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San Rafael Swell Off Road - Hittin' The Slots In Utah

Side Vieweasternmost Ridge
Jim Brightly | Writer
Posted July 1, 2008

No Gambling Here... The Scenic Canyons 65 Miles Northwest Of Moab Are A Sure Thing For Off-Roaders!

Traveling along EM1028 south of I-70, the trail parallels the front face of the easternmost ridge in the San Rafael Swell.

Before it was phat, it was swell. Before it was boss, it was swell. Before it was cool, it was swell! What is it? Coined in the 1940s and popularized in the 1950s, swell is anything and everything that makes you feel good: A wide-open, tire-sucking sand wash; a narrow, crooked canyon to nowhere; a warm campfire; an ice-cold beverage at the end of a hard, hot, dusty trail; an ancient, intriguing rock painting; or a beautiful red, blue, and white sunrise. Well, I'm here to tell you that the San Rafael Swell area is swell! And it can give you all that I've listed above in abundance, time after time.

Located 18 to 38 miles west of Green River, Utah (Interstate 70 exit numbers 111 to 149), the slot canyons - slits in the earth that are tall, narrow, and crooked - spread out along both sides of I-70 for about 20 miles. From above, the slot spread roughly resembles the splayed fingers of two hands making flying bird silhouettes on a screen. Created by centuries of erosion from wind and rain rather than year-round streams and rivers, the slots can be easily seen from passersby on I-70.

The Buckhorn Wash pictograph panel is hundreds of feet long and hundreds of feet high with messages from many generations of Indians.

Last year, after almost 40 years of visiting Moab without taking the time to investigate those fascinating fingers along the raised roadbed of I-70, my wife Saraine and I took our dogs, our Trailblazer tent trailer (with an emphasis on "trail"), and our JK Rubicon Unlimited to the San Rafael Swell area for a week of exploring and camping. We were not disappointed.

Those of us who travel to Moab from the West have long been intrigued by these curious crevasses. On each of my trips to Moab from California - which began in 1968 - I stopped at the scenic overlooks along I-70 to stretch and to wonder at the magical and mysterious mountainsides that fell away from the highway to the north and the south. Riotous ribbons of roads, trails, and tire tracks can be seen from the overlooks. It would seem that every canyon had some type of track in it that just begged me to explore it to its end.


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