Friday, June 28, 2019

SW Colorado & SE Utah - June 2019; Part 4

Part 1 of this trip begins here.

Continued from Part 3

Part 4: North Cottonwood Road; Gooseberry Road; Elk Ridge Road; The Notch; Horse Pasture Trail; Cottonwood Road

Don't forget you can click on any photo to see a larger version.

Friday, June 7th (continued)

One of the (many) confusions of nomenclature I'd had with this whole area was there being a Cottonwood Canyon/Road/Creek on both sides of the mountain. I thought for a while this could be explained as both canyons met at a saddle near this junction, but they don't actually, though both roads do almost meet here. Unrelated to this trip, but on the subject of duplicate place names - there's a Butler Wash between Beef Basin and Canyonlands, and a Butler Wash east of Comb Ridge near Bluff - sigh. (I've rewritten the paragraph several times as my understanding continues to evolve. Let me know if you think I've still got it wrong.)

Stevens Canyon

North Cottonwood Road goes all the way through to Bridger Jack Road with that junction being only about 5 miles south of the highway to Canyonlands Needles District, UT-211. I did not plan to go the whole way, but wanted to get an idea of what it was like. I kept my eyes peeled for possible camping spots and found an interesting one not far from a small, nameless pond about two miles north of Causeway Road. It looked pretty good, but I wanted to look around a bit more before settling in for the evening.

A little pond and interesting sandstone formations.

Looking down the side road, FR-97, that leads to the northern Mormon Pasture

Spherical Panorama above FR-0097 (click the Full-screen icon [ ] for best view:

The road dropped out of the Ponderosa zone quickly, passing a spur leading to the north Mormon Pasture and another to the South Mormon Pasture and an airstrip. Then the road wound along the east rim of Stevens Canyon with steep rock walls. I stopped for photos. The road was narrow and there were no dispersed campsites in the portion of the canyon area I drove.

Standing on the rim of Stevens Canyon looking back at those sandstone formations.

Looking the other direction.

Last view looking north along Stevens Canyon.

I turned around and headed back up. I set up camp in the spot I found earlier. It turned out to be even prettier than I'd initially thought as there was a lovely view north, across the meadow, with some interesting sandstone formations in the distance and a number of old Ponderosa pines with character. The evening was very mild, so I sat in my chair relaxing with the view. And although the wind had abated somewhat, my camp was nicely sheltered by evergreens.

My campsite with a very pleasant view.

Saturday, June 8

My plan for the day would be to drive west to Gooseberry Road, then south. I wanted to revisit The Notch that so impressed us when my friend Dan and I had drive through the year before. (That blog post). I wanted to get aerial views. The sky was clear and wind light, so I wanted to get there before those conditions changed. I thought I'd also visit the Little Notch; the lady at the ranger station mentioned the Hammond Canyon Trail might be a good hike for me. Then I'd return north, perhaps exploring Deadman Point and the Horse Pasture Trail. If I found a better campsite I'd grab it, otherwise I'd return to my nice spot off North Cottonwood Road as it was only a couple of miles from Cottonwood Road where I planned to descend toward civilization the next day.

First thing, I had to figure out what bird that was vocalizing almost constantly around my campsite. I knew I'd heard the song before, but couldn't place it. Some kind of vireo? I spent way too much time trying to get a glimpse and capture a diagnostic photo. Finally. Not a great photo by any means, but clearing showing the field marks of a Plumbeous Vireo. Yeah! I also got photos of bugs and flowers this beautiful morning.

There's the little guy - singing his heart out.

Looking back at my campsite. Can you see it? Look just to the right of the big pine.

A field full of Dandelions.

Time for an eye exam? At first I thought these were eggs some exotic critter had laid on the rock.

Bug love

Gooseberry Road

On the drive back to Causeway Road, which some maps call Lime Creek Road along here, I spotted folks camped about a mile from me, up a small hill. Those were the only other campers I saw all weekend and far enough away from my camp I never heard them.

I turned south on Gooseberry Road which was not in bad condition generally, but did have a number of shallow washouts and mud holes. Most of the side roads off Gooseberry were very muddy and seemingly impassible. I wondered about this, then after seeing those areas where sheets of rock were exposed, I realized the soil was not deep and the rock likely prevented water from percolating down and away.

Duck Lake features actual water this year!

Duck Lake certainly had more water in it than last time I'd seen it.

