July 24, 2020 Moab, UT Shafer Trail 4WD (Day 8)

Happy 38th anniversary to us! We got up at 7:00 without an alarm to get an early start for our drive on Potash Road to Shafer Basin. We packed a lunch and headed out at 9:00. We took Highway 191 from the campground 1/2 mile after the Colorado River bridge onto Highway 279.

Highway 279 runs along the top of the uranium mine and then along the river into the canyons.

uranium mine

The drive along the river is beautiful with the river on one side and straight cliff walls on the other.

The narrow gauge railroad tracks ran parallel to the highway.

Our first stop was to look at the petroglyphs on the side walls of the canyon. We stopped there at the same time as a family that was taking a guided tour from Navtec Exhibitions, so we stood nearby and listened to the tour guide explain that the Native Americans at the time were about 4 ft. tall and drew pictures of themselves with upside down triangle bodies and arms with fists to make themselves look fierce.

They drew the pictures on the walls of the canyon along the river so that others going down the river could see them. They had no language, so that is how they communicated with others. The petroglyphs appear high on the walls because that is where they stood to make them. The river bank was much higher back then.

Many years have passed and erosion has worn the land down to its current level.

We heard the tour guide say that the black color on some of the rock walls is called desert varnish and that these petroglyphs were determined to have been done 3000 years ago. That was so interesting!

The road was paved all the way to Jackson Bottom Boat Ramp. We “aired down” near there. At this point, we set our odometer and followed the directions in our 4WD Trails Guidebook on a paved road. We came upon the Intrepid Potash operations.

There was a pile of potash sitting there.

The paved road turned to packed gravel from that point on. Views of the canyon area were amazing.

The tour guide drove by us heading up the road in a Lexus heavy duty 4 WD. Now that was a much better vehicle for this kind of road. At this point, we officially began our drive on the Shafer Trail. (The sign is misspelled.)

We began our climb up and around a butte to Balanced Rock.

Going past Balanced Rock, we followed the steep switchback uphill along the side of the potash evaporation ponds. It brought us to our first potash evaporation pond. The ponds are an amazing shade of blue. We could see the reflection of the bluffs in the pond.

We continued on the road which took us past the other potash ponds.

The scenery was so unbelievable down here in the canyon. I couldn’t believe we were actually driving in the same canyon roads we had seen from above two days ago.

We could look into the different arms of each canyon.

A truck pulling a pop-up camper whizzed by us with the camper bouncing up and down as he went. How in the world is he going to drive that trailer up higher on these roads with those tiny tires. We expected to see him up ahead somewhere with a flat tire.

Further down the road, we saw the potash leaching out the rocks.

The road continued to climb and get rougher at times.

Around the bend, we crossed another wash where potash was visible. Up close, it looked like a white paste.

Being in the canyon, there was beauty all around. More amazing rock structures were everywhere.

This gate designated BLM land.

Eventually, the canyon opened up to grasslands and wider roads. One area was designated as the Desert Bighorn Sheep Lambing Grounds.

We looked hard to see one, but couldn’t see any.

At one point, we came upon a slickrock section of trail. It was very slow going with sharp rock areas to drive over.

From there, it was easy-going on the grassy plateau to Thelma and Louise Point (from the movie). Thelma and Louise Point is where they filmed them driving their car off the cliff.

This is the view from up above at Canyonlands NP of the same area.

We parked and checked out the area. From that point, on the cliff you can look in either direction and see the Colorado River.

Looking up at the cliffs and rock walls, they looked so different standing at that level in the canyon, compared to standing at the top looking down.

We could see the overlook in Dead Horse Point State Park from below, where we stood just days ago looking down at Thelma and Louise Point.

This is looking down at Thelma and Louise Point from above.
This is the scene from the movie Thelma and Louise.

Others arrived at the point in their vehicles, from Jeeps, to SUVs and regular passenger vehicles. It’s a wonder some of them made it that far on those road surfaces. Bob looked down at the next portion of the road and watched some of those vehicles drive on, contemplating how far we would go.

