Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Manti La-Sal National Forest Adventure - Part Two.

Part One left you off at the junction of FR 095 (The Causeway Road) and FR 088 (Gooseberry aka Elk Ridge Road); depending on what map you use FR 095 continues north-west, or changes its name to FR 088, but either way you are heading upwards to Horse Mountain. We made the left turn towards Elk Ridge and I'm warning you now, this roadway will not be for the faint at heart; I am very proud to say that I did not scream. I would do this trip again as there is so much to see in the area on nearby trails and I want to see it!

First the map; I highlighted FR 088 in hot pink; the color seemed appropriate for this wild ride. You must have a good map with you; you will be passing many signs directing you this way and that way, but barely any that will have the road number on them.  The first time you go through this area, it's best to pick a direction and stick with it; you can so easily get lost, or in a situation where Search and Rescue might be needed.

Driving along, the area is very pretty with aspen laden forest, green pastures, you might even see some deer grazing; very picturesque and a good area for that picnic meal.

Yeah, well hold onto to that lunch you just ate for the next stop is Elk Ridge.  Elk Ridge, at its highest point, is 8800 feet above sea level and overlooks the Dark Canyon Wilderness.  The road winds down around the ridge walls, there is barely room for two vehicles to pass; at times, one vehicle will have to pull as close to a canyon wall as possible to allow another vehicle by.  On the other side, Dark Canyon Wilderness spreads out below you; do not be surprised to see dirt from the roadway fall into the 1000 foot drop.  Do not hug that side of the road with your vehicle at any time; a chunk could be missing from the edge of the road and if your tire hits that....  This is a primitive road in all ways!  This is why I warned, in Part One, that a small to mid-sized 4-wheel drive vehicle is preferable; do not be one of those smart ass' who drives a "I need to overcompensate for my small short-comings" vehicle.

Quick Story: We had stopped at Big Notch to take photos and were parked more in the middle of the road.  There was no way I was getting out on the passenger side and stepping off into that 1000 foot drop into the canyon below.  Anyway, this huge, and I mean a cruise ship on wheels, sized silver pickup truck (belonged to some B & B, but can't remember the name) begins the climb from around the ridge.  I jump back into our SUV and we move over slightly; now they have a small switchback on their side, so no problem, right?  Wrong!  The pickup truck stops and the terror on the faces of the two occupants was quite evident; and they were waiting for us to move over even more!  Poor Roy had to get out of the SUV and help direct them into the switchback and around our vehicle; they didn't even say thank you!  So yeah, leave the ship on wheels at home; no one cares about your "small issues".

North Elk Ridge, looking eastward.

North Elk Ridge


Big Notch, also listed as "The Notch" on some maps overlooks Chimney Park and Notch Canyon; in the distance are the La Sal Mountains (northeastern view)

Big Notch

 South Elk Ridge overlooks Hammond Canyon (eastern view).

South Elk Ridge

After getting off Elk Ridge, the road widens out more and you come to the junction of FR 092; follow the road as it curves to the right to stay on FR 088 and your next stop will be Arch Canyon Overlook.  The trail to hike or ATV into Arch Canyon is about 7.5 miles long, but is the only way you'll be able to visit the three arches (Angel, Cathedral, Keystone), or see the ruins and rock art.  The sun was beginning the descent for the day when we finally arrived there.

Arch Canyon
One more stop and we'll be done with this 31 mile trek, 63 miles total between FR 095 and FR 088; we began our journey at 7:30am and finally returned home by 9:30pm and it was worth every precious moment!!!  Anyway, last stop is Bears Ears, and like many other travelers and adventurers, the reasoning behind the name escapes us.  Try as we might, look at them from every angle, but just not seeing the resemblance to the ears of a bear.

Bears Ears

Elevation 8929 feet above sea level

Elevation 9058 feet above sea level
It was exciting doing the ride, it was exciting to re-experience it while writing, hurry up summer 'cause I want to go back!  Part Three will be FR 079 - Johnson Creek Road; wait till you see those mountains!
Mary Cokenour

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