Weekend Adventure: Warm Creek Bay to Moab on Dirt (and snow)
by Case Frick
Packing up the family and meeting up with my good friend Jack for a weekend adventure. My wife never went camping until she met me, so the whole reason for this truck build was an effort to get her to enjoy camping. My 3 year old daughter has grown up camping, she loves getting in the hiking backpack and going for a hike.
I met Jack during National Park Service training some years ago. He still works for the Park Service and I moved on to a career a little more stable for family life, but we both still have a love of national parks.
We got a late start heading up to Page, Az from Flagstaff so we arrived after dark. We were going to be meeting our friends on the north side of Lake Powell at Warm Creek Bay. The camp was about 12 miles in from Highway 89. The trail was very easy and we arrived at camp within 30 minutes.
The weekend was colder than average and it had snowed the day before; we spent the night huddling around the fire. The next morning I broke out the map and my friend Matt broke out the GPS and I planned the days adventure.
I am normally pretty good at planning routes but this time we were flying by the seat of our pants. We planned a route that spanned the length of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. As most people do, you look at the route on the map and say, “yeah, that looks good”. 63 miles until pavement at the small Utah town of Escalante, we estimated about 3 hours for the trip. Oh boy, were we mistaken.
The route would take Road 230 NP to 330 Smoky Hollow Rd to 300 Smoky Mountain Rd to 230 Left Hand Lower Canyon Rd to 200 Hole In The Rock Rd and take that all the way to Escalante, Utah.
The 230 NP Road was amazing, very drivable and amazing views. The road was rocky and had some slight elevation changes. Nothing a stock Jeep couldn’t handle. The 230 NP Road takes you up a canyon and up on top of a mesa. On top of the mesa the snow started to get deeper about 6”. Normally not a big deal.
I take a wrong turn and stay on the 300 Road rather than 230 Road. I was following tracks in the snow. It looked as if the tracks were from a Jeep of a Side by Side, the tracks were smaller than the trucks. I follow the tracks about 8 miles until the tracks turn around at the base of a hill climb.
I don’t see any problem with the road up the hill so I start up the 30% grade. What I didn’t see from the bottom was a small rock step about halfway up. The truck has pretty good tires and is in 4Low but it did not want to get up the step. The road was about 8 feet wide with no lip before the edge of the canyon. The drop to the canyon floor was about 70 feet. As I try to inch up the step the back end of the truck slide towards the edge of the drop off.
I put the truck in reverse and try and back down the road. The rear starts to slide towards the drop off even in reverse. So I put it in 1st gear and tried to drive as close to the wall as possible. I hit the spent and gave it some much-needed gas. The rear end slid very very close to the edge but up the truck went and I powered up the rest of the hill. Jack was spotting the rear end out of the rear passenger side window. Jack said the rear tire got within a foot of going over the edge.
We continued down this road for another few miles. We came towards another canyon the road traversed. I looked forward to where the road looked as if it leads. I could see many more of these little canyons. We had a little conversation about daylight and the dangers of doing another hill climb like the one we just climbed. We decided to backtrack and take the other route.
We backtracked and went down the hill again. And Jack was right. The tire track did get within inches of going over the edge. It was sobering to see that and knowing how far we were from rescue. It was starting to get late, about 3 hours of daylight left. We get back onto the Left Hand Collet Canyon Road. This time we follow the road though a stand of trees and the road sharply turns into a very deep canyon. We have been following the “Jeep” track down this road, and the tracks lead right into the canyon. We figure if he can do it….
The drop to the canyon floor was at least 300 feet, it would be certain death if the truck went over. So I took the road very slow. This road was about 10 feet wide and had a well establish lip on the edge. The way down into the canyon was uneventful. We hit the bottom and let out a deep breath, little did we know we would be stuck in the canyon for hours.
The road though the canyon floor was amazingly beautiful. The road followed a frozen stream. The road would run up the sides of the canyon wall when the canyon got to thin. The problem starts here. The snow in at the canyon floor was about 8” deep and up to 12” in some area. The Jeep had driven though the area maybe the day before, so the snow had slightly melted and then refroze. The tracks were froze in place but the trucks wheels are wider than the tracks which pulls the truck away from the tracks.
Again we had the problem where the rear end of the truck started to slide out. We stop and pull out my new set of SmityBuilt Element Ramps. No matter how we positioned the ramps the rear end still slid out further. Time to break out the shovel and dig out. I backed out and made a speed run at the raised road. Up and over the truck went. We wiped out foreheads and packed up the ramps and continued on our way. The sun had set and was starting to get dark, it didn’t help that we were in the bottom of a canyon.
We came upon another bypass I guess you could call it. The snow was 14” deep at this point. We decided we would dig it out first. We spend about 20 minutes digging
out the bypass. We take a run at it but the truck slides again. We spend about an hour stuck at this bypass. We alternate using ramps, shovel, and a combo of the two. We get about 2 feet and get stuck, so on and so far.
There Jack and I are, in 20-degree weather, sunset, in wet shoes and pants. We both give each other a look; we both have rescued people who were wet and cold after sunset in a stuck vehicle. We both know we are being stupid but there we were anyway. Nothing left to do but forge ahead.
The map says we have 2 miles before we got to Hole In The Rock Road, which is a maintained dirt road. Time to put my foot down on the skinny petal on the right and get out of this canyon. It is dark now, very dark, in the middle of nowhere Utah dark. We finally make it out to the highway with no incident.
I turn my phone on and see Matt has texted me hours ago seeing if we had made it ok. It had taken us almost 7 hours to go 63 miles. We pull into the town of Escalante. There is no one on the road; the town has a population of just over 700. We stop and get gas. We find out there is a restaurant open just down the road, Cowboy Blues.
We walk into the small restaurant, everyone turns and looks at us, everyone looks like a local. The place had good food and he staff was nice. The waiter never caught his name, got talking with Jack about what he does for work. The waiter points over to a man and woman eating across the room, and says, “That is our lawman with one of his wives”. Once the waiter walks away, we look at each other and wonder if it was a joke of if the local law enforcement officer had more than one wife.