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Grand Junction to Moab - The Big Adventure

Mark Werkmeister | Writer
Posted April 1, 2009
Photographers: Joanne Spivack

Grand Junction To Moab; 'The Back Way'

The author's Comanche drops into the brushy confines of Granite Creek Canyon at the end of a long day of backcountry exploration.

We call it "The Big Adventure." Each year, a small group of four-wheeling friends gets together for our annual rendition of The Big Adventure. The rules are pretty simple: 1) Take a backcountry journey from Point A to Point B; and 2) Stay on dirt as much as possible. We also have a few corollaries to the rules: a) The route should be one most of us haven't been on before; b) It should include at least some terrain where the transfer case finds its way into 4-Lo; and c) the final destination should be somewhere with hot food, cold beverages, and showers. Let us not forget the showers at the end of a long trip!

The Cambridge dictionary says adventure "is an unusual, exciting and possibly dangerous activity such as a journey or experience." The Big Adventure 2008 definitely met this definition. Traveling long backcountry routes is, in itself, pretty unusual these days. Not only are oft-traveled routes improved with regular maintenance, the number of unimproved through-routes is declining as motorized recreation is systematically eliminated from more and more public land.

The 2008 version of The Big Adventure took us across the rugged and empty desert between Grand Junction, Colorodo, and Moab, Utah.

We certainly find our Big Adventures to be exciting. Backcountry travel on unproven routes offers the thrill of discovery. But being hours, or even days from help dictates good preparation. We must be self-reliant as spending days on the trail in unpredictable conditions requires level heads and reliable vehicles. "Possibly dangerous activity"? We avoid danger for danger's sake but four-wheeling far from pavement does introduce some risk factors with which not everyone would be comfortable. Most previous Big Adventures have had at least some 4WD "pucker" moments and this year's trip continued that tradition.

In planning 2008's Big Adventure, we needed to choose a suitable jumping-off point, a destination, and then a general route connecting the two. Cross-checking our calendars for available dates, we only had four days in common. This dictated a relatively short trip. Early October is a bit late for high elevation travel but generally great for red rock country. We wanted something a bit different than southeast Utah. about Grand Junction to Moab? Perfect! to do it?

Route options between these two points are very limited by the terrain. In addition to the Dolores and Colorado Rivers, several long cliff lines and ridges limit possibilities. We started poring over maps, comparing notes, and checking other sources. Most people know about the Kokopelli Trail, a mountain biking trail running from Grand Junction to Moab. Almost all of it can also be run in 4WD's and has been run quite frequently. We wanted something a bit different. Then a friend of a friend offered a route suggestion that sounded and looked intriguing. Sketchy information about an interesting backcountry route? Ideal! The Big Adventure 2008 was put in motion.

We met in Grand Junction at noon. Google Earth showed that Moab was only 66 miles away as the crow flies. Of course, we weren't crows and it would be a little bit further for our small earth-bound caravan. Besides, 66 miles is a Sunday drive, not a Big Adventure. We topped off the gas tanks and headed out of town. While we wanted as much dirt as possible under our wheels, we made a concession to the suggested route and headed west on asphalt. Little Park Road took us to Glade Park and then DS Road took us all the way to the Colorado/Utah state line. Once on the border, we turned off the pavement, aired down the tires, and headed south.

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