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Temple Mountain Trail

This trail is an ATV track that loops around Temple Mountain in the southern San Rafael Swell. There are a lot of nice views, and many miles of biking in solitude. Great stuff.

View north from the start of the trail. Temple mountain is pale Wingate sandstone, sitting on skirts of Chinle and Moenkopi. Photos by Bruce, December 6, 2002.

I describe two routes: a lariat loop that runs over the ridge between reef and mountain then climbs around the mountain, and a slightly shorter loop with less climbing that connects through North Temple Wash. Each is about 10 miles long, and features some fairly stiff climbing on ATV-track. Difficulty is intermediate due to some loose rock and occasional wash-outs.

The ride starts on the desert just east of the sharktooth edge of the San Rafael Reef. After following the road in the gorge through the sandstone cliffs, the ride follows ATV doubletrack up the side of Temple Mountain.

The Temple Wash (clockwise) loop has less climbing and is a tad shorter overall, but you'll have some soft stuff under the tires in North Temple Wash. The Ridge loop misses the spectacular walls of North Temple Wash, but it lets you see Temple Mountain from all sides.

Riding the Temple Wash Loop version, you'll climb about 800 vertical feet. Most of it comes in a stiff 10% grade during the third mile, along the southwest side of Temple Mountain. 

A mining cabin on the north side of mountain.

The Ridge lariat loop climbs 700 vertical (400 feet of it in 3/4 mile), then drops back 600, which you regain climbing around the north end of Temple Mountain, for a total of 1300 feet of climbing.

View from the side of Temple Mountain, looking south toward the edge of the San Rafael Swell (Reef). The foreground rocks are Moenkopi formation. The vertical cliffs in the distance are Wingate sandstone.

Whichever way you ride this trail, it can be a navigation nightmare if you don't know where you're going. In the mining areas, there are doubletracks branching off every few hundred feet. But here's the principle: if there's ever any doubt, just go straight! Be sure your map-reading biker has an odometer for the major trail forks. We've also provided extra GPS coordinates, just in case.

Bighorn Sheep scamper up the Navajo Sandstone cliffs in South Temple Wash.

The ride starts in the Moenkopi Formation of the early Triassic, then follows the lower Chinle skirts of the castle-like cliffs. Temple Mountain itself is pale Wingate sandstone with Kayenta sandstone caprock. From the sides of the mountain, you'll have seemingly endless views over the San Rafael Swell's Sinbad area.

View up the southwest side of Temple Mountain. The foreground rocks are Moenkopi, the banded area is Chinle (the site of uranium deposits), and the white cliffs are Wingate sandstone.

Temple Mountain is the site of dozens of inactive mines. Early in the 1900s, radium was mined here. Starting in the 50s, uranium ore was extracted from scattered veins within the Chinle Formation.
During the Triassic Period (245-205 million years ago) sandy streams flowed from the mountains in the west (see our page on the geology of the San Rafael). Leaves and other vegetation on the stream bottom compacted into dense deposits of organic matter. The streambeds were then buried deep underground. Hot groundwater picked up tiny amounts of uranium and radium from nearby volcanic rock, and slowly filtered through these ancient streambeds. The yellow mineral replaced the carbonaceous deposits in the streambeds. (In the Moab area, uranium is found in the Morrison Formation from the late Jurassic, another era of streambeds meandering over floodplains.) That's why the uranium is found in small scattered deposits.

A mine shaft and ore-cart ramp, located along the ridge trail. Don't enter the mines! Radioactive gas is only ONE of the dangers.

Riding notes, Temple Wash Loop:
0.0  From parking on the paved road, go west
       N 38 39.194' W 110 39.260'  alt=5300'
1.8  Just after log fence (on L), turn R
       N 38 39.946' W 110 40.911'  alt=5400'
       Go NE along lowest ridge break
2.1  Keep R (L goes to stone cabins)
2.5  Fork L northwest (R goes to Ridge route)
       N 38 40.416' W 110 40.794'  alt=5630'
3.7  After stiff climb, keep straight and uphill
       N 38 41.199' W 110 41.208'
4.3  Peak altitude 6010'. W side of mountain
4.8  Straight (R) downhill
       N 38 41.407' W 110 40.459'   alt=5830'

View north from the ridge, just east of the spires of Temple Mountain.

