Utah--Blue Notch/Red Canyon Linkup

Discussion in 'The Rockies – It's all downhill from here...' started by TNC, May 19, 2014.

  1. TNC

    TNC Candyass Camper

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    I've read several stories on the site about connecting Red Canyon and Blue Notch when Lake Powell is low. On a couple of prior trips I've poked around from the Red Canyon side looking for this connector during low water. I had never been able to find it. This year's trip involved a lot more research on paper maps and Google Maps to study possible routes. I also read a couple of trip stories on the issue.

    To start with, understand that I'm not a GPS guru. I have a nice Oregon 450T, but I don't run it real time, or run it on the handlebar, or know how to do tracks or such from someone else's files. And oddly...I'm not sure I really want to. I'm old school in my approach and in my living years on these types of adventures. I definitely use a GPS to insure my location and attempt to select the best routes, but I only use it in an attempt not to get totally lost and to work my way toward my possible destination. I usually ride by myself on such trips, so the SPOT and GPS are wise investments. I don't know...I've had some of my best adventures and discoveries with this approach. I'm sure the GPS wizards are wincing in pain at this moment.:lol3

    Anyway, back to the Blue Notch/Red Canyon issue. With the lake at a super low level, during the last two weeks I did the Blue Notch route in an attempt to find this connector. I was camped at Gravel Crossing/Jacob's Chair area on hwy 95 south of Hite. I've ridden or tried riding just about everything in this area from Blanding to Hanksville off hwy 95. On one day I rode down to Lake Powell via Blue Notch and poked all around that area looking for a Red Canyon connector. I think I found the usually described trail by staying to every left turn route I encountered. I found a sketchy, winding, off camber trail heading mainly south from the lake area. I later met a couple on a pair of ATVs who tried this route the same day, but a couple of narrow, off camber crux points put them off...understandably so. A jeep could not have made this route at this time...I don't think.

    So, I work my way around this crux point and this 1/4 mile section turned into a quite decent 2-track road/trail. There were no challenges until I came to a narrow, rutted, steep uphill. It wasn't that difficult, but if you slid off to the left, one rider would probably not be able to recover his bike. After this point it was a matter of working my way more to the west on old, faint 2-track and running in and out of dry stream beds. I knew I'd made a workable connector when I came across Rainbow Canyon. I'd hit this spot in the past coming from the Red Canyon side. You know you're there in Rainbow Canyon because it's clearly painted on a short canyon wall...along with what appear to be cattle brands with an "R" also painted along a couple of the other canyon walls...guessing there was some kind of cattle grazing operation in this area in the past.

    I'm hardly the first person to find a route from Blue Notch to Red Canyon, but it was what I found out on the way back to Blue Notch that got my attention. I didn't want to make the traditional Red Canyon loop, as it is a long route back to where I was camped...and kind of boring if you've done it in the past. Great scenery, but basically riding dirt roads and pavement for a long distance via either Radium King Road or going the entire Red Canyon Road to the pavement at hwy 276.

    So, going back the way I came toward Blue Notch, I notice a faint but occasionally used route off the 2-track as I neared that sketchy connector trail from the lake. I checked out this route which was narrow/semi-steep and rutted but passable by bike and ATV. I saw somewhat recent dirt bike knobby tracks. At the top of this short climb I came to an intersection. To the left it took me back to the lake on a decent gravel 2-track that bypassed that sketchy, off camber trail I mentioned at the first of this post. To the right is where I got a bigger surprise. In just 2 or 3 miles I came to a small 2-track that dropped down to the Blue Notch road. The interesting thing was that this route keeps you completely above water line even when the lake is full. However, as I pulled out on to Blue Notch Road, I notice a bright orange, Glen Canyon Rec floppy post facing Blue Notch indicating that this route is closed to motor vehicles. There are also 3 or 4 big rocks placed across this entry to this trail, but what appears to be an intentional gap that would allow a dirt bike and under-50" ATV to pass. I can't see any reason for this blockage, as it is more environmentally acceptable than a bunch of motor vehicles poking around in the below-water-level area in the currently dry lake area. This blocked route takes you over an old, established trail that keeps you above water line. Without use it appears that this route will erode away with rain and weather to a hugely rutted, unusable route. It seems a shame, and I see little logic as to why it's blocked. Is there just some reason that the BLM or Natl Rec division wouldn't want people making a decent link between Blue Notch and Red Canyon? Have any of you here seen this blocked route or make sense out of the route I described here?

    On a similar note, later in the week I poked around from the Red Canyon side and ran into a San Juan County employee in a pickup who was loading up an ATV. He was an older gentleman who said he was in charge of maintenance of the secondary motorized trails or "D" roads as he described them. I could tell from his tracks that he had done a couple of the nastier routes off Red Canyon Road toward the lake. He told me that they weren't sure they had enough money in the budget to keep some of these secondary roads open. About 3 days prior to this there had been a strong, rainy day and night. Fresh erosion damage was fairly evident in quite a few places. It's sad to see so many of these neat, remote trails possibly disappearing.