The Notch

There was one long mud puddle before descending into The Notch. I dropped into 4WD just in case. It was a little squirmy, but not bad. I got there around noon and the weather was mostly cooperating. The Notch is a saddle along Gooseberry Road, or perhaps this section is now Elk Ridge Road (it's hard to keep track as signs are few and maps inconsistent.) On the east side is Notch Canyon, below Notch Peak, with a view toward Abajo Peak. On the west side is an arm of Dark Canyon.

The Notch. Notch Canyon with the Blues in the distance.

Spherical Panorama of The Notch and Dark Canyon (click the Full-screen icon [ ] for best view:

As the road climbed south from The Notch I stopped for this photo of Dark Canyon.

Little Notch

I proceeded south to the Little Notch, which is really a part of the road that overlooks Hammond Canyon with the Abajo Peaks in the background. I took some aerial photos to see the portions of the canyon which are hidden by trees near the road.

Aerial view of the Little Notch, Hammond Canyon, and the Abajos.

Spherical Panorama from above the Little Notch showing the Hammond Canyon complex (click the Full-screen icon [ ] for best view:

Hammond Canyon

The road to the Hammond Canyon Trail is less than a mile north of the Little Notch. The trailhead is only a hundred yards or so east of the main road. I also discovered that there was evidence of people camping at the trailhead, but if you follow the road about 50 feet farther there is a great campsite. This site has a view of Hammond Canyon and the Abajos through the trees. I'll come back here another time.

I parked near the trailhead, gathered my lunch, and set off down the trail. The first section of the trail is a gentle downslope through the trees. It looks like an easy route down into the canyon through a wooded side canyon, no telling how technical it gets farther down. It was a lovely day.

Unfortunately, I didn't get very far before experiencing tachycardia - a symptom of my paroxysmal atrial fibrillation. Mine is not serious, or life threatening, and I am under a doctor's care and taking the appropriate meds. However, it probably is not wise to undertake a vigorous hike during an episode. Fortunately, I was at the part of the trail still on the ridge before it drops into the canyon, and there was a very convenient log in the shade overlooking the canyon and mountain peaks. Excellent.

The gorgeous view from my picnic spot.

I sat myself down to enjoy the spectacular view. Don't remember why I pulled my phone out, but found I had a strong cell connection with LTE data, too. So I thought I'd give my best friend in Austin a call. He happened to be at home with no pressing duties and we had a great chat. During the call my heart returned to normal and I was able to enjoy lunch, the view, and ambled back to my truck.

The Notch Reprise 

I turned back north on Gooseberry or Elk Ridge Road, I guess. I stopped again at The Notch to try to capture the scene with light later in the day - the weather was still cooperating. I also stopped a bit farther north where there is a better view of Dark Canyon, but the sun was too far west for that to be ideal.

Aerial View of Notch Canyon

Dark Canyon as seen from Gooseberry Road

Deadman Point and Horse Pasture Trail

I wanted to look at the Horse Pasture trail I'd learned about at the ranger station, so turned at the sign pointing to Deadman Point. Oh, boy! Lots of mud puddles, some pretty soft, so I stayed in 4WD. After a while I came upon the trailhead and parked. It looked like the trail stayed along the rim for a ways, so thought I'd give it a try (remembering to bring my satellite communicator.) The trail did indeed stay on the rim for about three quarters of a mile crossing small meadows and through Aspen and Ponderosa. I'd been monitoring my heart rate via the hiking app on my watch and all was normal and fine. It was a very nice little hike.

I realize now, that although I was carrying my camera gear, I didn't take any photos along the trail. In part because I kept thinking the trees would thin and I'd get a photo of Dark Canyon, but they never did. I thought I saw a cougar print in the mud; I was going to take a picture on my way back, but couldn't find it again. Oh, well, you will just have to use your imagination. For those interested, the trail dropped into the canyon through a wooded side canyon and at least the first section didn't look technical.

On returning to the truck I decided not to try the road farther out to the point, as poor condition as it had been coming this far. On the way back to Gooseberry I thought I'd try an alternate road back that looked higher and drier. That was almost a very bad decision. Yes, for the most part it was drier, but there was one section about 50' long that was extremely muddy - no puddles, just thick, sloppy mud. I should have stopped and gone back the other way, but instead charged ahead. I made it through, but it was a near thing. I got back to the "main" road and headed back to my campsite of the night before.

