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Baxter Pass 

It's not often, that a pass is named after an old asphalt company, or at least one of its principals. Maybe you would expect, that such a pass then is paved with the smoothest of asphalts, worthy of some great bicycle race. But this is not so. This is a rough dirt road through a really lonesome, isolated corner of Colorado. For more on the asphalt connection, see the history notes below.


1.(4660ft,mile00.0) START-END SOUTH: county road reaches a low point, just before crossing Salt Creek, north west of Machk
2.(5040ft,mile08.0)road enters Book Cliffs area, shortly after jct with Mitchell Rd
3.(6400ft,mile22.1) route turns left in Atchee
4.(8380ftft,mile28.1)TOP: Baxter Pass
5.(6180ft,mile40.5) START-END NORTH: jct with road on right that also climbs towards south
6.(4990ft,mile65.7) START-END NORTH ALT: low point at bridge over White River, south of Vernal, Ut


From South. It seems like good place to start a ride over Baxter Pass would be the I70 Mack exit. You see a lot of bicycles at the exit - mostly top of car roofs But they all head in the other direction, into the McInnis Canyon conservation area with its popular trails. The ride towards Baxter Pass turns out to be quite long when you start here. The route stays on pavement for now and follows the edges of squares along property boundaries, until it reaches a low point, where it crosses West Salt Creek. This is where the profile starts. There are several more miles of pavement with a wonderful absence of traffic, until the smoothness stops abruptly, at the intersection with Prairie Canyon. You could argue that this was the best part of the ride. After a short distance the arguably worst part of the ride, comes in the form of a wide gravel road which leads as far as the South Canyon gas compressor station.

Shortly afterwards the road enters the Book Cliffs, now on a better bikable surface. As all the Book Cliff approaches from the south, the road has a few short sandy stretches in the lower part, but nothing that would make you get off the bike. Very little changes about the canyon scenery during the climb. It looks the same, even though the road has been climbing. How can this be ? The reason is that the valley bottom climbs at roughly the same rate as the plateau top, maybe a little faster. This too is very similar to other Book Cliff roads on the south side. Finally the rest of an old concrete building, probably a remnant of the railroad, that used to cross this pass, comes into sight. What a welcome sight, there is change after all. The old stone ruin together with its graffiti even has a name on the map:  Atchee.

The real part of the pass is about to start. Right after passing the stone building you can make out a microwave antenna on the loaf shaped ridge to the west. That's the top. But to get there the road has still many switchbacks in front of it. During my last traversal, I encountered about a dozen wild horses at the bottom of this section. It looked like they felt right at home with all the cows in this area. I encountered no other travelers from here on. Finally the road emerges above the brush and the last long cut across the mountain ahead is one of the more impressive sights on this ride.

At the top, two other roads intersect. Baxter Ridge Road to the left apparently dead ends. The steep trail to the right eventually can connect to Douglas Pass, according to the map

short shelf road section on south approach

Atchee - or all that's left of it: route to Baxter Pass turns left here

view towards Atchee, before reaching shelf section

From North. (described downwards) If you thought the south side felt isolated, just wait till you roll down this side. But the good news is the road surface - nice and natural, great for a mountain bike. A spring is labeled with a "Columbine private" sign. That's as far as I got sofar. It seems to start raining, every time I get to this point.

Dayride with this point as highest summit


(|FR004 Water Hollow Rd s(u)>)
Baxter Pass x2: Mack: just west of Mc Innis Canyon Conservation area <> paved county roads north and west <> Baxter Pass Rd <> Baxter Pass <> turnaround point at Columbine Spring: 85.4miles with 5270ft of climbing in 7:13hrs (VDO MC1.0 m5:13.5.28)

riding around the breadloaf

finally: the northern approach



Railroads: The connection to asphalt on this dirt road is this: C.O. Baxter worked for the Barber Asphalt Company of St Louis. Gilsonite, a mineral used for asphalt, paints, roofing and printer's ink was mined in Dragon, Utah. In order to get the mineral to the main railline in Mack, a railroad had to cross this pass.

C.O. Baxter also was a founding member of the Unitah railway. The railroad was in operation from 1905 to 1939, with extra helper engines on both ends of the trains, propelling the trains over 5 miles of a constant 7.5 percent grade over this pass. Even if the uphill would have consisted of all empty cars, this is extremely steep for a train. On top a small town existed for a while.

In the mid 1910s a rail tunnel under the pass was seriously considered. And today another kind of tunnel is used instead of the train. Today a pipe line flushes the gilsonite from Dragon to Mack.

view towards Baxter Pass from lower Salt Creek, before start of ride

Baxter Pass
Highest Point: 8380ft
Southern Approach:
climb over distance drop
low point north west of Mack, just before crossing Salt Creek (4660ft) 3720ft 28miles
Atchee (6400ft) 1980ft 6miles  
Northern  Approach:      
low point at bridge over White River, south of Vernal Ut. (4990ft) 3390ft 37+1/2miles