"The Maze" Slickrock and Hurricane Dunes
Sand Mountain lies just south of Sand Hollow Reservoir near Hurricane.
It's not a casual ride, and is best reserved for strong adventurous bikers
who've already done the usual stuff in the area. There's sand, rough rock,
and a sustained tough climb. I recommend a fat bike for this ride.
In the hoodoo area at the top, we're seeing seven
mini-arches. Photos from March 8 and 9, 2017 with ride description by
The ride offers great views and lots of Navajo sandstone
slickrock. Much of the West Rim climb is open rock (see the video), and at
the top there are a couple of miles of competing paths through the
hoodoos. If you want to use a standard mountain bike, expect to hike for
about 1/2 mile of your climb.
Bruce heads up the
first slickrock area on the West Rim trail.
There's a reason why locals refer to this adventure as the "Hurricane
Dunes." Lots of sand. You'll fight through a long sandy stretch on
the doubletrack going up to the slickrock. And at the top, a few square
miles of sand dunes await.
So, again, FAT BIKE.
Rolling over the dunes on a Rocky Mountain Blizzard.
Ride the virgin sand, not the stuff that's torn up by ATVs.
I'll discuss two riding options for Sand Mountain. One is an
up-and-back along the west rim of the mountain. This is my recommended
ride. The round trip is about 17 miles, but will vary depending on how
much exploring you do in the hoodoos. The total climbing will be around
2100 vertical feet. When you reach the dunes, play around and test your
sand skills. But go back down the West Rim the way you came.
Just getting started, about 1.5 miles into the ride.
After another 4 miles, we'll be among the bumpy red sandstone at the top
of the mountain on the skyline.
The second ride option is a loop that returns through the
deep sand on the north side of the mountain. Although it's about the same
distance, it takes more time and effort. And you're more likely to get
lost. You'll need to climb north to the top of the dune area then find
your way to the main ATV path before deviating onto the Sand Dune Road to
close the loop. Route-finding is difficult. The sand here is deeper and
trickier than anything you encountered on the way up.
Fault Line trail, on the way back around two miles
from the trailhead. It's the "long way round" but it's easy
Note that dunes move with time. If you enter the sand dune area at the
top while following my GPS track, you may or may not find it a ride-able
It's tough riding.
But if you want to check "fought through miles of deep sand to
conquer Sand Mountain" off your bucket list, you can follow my full
Yeah, sand. That's my 4.8 fat tire's treadmark.
So, I didn't talk you out of it? Then let's ride.
Start the ride in Warner Draw, west of Sand Mountain. The
trailhead is alongside the Highway 7 Southern Parkway. Take the Long
Valley exit (15) from SR-7 and turn north. At the T intersection, go right
on Washington Dam Road. After just less than a mile, Warner Draw Road
turns to the right and goes under SR-7. Find a spot to park, then start
your ride by crossing the cattle guard heading south.
View to the north near the Sand Dune - West Rim trail
If the above video does not appear on your
browser/device, you can watch it on YouTube by clicking
Immediately after crossing the cattle guard, turn to the
right (west). There will be ATV tracks everywhere, and they may disguise
the "official" route, shown as Pecan Road on Google Maps. Stay
as close to the fence as you can until the route turns south in a shallow
washbottom. In 2017 there was a carsonite post marking the trail.
Climbing the West Rim, wandering around on a broad
slickrock area. This is Navajo sandstone.
The ATV path will meander south for a mile. Watch for a
path climbing up out of the wash at mile 1.3 from the trailhead. There was
a marker here, but it wasn't easy to notice. The path will turn eastbound
and begin climbing over the dry mud. ATV paths will join.
The trail is occasionally bumpy and torn up by the gasoline crowd. But I
had no "company" on this trail or on the West Rim -- in two days
of riding -- as the motorheads were all riding to the dunes from the Sand
Hollow Reservoir staging area.
Higher up, the trail alternates between this rough
rock and sandy dirt.
After 0.2 miles from leaving the wash road, Watch for a
carsonite trail marker and fork 90 degrees left on the Fault Line trail.