North Cottonwood Road

Spherical Panorama from above my campsite (click the Full-screen icon [ ] for best view:

And again a beautiful evening at the head of North Cottonwood Road. I was happy and content with my trip despite (or because of) the change in my original plans. I drank a toast to this beautiful land, and  gave a nod to my friend Dan in California - we'd shared a celebratory whiskey on the last night of our joint trip after several great days in Bears Ears NM last year. [Dan, I bought a small silicone ice tray since our trip. Gotta tell you Jack on the rocks is much more civilized than the lukewarm water we had available ;-) ]

A toast to my lovely campsite.

Sunday, June 9

Cottonwood Canyon

I broke camp with alacrity. It was very chilly and windy this morning. A cold front had blown in strongly from the north overnight and I had no interest in lingering.

I mentioned earlier my confusion between the two Cottonwood Roads/Canyons. (In fact I used to believe that what I now know is actually Elk Mountain Road was Cottonwood Road.) Anyhow after talking with the local I'd met on the Causeway Road on Friday, I hoped I was straightened out. I told him the lady at the ranger station didn't like Cottonwood Road. He was puzzled by that as he said it was "the best maintained road" on the mountain. He said it was the road the county used to bring equipment up to maintain all the other county roads in the area. "The county grades all the roads once a year," he said. This year, however, "it snowed twice after they graded Cottonwood Road" and "the bear hunters tore it all up." I was to see that for myself soon.

He also said "Cottonwood Road has 18 water crossings. Yes, I counted." "One time I drove all the way down, but the last crossing was too deep, so had to drive back up and take another road off the mountain." He embellished that story by recounting a Tundra 4x4 had come through before him and the driver said the water came up to his windshield, but he made it. Tall tale? Maybe, but gave me pause.

So, I started down Cottonwood Canyon with some trepidation. The first several miles were unexceptional Ponderosa forest which gave way to piñon then cottonwood as it descended. Miles and miles of the middle section was the "torn up" part. There were deep trenches (tire ruts) running down the middle of the road. The clay had dried and baked into concrete. It took constant attention to drive between the ruts. As deep as the ruts were, putting a wheel in the trench at any speed could well break a wheel or axle. I should have taken a photo, but didn't think of it at the time. I also should have taken a photo of at least one of the water crossings, but was too focused on crossing, not sightseeing. Sorry.

And yes, I started counting the water crossings. The water wasn't deep and the stream bottoms were gravel. After crossing several and noting the water wasn't getting appreciably deeper, I was feeling better. Much of the middle section of the road crosses Mountain Ute tribal lands and is posted "Keep Out." There wasn't much in the way of a view the whole way down - perhaps this is what the lady at the ranger station was referring to. Once I got lower down I tried to find a view looking back the way I'd come.

Looking back up Cottonwood Canyon

Wildflowers along the road.

I came to what by my count was water crossing number 17 and OMG! It was many times wider than all the others. They'd been 3 or 4' wide; this was easily 20 feet or so. It looked deep. Perhaps I should have stopped taken off my boots and checked just how deep, but I guess I thought "what the hell", dropped into 4WD and went for it. There was a moment of "Did I just make a big mistake?" in the middle. (Did you ever see that movie Dante's Peak? Remember the scene where our hero volcanologist and the beautiful town mayor have to drive across the river to try and rescue her kids from the erupting volcano? There was an underwater camera showing the the tires trying to get traction in the rocks on the river bottom. This wasn't that deep, but I heard that same sound of river rocks shifting under my tires.) All I could do at that point was to keep my foot down and power on through. My trusty Tacoma made it!

Nearing the southern end  of Cottonwood Road.

Soon after that Cottonwood Road joined Elk Mountain Road, which is wide and gravel. There was one more water crossing (number 18) before meeting up with the highway west of Blanding.

Looking to the northwest from Elk Mountain Road


I drove into Bluff to have lunch at Twin Rocks Cafe at the east edge of town. I had "Bluff's Best Breakfast Burrito." It was huge and delicious. There must have been at least four large scrambled eggs inside, plus all the goodies such as onions and peppers with green chile sauce on top. I had to box up the last half to bring home.


