| Beef Basin Adventures
|by Don Owens
photos by Don Owens
Due to the lack of the folks from the RockHoppers 4WD Club, Gail Straty and myself didn't know if the show would go on. All was not lost, I had given the invite to Steve and Kevin, friends in Eldorado Springs where I live, and Bill and Roberta Boitano. We all met in Moab on Saturday Morning.
We were all to meet at the Ball Park in Moab by 10:00am. Bill and Roberta roared up in Bill's Scout II. While waiting for Steve and gang, I was cobbling up Gail's spare CB radio to a 12 volt plug and my spare antenna so Steve could keep up with things. Steve and company arrived, Steve and Brian were in Steve's Grand Cherokee and Kevin and Lowell were in Kevin's CJ-7. We topped off our tanks and headed for Monticello, Utah.
The last time Gail and I were in Monticello, Utah was about five years ago. The Sinclair station where we had gotten gas was not closed. We headed west on the Forest Service road that would take us over the Abajo Mountain to Beef Basin. This time around the road went a few blocks to end at a new Mormon temple. After asking about it we were referred to a different road. Just past the RT. 666 intersection in Monticello there is a Forest Service mileage sign. I had a feeling that it wasn't the right road. There was a lot of road improvement going on and I suspected it was for the ski area on the northern flank of the Abajos.
As luck would have it, Gail found a Forest Service road with the marker in the ditch. I had been on Forest Road 79 before this. The road winds its way through two watersheds up to a pass that you can see the southern San Juan Mountains to the east from. Ship rock near Farmington, New Mexico to the south is also visible. Continuing down to the intersection of San Juan County road 225 and Forest road 95 took us to the place we had been after originally.
Forest road 95 is also called the Gooseberry Road. About midway we came to the Causeway where the road becomes a isthmus where two canyon heads come together. Poison Canyon is to the south and Steven Canyon is to the north. We then turned on Forest road 91 which is the Elk Ridge road that starts at RT. 95 off of the road that goes into Bridges National Monument. The road is named after the Elk Ridge Cattle Company that at one time ran about 10,000 head of cattle during the early 1900's here. We finally turned on to Forest road 93 that goes into Beef Basin. Those who want a quicker, but no less scenic trip can take RT. 211 to the turn off beyond the Indian Creek Cattle Co. to Cottonwood Canyon. This way has no turn offs to the Beef Basin road.
As you drop off Elk Ridge you can see across the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park and can just see the red mesas that make up the Island In the Sky district. We worked our way down to the floor of the valley, to the junction of Beef Basin and the Middle / Ruin Park road. There is a BLM sign in box at the intersection. We all signed in because this area is in real danger of being turned into Wilderness by the folks of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA). So if you are in the area, sign in and tell the BLM why you like being able to get to this area in your 4WD vehicle.
From here the road starts a loop that goes around the outside of the basin. Unfortunately Gail and I noticed a lot of road washouts making it even harder to find the turn off to Ruin Canyon. There must have been some pretty hellish thunderstorms pass through in the few years. We decided to camp near one of the Indian ruins in Ruin Park.
On Sunday we stopped at Farmhouse Ruin on our way to Canyonlands National Park. The site is estimated to have been built around 1200 AD. We also visited what I call the Pit Ruin. This ruin is diagonally opposite of Farmhouse and has an outside small pit large enough to fit five or six people. Whether or not this was a Kiva or a ceremony pit is still speculation. We continued on toward Bobby's Hole. Gail and I wondered if the hill had gotten more eroded since the last time. It looked like San Juan County had put some more dirt in the washouts. I wanted to stop and take a look at the top of the impossible hill (the Diode) that was in a trip description from a New Mexico 4WD club. I had seen this hill the first time I had visited this area in 1988. The last 75 feet is very rough with steps and loose boulders. The road goes down to Cross Canyon and then connects with Imperial Valley, which ties back in with Ruin Park. Bobby's Hole is at the southern end of a Graben that leads into the National Park. A Graben describes these flat valleys with vertical sandstone walls, much resembling a grave.
