The desert has always drawn me and repelled me at the same time. I grew up spending time in the mountains where there is abundant water, shade, and cool temperatures. And I continued my pursuits in the mountains as an adult, the Wasatch and Uintas, the Tetons and Wind Rivers, and the Colorado Rockies. But occasional forays into the desert stuck with me. Once the desert gets into you it’s hard to let it go. Even the hot, dry, harsh climate gets to you.
This trip was the brainchild of Joe Cruz (https://joecruz.wordpress.com/) who did the route a couple weeks ago and gave it an enthusiastic thumbs up. I was looking to do a 3 day trip to celebrate the end of the semester. Originally I anticipated going solo, but my brother Bullet and his son Harrison joined me late in the planning process. It was good to have their company. The original plan was to spend the first day riding up and over Hurrah Pass and camping somewhere on the other side. Then back over into Kane Creek the next day. Didn’t quite turn out like that.
We drove the 3+ hours down to Moab on Wednesday morning and left the car at my son’s girlfriend’s sister’s house just few blocks off main street. We began at 1:00 pm and rode the 5-6 miles out of town to the Kane Creek trailhead. It always feels good to get on the bikes and start pedaling after planning for a trip. This asphalt section was a pleasant ride along the Colorado River.
At the end of the pavement, the road turns to graded dirt and funnels you into Kane Creek Canyon. Immediately the canyon walls reared up on the left. The road descends down to the mouth of Hunter Canyon, then climbs back up, then gradually out into a broad valley. The riding was easy and pleasant, the road wide and smooth. But it was hot, much warmer than we were used to. There is a great sense of freedom pedaling a bike loaded with all you need for a few days, not dependent on anyone or anything, knowing you can stop and camp anytime you feel like it.
We took a short break at the junction of the Hurrah Pass Road and Kane Creek. It was probably in the upper eighties and we were hot. I had read various accounts of bikepacking trips up over Hurrah Pass and the spectacular country beyond, particularly Lockhart Basin Road, and I wanted to check it out for myself, partly to scout it out for a future trip. The road climbed steadily for three miles before topping out.
The riding was not bad, but with our late start, and the heat, we pow-wowed up top about whether to drop down the other side, or head back to Kane Creek. The views were impressive, but it looked even hotter and dryer on the other side, with the Colorado River offering the only water source. We decided to ride back down and up Kane Creek a couple miles. That way we were sure to have water and some shade. The descent was fast and fun, and before long we found a place to camp under a large cottonwood tree near the creek. First day out we totaled 22.4 miles with 1,876′ of elevation gain.
We ate burritos as the sun set. I had forgotten my spoon so I carved a simple spatula to eat with. As we were getting ready for bed a cool breeze lifted and would blow all through the night. We didn’t pitch a tent, electing to sleep out under the stars, my preferred method of sleeping out, provided there are no bugs or weather.
The next morning we were off by 8 am after a fairly leisurely morning of oatmeal loaded with dried fruit and brown sugar. The jeep trail up Kane Creek immediately got more technical, with rocky sections, short steep climbs, then lots of water crossings.
You don’t expect much water in the desert, but this early in the season, we had plenty, and it was cool and shady down in the canyon. We probably crossed the creek more than 30 times. At times the creek bed was the trail and we were glad for fat tires which handled the rocks with aplomb. All the in and out of water and sand created some crunchy, grinding riding. Our brakes and gears sounded terrible. Near Muleshoe Canyon we stopped for a lengthy break to filter water. We knew that once we left Kane Creek there would not be any water until Moab. We spent a bit over an hour filtering water and filling all our bottles in anticipation of some hot, dry riding. Bullet had rigged a one gallon water bag on the side of Harrison’s rear rack. We had a combination of bike bottles, Platypus bags, and our Camelback bladders.
Just before we hit the highway at the end of Kane Creek, a loud ticking sound from my rear brake brought me to a stop. Careful investigation revealed that a small pebble or sand grit or something had bent a small piece of metal so that it was rubbing heavily on my rear brake rotor. With a pair of pliers from my Leatherman tool, we tried to rip out the piece of metal, but in the end just bent it back out of the way. That stopped the clicking and rubbing, but left me with very soft rear brakes to the point that they were not very effective, but it was better than the brakes dragging. We had 3.5 miles of highway to connect our two trails. We stopped at the very nice rest stop to wash the salt and grit off our faces, and top off our bottles. By now it was pretty hot, in the upper 80’s to low 90’s.
We turned off onto the road to Pritchett Canyon and the Behind the Rocks area. It was a wide sandy road the descended for a couple miles then rolled along across a wide plateau. At one point we were not paying very close attention and took a wrong turn, and three miles later we ended up at a dead end at the top of a bluff, with cliffs on three sides. Nice views, but added some unnecessary miles. Back on track we headed north past Prostitute Butte and Picture Frame Arch eventually climbing up a small canyon and onto a higher plateau.
More miles across this plateau before a very rough, chunky, steppy descent down into a pretty valley where we crossed the Hunter Canyon trail and Pritchett Arch. By this time it was getting late and we did not want to attempt the technical Pritchett Canyon at the end of a long day.
We camped just around the corner from Prtichett Arch in a sandy wash just a few dozen yards off the road behind some junipers. It was a long day, nearly ten hours since we left our camp in Kane Creek Canyon. We covered 32.4 miles with 2,809′ of elevation gain. We were hot, tired, and gritty. My hand carved spoon from the night before, bounced out of the pocket where I had stashed it on my handlebar bag, so I got to work carving a new one for dinner. We had a coucous curry and hummus concoction that tasted much better than it looked. Again we slept out under the stars. But it was a very warm night and we got eaten alive by sand flies. Lesson learned: bring a net tent into the desert next time.
We had a leisurely morning knowing it was our last and that we only had a few miles to go. No need to rush the day. After a short climb we topped out at the head of Pritchett Canyon and the first of several technical sections. This is a very popular canyon for 4 wheelers. It is amazing that jeeps can crawl up this canyon as the obstacles were impressive with massive drops, steep slickrock, and very chunky rocky sections.
We did run into a group of 8-10 jeeps coaching each other up an obstacle called Rocker Knocker, a series of big steps. There are about six or seven steep technical sections, that we mostly walked down. Harrison did ride some of them, but slowly and cautiously.
Between the obstacles the riding was great, smooth, flowy, and fast at times. Once past all the obstacles it was a pleasant ride out of the canyon and back to the road. We were back at the house in Moab by lunchtime. Mileage for the last day was 11 miles with 566′ of elevation gain.
And finally, here is an nice video Bullet made:
The scenery on this loop was spectacular to put it mild. The photos certainly don’t do it justice. The terrain varied from smooth graded dirt roads to deep sand, lengthy rock gardens, and chunky technical sections, both up and downhill. The weather was a bit on the warm side, but we can’t complain, we were able to carry plenty of water and stay hydrated. It was a great ride through some incredible canyons and plateaus. Thanks to Joe for planning the route. I will say that it was pretty technical, especially on rigid bikes loaded with camping gear. Check out what Utahmountainbiking.com has to say about it.
Also, check out this excellent resource on bike packing routes, and this one in particular.
We were really glad to be on fatbikes as they were ideal for all the sand, and water crossings which included lots of big rocky sections. Crawling through rock gardens on skinny tires would not have been much fun.
The Spring season in the desert is just about gone as the temps are getting pretty high down there. There may be time to squeeze in one more short trip in May, then we have to wait until Fall when the temps cool off.