If you are not used to travel in the desert, I want to go over a few things. Many people come to Utah and see the desert as a wasteland, they go off-trail, the tear up the land, leave trash, and generally make me consider doing things to them that would result in my incarceration. The desert is a very fragile ecosystem, even the dirt is alive. The soil is kind of the coral reef of the desert, it consists of colonies of micro-organisms building structures that retain water, slow erosion from wind and rain, hold seeds for plants to germinate, and provide much-needed habitat. This stuff is called cryptobiotic soil, a single step or track can destroy hundreds of years of growth. Do not step off any trails or drive off marked roads. Doing so is very damaging, and if I see you do it, it is also hazardous to your health. If you want to venture off-trail, stick to the dry washes or hard stone - but be careful, there are patches of stabilized cryptobiotic soil everywhere.
Call me a tree-hugger, but I strongly believe in land stewardship. If we abuse our access to public lands these trails will be closed. Many trails and roads in Utah have already been closed due to abuse by motorized travel and there is a strong Environmental lobby in this state to further restrict access to the back country.
We will pack out what we pack in - and probably more. I will be carrying a large trash carrier on my tire, if you see any garbage that you can pick up we will take it out too.
Water is life. There is almost no water in the desert so we will be packing in all our water. The rule of thumb is one gallon per person per day; we will want to bring extras in case a vehicle overheats or we come across some idiot tourists who have run dry. I plan to stop at a natural spring on the edge of town to fill up my water each morning. The water from the spring is delicious and potable - seriously, it tastes way better than the stuff from the tap in town. I've been drinking from this spring for years and never been sick, as have thousands of others. Plus, you get to say you drank water flowing right out of the rock.
Sun protection. The desert sun will burn. I recommend wide brim hats, sun screen (re-apply regularly) and long trousers made of light material if it's hot. Often you will feel cooler in long trousers rather than shorts because you won't be getting the sun right on your skin.
Temperature: The desert is land of extremes, cold kills more people than the heat. Everyone should carry a jacket in case we are delayed and end up out after dark.
Trail ideas in order from least to most difficult:
Onion Creek: A very scenic graded dirt road with multiple shallow stream crossings that climbs towards the La Sal mountains. The lower part of the trail is often crowded with people camping with toy haulers and trailers. Wide and very easy. 1-2 hours for the basic loop, but there are several trails that take off from the main loop and travel farther into the mountains.
Accessed via Onion Creek (2012)
Potash Road to Schafer Switchbacks: Very easy road for the most part, but there are narrow sections that can psych you out if you are scared of heights. This is an iconic road and I have had close encounters on the cliff sections with Mountain Goats and Big Horn Sheep have been spotted as well. Although the Schafer Switchbacks are one of the most iconic features, there are also incredible views of the Colorado River. Although not technical, do not underestimate this road, just last year someone was killed when they went off the switchbacks. This road is also the beginning of the White Rim Trail, a one and half day through-trip. 3-4 hours for the basic trail, but there are several ways to put out back to pavement depending on the speed of the group.
Hurrah Pass: Graded dirt serving many campsites and providing access to other trails. This trail starts to get steep in places as it climbs to the top of the pass. This is also the first part of the trip to Chicken Corner. Very easy trail, manageable by most crossovers on street tires. (See CrazyJeeper's video above) 2-3 hours.
Long Canyon: Easy road, but the top can get washed out. The last time I tried it was between a big storm and the road being repaired, resulting in an ass-puckering tripod moment. Typically, however, it's an easy and scenic trail hugging a canyon wall and passing under a leaning boulder. 1 hour
Going down Long Canyon:
Going up Long Canyon, the short, but challenging top section:
Chicken Corner: This trail is the continuation of Hurrah Pass. It is an out-and-back trail that takes most of the day with stops for photography. The trail is moderate with a mix of sand, slickrock, various grades, and narrow roads hugging the cliff side. 6-8 hours
Driving out on a fin on Hurrah Pass headed to Chicken Corner
Hidden Canyon Overlook. Narrow in places with some rocky ledges that will require careful tire placement for stock vehicles. This trail crosses bare slickrock and can be hard to find at times. 1-2 hours one-way, but if you take Bartlett Overlook out it becomes a 4-5 hour day. Bartlett Overlook is mostly moderate but there is one "gatekeeper" ledge that is difficult and will likely require at least one locking axle. I have not driven this trail, but I have driven more difficult ones, so I'm not too worried about the X getting up the gatekeeper.
Rainbow Terrace. A lot of the trail is easy, but there are some moderate sections. It's a mix of open desert sand and slickrock, there are some narrow passages and steep grades, capable stock vehicles should do fine with careful tire placement on the tricky bits. Two hours on the dirt, not including travel time from Moab or photo ops (and there are a lot of them). Rainbow Terrace has some of the deepest red color of any trail I've explored.