You're now going northeast (exactly the opposite direction from the
washbottom) on clay ATV track in a little valley. To your
left is a reef of Shinarump conglomerate. When you reach a trail fork at
mile 2.1, veer to the right and uphill on the Sand Dune road. (Note: you
can reach this spot in just 0.7 miles by climbing the Razorback ATV route
to Fault Line. The path is shown on my map, and is the return path of my
GPS track. But it's a brutally steep shortcut and I don't like to start my
rides that way.)
Looking back at the Pine Valley Mountains as we pass
through some hoodoos.
The ATV route stays hard-pack dirt to mile 2.3. Then you hit
the sand. There's just over 1/4 mile of deep sand, very ride-able on my
Rocky Mountain -50 with 4.8-inch tires. Riders on XC bikes will hike this
stretch. The trail flattens and becomes more firm as you approach the West
Rim fork at mile 2.7 from the trailhead. My impression was that the rest
of the trail could be done on generously-sized cross-country tires, but it
would depend on the season and ATV traffic.
The bike is a Rocky Mountain Blizzard -50 fat bike
with a Bluto shock and Bud/Lou tire combination. It's still loaded with
winter survival gear.
Very quickly after turning onto West Rim, you'll hit
slickrock. The ATV path appears as a darkened or shiny area. But go where
you want, while remembering that you're going straight up the hill along
the west rim of the mountain. I found that meandering back and forth was a
great (and fun) leg-saver when compared to the previous day's straight-up
attack along the ATV path. You may note some old white spots marking a
side route. Play if you want.
Peeking through the window, there's a bit of
Washington visible in the distance.
Keep to the right at any intersections. You'll now be
constrained to a defined path, which will alternate between semi-rough
rock and soft dirt. Pass through a first set of hoodoos and keep climbing.
is the spot where the trails split up and meander through the hoodoos.
Allow extra time for route-finding.
As you reach a high spot at mile 4.9, you'll see hoodoos
ahead to your left, with the mountain dropping away on your right.
Suddenly there are multiple possible paths. I went through this area three
times and couldn't stay on the same route. So my GPS track follows one of
a few possible routes. Work to the southeast, until you're just below the
ATV-track scar on the sage-covered hill (but still in the slickrock area).
Then find a pathway that leads to a steep drop, and below you is an open
area, then a slot between two big sandstone hoodoos. That slot is your
View to the south into Arizona as the trail skirts
the cliff edge.
At mile 7.0 or so, the shape of the mountain forces you up
out of the hoodoos to join an ATV track. (It's the continuation of the ATV
track you saw on the mountain where the routes started splitting.) After
about 100 feet, drop to the right back onto the sandstone. The ATV track,
meantime, will climb up to the top of the mountain to enter the dunes at
their highest point.
Keep working to the southeast, going around in circles and blundering
into dead-ends regularly. My GPS track "looks" really clean, but
that's after deleting a LOT of "side trips."
Sometimes there's a definite trail. Other times, you
just feel your way southeast.
Around mile 8.5, the path becomes harder to follow. Find a
spot to watch the gasoline addicts play, have lunch, then turn around and
head back the way you came.
If you're determined for some sand-action, keep uphill and blunder your
way toward the dunes. If you hit the dunes on the south side, you can gain
speed on exposed rock before hitting the piles of soft stuff. Untracked
dune holds up under your tires better, so don't follow the four-wheelers'
So, you're doing the loop ride? I did both out-and-back and
loop versions, so believe me when I tell you out-and-back is more fun. But
here we go.
Find a route to the tip-top of the dune area. I went to the far eastern
side, where I found the climbing easier. Once on the ridgeline of the
uppermost dune, veer to the left to head northwest on top of the dune.
About 2/3 of a sand mile later (one sand mile = 10 dirt miles = 20 road
miles), find the main path where ATVs are entering the area and descend
north-ish down a draw full of deep soft sand. It's downhill, yet you'll
still be working hard.
On the edge of the dune area, looking northeast. For
size persective, those specks just below and left of center are ATVs.
