“WARNING! Steep, Narrow, Rough Road Ahead”

Thelma: “Hey Louise, better slow down, I’ll just die if we get caught over a speeding ticket. Are you sure we should be driving like this?”

My friend Lynne, aka “Ethel,” loves to go off roading.  Our high clearance, short wheel base Trackers are ideal for this kind of road, climbing hills, scrambling over rocks, hugging the hair pin turns.   She lives for this stuff. IMG_1477

You see a LOT of these in Canyonlands!

You see a LOT of these in Canyonlands!

IMG_1485Me, on the other hand?  Any time I am in a vehicle where I have to “hold on,” I am out of my comfort zone.   BUT, I love to tag along for the scenery.    Just hoping I don’t pull the overhead handle out of the roof, or stomp a hole in the floorboard where the brake pedal should be.IMG_0478IMG_0486

Much closer and my knees will be knocking!

Much closer and my knees will be knocking!

Canyonlands National Park near Moab, UT is a mecca for 4WD enthusiasts.  A multitude of snaking roads offer expansive views over the canyon, down zig-zag-meet-yourself–coming-back turns, alongside exposed canyon overlooks, and bumpety-bump along the canyon floor.  Due to the vast size of the park and canyon wall infrastructure, it is difficult to tour the canyon without a drive along some of the 4WD roads.

Millie?  You do know how the movie ends, right?

Millie? You do know how the movie ends, right?

Lynne atop Gemini Bridges...Bridge, not an arch because it was eroded by water.

Lynne atop Gemini Bridges…Bridge, not an arch because it was eroded by water.

"Kissing Arch"

“Kissing Arch”

So while we are boondocked in Moab, Lynne suggests we drive the Shafer Trail.  Having only arrived in the area with little time to research, I blindly agree.   Had I done my homework, I might have noticed that the Shafer Trail was listed on the website, www.dangerousroads.org.  (Don’t look, Mom!) which states,  “To drive this trail, you must have supreme confidence in your vehicle and your driving skills.”  Not just confidence, mind you, but “supreme confidence!”   At least we will be going up the steep parts, not down.  I am better if I don’t have to look down…IMG_1560IMG_1857

Canyonlands' own "Rock Star," Mesa Arch

Canyonlands’ own “Rock Star,” Mesa Arch

My first wave of concern comes when I see Lynne loading the air compressor in her car.  “Why are you bringing THAT, Ethel?”  “In case we blow a tire on the rocks.  I also have a shovel, tow straps, and other recovery gear in the Thule.”   UH-BOY!!!   “Can’t we just go on a nice 12 mile hike instead??  You know, feet firmly planted on the ground?”

Millie, Lynne’s Golden Retriever is coming along with us.   Millie does not share Lynne’s passion for off roading, and in fact, we exchange nervous glances and furrowed brows as soon as the turn signal comes on indicating we are leaving Hwy 24.  As Millie pants and paces in the back seat, it is a race to see which of us can bolt out the door first at every stop.   Meanwhile, Lynne is as cool as a cucumber as she downshifts to 4WD, and begins the steep climb, diabolically laughing all the way.   I think back to the ending scene of “Thelma and Louise,” and could swear I hear helicopters overhead.IMG_0513

uuuhhhh...Lynne?  You know that rock is undercut, right?

uuuhhhh…Lynne? You know that rock is undercut, right?

IMG_1925As we climb the steep hairpin curves, I look out my window at the view beneath my elbow that makes me think maybe I should have packed a chute.    We encounter lots of bike riders along the trail, some of them who have given up the ride to push.  They look like nice friendly people.  Wonder if they would mind if I get out and walk with them for a while…  Somehow, just like Thelma and Louise, I am feeling the strong urge to take control of my own destiny.  😉

Unusual National Park sign on fence posts!

Unusual National Park sign on fence posts!

IMG_1871 IMG_1878

As we wind back and forth beneath the canyon overlook, we can see tiny, ant-sized tourists overhead, no doubt snapping photos of the cute little yellow car working its way up the infamous Shafer Switchbacks.  I wonder if my white knuckles and bloodless bleached complexion will make a nice contrast against the red rocks.

