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Old 10-16-2013, 08:42 PM   #1
gregdee OP
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In Search of Muley Point - the HDR version

The back story: doing a little research on this site for information on riding in and around Monument Valley I discovered this place called Muley Point. I was drawn to the name more than anything but I knew I needed to go. I am a bit of an impulsive adventurer and tend to not really plan my rides so much as just follow an idea and let what happens happen.

One weekend last April my riding partner (aka wife) and I headed out to see if we could find Muley Point. We left our home smack dab in the middle of New Mexico bright and early and set out across the desert riding past the familiar land mark of Cabazon Peak west of San Ysidro and then continued west and north eventually making our way to Canyon de Chelly. We spent roughly 30 minutes peering over the cliff edges down into what looks like an amazing place but since that was not the intended destination of this trip we moved on. Definitely need to head back there some day.


We eventually rolled into Kayenta at the south end of Monument Valley and by now it was getting late in the day. Light was getting nice but we also needed to get to Bluff and find our accommodation. It had been a long day in the saddle so we just blew through the valley knowing we’d come back the next day and explore when we had more time.

We settled into our lodging in Bluff and then walked down the street to the steak house, one of two places to grab dinner in town. Dinner was fine but about half an hour after returning to our room I started feeling not-so-good. Shortly, I was tasting the ribs and brisket I had eaten all over again and then spent the next 6 or so doing the toilet dance. Turns out it wasn’t food poisoning but rather a nasty virus I must have picked up earlier in the week. Morning came and the choice was to hang out in the hotel for the day feeling sorry for myself or suck it up and just ride home. We chose the ride home option. The weather was cold, windy, and overcast.



Just what I needed in the state I was in – tired from not sleeping, hungry and weak from not keeping any food down, and thirsty from expelling most of the fluids I had managed to get in me. I dry heaved into my helmet several times throughout the day and managed to catch a nap in the dirt after almost enjoying road 13 over the mountains from Lukachukai to 491 just south of Shiprock.

The nap:


And a glimpse of highway 13 over the Chuska's:


The week before Labor Day we took off for a week long adventure exploring southern Utah once again hoping to get to Muley Point. This time we took a slightly more direct route to Bluff getting into town shortly after 4 p.m., right after they had received over 2 inches of rain in about 20 minutes. The whole town was flooded and the locals were out sand bagging their properties. Steakhouse for dinner once again – no issues this time. Morning came and it was cloudy and overcast. We headed out with plans to do the Valley of the Gods road and then climb the Moki Dugway and on out to Muley Point. Shortly after leaving Bluff the skies opened up and it started to dump heavy rain like it does in the desert during Monsoon season. It pretty much rained off and on the rest of the week forcing us to ride a lot more pavement that week than we had planned, staying off the red dirt as it generally is not ridable when wet. Foiled again. Here’s a view of the Moki Dugway as we approached it that morning.



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Old 10-16-2013, 09:00 PM   #2
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Your off to a good start!! Hope the rest of your trip is great!
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Old 10-16-2013, 09:16 PM   #3
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So last weekend, October 11-13 comes around and I decided it was time for another attack on Muley Point but I would be flying solo this time. I had been over on the picture sub-forum perusing the bikes in HDR thread. The images and ride reports I found from Dave6253 completely pushed me over the edge. I’ve dabbled some in HDR in the past but what I saw there was truly inspiring - I had to go.

So without further ado – my trip report and some experiments in HDR! This first image was taken en route somewhere in Indian Country.


In this case I was just playing with my Photomatix software to get a feel for what could be done. I stole my wife’s bike for the weekend, leaving the big Tiger Explorer at home, as I had no idea what I would be getting into and was slightly more comfortable on her smaller Tiger knowing I could actually pick it up by myself if I needed to. This bike has been in our stable for nearly a year but so far we hadn’t had the chance to bond. I’ll include some comments on my impression of the Tiger 800 XC at the end of this report.

As I approached Bluff I pulled off on one of the dirt side roads and found this cool overlook above the San Juan River. The cottonwoods are just about to change.



I stopped in Bluff to gas up and fill my water jugs. It was getting later in the day and I had intentions of camping right on Muley Point so I was hauling in everything I needed for the night. I turned off on the Valley of the Gods road ala UTBDR route. To my dismay it was a grated gravel road well suiting to passenger cars – not at all what I had been hoping for. But the scenery was stunning.




My timing with the light was impeccable.





I soon finished the Valley of the Gods loop and was on the Moki Dugway, a cool set of switchbacks climbing the side of the mesa right up to the top. I turned left and rode another several miles out to Muley Point. Several other groups were camped there but I found a nice little spot tucked away in the trees and set up my tent. Once camp was setup I headed out and searched for the best vantage point. The view is expansive and one can even make out the peaks in Monument Valley in the distance. But what I thought was really cool was seeing the twists and turns of the Goosenecks in the San Juan River.