For those following along, I found the last leg of the route that would allow me to by-pass Shiprock, Farmington, Bloomfield, and all the awful traffic between. I'd previously established the route that by-passes half of Farmington and Bloomfield. This new section of road is BIA-36 which runs from US-491 south of Shiprock to NM-391 south of Farmington. It is a good quality asphalt highway passing through the Navajo Reservation. There are no services along here, so if you need gas or want a large Slurpee, then stay on US-64. There were native vendors on 371 between 36 and the rest of the by-pass. I almost drove by, but when I saw the hand-painted sign "Roasted Corn" I pulled over. It was sweet and yummy!

As I mentioned previously, to complete the by-pass, go south on NM-371 to NM-302, a.k.a., County 7100, then at the stop sign turn left on 7010 which goes all the way to US-550. It sounds more complicated than it is. If you're contemplating the route to miss all that miserable traffic on 64, check a map to get yourself oriented.

And Home

Thanks for reading along. I hope you enjoyed the trip.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

SW Colorado & SE Utah - June 2019; Part 3

Continued from Part 2

Part 3: Abajo Mountains

Thursday, June 6th (continued)

Don't forget to click on any photo to see a larger version.


I filled the gas tank in Monticello and headed west, up FR-49/County B-10. I'd disperse camped up there on my first trip west that began with the Overland Expo. I drove through the Dalton Springs and Buckboard campgrounds mostly out of curiosity; they were typical, nice forest campgrounds. I'd thought about trying FR-0079 to look for camping opportunities, but the gate was locked. This is part of the cross mountain loop, so that shouldn't have been surprising.

Abajo Mountains - The Blues

The Abajo Mountains, known locally as the Blue Mountains or The Blues have at their highest point Abajo Peak at 11,360 feet.

Flowers on the northern flanks of the mountains.

I thought this was interesting.

View from Hart's Draw/Canyonlands Overlook

I quickly found the spot where I'd camped before - it still looked nice. I had by-passed the larger dispersed camping area near there as last time if was full of RVs and 5th-wheels. I thought I'd explore around, as there were still hours of daylight, both to see if I could find a better spot and to see the area. I checked out Monticello Lake. I drove a ways on FR-5419 to the north; it was a pretty area of wildflowers and scrub. I drove SW up FR-0100 to Spring Lake, not much more than a pond. A father was taking his two boys fishing when I drove by; the family was camped nearby. I asked if there were actually fish in the lake and he assured me that there were.

My campsite

I returned to my old campsite, set up, and enjoyed the view off to the north - La Sal Mountains, Moab Valley, and canyonlands.

Friday, June 7

Abajo Mountains, continued

A few photos and a flight before breaking camp.

Aerial view toward the north from above my campsite.
Canyonlands, Monticello Lake, and the La Sals.

Spherical Panorama from above my campsite (click the Full-screen icon [ ] for best view:

Monticello Ranger Station

After breaking camp, I drove back down to Monticello and found the USFS Ranger Station. I needed to come up with a new plan. One of the problems with many backcountry maps, as you might know, is that there is no real way to determine which roads are good for any vehicle, which require high-clearance and/or 4WD, and which should be avoided unless you're in an ATV or some such. This is not unique to the Manti-La Sal NFS map I'd been looking at, but made planning problematic without some local knowledge.

I spoke at length to the nice lady at the desk to try and find good places to explore. She confirmed the Cross Mountain Road was closed. She asked if I'd ever driven Causeway Road - I had not even heard of it. She said it was very scenic and in good condition. We also talked about opportunities for short day hikes and camping. OK, cool, I had a rough plan for the rest of the trip.


I would access Causeway Road from Blanding. The turn-off is actually just before town (look for Dry Wash Forest Access), but I drove on in to top off my gas tank. I took N. Blue Mountain Road, a.k.a., Johnson Creek Road, out of Blanding, which continues as FR-0095, County 226. I was cautioned there would be a prescribed burn on this road, but it would clear by the time I reached Dry Wash Reservoir and Nizhoni Campground.

A view of The Blues and smoke from the prescribed burn north of Blanding.

Another lake/mountain photo - Dry Wash Reservoir

Out of curiosity I drove through the campground, which is accessed from FR-0079; it was nice enough, but nothing special.

Causeway Road

Phlox were blooming everywhere.