Shafer Switchbacks

Shafer Switchbacks

This road leads down this crack.  Who knew there were slot canyons for cars?

This road leads down this crack. Who knew there were slot canyons for cars?

I see "petticoats."  How bout you?

I see “petticoats.” How bout you?

Finally, we reach the Canyonlands Island in the Sky plateau, and Millie and I agree it feels good to be gliding on the pavement once again.  But not for long.  We are going back via Long Canyon, another 4WD road.   Thankfully, this one is much more level, and easier on the kidneys as well as the nerves.   But after about an hour, I tell Lynne, “They don’t call this the Loooonggg Canyon for nothing!” 

Just about the time I am pondering whether or not we are getting close to the highway, we come to a giant fallen boulder in the road.  “If we have to go back the way we just came, I am climbing over this boulder!” I tell Lynne.   But never fear, the Tracker manages to ease under with a few inches to spare.

IMG_1914 IMG_1917

Soon we are back at the boondock, safe and sound.  No Thelma and Louise ending to what was a fascinating, scenic day…though it might be a while before Millie and I agree to go for a ride again…at least not while Lynne has that sinister glint in her eye!  😉

17 thoughts on ““WARNING! Steep, Narrow, Rough Road Ahead”

  1. You’re getting the FULL Moab experience I see, although some of those “on the edge” pics had me cringing (waaay to scary for me). Makes for fabulous shots though, that I can’t deny!
    Nina a

  2. Funny, when I saw the title to your post pop up in the reader, I already knew it was going to be the Schaefer Trail. Somehow I just knew, and sure enough. The best road in the world for adventure. I did that road in my Dodge Dakota back in 97, and curled the hair on my friends nearly bald head (chemo you know). We went a long distance on the White Rim in the truck, but not as far as my other friend who biked the entire 115 mile route on a mountain bike. Whew! so so loved seeing your photos. Mine of that trip are all hard copy in a box somewhere, before the days of digital

  3. Holy Moly! I was holding my breath all the way until you were back on solid ground! I wonder if Millie was really aware of how dangerous this sort of “take me for a ride in the car, pleeeeeeese” adventure can be. ;->

    Virtual hugs,


  4. Those are great roads! We really enjoyed our journey and got some wonderful photos, as you did. I didn’t notice any shaking going on in the photos!! You were very brave:) But you were suppose to get out and run under the boulder so you could get a photo of the car coming under it! Now you have to go back and do it again:)

  5. It certainly is beautiful country out there. Someone suggested that we try the Moki Dugway. However I read that the White Rim Road is even worse. Fortunately, we looked both up…and I said, “Not me!” Your pictures are beautiful.

  6. ah ha ha ha ha! It was so easy to trick you and Millie into coming along “a little backroad” to Canyonlands! Just like when you tell me the hike today will be mostly flat and only a few miles! Guess it’s good to push each others’ comfort zones a bit at times to get new memorable experiences!

  7. I am impressed and excited by this story. I love off road driving and although I can no longer do the hikes you profile, this is something that I can do. Deede will play your role and keep telling me how far us we are and how close to the edge of the road and look there is a place to turn around. Loved the pictures the prose and most of all the web site for dangerous roads.
    Keep on.

  8. BTDT in my old FJ60 Land Cruiser, only I drove the Shafer switchbacks from the top down. There are a couple of points in the switchbacks where the grade was so steep the car’s shoulder harness locked. Fun, eh? And how ’bout that spot where the trail disappears into a creek? For the casual 4WD enthusiast, quite the adventure.

  9. This is one time I am not wishing to be with you both. Enjoyed the journey via your photos. I know for a fact that Millie was more stressed than you were 🙂

  10. Lynne is SO good for you! I adore the boulder in the road picture for sure (my truck would not have made it). What lovely scenery – now off to Lynne’s blog to see how she might portray your little adventure! LOL

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