Evening set in and I started up a small camp fire as the fire pit at my camp spot came with a few nice pieces of fire wood the previous occupants had left behind. A group nearby started rhythmically taping away on some drums which lent a nice tone to the evenings mood. Mountainhouse Beef Stroganoff for dinner and then I was out light a light.

Morning came and it was cold. I noticed a few photogs hanging about waiting on the sun to peak over the horizon. I set out and snapped a few dozen more shots but nothing really caught my fancy. I ate some oatmeal with trail mix, had a decent cup of coffee, packed up and set out for the next leg of my adventure.

I had noticed vehicles on ridges to the east and west of me so I decided to explore those before leaving the area. I found the road actually dead ended in a cul-de-sac further to my west. Hmmm, perhaps I wasn’t actually at Muley Point? Oh well… plenty of cool camp sites around and each of the points offer good vantage points. Next time I am back there I would probably opt for eastern most point as that area appeared to be less heavily impacted and less crowded. Views of the Goosenecks with Monument Valley in the background looked to be more direct as well.

I then headed north to catch Snow Flats road and take that out to the Comb Ridge and eventually back into Bluff, once again ala UTBDR. Snow Flats road turned out to be a bit technical in spots. Nothing the little Tiger couldn’t handle but being on a full sized adventure bike I would have been a bit nervous. After cruising quite a few miles of mellow dirt road up high the route begins to fall into the desert, unfolding a little more with each turn. The scenery improved dramatically with expansive views of canyon country all around and with the abrupt west face of the Comb Ridge eventually coming into view.
Abundant rains over the past several weeks had turned the desert green and as lush as I have ever seen it.

A shot from a nice camp site I spotted right on the cliff edge.





Would be a sweet spot to spend tomorrow night (a full moon).

Here’s a shot approaching the Comb Ridge from the east.



I love the contrast between the red rocks, red dirt, and desert grasses and other flora. Good to be alive.

From what I have read and heard about the route along the Comb Ridge I was quite concerned about sand but it was a non-issue this day due to recent rains a couple of days earlier. I made my way back to the highway and decided to run back in to Bluff to grab some lunch, gas up, and refill my water jugs. I stopped in the Comb Ridge Coffee shop as it looked inviting enough.

A shot of the store front.


A shot of the front wall bordering the patio area which I would argue was made to look like the Comb Ridge.


A shot of my beverage – a nicely prepared Cappuccino though the cloud of foamed milk on top was, well, like a cloud.


And my Pesto Panini – literally fresh basil, tomatoes, and sharp cheddar. Pretty freakin’ tasty.



At this point it was decision time. Do I go explore John Brown Canyon below Muley Point or do I continue north along the east side of the Comb Ridge and head up toward Bears Ears Pass? I know from reading Dave6253’s report that at some point I would come to an impasse heading out John Brown Canyon so I opted for the unknown.

I once again rolled west out of Bluff and picked up the Butler Wash Road. This road was a joy to ride. Up and down through numerous washes and around plenty of soft sandy twisty turns. I’m guessing this section is about 20 miles between highways 163 and 95. I knew I could take my time, enjoy the sights, and get in a few good photo op's. Here’s one.



After a while I spied a cool looking arch up in the ridge so I took the side road over to check it out. I parked and then hiked a half mile or so up a wash and found this cool ruin hidden in the wall just above this stand of Cottonwoods. Nice score.








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Old 10-16-2013, 09:46 PM   #4
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I eventually reached the end of Butler Wash and decided to continue along the UTBDR route for a bit longer as I still had a couple hours of daylight to play with. I skirted up along a nice ridgeline with views of the Abajo’s to the north. Eventually the route dropped down to the valley, crossed a nasty muddy wash, and then joined the Cottonwood Wash road. This road turned out to be a rather substantial gravel highway with quite a bit of traffic. I spent a little while trying to find a great camp site but I was growing tired and impatient so after wandering down a couple of what turned out to be nasty ATV tracks I finally settled on a nice spot just off the road down amongst the cottonwoods. What really lured me in was the nice pile of cut firewood. I knew it would be cold down on the valley floor with the higher peaks of the Abajo’s just to my north. Once dark set in and I was lounging about the fire I swear a big truck pulling a camper or trailer of some sort blew by every five minutes or so. Must be some good terrain further up that road. Next time I...

A shot of my camp:


Sunday morning came and I got going fairly early. I took the Cottonwood road back out to 95 and then jutted south just a bit to catch the road across the top of Black Mesa. According to my map it looked like I could take 233 across Black Mesa cutting off on 230 through No Mans Land and then out to highway 191. The first bit of the route was fantastic. After a mile or so of gravel road up the cliff side the gravel surface gave way to nice hard packed red dirt. I opened it up and enjoyed a little low level flying.