Dome Plateau. Moderate trail with some steep and technical portions, an aggressive stock SUV with good tires should do fine with careful tire placement. The gatekeeprs on this trail are very close to the start, if you make it up the initial climb, you will do fine for the rest of the trail. This trail serves La Boca Arch, several abandoned cabins, stunning high views of the Colorado river, and several natural caves. This is an all-day trail that takes 5-6 hours on the dirt.
I think this is one of the overlooks on Dome Plateau, I didn't do a good job labeling the trails in my photos:
Seven Mile Rim. This is a difficult trail with some easy sections of soft sand. Many of the roughest sections have bypasses, but not all of them. This trail climbs steeply up from the highway to the top of the mesa and follows the rim for several miles, giving excellent views of the desert and distant La Sal range, it also serves Uranium Arch, which you can walk across and under. The terrain is a mix of deep sand, slickrock, loose scrabble, and large rocks. The hardest obstacle is the optional Wipe Out Hill that is a tricky descent to a dead-end and return climb.
Fins 'n' Things. This is a difficult trail that takes off almost from the edge of town. It is very technical in places and short vehicles tend to do best. A long departure angle and approach angle will result in scraping - I have a dented rear bumper on the Xterra from this trail and there is at least one other Xterra with an identical dent. Wheel placement is key for the difficult sections, many of the early climbs have easy bypasses, but not all obstacles do. This is a challenging trail that requires planning and thought to get through many obstacles. The down side of this trail is the traffic, UTVs tend to drive off-trail resulting in some sections being very wide. Terrain is going to be a mix of sand and slickrock that can get very steep. One decent involves creeping down until you lose traction and sliding on locked wheels the last few feet.
It's late and I'm too lazy to go through my photos or search for good ones for the last few trails. I will come back and add some tomorrow if I have time.
Minimum Vehicle Equipment:
Any specific tools to your vehicle. I always carry a set of basic tools that will work for most vehicles.
Air compressor. I strongly suggest you air down your tires, so you will need a way to get back up to highway pressure.
Pressure gauge. You can probably borrow one, but it's best to have your own.
Tire repair kit. Punctures can happen, especially around old mines or cabins, bring a plug kit
Good spare tire. Your spare tire should be the same size as the ones on the ground, of similar quality, and not dry-rotted. If necessary, buy a new tire before the trip.
Jack. If you are lifted, make sure you have a jack that will actually allow you to get a tire off the ground. Extra suspension travel may make this harder than you think and some factory jacks won't reach. I will have a bottle jack, but I can't guarantee it will work with all vehicles.
All vehicles should be in good repair - not leaking or have damaged parts that are likely to fail. Inspect your vehicle before departing and address any areas of concern.
Recommended Personal Equipment:
Hydration pack. If you plan to do any walking or exploring, it's a good idea to have a Camel Back or similar system. It also doubles as a place to keep all your sunscreen, glasses, hat, etc in one place.
Sturdy shoes. I strongly suggest a good quality hiking boot with ankle support, a twisted ankle will make for a lousy trip and the slickrock can be unforgiving.
Flashlight - Depending on the trail, there are caves to explore and you will probably want a light of some kind
Camera - Phone cameras are great these days and work fine, if you are into photography, video, or drone shots, bring anything you want (I don't know the rules regarding drones, but I know they are prohibited inside the national parks)
A couple of extra "recommended items" that my expedition groups usually require:
Recovery points, front and rear, properly installed. Sometimes you need a tug over an obstacle and we'd rather not yank on your rad support.
Fluid catch container and tarp (one per group). If there are any trail repairs that need to happen, always have a way to catch any fluids rather than dumping gear oil on the ground because you need to swap shafts in your semi-floater.
What kind of daytime temps are we likely to experience?
That's a pretty wide range, haha. I've never had any cooling issues up here in the frozen North but was considering adding a bigger trans cooler and maybe swapping to an e-fan for the trip. Will have to give that a think.
I've seen the desert go from 90 F in the day down to the 30s F at night. You can have months of drought followed by a storm that will cause flash flooding for miles.
The leading edge of the floods is about the consistency of wet concrete, it's very dense and can push vehicles around like it's nothing. I've seen boulders the size of small cars rolling along the bottom of a wash during a good flood.
Yeah I knew about the night-day temp swings in the desert, that's why I asked about daytime temps - just wanted to make sure I'll be prepared for conditions. Don't want to be the guy who shows up to the desert and cooks his rig!
Yeah, my system is in good shape mechanically (water pump and rad were replaced a few years ago) but I may pull the lower LED pods that sit in the bumper as they're blocking some airflow down there. Never been a problem wheeling in the upper 20s Celsius but better safe than sorry I suppose.
Obviously way to early to commit, but in theory, I don't see why May 4, 2020 wouldn't work for me provided I could ride with someone since I doubt whatever rental I get at the airport will be offroad capable.