You can barely see the top of the car as it heads down the road.

From the overlook, we decided we could go another mile or two to what Bob called “Dead Man’s Curve”. It is a narrow shelf road that makes a right-hand turn around a cliff.

Bob walked down near the cliff and decided it wasn’t something he wanted to try.

Not only was it narrow, steep, and on a cliff, but the road surface was rocky and slick.

This is looking down at “Dead Man’s Curve”. You have to turn right at the bottom (top of the picture.)
This is looking up at the same road.

Standing on “Dead Man’s Curve” I could see below me where the road would have taken us. From an overlook farther on, we would have been able to see the bend in the Colorado River.

Driving to the overlook would have put us on the point in the upper right-hand corner of the picture. It would have been a beautiful view from there.

Others had tried it ahead of us, but once you are there on the ledge, there is no turning around, so we passed. We turned around here where we had lots of space to maneuver.

We would have turned around in another 2 or 3 miles anyway because there was no way we were going up the infamous Shafer Switchbacks. Here is what they look like from up above.

Shafer Switchbacks

The switchbacks continue to climb (or descend) on a winding cliff-edge road. We knew about them previously and had seen them from above in Canyonlands a couple of days ago, only to remind ourselves that it was something we didn’t want to do. Here is another view of the switchbacks from above in a different area.

Going up or going down, it’s the same….SCARY!! We headed back and even though we were traveling back over the same road, canyons, rock walls, and roads they look different from the other direction.

We ran into a young newly married couple from Pennsylvania who had “Just Married” painted on their car. He waved us down at the potash ponds and wanted to know if it was advisable to continue driving his car up the road that we just came from. Bob told him, “Not if you want to be able to drive your car back to Pennsylvania.” We chatted with them awhile, as they had just arrived and were looking for some advice on things to see and do. They decided it was best to turn around and not go on. We stopped at the boat launch to “air up” and eat our lunch. The horizontal line across the middle of the picture is the road that we started on.

While we waited for the tires to fill with air, this pretty lizard came over to take a look.

We made a stop on our way back along the river to get a better look at the Jug Handle Arch.

Jug Handle Arch

On the way there, we couldn’t get a good view of it, but returning and seeing it from the other direction, you could. We got back to the campground at 1:00 and unloaded the Jeep. Bob left to get the Jeep washed and pick up a couple of items at the store. I stayed back to give Auggie a bath and to do some housekeeping. When Bob got back, he helped me finish up and we were ready to relax and enjoy a cocktail before going out to dinner. We left at 5:30 to drive the 5 minutes into Moab for our anniversary dinner. We ate at Zax–not a fancy meal–but good just the same. We sat up on top in the open air deck.

Our server surprised us with a brownie dessert ala-mode to celebrate! How nice!

We returned to the campground for our walk with Auggie. The skies clouded up and it looked like rain. The clouds ended up obscuring the sunset. Boo-hoo! I went outside with my binoculars around 9:45 to see if I could see the comet come by. The skies had cleared off and I found a dark place behind the bus where I had a view of the Big Dipper. While I waited and looked, I also viewed Jupiter and Saturn as bright stars in the night sky. About 10:10, the comet appeared just under the Big Dipper. I followed it in my binoculars as long as I could until it disappeared behind the cliffs behind us. What a cool sight that was! We have thoroughly enjoyed our time in Moab visiting all the wonderful parks and driving the 4WD trails. This town is crazy for Jeeps and off-roading. Not many people get the opportunity to get into some of these back canyons like we did. We consider ourselves very lucky. We’d love to stay another week, but it’s time to move on. We’ll just have to come back next year and spend a month here. We’re really hooked on Jeeping now! It was a fabulous way to end our day and stay in Moab!

1 thought on “July 24, 2020 Moab, UT Shafer Trail 4WD (Day 8)”

  1. You really have been pushing the limits with offloading! I bet you’re pondering the value of having a winch and straps to get out of sticky situations. Thanks for sharing all of the photos and backstories. HAPPY Anniversary!

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