    Oh, and RideFreak...this guy was also in charge of Paiute Pass. Like he described, I found the westerly side of Paiute pretty much impassable by mere mortals at the moment...terrible erosion and washout. The easterly side is/was passable from the Gravel and Soldier Crossing area off hwy 95. Rain has been playing heck with many of these trails.

    And sorry...I don't have a pic hosting setup, or I'd show some of the pics.
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  2. Tha Rick

    Tha Rick Shake and bake!

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    Howdy TNC !

    I've heard of some guy's who did that section. It's possible with a dead reckonin', a taste for adventure and a real soft rock for sleeping purposes. I'll post up when I know more and have a bit of time.
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  3. TNC

    TNC Candyass Camper

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    LOL!...I'm glad I didn't have to sleep on any rocks.:lol3

    You know me a bit...I have to be somewhat careful in my advanced years and riding alone. I had a pucker factor or two in a few of these places, but I kept my horns pulled in fairly conservatively. It was more of an issue of stumbling around in a couple of those dry stream beds, but keeping an eye on landmarks and using my GPS I was able to keep my bearings. This is where I do rely on the GPS to read the terrain I can't see as I try to work my way over to a specific point. Oddly, I didn't encounter any death-defying points on my course, but it kind of looked like there may be more than one reasonable way through this area to make the connection. I did encounter about 3 major "appearing" routes that just petered out to nothing. And the one major point where I was able to hit Rainbow Canyon, there was no apparent trail off of Red Canyon, but my GPS showed a clear path which I stumbled and bumbled on to make my best connection. It was kind of fun.:D
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  4. NMTrailboss

    NMTrailboss Team Dead End

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    :lurk
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  5. _Jacket_

    _Jacket_ Adventurer

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    I was down at Blue Notch 3-4 years ago and we did the loop from Blue Notch to Red Canyon and then up and over Piute Pass back to the highway. Two Land Cruisers, a KTM and a BMW. From memory, a lot of what you describe about the route sounds familiar, although I'm curious if you made it all the way down to the canyon bottom? I remember a fairly steep cut bank at the bottom of the two track where it drops into the canyon. It was super sketchy to drop down into the river bottom, but I would bet it would be nearly impossible to ride a bike back up. Did you ride that back up, or is there a different way to get out of the canyon and up on the cliffs heading to BLue Notch?

    I'm not surprised to hear that parts of Piute Pass are impassible now. It was pretty loose and washed out on the west side when we did the route, and the other ascent over the Chocolate Drops (just after you leave red canyon) was pretty bad as well. Holes in the road, narrow washed out corners, and crumbling road banks... I wouldn't want to do it alone.

    As far as the closed section you are referencing - I'm pretty sure that was open when we were there. It sounds like the split in the road near a large hill where you can stay right and continue to the lake, or turn left and navigate a side road that will continue to the Red canyon two track. No idea why it would be closed unless they want to keep the traffic contained on the "main road" and in the sections that will get washed away when the waters rise?
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  6. Tha Rick

    Tha Rick Shake and bake!

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    On a similar note, later in the week I poked around from the Red Canyon side and ran into a San Juan County employee in a pickup who was loading up an ATV. He was an older gentleman who said he was in charge of maintenance of the secondary motorized trails or "D" roads as he described them. I could tell from his tracks that he had done a couple of the nastier routes off Red Canyon Road toward the lake. He told me that they weren't sure they had enough money in the budget to keep some of these secondary roads open. About 3 days prior to this there had been a strong, rainy day and night. Fresh erosion damage was fairly evident in quite a few places. It's sad to see so many of these neat, remote trails possibly disappearing.

    That which is navigable by fact is navigable by law,,or something of the like.

    I don't recall the tough times by the folks that did it-there may have been a bit of finding trail other than cow trail, but it was pretty discernable, kinda like the folks who still ride the "old Thompson trail".

    It sounds like a Landcruiser or two has made the trail, so knowing your abilities, it should be doable...after all you're the kind of guy who put's the "venture" in adventure!

    edit: I don't see how a 'cruiser or otherwise could have retraced the tracks I've heard of, as the tracks were mostly cow trail. Even a quad is doubtful, but they may have taken a different line.
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  7. TNC

    TNC Candyass Camper

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    Yeah, sounds like we're talking about the same 2-track that is now blocked on that one route on Blue Notch road. On your description of the route into Red Canyon, that sounds like a different route than what I did. The route I took wasn't as severe, and that kind of surprised me from most of the stories I'd seen. The way I went you stay a fair distance away from the western walls of Red Canyon and are always out of the potential lake/water course. This route seems to stay further east of the actual streambed of Red Canyon until you get closer to Rainbow Canyon. Did you see the Rainbow Canyon spot that had the name painted on the canyon wall? I dropped into the main streambed near there coming in from the east. I'm thinking the more common route keeps you in the Red Canyon streambed for a longer period as you near the lake.