At the junction with 79, the Cross Mountain Road, FR-95 becomes Causeway Road (though Google seems to incorrectly call it Gooseberry; one of many nomenclature errors they have in these mountains.) The road is indeed scenic with grand views off to the south as it follows the contours of the mountains. It was unfortunate that there were both high clouds and haze from the prescribed burn, this resulted in less than ideal conditions for photography. The wind was picking up and was forecast to get very gusty through the day. The wind would help blow the smoke away, at least. I kept sending my pleas to the weather gods to bring blue skies.

Sandstone along Dry Wash

This small patch of Chiming Bells was hidden in a shaded corner of the wash.

I pulled off at Dry Wash and drove a short ways up a jeep trail. I found a place to park off the road/trail, not that I expected anyone to come by, and walked farther up the little canyon. There were interesting rock cliffs, wildflowers, and a little creek running down the middle. I had a very nice hike about a mile up to where they'd created a small diversion dam to keep the creek in its bed rather than running down the road.

Canyon wall from where I turned around.

I returned to my truck and continued along Causeway Road, wondering about the name. I stopped briefly along the road and walked a trail that I was sure would lead to a scenic overlook. I was wrong. It seemed to simply follow a ridge line and I turned around before finding any view at all.

Returning along the trail that lead nowhere.

View from the road across to the Bear's Ears.

I walked up the road about 30' from where I had parked and got a partial obscured view to photograph. Later I stopped at another creek to take pictures of the cascade.

A view showing Bayles Ranch

A seasonal creek beside the road.

I had been noticing a truck with travel trailer, facing toward me, stopped at the outside of a curve at a high point along the road. As I'd seen no one for many miles I pulled up next to them and asked "enjoying the view?" "Having lunch," was the reply. Turns out it was a retired couple from Old La Sal - essentially locals - who had been coming up to the Blue Mountains, as they styled them, for many years. He was pulling an Arctic Fox travel trailer behind his pickup. We chatted for about 15 minutes, then I pulled behind them to have my own lunch.

I no sooner stopped before realizing I wanted to ask them about the farm or ranch I'd seen down in the canyon on the way up. "That's the Bayles Ranch" he said. We spent another 15 or 20 minutes talking, me asking questions about the area, and them volunteering suggestions and cautions (such as not driving off road onto the hardpan that looked solid, but was deep mud underneath). Very helpful and entertaining. I went back to my truck to have lunch and they headed back down the road.

Another view from this scenic road.

And another view.
The gentleman had explained why it was called Causeway Road, and that I'd soon come to The Causeway. I read later this stretch is a divide - rain falling on the north side of the causeway drains to Indian Creek and the Colorado; on the south side, drainage is to the San Juan River (though ultimately also to the Colorado).

Looking north from The Causeway

Looking south from The Causeway

Looking back at The Causeway

The Causeway

I tried a couple side roads just to see what was there, but they turned sketchy fairly quickly, so I returned to Causeway and continued on. I stopped at the Maverick Point Overlook. It was a nice view, but mostly a chance for the forest service to pat themselves on the back for their stewardship.

Maverick Point Overlook.

When I came to the junction with North Cottonwood Road, I took it.

Continued in Part 4: Gooseberry/Elk Ridge Roads, The Notch, Hammond Canyon, Horse Pasture Trail

SW Colorado & SE Utah - June 2019; Part 2

Continued from Part 1

Part 2: Buckeye Lake & the La Sal Mountains.

Don't forget you can click on any photo to open a larger version.

Tuesday, June 4th (continued)

After leaving the River Road, I turned north on CO-90. The view along the highway northwest was expansive with a long ridge of tall, steep sandstone cliffs to the northeast. The breath of the valley was such that those would have only appeared insignificant in any photo, so I didn't even attempt one.


To get to Buckeye Lake from the east, turn off toward the village of Paradox on the clearly marked road, then left at the stop sign. There are signs pointing the way. The road is paved as it begins to climb up into the foothills of the La Sal Mountains. There are good views back toward Paradox Valley and the road turns to gravel about the time you enter the Manti-La Sal National Forest. Just as you enter the Ponderosa zone, there is an overlook/dispersed campsite to the right, but I kept on toward the reservoir twisting and turning through a lovely forest.

Looking back at Paradox Valley and colorful sandstone along the road. 

Buckeye Lake

As you enter the basin containing Buckeye Recreation Area you are cautioned that camping is only allowed in designated sites. This turns out not to be a problem as the information kiosk showed a number of sites designated as free, dispersed camping, along with the larger USFS campground.

