Tuesday, January 26, 2016

A Man, His Truck, and The Unconquered Road

The Needles District, Canyonlands National Park, Utah
October 12, 2010

A stop at the visitor center has usually been the first order of business when I get to a national park. The visitor center is typically near the entrance and gives me an opportunity to stretch and get a feel of the lay of the land. The lay of the Canyonlands is immense, so much that it has three districts with the entrances to these districts tens of miles apart. A quick look at the visitor center exhibits and the park map gave me my agenda for the morning in The Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. A scenic drive down the dead-end road to Big Spring Canyon Overlook with a side trip on the Elephant Hill access road for a distant view of the Needles. Also, a short hike on the Pothole Point Trail for my daily exercise.

First, though, was a four-wheel drive adventure from the visitor center to the Colorado River Overlook. Utah is a magnet for off-highway travels, and my Nissan Titan truck and I were in the mood for some four-wheel action. The information at the visitor center noted it is a moderate 4WD road, good for mountain bikes, with large rocks and stair-step drops in the last one and one-half miles. Ahhh, a challenge to see if I could drive the seven miles to the overlook.

The road takes its first scrapes
The drive started off uneventful on a standard narrow dirt road in the desert. With some more pinstripes for the Titan, the Colorado River Overlook Road warranted its 4WD designation at around three miles in. The road also warranted high clearance which the Titan handled easily. However, the entry sign probably does not go far enough in discouraging people with standard four-wheel drive vehicles from attempting the road since they would probably be scraping their bottoms at this point.

I put the Titan into high four-wheel drive, and over the next three miles, I had to get out of the truck four times to survey my route through the rocks. There were lots of rocks to contend with, and there were a couple of stretches of more than a hundred yards where I was driving just on rocks. The tires took a beating with plenty of scrapes on their sides to mark their contacts with the rocks. The skid plate also had its share of scrapes with the rocks. Still, I had not yet come across anything that I haven't dealt with before in my 4WD travels.

Driving on solid rock

The last part of the road for me
At six miles, I had to get out again to survey my route, but this time I knew I was done. I reached the large rocks and stair-step drops of the last mile. This was the first spot I felt iffy about successfully driving over, and this set of stairs had a number of stacked rocks and asphalt fillings to help vehicles get across. The rocks still had skid marks that showed where metal and rock collided and neither the metal nor the rock won.

I looked to find a route around the steps. I did not find one. I tried to do some rough, eyeball calculations of the distance and slope of the stairs compared to the clearance and the long wheel base of the Titan. I could not remember driving the Titan over a similar obstacle, and I did not think that the Titan would be able to do it and that it could get hung up. I hiked around the bend. I saw even more rocks and stairs that I would have to battle with. I prognosticated on whether the Titan and I would be successful in arriving at the overlook. The prognostication was not good.

The drop in the road that I did not challenge

The last part of the road I did not get to drive
on that goes to the Colorado River Overlook
Although I was only a six mile hike away from help if things went bad, my Titan had treated me well on this walkabout, and I did not want to tempt fate since I still had a thousand miles to go. Also, the Park Service likes to remind 4WD adventurers that "towing charges are very expensive and visitors caught in the backcountry with disabled vehicles can expect towing fees in excess of $1,000."

I could not push the envelope with my Titan, and I admitted defeat. Feeling rejected and not being able to venture forward with my Titan, I was no longer in the mood to reach the Colorado River Overlook. I was not going to hike the last mile and a half; it just would not feel the same looking over the Colorado River without my Titan.

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