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White Rim Trail, March 2016

Posted by on Tuesday, 5 April 2016

After spending the winter months getting the trailer ready for camping duty, we were itching to get out and put it through it’s paces. What better place to do that than the White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park?

Day 0

We left Denver after work on Friday, with a slight delay as we waited for our on-the-road dinner to be delivered by the pizza company.
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How hard is it to deliver here, the city and county building? Just put “Denver, CO” into Google Maps and it will take you here. No address needed! Anyway, we were soon off to the night’s destination at Glenwood Springs. After a bit of white-knuckle driving over Vail Pass and 10 miles of black ice beyond it, we stopped for the night and took some time to soak away the travel stress in the hot springs at Iron Mountain.

Day 1

In the morning we took off for Moab, wanting to take a loop through town to check out the tail end of the Easter Jeep Safari and get gas before we head to the park. As busy as Moab was with Jeeps of all shapes and sizes, I imagine it was even busier the weekend prior when the festivities began. Maybe we’ll come out for that experience some other time, but this trip was still calling us out to the trail!

After a stop at the Visitor’s Center to check in with the backcountry ranger, we got our permit and vehicle tag and headed for the trailhead.
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We stopped here for the requisite “before” picture, when everything was still clean and mostly dust-free.

We started off down the Shafer Switchbacks, a well-maintained dirt road that winds it’s way down from the Island in the Sky to the White Rim. Every turn was an amazing view and we often stopped to capture a few pictures. By this point it was afternoon, so we passed a number of groups that were working their way up to at the end of a single day loop through the trail.
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At the bottom of the switchbacks, we quickly made our way to Gooseneck Overlook, where we spent some time hanging out and taking pictures and eating a late lunch. Its a short walk from the parking at the trail, about a quarter mile.
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After Gooseneck, we stopped at Colorado River Overlook, where you can drive right up to the cliff edge. Even with a spotter on the ground, there was no way I was going to get any closer than this, it is very disconcerting to pull forward when all you see off the hood is sky!
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The last stop before camp was Musselman Arch, a fun site where you approach on the arch level instead of below. The ranger had mentioned they recently implemented a ban on walking on the arch and there were signs at the parking area to that affect, but it is easy to end up on part of it when walking around (as you can see in the pictures).

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After the arch we made it to our camp for the night, campsite #1- Airport D. We set up camp, had a dinner of chili dogs and tatertots (comfort food?) and settled into watching the stars for a bit before bed.
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Day 2

After the first ever overnight in the Tepui tent, we were up to make a breakfast of eggs, sausage, toast, and other breakfasty stuff then celebrate Easter! We had baskets for the kids and our very own Easter Egg hunt in the desert!
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After letting the kids wander in the desert for a bit and then double and triple checking that we got all the eggs we departed for our longest day of driving on the trail. Due to where we could get campsite reservations, we were moving camp from Airport all the way around to Potato Bottom in one day. A bit more driving that we would have liked, but it freed up a day on the west side to hang out and do some hiking. So we set out on our 47 miles that day.

About 10 miles into the day I had to put the Jeep in 4wd for the first time, up until this point we were cruising around in 2wd. We didn’t make the side trip down any of the canyons and skipped White Crack, but had plenty to check out along the way.
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Monument Basin was a great stop, with plenty of fun to be had on the overlook.
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We soon came to what most guides and trip reports called the most difficult part of the White Rim Trail, the Murphy Hogback climb. True to form it was a bit steep with the need to sort of pick a line up the hill due to some rocks, but nothing too bad unless you get spooked by the exposure on the driver’s side. Truth be told, I was too focused on getting the Jeep and trailer up the hill to really look at how close we were to the edge, but if the exclamations from the rear passenger was any indication then we were rather close to the edge. About 2/3rds of the way up the hill we had to stop to allow a young mountain biker finish his ascent before we finished the climb. The Jeep and trailer did great, with no issues getting up the hill. This climb was the first indication that a high-clearance vehicle was actually needed, before that point I was really wondering if that was an over-stated requirement.