I took a tour of the facilities: the boat ramp where there were 3 free campsites; the Pioneer campground with 30 fee sites (some along the shore) and camp host; then around on the SE end of the lake: a smaller no-fee Ponderosa campground; the group campground where you can pay for a site if no group has reserved the area; and the free, dispersed sites at the south end of the lake. Even had there been a fee for those southern sites, I would have still stayed there as they not only had more elbow-room, but the best views of the lake, too.

Sanctioned "dispersed" campsite along the lakeshore.

I found a great site where I could sit by my camper and see the reflection of the La Sal peaks in the lake - beautiful. There were lots of swallows darting around catching May flies, even from the surface of the lake. In the late evening trout were leaping to catch the flies.

Sunset from my campsite.

Sunset over the La Sal Mountains reflected in Buckeye Lake.

Wednesday, June 5

Buckeye Lake, continued

I tried to capture the rose light of dawn reflected by the snowy peaks.

I was up at the crack of dawn trying to capture the etherial beauty of the rose light on the mountain peaks. The photos don't come close to that seen by eye. Later in the morning the reflection of those peaks in the still waters was breath taking. I saw a Bald Eagle fishing on the other side of the lake, but too far away for photos.

Aerial view of my campsite.

Yet another view of my excellent campsite. Don't worry, this is the last one.

When photographing these small flowers I noticed a sleeping butterfly.

The La Sals reflected in the lake as seen from the shore.

The full breadth of the La Sals as seen from above the lake.

A Chipping Sparrow poses along the lakeshore.

I had contemplated moving on this morning, but decided this place was just too beautiful. I watched a thunderstorm slowly build over the basin between here and the mountain peaks. If I'd had my wits about me I would have tried to capture a time lapse - I had all the right equipment with me; the light bulb just never came on.

Storm brewing to the west.

I met the campground hosts. A very nice couple staying in a very small trailer at the main campground. We chatted for a little while and they told me how to find a place that looked over Paradox Valley. I'd check it out when I left.

The only species of dragonfly I saw.

Dandelion seedhead and a perching beetle.

Not much to report other than relaxing, trying to photograph a few flowers, birds, and bugs. Sat in the shade and read some of my novel, then did some more relaxing :-)

A few lingering clouds over the mountain peaks.

This Osprey came overhead several times during the afternoon.

Not as colorful of a sunset this evening.

Wednesday's sunset.

Thursday, June 6

Buckeye Lake, continued

Took a little walk and bunch of photos, but other than those of a few birds, the photos from the day before were better.

There were bluebirds around the campground.

The La Sals and Buckeye Lake from the air on Thursday morning.

Spherical Panorama of Buckeye Lake and the La Sal Mountains. If you look to the south, you can just see the tops of the cliffs defining Paradox Valley (click the Full-screen icon [ ] for best view:

There were many Pine Siskins around camp. They were mostly feasting on the dandelion seeds.

Paradox Valley Overlook

Paradox Valley Overlook only a couple miles from the lake.

The Campground Hosts had told me about a scenic overlook only a couple miles past the campground on FR-0378. They said folks had disperse camped there and you could pick up cell coverage, too. Before leaving the lake area I checked it out. The atmosphere was not ideal for photography, but the view was indeed dramatic down the valley.

View of Paradox Valley

Colorful wildflowers.

I was able to get a signal on my phone by walking up a slight knoll. I used the opportunity to call the Monticello BLM District Office and both Monticello and Moab Forest Service Ranger Stations to inquire about road conditions where I had planned to travel. Both discouraged me from attempting the Bridger Jack Road water crossing just off the highway - Indian Creek was running much too high. So that was out. Moab told me all the passes in the La Sals were closed, as were the roads up the east slopes of the La Sals - "pretty much everything is closed above 9000 feet' due to snow." More plan adjustments.

Two Mile Road

Two Mile Road

The second way to access Buckeye Lake (or first way, perhaps, if coming from the west) is via Two Mile Road at UT-46 east of La Sal. The gravel road from Paradox is all-weather, Two Mile Road, not so much. I was cautioned by the Moab Ranger Office there were a couple wash-outs that were passible, but required high-clearance. I also found some muddy areas, but those presented no problems, though they could well be nasty earlier in the season or after heavy rain. The road is not quite in as good of condition through this stretch, then you enter state land. Utah has created/allowed many ATV trails through this section of forest, so enter or avoid depending upon your predilections.

