By Jerry Smith
September 20 - 22, 2013
The Beef Basin trip into southeast Utah had been planned for months. For many of the Grand Mesa Jeep Club members, this is a long way from home and into a very remote part of the world.
|Grand Mesa Jeep Club in Beef Basin|
Beef Basin is one place I had never been to. Dave’s past descriptions of the Jeeping and the area had not really turned me on about taking the trip… it sounded too boring to motivate me. WRONG!
Beef Basin is a trip everyone should have on his or her “bucket list”. This is one of those “Sleeper” trips that will sneak up on you once you have committed to go. If you have any sense of adventure in you, Beef Basin is one well worth your effort.
Good maps of the Beef Basin area are somewhat difficult to come by. That should be one of the first things you want to acquire before going on this trip unless you have some good trip leaders. This is one remote piece of heaven.
Where Are We Going?
We (Happy Trails & I) left home with little knowledge of where we were going. Expecting to meet with other club members in Fruita, we were going to trust them to lead us… but we were an hour late. This might defeat many, but as Mary’s description relates; the “Intrepid Explorer” in me only kicked into gear.
After fueling and a quick lunch in Moab, we headed south on Hwy 191 to Hwy 211 where we turned right. Now we were in totally new country to us.
The first significant site we came to was the famous “Newspaper Rock”. Having seen many pictures of this and seeing a really full parking area kept us from stopping. Maybe a quick stop on the return trip?
Ahab and ClydeNot far up the road, looking at the skyline on one of the high mesas was one of those “land marks” that stood out. My often-twisted mind dubbed it; “Ahab, the Arab and Clyde the camel from Ray Stevens’ song.
Ahab the Arab & Clyde the Camel
Reaching the Beef Basin turn-off is where the adventure really began. My memory of Dave’s description made me think it would be only a few miles to where they would be camping. As we proceeded down the road, we took every turn-off that looked like it might have camping at the end.
Camping In The Mud
Soon we came to a hairpin turn marked with “camping” on a sign. Not far down that road we came to a creek crossing.
Recent rains had this crossing flowing with a little stream in what would normally be a dry wash. The near side was wet but firm and the far side appeared to be wet but a little deeper mud with a 1-foot vertical cut to climb.
No tracks were present through the mud, but the fact that there would be camping on the other side invited us to “try it”.
Disaster awaits across this stream
A slick, soupy mud was well over the hubs on the front axle. The situation looked bad. Only sagebrush was ahead to run a winch line to and getting out to do it would mean walking in shoe sucking mud up to your knees. Poor options.
The soupy mud was very deep
After several attempts, gaining only an inch or two each attempt, we finally rocked it back into the stream. By then, the sides, mirrors, and windshield were covered in a thick, sloppy mud so several bottles of creek water were applied to make seeing out possible again.
After another few miles of finding no other campsites, we returned to the Hwy to wait for anyone else who might show-up late.
After about an hour, Chuck and Mary came around the corner. They had received a late email explaining that the roads ahead had been severely washed-out by recent rains, and camp was many miles up country in some unknown place.
The only saving grace was that Al and Harley were camped along the road and would have better directions to the main camp. Several miles later we were talking with them.
There Be Bears
Harley’s stories of bear sightings and road washouts finally ended with directions to the main camp. By the time we would get to that oasis, it would be near or after dark had set upon us. So off we went at considerably above normal speeds.
After quite a while, we were miles from Al and Harley’s camp and climbing a hill. We had been holding back some to allow the dust to settle or blow off the roadway. Visibility was tough enough with the dust, but we were heading into the low hanging, blinding sun too.
Rough Roads and Tires
Adding to that, the road had not been graded and there were hundreds of mostly small, but rough, cuts in the road surface from recent rain runoff. To say the road was rough might be like saying the Saw Tooth Mountains in Idaho appear a little jagged.
