I’ll bet it isn’t the Mokee Dugway in Utah
In Australia, the word ‘gun’ more often describes a highly skilful shearer – or by extension anyone who’s skilful – than a pistol. So you’ll understand when I say that I’m no gun when it comes to dirt riding. I can usually hold my own, but that’s as far as it goes. If you’ve read anything about the Mokee Dugway, you will therefore probably understand that I was a little apprehensive when we decided to tackle it on our Harley Road Kings and assorted BMWs.
“Road closures can be frequent, so check conditions before traveling to this area,” said one reference. “During and after a storm the road may be impassable, even with a four-wheel-drive vehicle and can easily get muddy if it rains making it challenging to get through… It is very important to check rainfall in this area before setting off and make sure you are well prepared for the trip,” said another.
To top it off, we were advised that “if road conditions result in an accident, you may be able to pursue a personal injury claim against the state or municipality.” Seriously? We’re being told that we can sue someone if we come to grief on three miles of gravel road? Before we even get there? What on Earth can it be like?
To make sure we were well prepared, we had a cup of coffee at the San Juan Trading Post in Mexican Hat before setting off for this paragon of danger just to the north. I even had a double shot espresso.
Named for the 18th Century Spanish term for the Pueblo Native Americans, moqui, the dugway – essentially meaning a dozer cut road – is part of Utah Route 261, which is sealed except for the three miles of the dugway. It is a graded gravel switchback road carved into the face of the cliff edge. Its well laid-out switchbacks reach an 11% grade over the 1,200 feet from the valley floor near the Valley of the Gods to the top of Cedar Mesa. It was constructed in 1958 to provide a way to haul ore from the Happy Jack Mine on Cedar Mesa to the mill in Halchita, near Mexican Hat.
The surface is gravel and sand, well compacted and carefully semi-sealed in the corners. I think I can safely say that none of us slowed down particularly when we left the tarred road for the gravel. The dugway could, in fact, serve as an example of the ideal gravel road.
This was all a bit of a disappointment. Neither of the pillions reported feeling that “if you’re the passenger, sitting on the edge and your driver is enjoying the view… Well, it can be more of thrill ride!”
Maybe you have to be in a car to feel threatened by this road. For me, the double shot espresso was probably more of a danger than the dugway. But don’t let me put you off; it’s fun, and “this road is usually open all year, but it can be closed anytime when the access is not cleared of snow. This route provides breathtaking views of some of Utah’s most beautiful sites. Scenic views of Valley of the Gods and distant Monument Valley open at every turn of the dugway,” as a more cheerful description points out.
And if you do crash, unlikely as this may seem, remember that you can always sue! “You can get more information by visiting https://getinjuryanswers.com,” says the helpful article I quoted above. Or you might just like to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and ride on. Your call, I guess.
Writing this has reminded me of probably the most terrifying stretch of road I have ever ridden. It was on the way up to Srinagar in Kashmir, and it wasn’t a cliffside road. It was a one-way tunnel, potholed in the usual Indian way. The effect of the poor road surface was made worse by the almost non-existent lighting; there was what seemed like a 25 Watt bulb every fifty metres or so. I was on a Honda XL250, and if you know these otherwise delightful bikes you will know that the headlight is approximately equivalent to a Bic cigarette lighter at five paces.
The experience was made worse by the knowledge that I would be returning this way after my visit to Kashmir.
So let’s hear about the most terrifying bit of road/track you’ve ridden. Will you be able to beat that Himalayan tunnel? And are you – a gun?