Burr Trail Road and Notom-Bullfrog Road North (G.S.E.N.M. and Capitol Reef N.P.)

April 27 – 30, 2017 – I’m finally wrapping up my winter travels of 2016/2017. (Just in time to start again).

This is another of my favorite drives and places to boondock. It’s remote, with no cell phone signal, no Verizon, and very few people. I’ve spent time out here in the fall and have gone for two days where I haven’t seen another vehicle. When you do (finally) see someone else, you wave to each other like crazy because it’s such a relief to know that there are still others alive on the planet.

I started my drive along The Burr Trail Road from the tiny town of Boulder, Utah, which is surrounded by the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument (thanks, President Clinton), and is a truly breathtaking drive.

The road starts right in the center of town near a little café and trading post. The first section of road is paved and passes through the incredible sandstone formations of Durffey Mesa and soon enters the national monument, and all development is left behind. This section of road was paved a few years back so there is more traffic on it than there used to be, which takes some of the adventure out of it (at least in my opinion). There are hiking trails and a tiny campground near Deer Creek, the first major tributary. After a few miles, the road drops steeply down into Long Canyon by way of some steep and narrow switchbacks.

Part way down the switchbacks you get a great view of Long Canyon.

After driving through Long Canyon the road reaches a saddle at the rim of the Circle Cliffs and the near edge of Capitol Reef. There is a viewpoint here that overlooks the Henry Mountains, Capitol Reef, and the colorful bands of the Chinle formation below. The view is breathtaking.

The road then drops again and passes The Wolverine Loop Road (linked to my blog post on The Wolverine Loop Road), and continues on to The Waterpocket Fold. Before reaching The Waterpocket Fold the pavement ends at the edge of Capitol Reef National Park. From here on the drive can become more challenging depending on conditions at the time.

There are a number of trailheads in this area and some beautiful hiking.

Now it’s time to drop another 900 feet over this two-mile stretch of road, by going down the Burr Trail Switchbacks. Once down the very tight switchbacks, the road meets up with the Notom-Bullfrog Road. To the right (south) the road eventually ends up at Bullfrog, and it’s a beautiful drive with some fascinating geology (it’s 66 miles from Boulder to Bullfrog). In sections of this road you’ll see signs that say don’t park or get out of your car; please don’t ignore these signs, unless you want to get sick. However, for this drive, I’m going left (north) and traveling along the east (or back side) of Capitol Reef.

Below is the Notom-Bullfrog Road, looking north.

Hover over the images to learn more.

A few years ago I drove the Notom-Bullfrog Road and the entire road was still a dirt road. It’s was horrible washboard and rutted and very slow going and I was sort of dreading it but was mentally prepared because it was part of the adventure. So imagine my surprise when I suddenly hit pavement about 10 or 12 miles south of my destination of Hwy 24. I was so stunned, I pulled over and stared at the blacktop in total dismay.

Looking east across some ranch lands, with The Henry Mountains in the background.

Looking north (below).

While sitting there I watched several vehicles come barreling down the road and when they came to the end of the pavement they stopped and turned around, speeding off in the direction they came from, and I almost cried. It then dawned on me that Capitol Reef National Park (or someone) must have decided to pave this section of road, and turn it into a scenic drive.

I recalled past adventures driving at a crawl along this road while counting the number of dirt washes we had to negotiate in order to find a particular wash called Burro Wash. Now, when I reached Burro Wash, there was a big paved pull-off and an official trailhead with several cars parked there. I found myself mourning the loss of the dirt road, and the hard to find trailhead, but most of all I mourned the loss of the feeling of adventure that came with that rough drive, while we counted off the miles on the milometer on the dashboard, and followed the directions in the guidebook. Yes, I said in a guidebook, as in paper instructions bound together with a spine. (The old-fashioned way).

At the same time I understand why they decided to make these ‘improvements,’ or at least I can take a guess; Our National Parks are being loved to death, visitation is increasing dramatically and I’m sure this section of road was suffering (and probably the ranchers along with it). Also, because the Burro Wash trail used to be accessed by driving up the wash until you could go no further, I think it’s safe to assume that with the onslaught of ATV’s and OHV’s the terrain was suffering too, because some people have no regard for the land, and in the desert it only takes one careless person to do a lot of damage that could take many years to recover, if ever.

