Every motorsports enthusiast knows that Moab and its surrounding area is the place to go in Utah for the ultimate off-road adventure. In recent years the price of hotels has gone up, the chances of finding a campsite have gone down, and traffic on the main street is all but at a complete stop. Thankfully, “lane filtering” is now legal in Utah, giving those on two wheels a much-needed advantage. Moab’s increased popularity has packed some of the trails located close to town, creating a parking lot at every vista and taking away from the solidarity many adventure riders seek. The surrounding areas have so much to offer; the only reason for stopping in Moab should be fuel and a burger on your way home!
Our most recent trip to Moab was on two fully equipped 2019 KTM 690s. The extent of our plan was to forget about the comforts of town and link together some of the iconic sites with an unknown section of trail that shall henceforth forever be known as the “Dirty Santana Switchbacks” (formerly known as Reservoir Canyon Trail). To do this, we would be stretching the absolute limits of the 3.6-gallon fuel tank; in this case, the longest distance was 165 miles (15 with the gas light on). Overall, an impressive distance for bikes weighted down with luggage and throttle-heavy pilots.
Day One of our adventure started in Salt Lake City. The heavy snow pack from this winter and 12 days straight of pouring rain have all pretty much guaranteed a late start to riding in the mountains of Northern Utah; luckily Moab is only 3.5 hours away making late departures very doable. Pulling into Moab at 7 pm I removed key comfort items from my camping gear in an effort to screw my future self over, a wildly successful maneuver.
We knew riding in the dark was inevitable considering the late departure, but getting as far south the first night was necessary to get the most of our 72 hours. We took 191 out of town, stopping only to check the potent burning smell coming from the back of my 690 (the heatshield for my Mosko Moto luggage was installed slightly out of place giving the luggage and exhaust each their own unique look while still performing as if nothing had happened). We took the 211 to CR- 136 in search of elevation and twisting mountain roads. This section of road isn’t the most direct route to Monticello, but it allows you to use the entire tread instead of aggressively pounding down the center lugs. Pushing south another 15 miles, we decided to camp near Devils Canyon Campground because the trail system to the west provides countless opportunities for free camping.
Day Two started with a heavy layer of frost in a canyon bottom, waiting for the sun to rise and thaw our gear out. A quick hike up the nearby cliffs provided the perfect sunrise and coffee combination that I truly learned to appreciate after past me screwed future me over by removing thermals from an already packed bag. Working our way west and south of Blanding, we came to the top of the Mokee (Moki) Dugway. Taking your time on this three-mile section of hairpin turns and scenic pull-offs overlooking the Valley of the Gods is worth it!. Fueling up in Mexican Hat, we doubled back to Valley of the Gods. This 17-mile loop gets as many air miles as it does opportunities for photographs.
A short stint on the highway leaves two choices for traveling north, Comb Wash and Butler Wash. These two routes parallel each other for about 18 miles dumping you out about 12 miles from Blanding where you will have to determine if your fuel range will allow you to make it all the way back to Moab or not. We fueled up again and doubled back to CR-227 in search of a less-traveled option to access North Cottonwood Road. The options seemed endless, but one dirt road is as good as the next if you haven’t been on either. As we powered up North Cottonwood Road and putted through the frequent water crossings, we decided it was time to fully test the Mosko Moto luggage; as predicted, the camping gear was dry, and we were soaked to the bone. The night was spent around a campfire laughing about the day’s ride and wondering what SpaceX was up to with a dazzling display of satellite abuse that proposed only one question repeatedly “WHAT THE FU*K WAS THAT?!?!”
The start of Day Three was warm, which made putting on wet boots more of a joke than a punishment. With half a day planned for the ride and the switchbacks not more than 20 miles away, a delayed start seemed sufficient enough to accomplish the route. The 20 miles turned out to be fast flowy sections of mountain roads broken up with long sections of mud (you know the mud I am talking about) that you try to avoid at all costs. The last mile of the trail seemed to fade away as we approached the top of the switchbacks making us wonder the condition of the trail going down; all of that was forgotten when we popped out on the overlook as we were gifted a grand view of North Cottonwood Creek.
Up until this point, the route could be ridden by an average rider at a comfortable speed with no real obstacles or concerns. The next 1.5 miles provides just enough pucker factor to make expert riders proceed with caution; it was also clear that it wouldn’t take much to make the trail impassable and turning around to come back up would most likely require a team effort. Every overgrown turn was taken with caution and, for the most part, the bikes stayed upright as we bounced down the trail of baby heads. Coming down out of the switchbacks, drenched in sweat, we were relieved thinking we wouldn’t have to consider going back up. The last half mile down to the creek bottom had three sizable washouts; they were easy to navigate that day but may become impassable with future rain.
Reaching the dirt road at the bottom of North Cottonwood Creek, we were able to open the throttle back up for repeated creek crossings. After five sizable water crossings, the trail seemed to end at a little sand bar where others have clearly been confused before. With no other option, it was back into the creek where the trail ran the same path for a ¼ mile; you can only get so wet, enjoy it!
The road dumps you out on SR211, known for Newspaper Rock and the entrance to Lock Hart. If you have the fuel range and endurance this is the perfect opportunity to jump on Lock Hart and push north; however, being short on fuel and time, we made the decision to take the road back to Moab.,The gas lights turned on at 150 miles, and we nervously chugged down the highway to Moab reaching 165 miles before getting gas.
All in all, the ride was a great success, and it was hard to pick a highlight from Mexican Hat, Mokee Dugway, Valley of the Gods, Newspaper Rock, countless water crossings, frequent flyer miles galore and the “Dirty Santana Switchbacks.” The post-ride burger allowed for laughs and long moments of silence as we flipped through the images of failed wheelies and careless tip-overs. When the excitement of the ride dissipates and exhaustion takes over, the energy only returns when the question is proposed “Where should we ride next?”
Seth Spain is an accomplished rider and owner/operator of Utah Enduro Adventures a full-service rental company out of Salt Lake City, Utah. His company has an impressive fleet of KTM's and also rents snow bikes in the winter.
For more information on these brand new KTM 690 Enduro R's check out our previous Road to Dirt post with all the nitty-gritty details.
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