We stopped for a convenient potty brake where Kevin found a small arch/window around the corner. We headed for Chesler Park and the Joint Trail. The Joint Trail is similar to a Graben, only very narrow. These cracks in the sandstone are just wide enough for a person to walk through. They are like slot canyons, only narrower and shallower. Chesler Park is enclosed on four sides by needle like spires, or as Steve put it, penises. The Needles give this section of Canyonlands it's name. If you are visiting Canyonlands, this area is one of the most scenic. Ahead was the "Z" slot (SOB hill) that goes from one Graben into another. We all made it through with a little spotting. Next, Gail gave Steve and Kevin driving tips for negotiating the Silver Stairs, a series of alternating steps in the sandstone. Here we picked up a guy in a rental TJ that really didn't know where he was going. We all went down to the Confluence, where the Colorado River and the Green River meet. Only Steve, Brian and I went out to the ledge to view the great junction.
We caught Bill and Roberta Boitan at the turn off for Elephant Hill. Wen we got to the base there were two Cherokees coming down. Apparently one of the Cherokees had blown a left side lower ball joint. They tried to pull it back up the hill but only got fifty feet blocking the hills first turn. We had to wait over and hour while they tried to solve their predicament. We found out that this group was the Montgomery family out of Salt Lake City. All of the driving members of the family had Cherokees. They had printed up T-Shirts that had a picture of all the family's Cherokees on it and "It's a Montgomery thing, you wouldn't understand." They tied the steering knuckle to the frame with plastic string and pulled the vehicle off to the side so the rest of us could get by.
Now we could see the Parks handy work that closed Elephant Hill for three months. Apparently the Park was losing vehicles into a gully down below. I bet the vehicles in question didn't have anyone spotting them on the corner pocket and they dropped over the edge. Those woh haven't been on Elephant Hill, when you come up on the western side you have to get into position on the first flat so you can backup the switchback into the pocket, the reason for having a spotter. Well, the Park Service had built out this area and put large rocks in at the edge. From there you pull straight forward up to the top of the hill. The folks below were going to pull their dead vehicle with the other Cherokee, but it didn't look like they were going to make it. Bill took his Scout with a 6:1 T-18 transmission and ARB lockers down to help out. With Bill pulling, the dad driving and the rest of the family keeping the weight off the broken front, they slowly got the broke Cherokee to the top. From there the down hill would have gravity on their side.
After airing up, we parted with Steve and the gang. Gail and I, Bill and Roberta, headed for Moab and got in at 10:30pm. I headed for "Stiffs" for dinner and there were no crowds, imagie that. Everyone had a really great time.
Since the Hole-in-the-Rock portion of this run had been cancelled, much to my disappointment, I decided to show Gail Little Wildhorse Canyon in the southern section of the San Rafael Reef. Little Wildhorse is a slot canyon that you hike through. It has some unique narrows and is about four miles long. From there we headed over to the Green River road. This road comes out of the town of Green River and runs all the way down to the Maze District of Canyonlands National Park, on the west side of the Colorado River from the Needles District.
I was hoping to find the turn off to June Bottom and Colonade Arch at the base of Keg Point. Colonade Arch is an extremely rare five hole arch with three front openings and two ceiling openings. But it wasn't meant to be, my memory just wasn't there. We kept going and came upon the north trailhead for Horsetheif Canyon. This is a unit of Canyonlands National Park and has one of the largest pictograph panels. The north side walk in is a pretty strenuous walk with a steep section. The south entrance from Hans Flat Ranger Station gets you closer to the Great Gallery panel. At one time you could drive all the way to the canyon floor. A little ways beyond the ranger station is the Flint Trail which drops down from the mesa top to the next bench.
As we were heading for the turn off for Sunset Pass to find camp I got a call over the radio from Gail who said that she could see out the back, meaning she had lost her safari rack. I turned around and found that the one inch bolt holding the rack on the right side was sheared off flush with the bumper. We took it apart and put it in the back of my truck, Jenny. We set up camp just past the Glen Canyon Recreation Area boundary to be legal. Coming up to camp I heard a bump-bump noise that didn't sound good. The next morning Gail was able to get the spare tire and the broken rack into her Wrangler. I decided to take the Hite road out to Hwy 95 because the road is mostly flat. When I drove a little faster the noise I heard sped up as well, so I though it might be a broken pinon tooth. When we got to the highway I drove about 25mph taking advantage of the hills. Once we got to I-70 I bumped up my speed to 45mph and drove to Grand Junction. I tried to get a hold of Kevin, who might have had a spare Ring and Pinion set, but no luck. So, down I-70 I go with this terrible racket and made it over passes and finally home without dropping the rear driveshaft. I guess this is a test of the over all durability of Precision Gears.