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Sand Mountain
"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. Because, sand.

In the hoodoo area at the top, we're seeing seven mini-arches. Photos from March 8 and 9, 2017 with ride description by Bruce.

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 pedaling.

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 route.

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 loop track.

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 intersection.

 

 If the above video does not appear on your browser/device, you can watch it on YouTube by clicking here.

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.

This 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 continuing path.

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' paths.

Lunch break.

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 staging area.)

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 other side.

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 on Razorback.

Dropping into a ravine as we head northwest toward the Pine Valley Mountains. Still a lot of vertical to go.

Bottom Line:
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 better.

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 down!
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
Getting there:
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
Water: none
Bathrooms: none at trailhead

Riding resources for this trail:
Single-page riding guide for printing
GPS track files (right-click and "Save as..."):
     Track for loop ride     Area GPX file 
Area maps for printing:  Above aerial view    Topo for printing
Lodging, camping, shops:  Links to St. George area resources

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