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Moab Trail Ride: Monitor & Merrimac

Posted in Events on August 1, 2007
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While it's somewhat off the beaten track-12 miles north of Moab, and easy to miss from the highway-this trail is a pleasant half-day loop through rocky washes and undulating pastureland, with gorgeous views of windswept sandstone canyons at almost every turn.

It looks a lot scarier than it really is, but Wipe Out Hill, adjacent to M&M, is a modestly challenging test of clearance, tires, and driver skill. Not enough lift or tire, and you'll take out your rocker panels. Too much lift, and you might end up at the bottom.

From Highway 191, the trail proceeds northwest, through miles of silty Courthouse Dry Wash and rocky (and sometimes wet) Tusher Wash before veering abruptly to the south across meadowlike Courthouse Pasture. From there, you'll alternate between dirt, sand, some slickrock, and a couple of hillclimbs, past seven major rock formations including the Destination Tower pinnacles and the hulking Monitor and Merrimac buttes, so named for their alleged resemblance to the legendary Civil War ironclads that duked it out at the Battle of Hampton Roads in 1862. From the buttes, the trail descends into Mill Canyon, where several stream crossings may need to be forded, depending on weather and the time of year. Near trail's end, you'll find a 1/4-mile hiking trail that'll take you to a field of petrified dinosaur bones, and at the end of the loop you'll see the remnants of an old stage house that was in use during the 1890s. In all, figure about half an hour to get to (and from) the trailhead from town, and a good three hours of leisurely 'wheeling.

Though it's not technically part of the M&M trail, the highlight of this trip for most 'wheelers is Wipe Out Hill, adjacent to the buttes and a short, steep, and rocky series of staggered drop-offs into a sandy wash. One wag in our group, thinking the obstacle overrated, calls it "Somewhat Annoying Hill," and while our convoy managed to descend (and ascend) it with nothing more than some back-end hitch-scraping, there are plenty of chances for bumper and rocker damage to vehicles lacking sufficient clearance, and-for taller, tippier rigs-rollovers. Our stock JK Wrangler with 32-inch tires made the downhill traverse with just enough clearance, so we'd advise 32s as base rubber here if you're not running a suspension lift. (There's also a shortcut exit at the bottom of Wipe-Out that can get you back to pavement in a few minutes if you don't want to run the rest of M&M; this will shave close to an hour off your trip time.)

While this trail is routinely rated a 4 in many guidebooks, it really isn't all that difficult during the dry season for a well-prepped rig. In wet weather, the sandy washes can turn soupy, and creek crossings in the canyons may pose challenges for vehicles with low-hanging intakes. But by and large, this is a mild-to-moderate pleasure drive with a good mix of challenge and scenery that makes it perfect for a family four-by outing.

A word of advice: While not on the short list of "gotta-run" trails for more grizzled 'wheelers, M&M is a popular destination for bikers and quad drivers-the day we ran it, they were like locusts, literally everywhere-so keep to a prudent speed even though much of the trail begs to be prerun at a healthy clip, especially the dry washes.

Location: Approx. 12 miles north of Moab off U.S. Hwy 191
Length: 12 miles
Time to run: 2-3 hours
How to get there: Turn left off Hwy 191 onto Mill Canyon Road, proceed past the information board on the right-side track 0.6 mile until you reach the sign at the trail head.
Trailhead waypoint: N 3843.66' W 10943.29'
Exit waypoint: Same if you complete the entire loop.
Points of interest: Determination Towers, N 3841.10' W 10944.94' Wipe Out Hill, approx. N 3840.32' W10944.92' Monitor & Merrimac Buttes, N 3840.18' W 10944.53'Dinosaur Trail, N 3842.75' W 10944.32'
Rating: 2 if you bypass Wipe-Out, 3 if you don't.

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