Back to Utah 2005
by Don Cameron
During the years 1964 to 1966 I was assigned as a 2nd Lt. in the US Army Chemical Corp at Dugway Proving Ground , Utah. It was during this time that I started riding motorcycles – first a Hodaka Ace 90 and then a 500cc Triumph T100C. Both bikes were well suited for the time to follow dirt roads – of which Utah had in abundance.
Skipping forward 40 years I decided to go back and ride some of those roads. A friend in Deming by the name of Elmer Veeder and his KLR650 and I on my F650 GS took off for a week in Utah on back roads.
We went up thru Canyon De Chelly and camped at Goosenecks State Park in Utah just above Mexican Hat. It is an awesome view down into the San Juan River far, far below.
Following Hwy 261 north the road changed to gravel as we gained 1100 ft. in altitude over 3 miles. The view is spectacular. From there we went across Lake Powell on the ferry at Bulldog crossing and then up the Burr Trail to Utah 12 (Escalante Highway). This has another one of those switchback gravel roads that climbs 2000 feet or so in just a few miles. It is an absolutely wonderful ride – no cars and great scenery.
After camping at Torrey, Utah we went up Hwy 24 and Hwy 72 to Fish Lake. This is a natural lake whose surface is at an elevation of 9300 feet. It sits in a bowl with some snow still on the mountains above.
After crossing through the center of Utah we picked up the old Pony Express Trail at Vernon, Utah. It is a gravel road that crosses Lookout Pass and then goes by all the springs that made up the way stations for the Pony Express. They are Simpson Springs, Fish Springs, and Calleo. It is interesting in the amount of water that is actually in the desert.
Fish Springs is a national Wildlife Refuge that abounds with birds in the marshes. Just outside Fish Springs and across the fence into Dugway Proving Ground is a hot spring which is available. This part of the trip required about 140 miles of dirt and gravel road from pavement to pavement. It is extremely isolated, no fuel or restaurants along its entire length.
In the picture of this road the mountains in the background are in Nevada and are snow covered. We camped at Calleo that night which is about 80 miles from Wendover , Utah. It is interesting in that the gravel road from Calleo north is the old Lincoln Highway. One thing about camping in a place like Calleo – no food or public water- is that breakfast the next day really tastes great (even if it is not).
Wendover was our turnaround point and we came back across Utah on as many back roads as possible. Our trip took us through American Fork Canyon and into the Unita Mountains. It is absolutely gorgeous. By following this route it is easy to stop by Dinosaur National Monument near Vernal, Utah. This is well worth seeing as it is a quarry for dinosaur bones which are visible in the rock. I saw this first in 1966 and you know, none of the bones have moved.
Our route then took us through Grand Junction, Durango, Gallup, Reserve and home. For those that like some off road riding Utah has wonderful roads. By staying away from Moab (the off road capitol) they are generally lightly traveled with many camping opportunities for those with tents. And finally, for those of us who are cheap, the trip only cost about $25 to $30 per day for everything.