As you approach the northernmost section of The Notom-Bullfrog Road, the scenery on the west side of the road grows increasingly fascinating. Here you can see the beautiful domes of Capitol Reef, and no doubt the reason the road has been paved and turned into a scenic drive.

I found a boondocking spot for the night, and sat back to watch the show; A storm passed through turning this dramatic landscape into darkness and casting a doomsday feel to it, and when the sun set the sandstone domes glowed in shades of pink, rust, yellow and gold.

It was stunning!

There was one other van parked in this spot and it too had a solar panel on top. I had to wonder if it was a member of my tribe, but the wind was blowing cold and hard and the owner didn’t step outside. I walked around a bit to see if they came out to say hi, but there was no sign of life. Anyway, if it was you…let me know will ya? LOL

The next morning I decided to head to Moab. I wanted to visit some friends there before returning to Colorado to work for the summer. I boondocked just north of Moab that night, and in the morning I was driving along the dirt road out of camp when I heard a funny noise. Before pulling onto the highway I walked around my van to find the source of the noise, and then I noticed that four of the lug nuts on my passenger side front tire were missing. On closer inspection, I realized that they had actually sheared off and the stems were broken. Wowser!

Just the day before I’d been driving 75 mph on the interstate and I hadn’t heard anything. Had my wheel been like this while I was driving on the interstate, and the highway, or did these four stems snap while I was heading the short distance into my boondocking spot the previous night? I quivered at the thought of how close I’d come to losing my wheel on the highway, and the repercussions of that.

Obviously, I wasn’t driving anywhere now, so I called a tow truck and had them take me to Grand Junction, Colorado. I’d recently had my tires rotated by the same big-name company that had installed the tires on this van originally (under warranty), so had the tow truck drop me off at one of the same chain stores. It was a Sunday and they were closed, so I spent the night sleeping in my van in their parking lot in Grand Junction. It was bright and noisy, and I hardly got any sleep. The trash pickup came at about 3:00 am, with his beep, beep reversing, and lifting the big dumpster and so on.

I was so tired the next morning and was the first in line at the door. I then learned that they didn’t have the equipment to do the work that was needed, so I had to get towed a second time to another place. During this whole process, I learned something about my wheels. Apparently, this particular kind of lug nut has to be torqued to exactly 100 lbs and apparently when the rotation was done, the chain store in Cottonwood, AZ, had not done this and they were seriously at fault. Needless to say, the store in Grand Junction treated me like royalty, even though they were not directly responsible.

The manager drove me over to the repair shop in his own vehicle, and not only did they cover the cost of all the work but they also paid for me to have a full-service oil change and lube.

I will be paranoid about my wheels in the future. Any work that is done on them from here on will involve me having a serious talk with the manager in charge, and hovering over the entire process to ensure that this incident is never repeated. I’ve also invested in a torque wrench in case I have to change a tire on the side of the road.

I hope you have enjoyed this installment of my travels during the winter of 2016/2017, and hope you’ll continue the journey with me. Please visit the HOME page to find more articles, and feel free to share, sign up and leave a comment. Also please visit my YouTube Channel. Until next time…remember to step outside of your comfort zone as often as possible and watch it grow.

Roxy ~ A Nomad for Nature

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5 responses to “Burr Trail Road and Notom-Bullfrog Road North (G.S.E.N.M. and Capitol Reef N.P.)

  1. So enjoyed the great adventure! And so glad you are safe with the wheel episode…..what a frightening thought! By the way, what would make you sick by getting out of your car on some sections of the road?

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  2. I’m glad you were taken care of in more ways than one! I would add a “cheater bar” to use with both your lug and torque wrenches for added leverage; a 2 foot piece of pipe just large enough to go over their handles. Maybe you could substitute it for whatever stick you may have handy for protection.

    Enjoyed the adventure!

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