with optional add-on to The Wedge
Buckhorn Wash is a scenic ride on dirt road. It's a fairly popular
mountain bike destination. As an out-and-back (to the top of the wash and
back) it's 18 miles of very easy riding. The route is on an improved
(graded and graveled) road.
View of Navajo sandstone cliffs in the
upper wash. Photos and description based on a ride by Bruce, October 19,
|On the map, Buckhorn wash looks like a cruel climb uphill.
But it's a flat ride. You'll gain only 400 vertical feet from the San
Rafael River to the top of the wash. That's an almost-flat 50 vertical
feet per mile, or a slope of 1%.
The photo sequence will be
top-to-bottom. I started from the top late in the day. The whole wash
was in shadows for the return trip. Here the cross-hatched Navajo
sandstone is breaking through as we enter the draw.
at the southern (downhill) end tower 1500 feet above you. But the rock layers
in the northern San Rafael tilt
downward towards the north. So as you ride north, the cliffs drop down until
finally you're on top of them. So on the map, and in your brain, it seems
like you're climbing a big vertical distance.
Further south, the rock layers have
tilted upward and are high above you. The Navajo forms tall cliffs.
|Because this ride is so easy, many groups combine it
with a trip to the Wedge Overlook (Little Grand
Canyon). This option does involve some climbing. As you turn southward
toward The Wedge, you'll climb 1700 vertical feet. At the overlook, you're
on the top of the cliffs you were seeing from below. The combined ride
will be about 33 miles, depending on how much exploring you do once you
reach the Little Grand Canyon Overlook.
Still further along, the horizontal
layers of the Kayenta are seen under the Navajo, and the smooth Wingate is
beginning to appear at ground level.
||There's developed camping and bathrooms along the
San Rafael River at the bottom of Buckhorn Wash. In the middle of the
draw, there's a more primitive camp site with a "fence-and-pit" bathroom.
(The next bathroom is at the
Wedge Overlook if you're making the long ride.)
Primitive campsite. The cliffline at
left shows how the horizontal layers of Kayenta protect the underlying
Wingate and allow it to create cliffs.
|One of the highlights of the ride is the Native American
rock art. The main pictograph panel is half-way up the draw on Wingate
sandstone, 5.8 miles
from the bridge.
Pictograph panel. You can read about
the experts' interpretation. But it's more fun to make up your own story.
||There are several groupings of rock art, with interpretive
signs. And a wooden fence so you don't touch.
According to the sign, this is
supposed to be some serpent-thingy. Or maybe it's a guy playing with his
|Evidence that this route is, indeed, used by non-polluting
forms of transportation.
If you're a roadie who occasionally wants to ride dirt and
gravel roads, a Cyclocross bike may be just what you want.
||You'll recognize the rock layers here. It's especially easy
if you enter the canyon from the top, then tick off the layers as you
descend lower in the geologic strata.
At the top, the white Navajo sandstone is obvious. It changes from
mounds to cliffs. Further south, the horizontal ledges of Kayenta
sandstone are easy to spot. Below the Kayenta, a second line of cliffs is
the Wingate sandstone.
We're beginning to drop below the
Wingate. Skirts of Chinle surround the cliffs.
|Below the Wingate are the red clays and mudstones of the
Chinle formation. In this area, the bottom of the Chinle formation is the
The Moenkopi formation here looks different. Instead of marbled reds,
it's almost entirely gray. But you can recognize it by the softness of the
slopes and the pattern of erosion.
Across the valley, slopes of Moenkopi
fall away from the spires.
||Riding instructions, from the bottom, big
0.0 Cross the bridge and head north on the road
N39 04.760 W110 40.033
5.8 Pictograph panel, bike parking, bathroom
N39 07.405 W110 41.631
6.1 Camping, bathroom on your right
9.0 For out-and-back, turn around
(not much to see for 7 miles
10.0 L on main (Oil Dome) road
N39 10.256 W110 45.079
10.4 L on county road toward Wedge
N39 10.130 W110 45.278
12.0 L (south) on The Wedge road
N39 09.080 W110 46.200
14.1 R (south) at fork N39 07.377 W110 45.431
16.3 At overlook, bathroom N39 05.582 W110 45.537
Turn L (east) for Little Grand
16.9 At overlook N39 05.731 W110 44.937
Turn around, reverse course
33.8 Back at campground
View of the old swinging bridge, next to the modern
bridge over the San Rafael.
|Getting there, from the north: Exit US-6 in
Price, southbound on highway 10. Go through Huntington. (In Huntington, there's an alternate road
that ends up at the trailhead. I haven't tried it.) As you approach Castle
Dale 28 miles from Price, watch for a sign that says "San Rafael
Access" and a broad dirt road on the left (heading east). There's a
huge corral near the start of the road. Once you're on the dirt road, go
14 miles. Turn right at the Buckhorn Wash road. To ride from the top, park
along the road.
From the south: On I-70, take the Sinbad or Ranch Exit 131, 25 miles west of Green River.
(Note, the exit may be referred to as 129 -- the exits were renumbered a
few years ago.) Head north. The road will veer
east along the freeway, then turn north again. After 21 miles on dirt
road, park at the San Rafael River. Start riding on the dirt road north in
Bathrooms: Campground at river, at pictographs,
and at campground in mid-canyon
Camping: At San Rafael River, mid-canyon, other primitive sites
Bike services: Price, Moab