~Sunday, April 24, 2022~
A little 4-wheelin’ never hurt anybody. We’re off to the Shafer Trail (the steep windy road to the bottom of Canyonlands that you can only get to via 4-wheel drive). Soon after the entrance to the national park, is the turnoff for Shafer Road. Within minutes, it’s a little unsettling to see the vast canyon you are about to descend into. The first third of the way down is the hairiest, sometimes one car wide. Because of the openness, at least it gives you a view to see what’s coming so you can make a plan to stay and wait, or continue on. The rule is that uphill has the right of way.
And being a Sunday, we didn’t see too many cars (thank goodness). Most people prefer the route coming from the national park instead of starting at Potash Road. Now that we’ve done the whole thing, we can honestly say we would never attempt it from the other direction (Potash Road) as it gives you a false sense of what’s in store. The 6 or 7 miles from Potash are not all that stressful giving you the illusion that the rest is quite manageable. The difference is from that direction, most of your drive is on the outside, the sheer cliffside with no guardrails in sight. When you descend from the national park side, you are hugging the inside of the trail much more, giving you a greater sense of security.
There were quite a variety of vehicles, some of which should never have attempted it; we’re talking Subaru Outbacks, Honda CRV’s, etc. They may have the 4-wheel drive, but low clearance. Of course I was envious of any Jeep that we crossed paths with. It seems in Moab, most come in caravans. With all of us like-minded crazies out there, it’s nice to get a return wave of friendliness and encouragement. We especially liked the fist-pumping 20-something year-olds.
I must say off-roading in our truck is always a little unnerving, especially when you’re the passenger. As many of you know, I’m a control freak by nature. So I must have bit my tongue at least a dozen times so as not to annoy my husband, especially at the beginning of our trek. Smelling overheated brakes was also a joy as I kept telling Jeff to put it in 4WD low per the visitor center’s recommendation. Anyway, it wasn’t until about the half-way mark that I relaxed a bit, finally enjoying the other-worldly landscape. Seriously, if you were transported here blindfolded, then opened your eyes, you would swear you’re on a different planet.
The trail can be abbreviated once you get to the Potash Road crossing, where you would just return the way you came down (no thanks). We decided to do the whole thing with Potash Road a little more bumpy, but less steep. This road connects you to Moab. The last 5 miles or so, takes you along the outskirts of a Potash Plant, and it is HUGE!! Jeff and I both needed a refresher course in what exactly Potash is so in case you too may have forgotten, Potash is a potassium-rich salt that is mined from underground deposits formed from evaporated sea beds millions of years ago. A more generic name….fertilizer.
About 2 miles from there, you’re finally dumped back onto paved road. Hallelujah! After 2-½ hours of insane terrain, it’s a welcome change, believe me. I think Sadie would second that one. Not only was I rejoicing about smooth pavement, but we were also awestruck by what we were dumped into. The Colorado River Scenic Byway-(Utah Highway 279) is a 17-mile stunner. The narrow canyon
follows the turns of the Colorado River with gorgeous views of Red Sandstone Rock all around. We even had a few added treats of watching a few rock climbers and seeing petroglyphs right from the road. These petroglyphs (pecked, incised or chiseled images), depict humans and animals and are thought to be from the Archaic period (years 6,000-1,000 B.C) and the
Fremont cultural period (450-1,300 A.D.). Archaic rock art consists of more curved lines, zigzags, circles and abstract symbols. The Front rock art depicts more obvious symbols of sheep, dogs, hunting scenes with weapons as well as abstract objects. What a fabulous, unexpectedly stunning road to get back to Moab. It really was breathtaking.
At the end of our day, Jeff went to fetch more water to get us through Tuesday with my job booking us an earlier time slot in Arches National Park. We’ve been to Arches before with our kids, which at that time did not require a pass. But now, like many national parks, they require passes/permits to manage the flow of tourists. But the system is strange. It seems all the 4:00 slots are available on any day with nothing else open prior to that. However, each day at 6:00 they open up more spots online for the following day. So there is hope. There is when you remember to do what you set out to do. Like an idiot, I got to my cell location and immediately went into “work” mode, completely forgetting to try for an earlier spot. We’ve at least got our timed pass for tomorrow at 4:00 but it doesn’t give us a whole lot of time to see the park. So we’ll try for another visit on Tuesday.