately came from the undercarriage! OMG! We quickly drove out of the ravine before anything else happens! Even after clearing the river, the hissing sound continued. My husband got out and took a look. He confirmed that we just lost our AC (found out later that the AC hose was busted). What a relief! We were lucky to not to have sustained any major damage since we were in the middle of "nowhere". Only 3 other vehicles passed us during this entire drive.


We continued on and eventually hooked up with Hwy. 70.



Then, it was Hwy. 15 to Las Vegas, NV. After refreshing ourselves the next day with a all-you-can-eat-buffet at the Wynn Hotel, we drove home to San Francisco. Someday, we'd like to visit the Moki Dugway again and drive the other trails in Capitol Reef.

Thanks for looking.

01-27-2010, 05:41 AM
Amazing, thanks for sharing!![thumbup]

01-30-2010, 01:55 PM
If anyone's interested, here's the link to a great video driving down the Moki Dugway. We actually drove up it... can't wait to revisit for a downward drive!