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Utah Trail Ride Adventures - Hotel Rock Road

Posted in Events on October 1, 2008
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(Note: The names used in this story are CB handles.)

Lone Writer stepped out of the Ole Timer Steak House in Blanding, Utah, and paused to admire the clear blue sky towering above the snowcapped mountains to the West. His brother, Santa Anna, stepped up beside him and asked, "What are we doing this afternoon?"

Lone Writer smiled and rolled a toothpick from one side of his mouth to the other. "I was gonna ask you the same thing. I'm just a guest on this trip. Where's the trail boss?"

"Standing right behind you," Jelly Bean giggled, "and I'm appointing you as the official trail scout of the day."

A few minutes later, four vehicles turned onto Westwater Road and headed toward those snowcapped mountains in the Manti-La Sal National Forest. Westwater Road is a graded county road that steadily climbs in elevation on a westerly course out of Blanding. There are numerous scenic views that invite the driver to simply stop and stare for a few moments. Sometimes they even hop out and snap the camera a few times in hopes of taking some of the scenery home.

Lone Writer was a passenger in the lead vehicle driven by his son, Gadget. The next vehicle in line was a four-door Wrangler driven by Jelly Bean with D-Man in the passenger seat. Sundance and Sunshine were in the ZR2 with Happy Jack following behind in the green Ford.

A short distance after entering the National Forest, the group turned onto a side road toward Milk Ranch Point. A huge tree had fallen across the road and completely blocked it. Other travelers had driven off the road to get around the tree, but Lone Writer frowns on such behavior. Towstraps were dug out of the toolbox, wrapped around the tree, and tied to the back of the Wrangler. A few minutes later, the road was cleared.

It's a winding narrow road that quickly crosses out of the National Forest and onto BLM lands. It skims the sides of a mountain, dropping 1,600 feet in elevation on a direct course for Hotel Rock. The scenic views along that road are breathtaking. The road itself is plenty wide but would likely be very dangerous if wet.

Hotel Rock is about 10 miles from the main National Forest road. The road getting there is easy to follow except for the last 1/2 mile. At that point, numerous trails branch off from it, and many of them are well used due to others who went the wrong way. Hotel Rock is visible from some vantage points but hidden in the forest from others. The best way to find it is to key in the GPS coordinates and select roads that go in that direction.

For historians, the attraction to Hotel Rock is the many cliff dwellings nestled into the cracks of the massive formation. For avid four-wheelers, the attraction is the road between Hotel Rock and Comb Wash. That road drops another 1,200 feet in elevation, and it does so in such a manner as to offer the kind of challenges that are often referred to as extreme four-wheeling. Most travelers who visit Hotel Rock come in and go out by way of Comb Wash.

Happy Jack and Sundance were the two most familiar with the route to Comb Wash, so they took the lead. The trail is not difficult to follow, but those who have traveled it more often can travel faster because they already know which lines to take for their own vehicles.

After leaving Hotel Rock, the road became rocky and very difficult for the stock vehicles. The ZR2 and the Wrangler were stock; however, they both came factory equipped with traction-enhancing differentials. The Wrangler was the best equipped with the Rubicon package. The Grand Cherokee was stock except for a lift kit and oversize tires, but it also had factory-equipped lockers that gave it capabilities most stock vehicles do not have. Gadget and Jelly Bean had never had their vehicles on a trail with the challenges they faced on that day. Both received on-the-trail training from Lone Writer and Happy Jack.

Using spotters on the Hotel Rock trail is essential for beginners. From inside the vehicle, things can look a lot different than they are. In one spot, Jelly Bean got a lesson in just how far a vehicle can lean and still not be in danger of rolling over. From inside the vehicle, she was sure a bad end was near when Lone Writer calmly said, "Now, let off the brake and roll forward until it levels out."

The only casualty of the day was a small scratch on the bumper of Gadget's Cherokee when the overhang proved to be a little longer and the drop off a little steeper than he thought. It was nothing a little buffing wouldn't fix.

Sundance and Sunshine had followed Happy Jack ahead of the other two vehicles and were at camp cooking up a chicken-and-dumplings dinner by the time everyone made it back. The group lounged around the campfire enjoying dinner and reliving the day's events. It's interesting how stories can grow a little each time they are told. The last I heard, Jelly Bean was telling everyone her Jeep leaned over, came up on two wheels, and just stayed in that position until Santa Anna grabbed the side and pulled it back down on the ground. Santa Anna was saying the Jeep is just like his old basset hound. All he did was scratch its belly, and it straightened right back up.

D-Man must have been impressed with Jelly Bean's driving. A few weeks later, he flew her down to the Grand Canyon and proposed to her. The wedding is planned for September.

PhotosView Slideshow

Hotel Rock Road
This trip begins in downtown Blanding, Utah. When entering latitude into a GPS, include the letter "N." When entering longitude, include the letter "W." Some GPS will also accept entering latitude as a positive number and longitude as a negative number. Reset your trip meter when 0.0 is displayed.

Odometer Latitude Longitude Comments
0.0 N37 37.5371 W109 29.1050 At the corner of Center
      and 400 W. St., turn
right, then after a few
blocks, turn left on 550
N. Westwater Rd.
7.0 N37 39.1404 W109 33.6228 Take the right fork.
10.7 N37 37.8942 W109 35.9041 Take the right fork.
0.0     Left goes back to
      Highway 95.
2.7 N37 38.9833 W109 37.5853 Take the left fork.
3.9 N37 38.9251 W109 38.6242 Continue left onto
      Whisker S Drive.
14.9 N37 40.4716 W109 45.5621 Turn left at sign for
0.0   Milk Ranch Point. Fol
  low the main road in.

The road continues south for about 9 miles. When you get close to Hotel Rock, there are numerous dead-end roads to campsites and overlooks. Hotel Rock is the highest point and towers above the trees in the forest but cannot always be seen. Use the GPS coordinates below as a target.

Odometer Latitude Longitude Comments
9.8 N37 34.3374 W109 42.1298 Hotel Rock. From here, the
0.0     road continues
  south. Anyone inexperie
nced in rockcraw
ling should go back the
way they came.
3.6 N37 32.8313 W109 39.8987 Once the rockcrawling
  is done, the trail con
nects to the graded
road. It took us 3-1/2
hours from Hotel Rock,
but we were not in any hurry.
6.3 N37 30.7001 W109 39.3892 County road connects to
      Highway 95. Blanding is left.

Larry E. Heck has been writing backcountry adventure stories since 1985. GPS tracks for stories written in this magazine can be purchased from 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.

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