Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” finishes with the iconic lines that “two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” This phrase has become the embodiment of the idea that the road less-often taken brings us greater reward, and in many ways that is the impetus behind trips like ours to Moab — we are searching for something, adventure maybe, beyond where the roadway ends.
With those words in mind, we strapped our boots on in the morning, geared up for a full day of riding on the trails that lead down the Colorado River and into Canyonlands National Park. Tim and I were a combination of excited and nervous for the day’s ride — after all, we had just ridden 1,000+ miles for this very day. Our first order of business was to take Kane Creek Road, to Hurrah Pass, and onto the Chicken Corners Trail.
Making our way past the McDonald’s that sits on Main St. and Kane Creek Rd., our first route started on tarmac that winded along the Colorado river, which sits low between the tall canyon of red rock that flank either side of the water. As we passed campsites and makeshift domiciles, the road slowly deteriorated, and ultimately went to gravel and dirt.
Tall rock is at your side for a good portion of the trail’s start, but slowly we began to climb out of the river basin, and into the open plains of Moab. Our first vista was a long outcropping of rock, shaped like a narrow penninsula. It fingered its way out into the valley, and walking out to its tip, we got the first view of what we were in for in our day’s adventure.
Riding on street tires, with 500+ lbs machines, the trail was challenging, but manageable. A mixture of exposed rock, gravel, and light sand, our climb to Hurrah Pass was marked with superlatives and expletives over our helmet intercoms. We continued our descent down the other side of the pass, and ultimately turned around at the base of a sandpit and staircase of rock.
Retracing our path out of Chicken Corners Trail, we met a local named John who was on a Kawasaki KLR 650, and stopped to talk to us while we changed camera mounts at Hurrah Pass. Talking for a while, we exchanged the usual banter about riding motorcycles, John’s retirement in Utah, and our trip to Moab and back.
After talking bike for a bit longer, we descended the pass back into Moab with John, and ultimately bid him farewll as we entered the city limits. John had the whole afternoon ahead of him, and our next target was the Shafer Trail, which also begins along the Colorado River, but leads directly into the Island in the Sky district of the national park.
The first portion of the Shafer Trail begins near some sort of industrial mining project, with railway cars lining the train tracks, and pools of salt water slowly evaporating in the Utah sun. Whereas Kane Creek began with picturesque shots of canyon and river, Shafer began with less enthusiasm and magnitude.
That would slowly change as we pushed down the trail though. We knew as we began this second route into the park that rain could be an issue. Flash floods had been forecasted, and while we had hoped to beat the weather, a drizzle was now beginning to form. The moisture at first aided our ride, helping to contain the sand and dust, while not being an issue on the slickrock surfaces that were exposed. As the rain began to fall harder, our anxiety went up, but the trail continued to be entirely manageable, so long as we — ahem — stayed on it.
Eventually we came to an overlook of the famous Goose Neck turn of the Colorado river. Viewed from the northern side, the river’s 180 degree horseshoe bend is an epic view, and worth all the effort to reach. If one is brave enough, you can walk all the way to the cliff’s edge, and see the water hundreds of feet below. Taking time for a couple photo ops, the falling rain reminded us of the miles still ahead, and the challenges the weather could create for us.
Entering the park’s official boundaries, we hit perhaps the most challenging sections of the Shafer Trail, as the path crosses several silted river crossings that have steep entries and exits. Powering our way through, we came to the junction of the White Rim Trail — a route we had originally wanted to undertake, but elected to skip in the interest of time and preparation.
Reaching the switchback that would take us out of the trail basin, our ride for the day concluded with views back along the valley we had just ridden through. Our sense of accomplishment continued to build with each reversing turn, and at the park’s exit and junction onto SR-313, Tim and I reflected on the day’s events before heading back into Moab for a well-earned dinner.
We had traveled the road less traveled by, but like Frost’s famous words, our ride’s meaning and intention is easy to misunderstand. Our day wasn’t defined by the path we chose, but what value we internally gave that path. A day of off-roading in Moab to our newly made friend John is a daily event — a way to blow off steam, and find relaxation in a life of retirement. For others, Moab is a yearly destination, and trails of greater difficulty are the order of the day, which in turn provide a different sort of release.
For us, touring 1,000 miles and then off-roading those same bikes, provided a certain amount of internal satisfaction to both Tim and I, and only over the course of the coming miles will we understand what that satisfaction means to us, and what difference the road less traveled by will bring.