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Ut 313: Island in the sky s(u)

The title of this page is sort of misleading. But I am going to stick with it. These pages are organized by summit points. Most of the time this makes much sence, since the highest point is often a famous scenic pass. But it Utah, where canyons are often even more wondrous places than mountain ridges, this doesn't hold true. So, maybe the the name of the page should be "the Shafer Trail". But then it should also be Long Canyon and "Island in the Sky road". The fact is, that all these routes summit at the same point, and that point is the turnoff to Deadhorse State Park on Ut313.

1. Paved Approaches

The first profile stays on pavement all the way. It is difficult to think of this road as a paved two way summit, ie. one with two separate approaches. But it just meets the cutoff criteria, that I have set for these pages, that is - the western approach is just a little higher than the minimum 500ft.

click on profile for more detail
1.(3960ft,mile00) START-END SOUTH: Colorado River Bridge north of Moab
2.(4580ft,mile07) Gemini Bridges trailhead
3.(4500ft,mile09) profile turns left on US191
4.(6184ft,mile24) TOP: turnoff to Dead Horse Point is on left
5.(5860ft,mile30) Canyonlands NP visitor center
6.(5740ft,mile31) the Neck
7.(6110ft,mile37) road to "Grand View Point" goes left. Profile stays right. jct with road to Green River viewpoint is shortly afterwards.
8.(5640ft,mile41) START-END WEST ALTERNATE: low point before Upheaval Dome area
9.(5700ft,mile42) START-END WEST: Upheaval Dome Picnic Area


From South (via Ut313). For me this road has often been the last lazy downhill of the day, where you just sort of bake in the evening light, as much as the memories of climbing up the Shafer Trail (or road). Time for one last sweeping view across the rock fins to the La Sal Mountains, wearing late light with deep shadows for the occasion. But I'll try to describe it in an upward direction.

Leaving Moab, a meticulously paved bike path follows Ut191 to the entrance of Arches National Park. From here the bike path takes advantage of the old Ut191 road bed. What used to be a funky crumbling surface has been upgraded to something suitable for even the most fickle, super skinny, treadless tire, resembling an inner tube, but possibly having none. (Oct 2011). The bike path stays even in a different drainage than the road, so that peace is complete. It crosses the road at the Gemini Bridges trailhead and then ends at the jct with Ut313.

That's just as well as far as the profiled route is concerned, because it continues up Ut313. After extricating itself from Seven Mile Canyon, in the shade of Merimac and Monitor Buttes, the road runs along a very gentle ridge line. During early light this gives occasion to see if the Henry Mountains have snow already or still snow on them, and during pretty much any light condition you can tell the same thing about the somwhat closer La Sal Mountains. The following side road turnoffs are signed Mineral Bottom Rd., Gemini Bridges Rd. If looking for something else, bring maps with plenty of detail.

from West (via Ut313). (described downwards). An ever so gentle straight, rolling downhill from "The Knoll" leads to the entrance of Canyonlands National Park, and immediately afterwards to one of its most amazing stretches of road, named "the Neck". If this is the neck, then the island must be the head, and the Shafer Trail is a jugular descending on the east side to the Colorado River. When crossing the neck, heads turn east. The west side is often neglected. But Taylor Canyon on the west side would be a major attraction, if there wasn't anything super major on the other side. Shortly after this wake up call, the road continues across Grey's Pasture, as if it were crossing your average variety of verdant western plain, with mountains in the far distance. Two junctions on the left lead to Grand Viewpoint and Green River Viewpoint. In order to get to some kind of bottom on this side, and still staying on pavement, the profile goes to Upheaval Dome, where it reaches a low point just before reaching the picnic area at the end of the road.

2. via Shafer Trail

The second profile combines the most remarkable of the approaches to this point, the Shafer Trail (which is a dirt road of sorts) on the north, with paved Ut313 on the south side.

picture page of Shafer Trail Approach
second picture page of Shafer Trail Approach

click on profile for more detail
1.(3960ft,mile00) START-END NORTH: end of Ut279 in Potash
2.(4460ft,mile11) Colorado River overlook
3.(4470ft,mile15) junction with White Rim Trail. Profile goes right.
4.(5910ft,mile20) Shafer Road joins Ut313. Profile continues right
5.(6184ft,mile26) TOP: turnoff to Dead Horse Point is on right
6.(4500ft,mile40) profile turns right on US191
7.(4580ft,mile41) Gemini Bridges trailhead
8.(3960ft,mile48) START-END SOUTH: Colorado River Bridge north of Moab


From North via Potash Road and Shafer Road: The ride from Moab to the starting point of the profile makes a great paved out and back ride in itself. It follows Ut279 on the north side of the Colorado River next to deep red vertical walls. But the road creeps along through fern greenery, a comforting contrast to red hard edges above. The road is just about as perfect as it can get in the peaceful river canyon cycling category.  The paved road ends shortly past the Potash plant. Here the profile starts.

