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4WD Adventures - Shortcut To Birthing Rock

Posted in Events on September 1, 2008
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Lone Writer, Sundance, and Happy Jack (CB handles) sat around an early-morning campfire near Indian Creek telling stories about trips that were a long time gone. They had passed through Canyonlands National Park and over Elephant Hill the previous day but had not decided what to do with the last day of their visit to Utah. As the last bite of bacon and eggs went the way such things do, Lone Writer asked the other two if they knew where Birthing Rock is. The question was answered with blank stares.

Birthing Rock contains a panel of rock art dating back to the time of the Anasazi Indians. One of the figures on that rock has been identified by experts as a woman giving birth. Lone Writer had heard about the rock for decades but had never taken the time to locate it.

From Indian Creek, the shortest distance to Birthing Rock is through Lockhart Basin and over Hurrah Pass. In other words, a "shortcut."

Happy Jack grinned, "I like shortcuts."

It is well known among those who travel with Lone Writer that shortcuts are nearly always very time consuming. That reputation first surfaced on this very trail back in 1986 when Lone Writer pointed the trail out on a map to Farmer Bob. Back in those days GPS did not exist, laptop mapping programs were only for the very rich, and navigation was done using topo maps and looking for landmarks.

On that day back in 1986, Lone Writer and Farmer Bob left Elephant Hill in Canyonlands about midafternoon. The plan was to go to Farmer Bob's house in Palisade, Colorado, for the night. Then Lone Writer noticed the shortcut on the map.

It looked like it would save a lot of miles and give them something to do for the rest of the day without driving on paved roads. Several hours later, a moonless night had blanketed everything with darkness, and the two explorers were definitely lost. Without being able to compare landmarks to the topo maps, there was no way to determine where they were or which way to go.

Meanwhile, back in Palisade, Farmer Bob's wife became worried enough to call the state police in Utah and report her husband missing. They told her they would keep an eye out for him, but she was sure she heard someone in the background giggling. Fat chance the state police would find anyone who was wandering around in the darkness of Lockhart Basin, even if they knew to look there. In those days, cell phones did not exist, and no one even knew the two explorers were in Lockhart Basin.

As darkness gave way to the rising sun, Lone Writer and Farmer Bob rubbed the sleep from their eyes and began the process of fixing breakfast. They discussed how beautiful their surroundings were in the early-morning light and took stock of their supplies. They consulted the maps and found their location. Both were happy to learn they were still on the right road. Although there were numerous dead-end roads branching off the main road, there is only one road that passes all the way through Lockhart Basin. In those days, even the main road was little more than a two-track path left behind many years ago by uranium miners.

For the two explorers, they were on an exciting adventure, boldly going where they had never gone before. They had plenty of food, water, and gas, so neither of them had anything to be concerned about. Of course, they did not know about the call Farmer Bob's wife had made to the state police or the call to Lone Writer's wife. Since the state police were still giggling, there would be no interference from them. Lone Writer's wife was used to him disappearing into the desert for several days at a time, so she wasn't worried. A favorite joke around the campfire was that if Lone Writer disappeared for more than a week, his wife would hang out a sign that read, "Lost: Husband and dog. Reward for the dog."

The two explorers broke camp after breakfast and continued along the Lockhart Basin trail. It was challenging for stock vehicles, but they enjoyed such challenges, so that simply added to the adventure. It was nearly nightfall again when they finally reached Moab. Neither of them had seen Birthing Rock. Actually at that time, neither of them had even heard of it.

Lone Writer finished his story about the 1986 trip and tossed his chair into the back of his 4x4. "I've been through Lockhart Basin several times since that first trip, but I've never found Birthing Rock. Maybe we'll do that today."

From Canyonlands National Park, most people begin their trip by filling their gas tanks at the Outpost near the park boundary. The turnoff from the pavement for Indian Creek is the first left turn east of the park boundary not counting the turn for the Outpost.

The first part of the trail going across Indian Creek is relatively smooth and very wide. It is occasionally used to get to the Colorado River. There are numerous cliff dwellings around Indian Creek and many dozens of campsites. The area is used heavily by ATV riders, so it is common to find many dozens of motorhomes, tents, and trailers camped for miles on either side of the creek.

About 17 miles from the pavement, the only major intersection on the route can be confusing. The main road goes left and ends at the river. To continue into Lockhart Basin, take the right fork. It crosses a very rocky area and eventually reaches a steep climb onto a rocky bench. From that point on, the pace slows down to a bumpy stop-and-go trot. Washouts and rocky ledges that drop hundreds of feet demand caution and patience. The views are indescribable looking off to the west across the canyons formed by the Colorado River.

At about 39 miles since leaving pavement, the fun really begins. The route drops off the upper bench onto a lower one where the intersection for Chicken Corners is reached. The last mile or two before that intersection is steep and very difficult for a stock vehicle. Anyone coming from the other direction and trying to climb onto the upper bench will have an even greater challenge and may not be able to do it without lockers.

Going down does not require lockers but is best done with spotters. Huge boulders must be climbed and descended. In some places, the rocker panels will be passing inches away from rocks that could cave them in. Cracks in the rocky surface that are big enough to swallow a small 4x4 must be straddled. In other places, one or more wheels will be off the ground, causing the vehicle to rock from side to side. When that happens, a precise path must be followed to prevent rollovers.

At the next intersection, they turned left and drove out to Chicken Corners. The landmark is named because the road between a cliff dropping hundreds of feet to the Colorado River and a rock wall is barely wide enough for a fullsize vehicle.

Lone Writer drove to the south side of Chicken Corners and pulled into a huge campsite protected on two sides by rocky walls. Nightfall was closing in. The tents went up, and cooking equipment was unloaded. The three travelers were soon enjoying a campfire and sharing memories.

The next day, the travelers continued 7 miles along the easy road over Hurrah Pass. Birthing Rock was found 1.8 miles past the Hunter Canyon creek crossing and campsite. It stands alone on the left side of the road. The road is wide enough for parking, and a footpath leads to the rock. It is best described as a huge boulder the size of a one-car garage.

Fremont Indians are credited with the art on Birthing Rock. We suppose that could be a woman giving birth. Who are we to argue with the experts? Besides, all the fun is in getting there. The last time Lone Writer saw Farmer Bob, he said the state police still had not found him.

Larry E. Heck has been writing backcountry adventure stories since 1985. GPS tracks for stories written in this magazine can be purchased at his website, These tracks and draw files can be used with DeLorme Topo USA 7.0 to display the exact route in detail over accurate maps. For more info, write to or call (303) 349-9937.

PhotosView Slideshow
Route from Canyonlands Park to Moab. Begin the trip from the park
boundary or from the road into the Outpost.
Latitude Longitude Comments
38 10.5334N 109 39.9852W First left east of park boundary.
38 19.7362N 109 40.6875W Right fork goes to Lockhart Basin.
Left goes to the river.
38 25.7473N 109 41.3775W Left to Chicken Corners. Right to Hurrah Pass.
38 27.0363N 109 42.9587W Chicken Corners.
38 28.9366N 109 37.4958W Hurrah Pass.
38 30.5937N 109 35.8133W Hunter {{{Canyon}}} creek crossing and camp.
38 31.2935N 109 36.1480W Parking for Birthing Rock. This is 1.8 miles past Hunter
Canyon. GPS for the rock is not provided.
38 34.1378N 109 33.6917W Stop sign. Straight.
38 33.8263N 109 32.9919W Main Street in Moab.

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