Uintah Basin & Book Cliffs Exploration

I had originally planned to spend my three day weekend heading down to New Mexico and Arizona to grab a couple of county high points but when I needed to look at a Jeep in Salt Lake, plans changed. It was still quite the road trip!

Road Trip May 2015After cruising up to Salt Lake, I had my steering debacle that I handled all #damselNOTindistress style and took the chance to visit with a couple of friends before leaving town. (Thank you to both Josh and Jenn for lending me places to crash for a night!)

I thought about hiking Murdock Mountain and hitting a certain point on its western slope that just happens to be the Wasatch County High Point. I’d packed my snowshoes and it sounded like just the adventure that Sprocket and I needed. Although I looked into snowpack issues, I didn’t think to check for road closures. As I was pulling out of Kamas, I saw a sign that said “Road Closed 14 miles ahead.” My hike was supposed to start 25 miles ahead. I quickly checked the Utah DOT site and found that, yes, the road was in fact closed.

Quickly thinking of another goal, I decided to attempt to reach another point that has been bugging me: Wagon Road Ridge. Wagon Road Ridge is the high point of the central Book Cliffs area and the Grand County Prominence Point. Plus, I thought it would be cool to check out the Unita Basin. Since I was already further north of where I usually hang out I decided to come at the point from the north.

UnitaBasin
Map by Stephanie Smith, Grand Canyon Trust

Beth driving FSJ

After gassing up in Roosevelt, I cruised along Seep Ridge Road which is super well maintained (paved!) by Uintah County for extractive industry purposes. It was a super lonely drive of just the kind that I like. Exploring little known corners of the US is one of my favorite things to do.

Oil rigs, Seep Ridge Road, Unitah Basin

Eventually, we turned on to Buck Canyon Road and started navigating up towards Wagon Road Ridge. The road starts off on BLM land but then crosses into an indian reservation Unfortunately, I decided to just “go for it” and didn’t get a permit for travel on the Uintah and Ouray Reservation. I wasn’t going to pass through Fort Duchesne where permits were sold and it was a Saturday so I was kinda skeptical that I’d be able to get one. (It looks like they are available at a store too so… I probably could have…)

Map by Stephanie Smith, Grand Canyon Trust via Unita Basin: An Unconventional Future

That $10 fishing permit for Weaver Reservoir would have come in really handy when I was within 15 miles of my destination and came across a Tribal police officer. (Even though with that permit I still wouldn’t technically be able to drive to Wagon Road Ridge it would have legally put me within a couple of miles.) I was sitting on the side of the road waiting for Francis to get over one of her vapor lock hiccups. He was very cool and when I assured him that I thought I was on BLM (hmm…) but that as soon as I was moving again I would turn around and head off of tribal land. Since he left me sitting there, I briefly thought about going for it anyway but when I passed him sitting along side the road about a mile after turning around I was glad I didn’t. It would have been hard to justify the time to drive 30 miles of dirt!

The red dot below was my destination but I got turned back at the point marked Black Knolls Road. It was so frustrating! (Although I deserved it…)

Wagon Road Ridge attempt

Fortunately, it wasn’t all a waste. Sprocket and I were able to retrace our steps to Seep Ridge Road and follow it to the end of the pavement then down the Book Cliffs side. The traverse to the east along the top of the Cliffs was spectacular with views in every direction.

Book Cliffs Divide

Jeep on Book Cliffs Ridge Road

Book Cliffs

Love this view of the La Sals:

La Sal Mountains from the Book Cliffs

As we started to descend, we dropped more into the classic Book Cliffs scenery:

Book Cliffs

And then, finally, we dropped into the grassy plains at the foot of the Cliffs and crossed into Colorado:

Foot of the Book Cliffs

Sprocket and I stopped for a few minutes to watch these really curious pronghorn hang out before we continued on home.

Pronghorn

In the end, it was a great weekend even though Francis had some issues (in a parking lot near an auto parts store thankfully!) and we didn’t reach any high points. I always love exploring new places and we definitely added some miles of new roads to the memory bank!