Trailridge Runners 4WD Club
Beef Basin Trip
April 2004

story by Kathy Howell, photos by Kathy Howell and Don Owens

For the past several years on our annual trip to Moab we have talked about the possibility of an overnight trip through Beef Basin. Last year we finally decided that 2004 would be the year to do it. A group of us met earlier this spring and planned the specific route and as we talked it up, others joined the group.

The plan was to leave on the Saturday before Easter and drive to Monticello, UT. The following morning we would join up with those already in Moab and begin the trip. Well, as you might recall, on the Friday before Easter, a huge spring snowstorm hit Colorado. Worried that we might not make it at all, some of us headed out on Friday afternoon and made it to Glenwood Springs and spent the night. Fortunately for those who did not leave until Saturday morning, the storm was not as bad as predicted and everyone made it to Monticello by late Saturday afternoon.

In Monticello we made a last minute trip to the grocery store, filled our water tanks and extra gas tanks and headed to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park to meet those from Moab. As we gathered at Newspaper Rock, we had quite a crew - Greg Beery, Edith Burch, Gail Straty and her daughter, Stacey, and her grandson, Russell, Patrick Davis, Gordon Howe, and Kathy and John Howell.

The road to Beef Basin was an easy, graded, but very scenic road. We quickly learned that Gordon Howe had grown up in the area and had also studied geology so he was a wealth of information on this trip. Snow in the Manti-La Sal National Forest restricts access to Beef Basin, but luckily we saw only a few drifts which we used to top off our ice chests. By 10:30 we met Don Owen and his friend, Corbin, who had arrived the previous day. Our caravan of 7 vehicles and 11 people were ready to explore. Today, Beef Basin is the winter pastures for cattle from the Dugout Ranch and we saw lots of them as we drove. We lunched beneath an ancient Indian cliff dwelling and then hiked up for a closer look. Quite impressive. We wondered how the Indians made this hike on a regular basis and where they got their water. There was speculation but no answers.
The girls then headed out to find a camping spot. Gail found us a perfect spot. In fact, someone before us also thought is was perfect and left us a large fire pit. We radioed the guys to join us and set up camp. There were plenty of flat, clear spaces to set up tents and our camp kitchen. Gordon and Corbin hiked the area. Don gathered firewood. The rest of us considered exploring but opted to spend the beautiful afternoon just enjoying ourselves. As the afternoon wore on, we got our campfire going and pulled our chairs around it for companionship and warmth. For our evening meal, we grilled steaks and topped it off with apple and cherry pies.

As the evening temperature dropped, the roaring campfire kept us warm and toasty. The clear sky was filled with stars and Edith and Greg would report the next morning on the shooting stars that they saw after everyone else had gone to bed. We reluctantly put out the campfire and snuggled down into our sleeping bags. I bought my sleeping many years ago and had no idea of its rating. The night was cold - Don said it got down to around 30 degrees. I wouldn’t want to put my sleeping bag through much more of a test than that. I slept well and woke to a roaring campfire and a steaming coffee pot. After a pancake breakfast, we broke camp and were off to Ruin Park to explore.

Evidence of early Native Americans abounds in this park with pictographs and ruins. The lack of year-round water and difficult access have kept the human presence in this area low. Today’s 4WD access routes were once cow trails used by cattle ranchers. We explored many of the Anasazi ruins including the Anasazi tower and Farmhouse ruin being careful not to disturb anything. We tried to imagine what life was like when the dwellings were occupied. Gail and Don have explored this area previously and pointed us to the best ruins. As we headed toward Canyonlands we descended into Bobby’s Hole over a steep, loose road. We chose our route knowing that in wet conditions, this road might be impassable to climb out of Bobby’s Hole into Ruin Park. However, with the dry conditions we experienced we had no trouble. At the bottom of the hill we took a short side trip to look at Impossible Hill whose name described it accurately.
Back on the trail we entered Canyonlands at the southern most entrance and made our way to the parking lot of the Joint hiking trail. We hiked to Chesler Park through the Joint - 2 vertical walls about 150' high and only several feet apart. It’s a truly fantastic place and a must see for everyone who ventures forth into this part of Canyonlands. To get back to the main Elephant Hill loop trail we had to make our way through a rocky obstacle with a sharp right turn in the middle of it. With a little maneuvering we all made it just fine. We were soon back on the loop trail passing through Devil’s Lane, then squeezing through a narrow canyon in the rock, and down the Silver Stairs which are named for the silvery color of the ledges in certain light. We opted to skip the spur road to the Confluence Overlook of the Green and Colorado Rivers in favor of ensuring that we would exit Elephant Hill in daylight.

The remainder of the trail follows in or alongside a sandy wash. As the loop trail ends, the final ascent is over the rocks that give the trail its name. The ascent is steep and rocky and the switchbacks are too tight to make turns. The “Pull In and Back Up” sign at the halfway point marks the notorious stretch where vehicles are required to pull up and then back up 100 yards before continuing in a normal forward manner. It’s a bit daunting for the first time traveler, but a closer look reveals that the Park Service has smoothed over the major holes with concrete so that park vehicles can traverse the trail. The final descent down the other side of Elephant Hill drops you into a paved National Park parking lot. From here it is an easy but a long drive back to Moab.

What a fun trip. We are already planning our next overnighter!

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