The initial short climbs lead to an industrial landscape of fenced evaporation ponds, resembling Lake Powell without boats, which in essence is also just a big evaporation pond. Here the water is died blue to speed up the loss of water even more in order to harvest a host of minerals. The road contours to a vantage point above an entrenched meander, deep red rock recesses retreating in every conceivable direction, views leading to spots that are visibly naked but appear impossible to reach - in other words - the perfect lunch spot. A short shelf road works itself away from the Colorado, but appears stuck ona ledge on the big staircase. But a crack opens up between Grolsch beerbottle shaped rocks, and leads to the natuional Park boundary and the junction with the White Rim Trail. The final climb is now in full view. The half dozen switchbacks really do not cover a monstrous amount of altitude. But they seem chizzled into the the rocky slope, situated between sheer cliffs. With every switchback the White Rim Trail becomes more and more threadlike. A long traverse under the final lip of the rim completes the dirt road section at the junction with Ut313. Turning right, you exit the national park immediately afterwards. A few rolling hills lead a couple of hundred feet higher. The top is located next to a nipples shaped mountain on the plateau, which comes into view soon after turning onto pavement. The high spot is also where the turnoff to Dead Horse Point Road is.

From South (via Ut313): same as first section on this page


3. via Long Canyon

When Long Canyon is combined with a ride up Shafer Canyon, it is called the Jughandle Loop. This name may come handy when looking for the Long Canyon turnoff from Ut279. The sign says "Jughandle Loop Parking". Sometimes I think a dictionary of Moab area directional signs would be a welcome addition to the available guide literature. The profile below however - shows Long Canyon combined with the other possible approach for a loop ride. Again this is the paved southern approach to Ut313.

1.(3960ft,mile00) START-END SOUTH: (p8 above) Colorado River Bridge north of Moab
2.(4580ft,mile07) Gemini Bridges trailhead
3.(4500ft,mile09) profile turns left on US191
4.(6184ft,mile23) TOP: turnoff to Dead Horse Point is on left
5.(6080ft,mile27) Pucker Pass, intermediate high point, at a turnoff on left side
6.(3960ft,mile32) START-END EAST: Long Canyon terminates on Ut279, north of Potash

Southern Approach: same as above

Eastern Approach: (described downwards) Soon after turning off onto the road to Dead Horse Point, a wide dirt road keeps aiming straight for the rock fins above Moab and the La Sal Mountains, while the Dead Horse Point road turns slightly to the right. The wide dirt road descends, just noticably, and climbs a minute amount to crest at a point called Pucker Pass. Soon after that the character of the road changes radically. The first reason to slow down are the views over Long Canyon. Then the road makes the break through one of the cliff forming formations (not quite sure which one) through sheer rock. Next comes a strutural bridge or arch, that is neither a geological bridge or arch. Maybe I should just call it a hole, or better yet explain what unlikely thing it really is. It's a giant boulder leaning on a cliff, with enough space between them to contain the road. Better to see for yourself. A few more switchbacks under one of the largest alcoves, in country that contains many very large alcoves, and road "breaks" through a final wall of rock, that looks rather like a set of curtains that has opened just a bit for the final applause. As already mentioned above, the Ut279 sign at the turnoff reads "Jughandle Parking", without any further hints of explanation given.

Rides with this point as highest summit:


( < same page | Ut313 Gemini Bridges Rd(sh) > )

P1: Ut313 Island in the Sky s(u) x2: Willow Creek Rd <> Ut191 north <> Ut313 east <> Island in the Sky s(u) x2 <> Upheaval Dom area with additional out and backs to Green River Viewpoint and Grand Viewpoint: 87.6miles with 4070ft of climbing in 6:23hrs (r2:11.10.12) (pics t11_12_26-51)


< ... | Hurrah Pass > )

C2-1: same summit point: Willow Springs Rd > US191 south > Moab > Ut279 west > up Potash Rd > up Shafer Trail > Ut313 Island in the Sky s(u) > Ut313 west > Ut191 south back to starting point: 71.5miles with 4160ft of climbing in 6:20hrs (m3:7.5.23) (pics _t07_1_38-75)

( < Ut313 Spring Cayon Rd(sh) | same page > )

C2-2: Ut313 Island in the Sky s(u): Willow Springs Rd > US191 north > Ut313 east > Ut313 Island in the Sky s(u) > Dead Horse Point State Park with short detour > Pucker Pass(shp) > down Long Canyon Rd > Ut279 east > back to starting point on Willow Springs Rd: 65.4miles with 3500ft of climbing, time not recorded (m3:11.10.10) (pics:t11_12_1-25)

History - Shafer Trail: In the beginning - there were the animals. They were the first to take advantage of the absence of sheer cliffs at the particular spot where switchbacks now climb from the White Rim. Sog Shafer noticed this and constructed a cattle trail to the rim in 1917. This way the cows could stay on top where it's cooler for the summer, then in the Shafer Basin for the winter.

The reason for the road however has to do more with money than anything else. Uranium mining started to play a big role in the cold war and by 1952, trucks were hauling the stuff from the White Rim Basin to the Mesa Top and via the Dubinky Mine road to Moab.

Ut313 Island in the Sky Rd s(u)

Highest Point:
Southern Approach: pvd Ut313

from Colorado Bridge north of Moab (3960ft) 2224ft 23miles ~100ft
from jct US191 - Ut313 (4500ft) 1684ft 14+1/2miles
Western Approach: pvd Ut313

from low point east of Upheaval Dome picnic area (5640ft) 544ft 18miles ~400ft
Northern Approach: via Shafer Trail

from end of Ut279 in Potash (3960ft) 2224ft 25+1/2miles ~700ft
jct with White Rim Trail (4470ft)

Eastern Approach: via Long Canyon

from jct Long Canyon - Ut279 north of Potash (3960ft)


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