All of the sudden, coming down the hill ahead of me was a very unexpected sight. Chuck’s 37” spare tire and wheel were rolling/bouncing down the hill straight at me at high speed.
After stopping, we started backing up to lesson the impending impact but at the last second, the tire took a sudden turn and rolled off the lower roadside off into the trees.
This is when a CB radio really comes in handy. I radioed ahead and soon we were winching the tire back up to the road and mounting it back on the Jeep. Chuck estimated that this was a $700+ saving and thanked me for saving the expense… like I did anything but just be there.
Camp At Last
Several miles down the trail, we finally came to the camp turn-off marked by a paper plate with “GMJC” written on it. With dark only minutes away, we began setting up camp right away. (Note to self… don’t set up your tent on top of a windy knob ever again)
This is more like where to set-up a tent.
Beef Basin, S.E. Utah
By Jerry Smith
September 20 - 22, 2013
The next morning we got, what for me would be, a very late start. Beef Basin was calling and offering a spectacular day of adventuring into the past.
Courtesy of the Anasazi, our day of “Jeeping” Beef Basin was like taking a trip back to what is believed to be between A.D. 100 to 1300. The roads aren’t quite that old, but the sites we encountered were too interesting for mere words.
“Tower Ruin” shows how it got its name
It becomes very clear that the Anasazi were a very spiritual people. At nearly every site, there was a Kiva… a circular wall of stacked rocks where they conducted their ceremonials.
One of many Kivas we saw
These high walls have withstood time, weather, and…
The majority of these Beef Basin sites were not the usual “cliff dwellings” we all know. These were out in the open meadows and flat country between the cliffs. Farm country.
Farming wasn’t a fun job
Most of these sites also showed that they were interested in their security. The majority of sites were built on high ground in easily defended areas with a great view of the surroundings.
They would have been able to see any enemies approaching for some time and would have been able to either move out quickly or defend the site depending on the circumstances.
“Farm House Ruin”
Not knowing what kind of weather patterns and other living predicaments they lived in at the time lead to several speculative offerings by our group. Water must have been much more plentiful back then as they were able to keep crops of corn and squashes alive and productive.
Note how the bottom of the doorway is more narrow
Currently, even with our technology, we would have a difficult time growing anything… much less a crop that would support many lives through a year.
A bull snake takes a threatening pose
Even so, it is believed that they carried and ladled precious water sparingly to each plant. Between assembling their homes and keeping crops alive, it was obvious that they were some extremely industrious people.
These presumably summer homes, were made by taking slabs of sandstone and stacking them without using any kind of mortar. They fit the stones together by overlapping them creating a wall that has weathered centuries of winds, rains, and likely earthquakes.
pieces of pottery can still be found
We spent the majority of the day walking off the road to different sites we could find. Some were evident from the partial roads and trails that led out to them. Others were not as evident and required a good eye to see through thick brush and trees.
While searching the area, we encountered some washouts that had damaged the roadway severely. The worst of it was dropping into Bobby’s Hole.
Word has it, and the large signs confirmed it, that this is a very difficult section of road when it is in good condition.
Rough road ahead!
Today, it was not in good condition… depending on your point of view. Chuck and Mary lead the way down while all other vehicles waited at the top. Chuck wanted to try to reach the bottom but was overruled by Mary.
The road into Bobby’s Hole was rough and loose
This wash was deep and wide
In my opinion, they were both right. I thought at least Chuck and Happy Trails could have made it down and back, but the rest of our group was likely out-classed.
Having walked down to assess the situation, this hill was presently in a class 7+ or even an 8 condition. To say it would be a challenge would be fairly understated.
One other wash we encountered was similar to what I had gotten stuck in yesterday. This one could have been bypassed, but would have required going off-road to do it, so we turned back.
Flooding damage was present all over. The roads had numerous water channels cut across them. Some were quite deep while others were just an inch or two deep.
We arrived back at camp a little before dark and enjoyed another fun campfire as the nearly full moon graced the sky.