After a bit over a mile descending on the sandy access
trail, you'll -- hopefully-- see a trail sign. Head for it, and fork 90
degrees to the left. This is the Sand Dune road that will take you back to
the West Rim. (It's easy to "not see" the trail, because 99% of
the ATV traffic follows the main path descending toward the ATV reservoir
Critical fork. This is where you pick up the return
path. We're looking west.
Follow what seems to be the main path, staying straight when
in doubt. Two notes: (1) At around mile 13, the trail splits. I went
straight down the wash. It appears that forking right would take you down
the ridge to rejoin later. (2) When you reach a huge dune, the route drops
off to the left. Yes, straight down the impossibly-steep face of the dune
into the ravine. Once you reach the bottom, keep straight to climb up the
Back at the Dune Road - West Rim fork, keep straight. When you reach
the fork to Fault Line, keep left to retrace your outgoing path. For a
shortcut that shaves off 1.5 miles, but has some steep spots, follow my
GPS track by turning right. After 1/3 mile, turn 90 degrees left downhill
Dropping into a ravine as we head northwest toward
the Pine Valley Mountains. Still a lot of vertical to go.
The West Rim slickrock ride is high-voltage fun. Don't be put off by the
fact that ATVs use this area. I didn't see any on West Rim. You DO,
however, have to get past the sand on the climb. So I recommend a fat
bike. Again, out-and-back is my recommendation. The loop ride through the
sandy north slope is for show-offs and morons like me who don't know any
Sand is hard work, even with a fatty.
Riding notes, slickrock and dune loop:
0.0 Cross cattle guard, go right (west)
N37 06.743 W113 26.282
0.2 Southwest in wash bottom
N37 06.709 W113 26.453
1.3 Veer L out of wash (southeast)
N37 05.937 W113 27.037
1.5 Fork L (northeast), Fault Line trail
N37 05.816 W113 26.902
2.1 Keep R and uphill (east)
N37 06.232 W113 26.489
2.7 Fork R on West Rim
N37 06.321 W113 25.970
3.0 Keep R (L=to John's)
N37 06.125 W113 25.899
3.6 Keep R (John's rejoins)
N37 05.745 W113 26.149
3.7 Keep R (L=sandy DT to The Maze)
N37 05.671 W113 26.189
4.9 Slickrock and hoodoos, work southeast
N37 04.839 W113 26.534
5.6 Passage east to lower trail!
N37 04.490 W113 26.435
7.0 Rejoin upper DT, the leave to R
N37 03.827 W113 25.809 8.5 Turn-around for XC out-and-back ride
For loop, east-southeast at
edge of dunes
9.2 R to go northeast climbing along edge of dunes
N37 03.140 W113 24.256
9.7 Top of dune area, work northwest
10.4 R downhill on main access path (north)
N37 03.797 W113 24.313 Lots of deep sand from here
11.6 L on Dunes DT, critical fork!
N37 04.640 W113 23.734
(straight or R= down to
reservoir ATV staging)
13ish straight and descend wash (R=ridge alt)
14.6 Drop steep L off dune, up DT opposite side
N37 06.317 W113 25.636
15.0 West Rim fork, straight N37 06.321 W113 25.970
15.6 Fork R this time, go northeast on Fault Line
N37 06.247 W113 26.460
15.9 L downhill N37 06.469 W113 26.294
16.1 Veer R toward road
16.3 Back at parking
To get there from the south, take I-15's exit 2 to Highway 7, the Southern
Parkway. Go 15 miles to exit 15 for the Long Valley. Turn left under the
highway, then right on Washington Dam Road.
From Highway 9 just west of Hurricane, take the Sand Hollow Road south
until you pass Sand Hollow State Park, then turn right onto Highway 7. Go
west about three miles to exit 15 and turn right (north). At the stop
sign, go right on Washington Dam Road.
After 0.9 miles on Washington Dam Road, turn right at Warner Draw Road and
go under the highway. Immediately find a place to park. The ride starts by
heading south up the valley. To avoid the confusion of multiple changing
ATV routes, start by working to your right immediately after you cross the
cattle guard until you find the main road in the bottom of the wash.
Camping: Quail Creek State Park
Bathrooms: none at trailhead