Hole in the Rock

Recognized on the National Register of Historic Places, the Hole in the Rock trail is an old Mormon trail in Utah that was used to establish colonies on the east side of the Colorado River in 1879. The Hole in the Rock from which the trail is named, is a narrow canyon from the rim of the canyon down into the Colorado River Valley. This canyon provided access to the Colorado River and the much needed water require to survive in these remote locations. Months were spent widening the narrow canyon to allow “safe” passage of all the wagons and cattle.

Hole in the wall trail in Escalante, Utah
Hole in the wall trail in Escalante, Utah

The original trail was bisected when the Glen Canyon damn bottled the Colorado River and started to fill up Lake Powell in 1966. However, thE road continues to exist and allows access to the Escalante Canyon system, along with access to the Devils Garden, numerous slot canyons and lots of back country hiking and camping opportunities.

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Cathedral Valley

Located in Capital Reef National Park, the Cathedral Valley District of Capitol Reef National Park is open all year and the perfect spot for the back county explorer seeking to get away from it all.

Temple of the Sun, located on Cathedral Valley Trail in Capital Reef National Park, Utah
Temple of the Sun, located on Cathedral Valley Trail in Capital Reef National Park, Utah

Vehicles with high ground clearance are recommended and should have no issues navigating the sandy roads. Road conditions can vary greatly depending on recent weather conditions with spring and summer rains leaving the route muddy and impassable.  The advantage of this location is the back country travel is light, so for the person seeking seclusion, this is the secluded area in a remote location.

The 60 miles loop trail leaves highway 24 at the River Ford which is about 12 miles easy of the visitor center.  The route follows Hartnet Road to the Cathedral Road ( Caineville Wash Road) and returns to Highway 24 near Caineville.  The river crossing is passable most of the time, however care should be taken during the rainy months.

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Shafer Trail

An old cattle trail, the Shafer trail which will test your nerve, as you descend down into the canyons of Canyonlands National Park.  This trail by any sense of 4×4 measure is simple.  It is for more a challenge of nerve over machine.  

Mesa Light taken from the White Rim Trail and Lathrop Canyon Road. Photograph by James L Rathbun
Mesa Light taken from the White Rim Trail and Lathrop Canyon Road. Photograph by James L Rathbun

This is a short, steep and windy trail from the top of Canyonlands National park down towards the White Rim Trail and beyond.  There is no technical challenge on this road at all, but it is the type of trail that will make even the most hardcore traveler smile. There are tight switchbacks as you quickly join up with the Colorado River. Steep cliff faces, extreme drops and amazing views are your reward.  Enjoy, and be sure to take your time.

The trail starts near the visitors center of Canyonlands National monument, winds down through the Shafer switchbacks. Once you reach the bottom, you can go left and follow the Colorado River into highway 279 into Moab. A right turn will take you to the White Rim Trail.  When you get near the potash plant, you may be rerouted onto Potash Road. Simply follow it around the plant to rejoin the Shafer Trail.

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Valley of the Gods

Valley of the Gods is a beautiful sandstone valley and located in the South East corner of Utah near Mexican Hat. alley of the Gods is the lesser known northern extension of Monument Valley and is frequently confused with Monument Valley. The valley is carved out from a layer of eroded sandstone, and features two large table top mesa with are long and narrow in shape. These mesas appear like ship sails again a sea of clear blue skies.  

The seventeen mile trail loops north from highway 163 and then travels back the the south west to connect to highway 261 and recommended for high clearance vehicles.

Valley of the Gods, Utah
Large format photograph take in Valley of the Gods, Utah provided by James L Rathbun

Down towards to the of the valley, two beautiful spires reminded me of sailing ships in the desert. The road winds between them to provide for an amazing drive.

Unlike Monument Valley which is controlled by the Navajo Nation, the valley is managed by the Bureau of Land Management and does not contain any services or campgrounds, or tribal restrictions. There are several small camping spots on the loop and when I visited in October the number of people seems to be quite low.

Valley of the Gods trail map

White Rim Trail

The White Rim Trail is Canyonlands National Park is a 100 mile back country 4×4 trail that follows an strata of white lime stone along the edge of Island in the Sky mesa Located in Canyonlands National Park, Utah.  Back country permits are required for this trail, and although it can easily be taken in one day, the wise traveler takes their time and runs the route in several days and nights.  There are several camp grounds offering star gazing opportunities, and the grand vistas and long light in the early morning and late afternoon will inspire the Ansel Adams within you.

Mesa Light taken from the White Rim Trail and Lathrop Canyon Road. Photograph by James L Rathbun
Mesa Light taken from the White Rim Trail and Lathrop Canyon Road. Photograph by James L Rathbun
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