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.
Me, 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.
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.
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…
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.
As 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. 😉
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.
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.
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! 😉