3 Mountain Roads that Scared the Snot out of Me

This is the 6th in a series on my Southwestern Photo Safari.

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I didn’t really know what I was in for when I planned my route across southern Utah.  I actually thought I had prepared pretty well, but the maps don’t even come close to conveying the extremes of these roads that cut through deep canyons and alternately wind across high ridges with drop-offs on both sides. I watched lots of YouTube videos of other travelers’ adventures and still wasn’t able to grasp the scope of what lay ahead of me.
It’s probably a good thing, or I might have lost my nerve. As it turned out, it seemed that my itinerary alternated between scary drives one day and scary hikes the next.

This is about three of the most adventurous drives I encountered on my photo safari to southern Utah.

The Hogback on Highway 12

I ended up driving this road twice since my side trip to Capitol Reef National Park was an out-and-back overnight trip from Escalante rather than a loop route.

Highway 12 cuts across ancient sandstone benches called slick rock.
Highway 12 cuts across ancient sandstone benches called slick rock.

Escalante road

Highway 12 east of the town of Escalante is a study in extremes.  Much of the route east and then north to Torrey is across bare stone landscape called slick rock.  It’s not actually slippery, since it is sandstone; its surface is more like sand paper.

The road drops into the Escalante Canyon and heads north up the other side.
The road descends into the Escalante Canyon and heads north up the other side.

The route drops down into the canyon to cross the Escalante river and then climbs as quickly up the other side to traverse the Hogback where the drop-off is 600 feet on both sides of the road!

The Hogback winds along the ridge with drops on both side.
The Hogback winds along the ridge with steep drop-offs on both sides.
A view into the canyon on the west side of the Hogback.
A view into the canyon on the west side of the Hogback.

There are a couple of turn-outs where I was able to stop for some photos and video, but most of the high section is narrow and winding with no shoulders or guardrails.  It’s not for the faint of heart.

(My video gives a much better idea of what the Hogback is really like;  I have posted the link to it at the bottom of the post.)

The Shafer Trail

This is one of the most extreme roads in America,  and should not be attempted by anybody with acrophobia – a true fear of heights.  Mostly Jeeps and SUV’s travel the gravel road because the hairpin turns are tight and will not accommodate long vehicles.   Would-be adventurers with trailers and motorhomes should absolutely stay away.   Just park your RV in Moab, rent a Jeep from one of several outfitters, then head out here for the drive of your life!

The switchbacks of the Shafer Trail are hanging on the edge of the cliffs.
The switchbacks of the Shafer Trail are hanging on the edge of the cliffs.  The White Rim Trail can be seen cutting across the lower plateau in the distance.

The Shafer Trail connects the Island In the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park with the White Rim plateau as it drops more than 1000 feet in about 2 miles of steep switchbacks and hairpin turns.

Shafer switchbacks

Of course, there is no room for guardrails on these steep cliffs and shoulders are non-existent.  One wrong move and it’s a tremendous tumble to the pearly gates!

(Go to my 26-second video of this road at the bottom of the page.)

The White Rim Road

This tortuous trail follows a 100-mile-long route through the Canyonlands National Park on what could be considered the middle level of the park, as it were.  The lower level would be the Colorado and Green Rivers, and the top level would be the high mesa called Island in the Sky.  Most tourists only get to visit the upper level, but they are able to peer down 2200 feet into the canyons on three sides of Island in the Sky.

The road traverses gullies and gorges on its way to the White Rim.
I came in on Potash Road which traverses gullies and gorges on its way to the White Rim.

The White Rim Road requires high clearance and four wheel drive.  Unless you are peddling it;  mountain bikers take 4 to 5 days to travel the route, camping in campgrounds at night.  Jeepsters usually take 2 days or more to cover the 100-mile loop because they are in low gear much of the time, only barely staying ahead of the bikers.

The road follows the edge of the White Rim which is 1000 feet above the Colorado River. The drop-offs are impressive.
The road follows the edge of the White Rim which is 1000 feet above the Colorado River. The drop-offs are impressive.

My day-trip on the White Rim was an out-and-back from Moab, Utah, via Potash Road as an alternative to the Shafer Trail.  I only ventured about 25 miles out as far as Musselman Arch, and then back, and it took all day because of the grueling conditions.   Stones, gravel, bare rock, steep grades up and down, dry and wet creek beds;  at one point I drove up a dry wash for some distance, secure in the knowledge that no rain was in the forecast and no flash flood would be forthcoming.

I drove up a dry wash for a while, between cliffs of red rock.
I drove up a dry wash for a while, between cliffs of red rock.

The views from the edge of the Rim are absolutely incredible!  The road travels on the cusp of the drop-off for several miles in some places.   Of course, the road is only one lane, which means when you meet another vehicle, somebody has to back up to the last turn-out so they can pass each other.  That encounter happened to me three times on a particularly dangerous stretch on the ledge!

Views from the edge are impressive.
Views from the edge are impressive.

Most adventurers take the 100-mile loop and only have to drive it once, but since my trip was an out-and-back, I got to see it twice.  That meant twice the white-knuckle fun on the White Rim Road.

On one of the most scary mountain sections, I stuck a video camera to my windsheild with a suction cup mount and captured 11-1/2 minutes of stomach-churning adventure.  I have posted the clip on YouTube so the whole world can view it.

I finally made it back to Moab by nightfall and drove straight to the car wash to reward my truck for its faithful performance on the awful trail, then I headed across the street to the Moab Brewery to reward myself for my awesome off-road driving on America’s second most radical road.

If you ever plan to drive this challenging road, I suggest you view this video so you will know what you are in for.  Full screen mode will give you the greatest gasp-per-mile factor (bottom of the list below).

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View the 35-second video:  A Drive on the Edge – the Hogback on Highway 12

View the 26-second video:  Driven to the Edge – The Shafer Trail

View the 11-1/2 minute video : A White-Knuckle Drive on the White Rim Road.   Click Full Screen for the best scare.  If you are afraid of heights, maybe take a Xanax first!

Thank you for coming along!

Find the other posts in this series in the left sidebar or go to Posts By Destination and click Southwestern Safari.

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