One of the only “Cliff Dwellings” we encountered
A light rainbow in the distance
Beef Basin, S.E. Utah
By Jerry Smith
September 20 - 22, 2013
Our second night in camp began with everyone going bed and all was calm. Some time during the night, a cold front came sneaking in and the wind began gusting in such a manner that my tent started squatting to near ground level.
Chuck dropping into Bobby’s Hole
Then the rain began. The rain was thrust so hard against the sides of my tent; it came through the “water resistant” fly and tent material to apply to everything inside. What a rude awakening!
This was the third overnight trip in a row for some of the group, where taking down wet tents and gear was becoming the norm. Knowing that getting home meant only to set up camp for drying out purposes AGAIN dimmed the expectations of getting home to relax.
Harley dropping into the canyon above Bobby’s Hole
After breaking camp, we proceeded back up the road toward the Highway. Along the way an opportunity to take a loop side road presented and we took advantage of it. This turned out to be a beautiful side trip.
The road/trail was just rough enough that it warranted low range for the extra control you get while driving a rough trail. It also provided some superb views of Wilderness Study Areas and their more “pristine” scenery.
Cody and some scenic country
Southern Utah has as much “pristine” scenery as about anywhere you will encounter. With all of the Wilderness, WSAs, National Parks, National Monuments, and other such areas, it is awash in “pristineness”.
I’m not sure when the cut-off date is, but the clause in the Wilderness Act that states “untrammeled by man” doesn’t seem to apply to the American Indians and their presence.
Four-legged creatures now inhabit the Anasazi dwellings
Every one of the several American Indians I have known or encountered appeared as much a man as the next guy.
Our “Heritage and Culture” are being eliminated
Why is it that we can overlook their heritage and cultural sites in regard to a designated Wilderness, but must take our historical roads and trails that were made during the opening of the great American western U.S. as a non-important national historical moment? Is not YOUR heritage and culture worth something?
Shouldn’t OUR heritage and cultural sites (roads and trails) be protected as much as any other culture and/or heritage sites?
At one stop along this loop, the ladies wandered off the road and encountered some small-petrified wood samples lying around. This is just another interesting reason to explore this remote and beautiful region. You just don't know what you might find.
Not long after this stop, the skies opened the liquid spigot and the carwash began. But soon, the muddy road began slinging new mud to replace the old.
As we topped the 8000 ft.+ summit in the National Forest, the road surface was more that of a skating rink. Sideways slides and tires flinging soupy, slippery mud became the only way down. Watching the others when I could take my eyes off of my own predicaments was almost comical.
Now, the real worry was how much more the rain would be washing out the road down country? This could be serious.
Luckily, the lower the elevation we traveled, the better the conditions got. Soon we were traveling at 30+ MPH toward the 211 Hwy.
Coming to the intersection, we stopped to air-up tires. That’s when Chuck discovered he had either lost his Warn winch control or it was misplaced in the fully loaded JKU back when the spare tire had been recovered by said winch.
Jerry’s CO2 Powertank saved the day by giving enough pressure to bring his tires back to safe highway running pressures.
Our wishes came true again as we turned onto Hwy 191 toward Moab. The rain came down in torrents for miles and cleaned much of the remaining mud from our vehicles.
After a leisurely late lunch at the Moab Brewery, we loaded up for the trip home. Walking through the parking lot, the clouds broke just enough to see that the tops of the La Sal Mountains were a brilliant white with a fresh snow.
Over all, this was an extremely fun trip. Overwhelming scenery, historical sites galore, fun Jeeping, and good friends to share it all with. How do you top that?
Maybe we’ll find out in two weeks when we explore the San Rafael Swell. You won’t want to miss that trip!
In the mean time, always remember; when you come to a fork in the road, Take It!
Copyright Happy Trails 4wd 2013 All rights reserved.
Chuck turning around above Bobby's Hole
Al knows a lot about this country
Pottery piece found (and left behind)