The ATV trails in San Juan County have been on my list for a long time. I was pleased when the NUATV club scheduled a ride on the Arch Canyon Trail. One of the guides for the annual San Juan Safari, Ron Toomey, was kind enough to take us through this historic and beautiful country.
We took Highway 95 just south of Blanding to our staging area. This highway is also known as the Bicentennial Highway as it was paved in 1976 and is a connection between Hanksville and Blanding. Being some 121 miles in length, it is one of the most scenic roads in Utah.
Turning off onto the Cottonwood Road, we staged at a wash by the same name. County Road 228 took us west toward Arch Canyon.
Delaying our descent into the canyon, we took a turn south at Butler Wash on a spur to see some well-preserved Anasazi ruins. From a ridge above the wash, we could see down into a large rock alcove which protected a beautiful silo-like granary with a hole near the bottom for access.
Reconnecting with the county road, we continued. At the top, we stopped to examine a panel of rock art. It is hard to pass one of these up because each one is unique.
We were anxious to get into the canyon, but getting there proved to be more than I expected. What lay before us was a rough rock trail that dropped through a cut in the ridge. It wasn’t strewn with loose rocks — it was an uneven rock bed with benches that had to be negotiated carefully.
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Working our way through the cut, we reached a smoother surface that took us on a switchback where we could see the trail cut out of the side of the mountain curving down to the canyon floor.
After the switchback, the trail got rough again. Working my way down this challenging rock track, it was one of the few times that 1 mph was as fast as I felt comfortable going.
Crossing Comb Wash, we entered Arch Canyon near Perkin’s Ranch. Our travel was in a northwest direction on a sandy trail that took us back and forth across the canyon floor and in and out of the sandy wash at the bottom.
I talked to Reed Embley, a member of the club who has taken this trail several times in the past. He said, “This trail has changed so much since I rode it last year. The trail was much smoother and the route through the canyon has changed completely.” Reed warned that this canyon is very susceptible to flash floods and that it is important to know something of the weather in the surrounding areas before exploring there.
A treasure trove of Anasazi history resides in this canyon and I haven’t seen all it has to offer. Some of the structures high on the canyon walls were pointed out to me, hidden as they were, in shadows and rock seams. I saw ancient structures camouflaged in rock windows that I would have missed without a guide.
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The trail ended in a shady area at the border of the Manti-La Sal National Forest where we stopped for lunch. We had to come all this way to see how the canyon got its name. Across from our shady lunch stop, a huge rock arch stood jutting out from the canyon wall.
It was there that I learned that this was an in-and-out trail. We were going to have to climb the same rock trail we had descended earlier.
Working our way back through the canyon, we faced our climb out. I was surprised that it was about three times faster than the descent. It did not build my confidence in making the climb, however, to see the wreckage of a car on the other side of the canyon that failed to negotiate this trail.
Arriving back at the trucks, we had only traveled 35 miles, but it took us about seven hours to do it. When you go, take plenty of water, keep the rubber side down, and see what secrets Arch Canyon has to discover.
You can email Lynn Blamires at firstname.lastname@example.org.