After a bit the road dropped into a gorgeous green valley but as I climbed out the far side the terrain quickly became much rockier. The views back down into Butler Wash were nice though.


I carried on a bit stopping more often to scout ahead so as to not get myself into too much trouble.


I skirted around one nasty washed out section on a faint double track but then soon found an even worse spot. I managed to get the bike turned around and high tailed it out of there. I found another potential route out toward 191 so I gave that a shot. It started out OK but after descending 1000 feet or so and passing through a dozen or so washed out sections of two track I finally came to a sandy roll-over that was easily 6 feet high. I knew I could get down but wasn’t all that sure I could get back out. I ended up back tracking all the way back out to 95 and pretty much took pavement the rest of the way home. Given a smaller bike and a crew of more than one this route might be doable – at least it would be worth a shot.

Riding the little Tiger 800 XC turned out to be far more enjoyable than I had anticipated. Once I got over the missing 38 bhp I found this bike to be quite comfortable to ride. It will still get up and leave in a hurry, you just have to rev it quite a bit higher than you do on the 1200.

The saddle, which is the Triumph low model, was quite comfortable, especially if one is off-road and standing a fair bit. By the end of the day on Sunday, after spending all afternoon on the pavement, my ass was quite sore but it wouldn't have been feeling much better on any other bike worth taking off road at all.

The wind protection using the MRA X-screen is quite good. I left the spoiler in a high position as I can easily see over it when standing and it provides decent protection while seated. Compared to the Madstad screen I have on the Explorer this one has a fair bit more buffeting but again the protection was ample.

The Tiger 800XC was an easy bike to ride off-road. It sports a Conti Twinduro up front and a Heidenau K60 Scout out back. In the sand I did encounter the front wheel tracked perfectly in all cases. The few stream crossings I encountered were non-issues as well. The only issue I had was crossing a muddy patch - the rear tried to get out in front of me but easing off the throttle cured that one pretty quick. When I got into that hairy terrain on Black Mesa I was glad to have the smaller bike as I am certain to have dropped the big Explorer just trying to get out of a few of those nastier spots.

The suspension is completely inadequate for carrying a full load of camping gear and riding off road. The rear bottomed out on every rain rut I crossed. I had the rear suspension adjusted one click from maxed out so there wasn't much room for improvement. I'm 5'8", 175 lbs. I think I bottomed the front a few times as well. Not sure what is available in terms of suspension upgrades for this bike but that is something I would definitely change if I were to ride this bike regularly.

And finally, I didn't much notice it at the time but I guess I have grown soft riding the Explorer with the electronic throttle for the past year. My right wrist still hurts and I've been off the bike for four full days now.

I shot most of the pictures using a Canon EOS 40D with an EF 16-35 mm LII USM lens for most of my shots. The shot of the Goosenecks was taken using an EF 100 mm macro lens. All of the HDR work was done using Photomatix 4.2.7.

Thanks for reading.
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Old 10-16-2013, 11:21 PM   #5
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Nice pics. Nice post. I read it twice!!
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Old 10-16-2013, 11:52 PM   #6
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Nice report, gregdee! That's my favorite area of the country, by far. I haven't yet explored Butler Wash. If you want to be alone at Muley Point there are smaller tracks that lead off the main road that aren't very difficult and lead to scenic views at the edge also.

Very good work with the HDRs. Especially for just beginning. You know what looks good!
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Old 10-17-2013, 06:29 AM   #7
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Cedar Mesa is one of my favorite areas in Ut. Camp at VOTG all the time as a base.One of these days I'll get to John Brown Canyon. If you look down from Muley point you can see the trail and how close it comes to the edge of some of the goosenecks, looks like a very cool ride. Thanks for sharing.
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Old 10-17-2013, 06:59 AM   #8
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Nice pics and great RR Greg. Glad you finally made it out there, it appears your mojo was a little weak the first couple attempts

Isn't Muley point amazing? That view alone is worth the trip. I've been on all of your route except Black Mesa, doesn't look like I missed much.

Planning on heading back there in the spring, probably ride out of Bluff up Butler Wash to Woodenshoe and head west jumping out on 95 near Fry Canyon, I want to check out Paiute Pass and some of the old mines in that area.

Thanks for sharing.
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Old 10-17-2013, 08:02 AM   #9
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Nice report and pics,I really enjoyed your take on the XC at the end also.

Here in Michigan we don't get anything close to the elevation changes you get,looks amazing!
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Old 10-17-2013, 10:48 AM   #10
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Sweet Ride!!

I love that part of UT and it is on my list. Nice photo looking down into Canyon de Chelly... I have read that at one time, there were around 4,000 peach trees total in the canyons there...I can imagine lying there in tall grass eating fresh peaches....Beauty!!...eventually the tress were cut down by the calvary though..

Thanks for sharing again Greg...and GREAT photos. Your trips are always an inspiration.