    My route turns left off of Blue Notch well before you get to the lake and then stays well east of the Red Canyon streambed for a long time. It just seems to be harder route finding as you eventually work your way toward the Red Canyon streambed to hit the more established Red Canyon road, but the actual route and obstacles weren't particularly challenging. When I hit the streambed that had Rainbow Canyon, I knew where I was and was able to find old 2-track to take me toward the established Red Canyon road. I didn't encounter any extreme cutbanks or such. Because of the heavy rain 2 or 3 days before, I did have to dodge various muddy areas in the streambeds that I'm sure would have sucked my KLX up to the hubs quickly.
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  8. NMTrailboss

    NMTrailboss Team Dead End

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    This thread is useless without pics!

    :D
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  9. TNC

    TNC Candyass Camper

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    I'm a complete luddite on the pic hosting deal. I used to post lots of pics when we could link them from your own computer. I even signed up for the pic hosting service offered by this site but got frustrated after numerous attempts at posting. I love technology, but it usually involves more about what makes our machines go instead of the electronics and doo-dads that record the event later.:lol3

    Friends have tried to get me to get a Go Pro or such to record some of the riding on these trips so that they could see some of it. I just tell them to get a bike and come with me.:lol3
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  10. NMTrailboss

    NMTrailboss Team Dead End

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    I hear 'ya! :lol3

    This is an area I've been wanting to explore and have been talking about with Freak. Looks like a remote but very interesting area with much beauty. Have to get out there soon. Great stuff! :thumb
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  11. TNC

    TNC Candyass Camper

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    I tell ya...in that circle from Blanding, Bluff, Hite, and Hanksville, there's a life time of riding and exploring to be had.
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  12. NMTrailboss

    NMTrailboss Team Dead End

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    I believe it. I've spent hours just studying the maps and GoogleEarth of that area!
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  13. RideFreak

    RideFreak Torque Junkie

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    I'm going to try and check that area out in sept, figuring on a couple days, one to revisit the dollhouse, possibly the maze, the other to head down past Fry canyon and ride the Paiute Pass area. I haven't had much time to do those kinds of rides this year :cry
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  14. wbbnm

    wbbnm Long timer

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    We've been riding out there for a week. We had Blue Notch/Red Canyon as an option but went on to a different way to Wooden Shoe instead.

    We did Snow Flat road out of Bluff and loved it, esp thw slick rock ledgy section in the middle.

    Sorry to hear the east (hiway?) side of Piute is still impassable. We had heard that last fall.

    We will be riding the north rim of the Grand Canyon today. Did Toroweap yesterday.
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  15. TNC

    TNC Candyass Camper

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    Yeah, I did Snow Flat a couple of weeks ago. I'd ridden it before, and it's great scenery. On the Wooden Shoe route, have you done the Found Mesa route between Soldier's Crossing on 95 to Wooden Shoe? I did that one this trip, and it was a fun route...especially the part closer to Wooden Shoe. Did you see that complex of microwave recievers and solar panels at the high point of Wooden Shoe? I was able to get great cell phone coverage when I stopped near it.:lol3
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  16. RideFreak

    RideFreak Torque Junkie

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    Snowflats Road is a great ride.

    [​IMG]
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  17. wbbnm

    wbbnm Long timer

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    I'm not sure what things are called out there. This time we took a road from 95 up to Woodenshoe that takes off a few hundred yards past the road up to the Bears Ears on the road to Natural Bridges. I think it is the Deer Flat road.

    It was a nice fun road. We did go past the microwave stuff on WoodenShoe.

    After this and Snow Flats we were pretty tired when we got to Hite. We had planned to ride up to the Dirty Devil and see if we could cross it. We were prepared to turn back if not. But we decided to just head up the highway to Hanksville. We did do a small dirt diversion over to the Little Egypt geological formation.

    There was a dirt road north, but it was an ATV trail and given our past experience with ATV trails in the area we decided to forego it.

    Had a great ride over the Henry's to Notam-Bullfrog and the Burr Trail the next day.
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  18. TNC

    TNC Candyass Camper

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    Good Lord, wb...your description here is a 3-day ride event for me...LOL!:lol3

    Yeah, I rode that Deer Flat road for the first time this year...nothing challenging, but the scenery off that road on the way up and when you go out to that point that overlooks NBNM and hwy 95 was awesome. I did encounter some fairly rough stuff out on the end of Deer Flat toward 95, but otherwise it was just a fun, scenic ride.

    I used to do those 150-200 mile days making huge loops in the past, but I've gotten to where I like to set up a base camp and do shorter runs each day. I get to poke around a lot more, see more, and even find some new routes like that Blue Notch/Red Canyon route I mentioned. I get to stop and smell the roses a bit more...so to speak...or was that cactus flowers?:lol3
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  19. wbbnm

    wbbnm Long timer

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    We don't like to camp and really want to stay in motels and eat in restaurants. This makes for some long days travelling in the west. Not a lot of roses get smelled most days.

    But some of the guys do manage to down a couple of beers each during the course of the day on breaks.

    On this trip we actually had a couple of 300 mile days and one 270.

    I think in the future I will try to scale this back some. We are getting too old for the long days.
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  20. AKASY

    AKASY Noob

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    Sorry we didn't cross paths while we were up there. WBBNM had us on a great ride schedule--something like 2300 miles in 10 days :lol3
    I think he has the best southwestern loop that I have ever ridden:clap
    #20