Aerial view above the southern slopes of the La Sals

I left the lake and headed up FR-126. It quickly enters private land. There is a very large area of private land in this area and you are warned not to stray off the road. It is a beautiful area with cattle ranches. As you come off of Pine Flat, you turn south on FR-0208, a.k.a, County B-154, into a Willow Basin. Not that the roads are marked, understand, but there is a directional sign pointing toward highway 46. This then is Two Mile Road (perhaps named because it begins 2 miles east of old La Sal?)

I ate my lunch with this view to admire.

These tiny wildflowers (only about an inch tall) grew all through the meadow.
Lewisia pygmaea, Pygmy Bitterroot.

Spherical Panorama above my picnic site (click the Full-screen icon [ ] for best view:

Once back in national forest, there are a couple turn-offs leading deeper into the western sections of the La Sal peaks. I was interested in exploring up that way, but the ranger office said the roads were closed not far up due to snow - another time.

I can't resist photographing a mountain peak reflection no matter how small the pond.

Beautiful wildflowers along Two Mile Road.

La Sal Mountain Loop

The Moab USFS did confirm the La Sal Mountain Loop was open - "it's all paved", she said. So after joining UT-46, I turned west, then north on US-191 toward Moab. There are a couple dirt road shortcuts, which I didn't take as I was unfamiliar with the area, but instead took the recommended route toward Ken's Lake. I drove up toward the mountains.

Spanish Valley ( a "suburb" of Moab) just beyond the hills in the foreground.

Looking east toward the La Sals from the same location as the previous photo.

There were forested areas along the road, but the western slope is fairly arid. I stopped at the Mill Creek Canyon parking area and tried to get a photo of the canyon. Apparently this is a popular canyon for rock climbers.

The best view I could get of Mill Creek Canyon.

I was going to check out Oowah Lake and campground to see if there was good camping there, and if not I'd try Warner Lake. I'd seen photos of Warner Lake and it looked beautiful. Unfortunately, both roads were closed. I guess they are above the 9000' cut-off. So I continued along the loop, wondering where to go instead.

Castle Valley Overlook on the loop road.

After passing through a resort area, I stopped at the Castle Valley Overlook. I spoke to an older couple who had be mountain biking. They suggested the Mason Draw Campground, which was open. "It's nice," they said, and "hardly anyone stays there." Well, there were lots of campers there in the early afternoon, sitting around with nothing to do except stare at other folks driving through. I guess with the two main campgrounds closed Mason Draw gathered in those turned away. I couldn't see myself sitting there for 6 hours, so drove on.

Fisher Towers

The climbers I'd met last month at Arch Canyon had mentioned Fisher Towers as being very interesting. So when I reached the highway past Castle Valley I turned right on UT-128. I was debating continuing on to Grand Junction, Colorado then south to the San Juans after seeing the towers, but highway signs warning of road construction blocking access to I-70 helped me decide to stay in Utah.

Fisher Towers.

It was very hot, well, mid-90's anyway. I took the road to the towers and took a few photos, but didn't linger. I turned back toward Moab, thinking I'd head to Monticello and camp up on the northern flank of Abajo Peak, where I'd camped six years ago and decide where to go next from there. (In retrospect I now wish I'd continued on 128 the few extra miles to see where the Dolores River emptied into the Colorado. That would have completed the theme. I blame the hot weather for keeping me from coming up with that idea.)

Westerly view from the base of Fisher Towers

Colorado River

This is the first time I'd driven the UT-128 stretch above Moab in rafting season. There were lots of people enjoying the Colorado River that was in high flow. I wasn't surprised by the number of rafts (and rafting companies) or the powered river runners, but I was surprised at the number of people out on stand-up paddle boards in the middle of the torrential flows - seemed a bit risky to me, but then I'm old. There were also lots of folks in those BLM campgrounds along the river. Those in RVs and large trailers with generators and air conditioning were probably comfortable, but I bet those in tents were miserable - or at least I would have been. Yes, perhaps I should have taken a few photos to show you, but it was just too hot to get out of the truck.

Moab and US-191 South

I passed through Moab as quickly as possible. The traffic was bad, but not terrible. There was highway construction in the area of the junction of UT-211 that goes to Canyonlands. Only one lane was open. My direction was stopped and we probably waited a half an hour before slowly starting up again.

Continues in Part 3: Abajo Mountains