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Old 10-17-2013, 05:20 PM   #11
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Thanks for taking us along... nice report & great photo's...
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Old 10-27-2013, 12:52 PM   #12
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I went back....

I took a week off and went back to the area to do some more exploring. Leaving the moto at home and took the truck camper and mountain bike instead. I am far more comfortable exploring questionable terrain solo via this mode of travel and frankly more than a few nights in the tent gets old.

Rather than climbing up the Moki Dugway I went to explore the road below Muley Point. I my previous posts I had incorrectly called this John Brown Canyon but it is John's Canyon road which you can see down below Muley Point. The road goes into John's Canyon, hence the name.

I spent a couple of nights camped below Muley Point with a nice view down into the San Juan river valley.

Here's a couple of the shots that I think turned out OK.


The second one was shot with my EF 70-300 mm DO lens. Yes Brett, I finally found a use for this tank of a lens. It's a heavy piece of glass so I am reluctant to carry it too far but I managed the 50 yards from the truck to the cliff just fine.


And one of Muley Point in profile.


I had several other images that I thought gave a more pleasing profile, at least more of the ridge line leading out to the peak, but the cloud lines didn't line up as well.

One thing I did learn was that when objects in your image are moving (such as clouds) you can get a sharper image by using a single RAW file to get multiple exposures rather than trying to join 3 or more images with slightly shifted detail. Clouds, stars, the moon and the like move a surprising amount over the course of just a few seconds. I knew the effect was a problem from past HDR experiments but I had not thought of using a single RAW file to get me multiple exposures. I read the instructions. What else is one going to do when camped out in the desert alone?

I spent one day exploring further down the road. John's Canyon is fabulous. During the two days I camped out here I met one local retired fella out exploring on his ATV. He was a wealth of information so I couldn't begrudge him his choice of transportation. I ran into an older couple from Durango who had come out to camp and ride their mountain bikes out to John's Canyon. It's probably 5-6 miles of mellow dirt road each way to the entrance of the canyon from where we were camped. Finally, I met another couple also from Durango who were out bike-packing. They were camped up by one of the springs in John's and were out exploring the rock art when I ran into them.

The road splits and a spur travels up into Johns for a mile or so before hitting a Wilderness Study Area boundary. A few prime camp sites can be found up here under the cottonwoods. I found at least three good sources of water that are reportedly reliable. The bike-packing couple told me that in mid- to late- October the cow's are brought in and left for the winter. They poop all over the place and it takes a good bit of summer rains to wash it all out before the place is cleaned out enough to make it nice again. Hitting this area when I did with the cottonwoods in full color was about as good as one could hope for. Here's a crappy panoramic shot from my point-and-shoot:


After passing through John's Canyon the road continues west following the rim of the San Juan for miles. I followed the road to the next smaller canyon past John's but by then it was getting to be well after 3:00 in the afternoon and I wasn't sure how long it would take me to get back. I turned around here:


Once the road makes the turn to begin it's was back out of John's Canyon it becomes substantially more technical. After a couple of miles there is a large rock slide path that continues to dump large rocks and boulders down onto the road. Apparently there is a spring up on the slide path that keeps things lubricated. This is just past where Dave6253 had shown us the nasty section of road where he incurred a bit of carnage during his solo trip into the area. When I passed through the road was clear enough for an ATV or small jeep to get through but anything wider than say a Jeep Cherokee would have a tough time. After this point the road gets very little use. The bike-packers said this was the first time they'd seen tracks on it in several years - the tracks of the ATVer. They visit the area each Fall. According to the older gentlemen on the ATV the road no longer goes all the way through to Slickhorn Canyon, as shown on my Benchmark map, but is blocked a few miles past where I turned around.

The area is full of pictographs and could offer weeks of exploration if one were so inclined. The scenery down into the San Juan river canyon offers endless possibilities to the patient shooter willing to venture out here. I will definitely be back and hope to drag along a couple of photog buddies who have EOS 6D's which I'm willing to bet would be super flexible shooting wide angle full-frame images at ridiculously high ISO settings. Might just have to get one of those myself.
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Old 10-27-2013, 01:01 PM   #13
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Nice report and pics,I really enjoyed your take on the XC at the end also.

Here in Michigan we don't get anything close to the elevation changes you get,looks amazing!
Yes but you have those things called tree's and I'd be willing to be you get some amazing fall colors. Go shoot 'em!
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Old 10-27-2013, 01:23 PM   #14
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Great RR and pics. Thanks for sharing some wonderful views.
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Old 10-27-2013, 09:39 PM   #15
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Oh how I love John's Canyon! So tell me, did you ride or walk your bicycle down the rock slide?
Have you read any of the history of the area? Very interesting. Here is a short summary: http://www.bluemountainshadows.org/Vol1/violence.PDF
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