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ATV Adventures: Riding trails at the San Juan ATV Safari in Blanding

By Lynn Blamires - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Sep 21, 2023
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Riding through the woods to the camp at the base of Blue Mountain on the San Juan ATV Safari.
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Riding slick rock on the Falls Missile Trail at the San Juan ATV Safari.
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Riding the red rock canyons on the Falls Missile Trail at the San Juan ATV Safari.
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Lynn Blamires

The red rock country of Southern Utah never fails to amaze me. It has been a few years since I have made a trip to Blanding and the closer I got, the more excited I became. Traveling down Highway 6 to Interstate 70, we saw the jagged outline of the ridges of the San Rafael Swell on our right. Going through Moab, we saw the Wilson Arch on the south side of town and then Blue Mountain as we approached Blanding. We were just in time to unload at our motel and line up for our first ride at the San Juan ATV Safari.

The headquarters for the safari shift each year between Monticello and Blanding. This year, Blanding had the baton. Since the jamboree has participants staying in both cities, they work closely together to pull off this event. There were over 160 people who enjoyed the festivities of this year’s jamboree.

The ride we had lined up for was a night ride on trails to the base of Blue Mountain. Half of the group left from Blanding and the other half left from Monticello to meet at a beautiful church camp with facilities to accommodate 400 people.

We lined up at 5 p.m. and followed our leader through a maze of right-of-way trails through the agricultural fields of Blanding. Those trails gave way to the Blue Mountain Trails that took us on a winding track through thick backcountry woods on a 20-mile trek to the camp.

We arrived before dark and we were treated to Navajo tacos in a large bowery at the camp. Now, these weren’t regular scones that were used to make these but genuine Navajo fry bread, and they were delicious.

We made our way back the 20 miles to Blanding in the dark. You may think that was a problem, but not with my light bar, pod lights and rock lights. These accessories light up the night and put the fun in night rides.

We planned to ride a trail called the Falls Missile on Thursday. The name alone piqued my interest.

We were to meet at the visitor center in Blanding like we did the night before. When we arrived at the appointed time, we learned that there is also a visitor center in Monticello 20 miles away where we were supposed to be. Note to self — read the fine print. Better yet, read all of the print.

We called ahead and beelined to the other visitor center and made it in time to get in line for our 8 a.m. departure. We traveled north on U.S. 191 and then turned west on Highway 211 across from Church Rock. This took us by Newspaper Rock and into the Needles District of Canyonlands.

We staged off of the Lockhart Basin Road. This is red rock country and we wound around canyon ledges, dropping into and out of colorful canyons, passing through the shadows of wonderful stone canyon walls. The canyon we dropped into followed Indian Creek on a horseshoe curve around a huge monolith until almost closing the circle, we popped out and up onto a ridge.

Here we saw the missile part of our ride. Before us were the remains of a very large missile. Back in the 1960s, the military launched missiles from Green River down to the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. This one apparently malfunctioned so they crashed it in this remote location. That must have been something to see.

We left this site and headed back down into the canyon where we backtracked to a point near the top of the horseshoe curve. At this junction, we took a trail through a canyon to the east. About half way to the Lockhart Basin Road we stopped at the “Falls” part of this ride.

During the runoff in the spring, the water drops over this rock course at a surprising rate. Our guide had pictures to show us what it was like, but this site was interesting even without water.

So, when you put these two sites together, this becomes the Falls Missile Ride at the San Juan ATV Safari. We headed back to the trucks, finishing a ride of about 17 miles.

I would describe this trail as a mix of sand and slick rock. When you go, take plenty of water, keep the rubber side down and plan on seeing this remarkable country at next year’s safari.

Contact Lynn R. Blamires at quadmanone@gmail.com.


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