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Three Fingers Canyon

 Three Fingers Canyon is a destination ride along dirt road. You'll only enter about 100 yards into the canyon itself. (You can hike up further if you want.) At the end of the ride are panels of pictographs on the Navajo sandstone. 

Pictograph panel. Photos and ride description by Bruce on November 18, 2010.

The round trip is 16.6 miles. It's a fairly quick trip. Outbound was under an hour, stopping for photos. Return was 35 minutes.

The ride starts at 4100 feet elevation on the edge of the San Rafael Reef. Total climbing will be 900 feet for the round trip.

We're riding The Squeeze southbound. The sharktooth tilted Navajo sandstone was shoved upward by forces deep underground. The upthrust area is the San Rafael Swell.

The trailhead is just off Interstate 70. You can cross under the freeway from the Black Dragon trailhead. If you're eastbound, there's a pull-off and gate on the south side of the highway.

The escarpment itself is called the San Rafael Reef. Here some goblin-like Entrada sandstone sits in front of the upthrust Navajo.

The ride starts southbound in a narrow valley called "The Squeeze." You're going slightly uphill between the sharktooth uptilted Navajo Sandstone escarpment on the west and Shadscale Mesa to the east.

Looking back to the north, we've come several miles down the edge of the Reef.

At mile 3.5, the trail turns away from the Reef and coasts downhill into a broad desert valley to the east. The road will turn south.

At mile 6.0, there's a critical unmarked turn. Fork right (west toward the cliffs) on a narrow un-graded doubletrack.

Looking back to the north at the breaks of Shadscale Mesa.

At mile 8.3, you're there. Three Fingers Canyon is Wilderness Study Area. But the signpost says bikes are allowed. (You can go only about 100 yards further before huge boulders make it impossible to ride.)

We're heading toward the Reef again on the narrower doubletrack after leaving the main graded road.

The pictographs are just inside the canyon, to your right, on blackened Navajo sandstone surface. Some of the rock art is actually on the slope leading up to the overhang. So if you're wearing cycling cleats, take your shoes off so you don't damage the carvings! You may not see the pictographs before you're stepping on -- and gouging -- ancient art.

Approaching Three Fingers Canyon. The route is not marked, perhaps to discourage idiots from damaging the pictograph panels.

If you like, you can take a scramble over the boulders to check out the canyon. About 1/4 mile up, it spreads into a T with the canyon running parallel to the Reef in both directions. There's not much interesting to see beyond this point.

Looking out of the canyon, a bit uphill from the pictographs. The mountains in the distance are the La Sals above Moab.

Only about 250 of the total vertical will be on the return trip. You can motor right along.

This ride is very easy, both aerobically and technically. It's suitable for families. The day I rode, the road had been freshly graded, creating some moon dust in the first half-mile that could bog down small tires.

Up inside the T of the canyon, looking back at a tilted cliff of Wingate sandstone, with Navajo visible on top.

There are multiple pictograph panels covering about 150 feet of the rock face. They start on a gentle slope as you walk uphill on the sandstone. Watch what you're stepping on.

I have a dozen photos of various pictographs. There's a lot to see.

This is the three-fingered guy for which the canyon is named.

Why three fingers? It's a depiction of an Alien, they say. Or maybe, just like our modern cartoonists, the artist knew that four fingers was too busy and two looked deformed. Three fingers is just right.

Riding notes, Three Fingers Canyon:
0.0   From Black Dragon side, into wash southbound.
        N38 55.580 W110 25.091
        Go under freeway. Keep heading south on road.
0.0   From Three Fingers side, park near gate.
        N38 55.438 W110 25.113
        Follow road to wash.
3.5   Road veers east and downhill
        N38 52.978 W110 26.883
5.1   Turn R at fork with faint DT
        N38 52.344 W110 25.419
6.0   Critical fork. R on smaller DT
        N38 51.608 W110 25.667
8.3   Stash bike and hike.
        N38 51.448 W110 27.867

Another individual?  There are snakes, concentric circles, antelope, and other designs.

Getting there, from US-6 through Price:  Eastbound on US-191/US-6, turn west (right) onto I-70. Nine miles later, cross the San Rafael River. Slow down and get ready! 0.3 miles later, watch carefully for a gravel turnaround between freeway lanes, with a dirt road leaving the freeway on the right. (The dirt road is hard to see until you're passing it. N 38 55.531' W 110 25.023') Go through the gate, turn L and park near the wash. Get into the wash heading south and cross under the freeway. Join the road (or rather, the wash joins the road) heading south.

Westbound on I-70: Westbound, descend through the scenic rock canyon. As soon as you see sage brush, slow and watch for a dirt road with a metal gate. Park along the side and follow the road down to the wash and head south.

Bathrooms:  None
Camping:  Primitive sites in San Rafael or at base of Black Dragon Canyon,
     developed CG on San Rafael River at Buckhorn Draw
Water:  None. Green River is 10 miles east.
Bike services:  Moab or Price

Printable one-page riding guide
GPS track files (right-click and "Save as..."):
    Garmin        GPX 
Topo map for printing:   View
Lodging, camping, shops:
     Links to Price and San Rafael area resources
     Links to Moab area resources

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