At the top of the hogback we met up with a park ranger who was checking permits and vehicle tags, and she provided us with some information on travel times to Potato Bottom Campground. After giving us a heads up about a disabled FJ blocking the trail between Candlestick and Potato Bottom (easy to get around), we were on our way. We stopped to check out the view from the Murphy campsite.

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The back side of Murphy Hogback leads down a steep decent that also requires a bit of attention and patience. After that it was a wandering trail that would loop around various canyons and past campgrounds as we marveled at the vistas all around.

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We came across the disabled FJ at dusk, the couple had lost a front wheel somehow (didn’t ask details) and were forced to make camp next to the road where the Toyota was stopped. They were in good spirits and had everything they needed, and were just waiting for the tow truck to arrive the next morning. A little after dark we made it to our camp for the next two nights, campsite #2- Potato Bottom B. After setting up, we had a lovely dinner of dutch oven lasagna before retiring to bed.

Day 3

In the morning, while we were making breakfast, the long awaited tow truck went flying by camp on their way to the stranded FJ. About an hour and a half later the tow truck returned, heading back out. I was a bit confused as there was no Toyota in tow, but very soon the FJ and it’s occupants were motoring by under their own power with all four wheels attached.

Since we had the same campsite for two nights, we decided to leave the trailer in camp and head down the road a bit to the Fort Bottom Trail hike. It was a great trail that runs along a ridge and then down to the banks of the Green River with plenty of interesting things to see along the way. The Outlaw Cabin is near the water, and there is plenty of clay mud and sand to keep everyone busy for quite a while. A side hike that could be completed in a couple of hours, but we stretched it out into an all-afternoon affair.

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We returned to the same campsite for the final night, had a dinner of dutch oven pizza, and then called it a night. By this point in the trip the kids were getting exhausted and headed off to bed early. As the sun set, the weather started moving in from the west, and I started to suspect that the rain that had been forecast for the day after we left had actually arrived early.

Later that night the wind picked up and the rain fell for a bit while we were snug in our tents. Everyone was warm and dry, but I kept thinking about the descriptions of the final switchbacks on Mineral Bottom Road. You know, the part that says “easy and wide switchbacks that shouldn’t be a problem unless wet, when they are impassable”

Day 4

The next morning we had banana pancakes for breakfast while packing up for the trip home. It was wet but no longer raining, so we were holding out hope that the switchbacks would be dry by the time we got there. As we departed things were looking good and we headed up Hardscrabble Hill and put the trailer through it’s paces again.

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The area from Labyrinth to the park boundary was interesting and had the opportunity to drive a bit more sand that the rest of the trail had offered.

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The weather moved in and out, with some rain and some snow as we worked our way out. When we got to the bottom of the Mineral Bottom Road switchbacks we decided it looked dry enough to attempt, so we slowly worked our way up the hill. As we went up the road became wetter, and the mud was making it a bit slippery. We geared down and took it slow and just kept up the forward progress. About 3/4ths of the way up we came across a Ford F-350 that had lost traction in a sections that was still shaded and had slid the rear of the truck into the wall-side ditch. He was blocking the road with no way around, and another pickup was stopped on the grade behind him. The back of the truck was wedged against the rock preventing us from pulling him backwards in any way, and they had sent some people up the remainder of the hill to get help from another vehicle in their party that was at the top. Two more Jeeps met up with us from below, and soon it was quite the party half way up the switchbacks.

Luckily the weather was clearing, and as the sun dried the road they were able to get the truck back up out of the ditch, and from there it was a slow climb to the top of the mesa. We stopped at the top for a moment to capture the moment…

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After another 13 miles along the dirt of Mineral Bottom Road we were able to stop back at visitor’s center to get rid of the trash, and the “after” photo for the record, about 1/4 mile from where we took the “before”

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Finally it was a drive through Arches National Park before going back to Moab for dinner and then heading home. Again there was exciting winter driving over Vail Pass and then home!

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