5.4  Straight (L) and E towards cabins
       N 38 41.142' W 110 40.089'
5.3  Pass cabins, keep L and east downhill
5.9  Orange trail in from L, keep straight
       N 38 41.103' W 110 39.408'
6.2  Ridge DT in from L, stay E on road
       N 38 40.850' W 110 39.322'  alt=5400'
       Go down bottom of N. Temple Wash
8.1  Ignore sandy DT exiting wash
8.3  Fork R on DT as it crosses wash
       N 38 39.635' W 110 38.376'  alt=5250'
       Stay on main road
9.2  Veer R at fork
9.3  Back at car

Looking down the trail in North Temple Wash. Most of the trail here is easy to ride, but there are some "bog" sections of loose sand.

Riding notes, Ridge Loop:
0.0  From parking on the paved road, go west
       (Alternate: from roadside, backtrack east.
       If starting from the alternate parking,
       subtract 1.6 miles from the milage below.)
1.7  At first doubletrack on R, turn R
       N 38 39.883' W 110 40.803'  alt=5400'
       Go through wash, climb along edge of cliffs
2.1  Keep R (L connects to return loop)
2.4  Keep straight (R) at top of climb
       N 38 40.463' W 110 40.627'  alt=5800'
3.0  Straight (L)
3.4  Ridgetop, trail turns R
       N 38 41.034' W 110 40.509'  alt=6000'
3.9  Keep straight R (L zigs down hill)
       N 38 40.922' W 110 40.026'  alt=5700'
4.6  Hard L on road from N Temple Wash
       N 38 40.850' W 110 39.322'  alt=5400'
4.9  Straight L (R is Orange Trail)
       N 38 41.103' W 110 39.408'
5.5  Pass wooden mine cabins, keep R
5.6  Keep straight R
       N 38 41.142' W 110 40.089'
6.2  Keep straight L (R connects to main road)
       N 38 41.407' W 110 40.459'   alt=5830'
6.7  Fork R (down). Peak altitude
       N 38 41.508' W 110 40.831'  alt=6010'
7.3  Keep straight (L)
       N 38 41.199' W 110 41.208'
8.5  Fork R downhill (L connects to outgoing trail)
       N 38 40.416' W 110 40.794'  alt=5630'
8.9  DT from cabins joins on R
9.2  Main dirt road, turn L
       N 38 39.946' W 110 40.911'  alt=5400'
11.0 Back at car, alt=5300'
Getting there: Heading southeast on US-6 near Green River, turn right onto I-70. 8.1 miles later, take Exit 149 for Hanksville/Goblin Valley. Turn left (south) and drive 23.5 miles, then turn right on the paved road towards Goblin Valley and Temple Mountain. Five miles later, park on the right side of the road, where the Goblin Valley Road turns left (south). N 38 39.194' W 110 39.260'. Begin riding west on pavement (the direction you were driving in your car) towards Temple Mountain.
Alternate parking:  Continue in your car through the Reef. About 1/4 mile after the pavement turns to dirt, spot a doubletrack on the right (near the sign). That's the "over-the-ridge" route. 0.2 mile later, there's room to park on the right. To the right across the wash, spot the doubletrack that follows the BASE of the ledges heading northwest. That's the clockwise loop outgoing, or the alternate loop return.
Riding resources:
One-page, printable riding guide
GPS track files (right-click and "Save as..."):
    Garmin      GPX  (includes nearby options)
Topo map for printing:  Low-res area   High-res loop
Lodging, camping, shops:    Links to San Rafael area resources

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