Circling the four corners | Arizona Utah Colorado and New Mexico
The long-awaited adventure around the four corners The everlasting desire to see something new and experience life from a different perspective will drive us towards more and more adventure. Our time in the backcountry, no matter where we are, gives us a chance to escape the pressure of daily life. Despite the negativity in the […]
The long-awaited adventure around the four corners
The everlasting desire to see something new and experience life from a different perspective will drive us towards more and more adventure. Our time in the backcountry, no matter where we are, gives us a chance to escape the pressure of daily life. Despite the negativity in the world today, we find ourselves escaping to our own dimension—a world where only nature judges and deep canyons keep you imprisoned. The journey isn’t only an adventure. It’s a time of kinship and camaraderie with a small group of friends.
Our journey started around 12 am when we hit the highway for Utah. The long road ahead kept me driving all night until the sun came over the horizon. Dusk came in the form of expansive horizons rising over endless mesas and sandstone buttes. As the Arizona line faded behind me, I entered uncharted territory. It’s not very often that I leave the Grand Canyon state, but the Broverglampers crew was camped outside of Bluff, Utah, and about to hit the trail. I was due to arrive just in time to rouse our journey into the Utah Wilderness.
The Broverglampers Crew comes together from all over the US once a year for an extraordinary adventure. Last year was Arizona, and this year is Utah. Arizona Backcountry Explorers intends to take advantage of this opportunity and complete a long-anticipated adventure circling the 4 corners of the western United States. I’m happy to be part of a wonderful crew of caring, organized, and adventurous overland enthusiasts who really do their best to create an exciting experience.
Utah, here we come!
My son and I arrived in Bluff, Utah, around eight o’clock in the morning. The crew was nearly packed up and ready to go. After a short welcome, our tires deflated to the desired pressure for a lengthy 84 miles to our future campsite. The road was easy following Butler Wash north towards Blanding, Utah. Studying the map, I discovered some cliff dwellings to the east, and everyone opted in on the adventure.
The hike to the cliff dwellings was more work than it should have been. We completely missed the actual trail and set off across-country on foot. The cliff dwellings were located in a small tributary to Butler Wash along Comb Ridge. They were amazing and provided an opportunity to give my son a lesson on prehistoric cultures. We spent about an hour exploring two sets of cliff dwellings in the same canyon. One set appeared to be relatively large and contained many rooms, some too small to enter and others that included windows.
The newly eroded ground revealed more and more artifacts. One group member found the handle to a bowl, and my son found a massive chunk of pottery. We placed them both on the wall for others to see. Around the corner was a second set of dwellings, but there wasn’t much there. A few walls remained with more broken pottery on the ground. Nevertheless, it was an extraordinary experience for all of us.
We discovered a foot trail and followed a recognizable path back to our vehicles. Although there are about ten cliff dwellings in the area, we only had time to visit the two. We must hit the road to stay on schedule.
We navigated a smooth 2 track along Comb Ridge towards Blanding, Utah. Eventually, we penetrated the LaSal National Forest, where we connected with Gooseberry Road to find our campsite. The Texas folks set their sights on an incredible campsite, just a short jaunt to the north. The mysterious campsite caught the attention of the crew commander and must have reminded him of home.
The campsite was situated at the top of Texas Canyon. The bottom of the canyon was imperceptible, with sheer walls on both sides. The two iconic peaks tower over the canyon resembling a set of bears’ ears. The crisp, clean air was blowing unyielding through the trees, overwhelmed my senses to the point of contentment. The spot was tight, covered in tall trees, and right on the edge of the canyon. We couldn’t have asked for a better campsite, but unfortunately, someone had already beat us to the punch. Darn!
Since the day was young, we decided to continue down the trail for a couple more hours. Kyle, the crew commander, set his crosshairs on another campsite along Elk Ridge a short distance from Bears Ears. Our route proceeded for another twenty or so miles, drilling deeper into the LaSal National Forest. We passed The Notch and stopped to take a look at the huge gap splitting the mountain in half. It was a neat sight and warranted a future return.
Our campsite was beautiful. A wonderful lake in the middle of a bright green meadow surrounded by tall Burch Trees that bare carvings of mutual love. It was a tender place unscathed from human consumption or interference. The air was calm, the water was still, and the higher elevation kept the temperature low.
My son and I wandered around the lake for about an hour before setting up camp. Around that time, a disgruntled Forest Ranger decided to pay a visit. He didn’t like that we were camped on the grass at Duck Lake, but we weren’t breaking any rules. We were camped within the approved distance from the road, and when we left, you couldn’t even tell we were there.
Day two and three – Bluff to Moab
We slept in the next morning from lack of sleep the following night. I woke to one of our crew members knocking on the window. “Breakfast is ready,” I gave a thumbs up, indicating my understanding. Our breakfast was quick, and the camp was packed up in no time. We continued down the trail past the town of Gooseberry. We navigated Elk Ridge and continued past the Mormon Pasture Mountains. We were quickly approaching the highest point of our trip. The Causeway led us into the Abajo Mountains and eventually over North Creek Pass at 10,312 feet above sea level. A natural arch sits to the south of the road while Cliff Dwellers Pasture and Duckett Cabin sits to the north. Passing these areas up disappoints me, but it’s just another excuse to come back.
Eventually, we arrived at Montecillo, Utah, just in time for lunch. We grabbed a quick bite to eat at The Granary Bar and Grill. The building appeared to be a repurposed grain mill, and the food was decent. After stuffing our face, we hit the tarmac all the way into Moab, Utah. In the meantime, thunderstorms moved into town from the east.
Our pre-planned campsite was located just west of Moab in Arths Pasture. We wiggled our way into Little Canyon and settled in just below an awesome natural arch. We were in the desert of Utah, and the night got warm. We woke to a sweaty, wet pillow with the sun blaring and the birds chirping. Day three is here already. This is a big day, and by the end of the night, we will be esteeming our adventurous ways.
Canyon Lands National Park
We set sail for Canyonlands National Park and put our sights on the White Rim Trail. The route took us down the well-known set of six switchbacks called The Neck. It was an incredible experience navigating to the bottom of South Fork Shafer Canyon. We were in awe the whole way down.
The trail is surprisingly smooth and no problem for an experienced driver. Turnouts along the road allow other drivers to pass safely. My only recommendation is spacing out your group to avoid a backup. Only a few vehicles can fit in a single turn out. Take your time, use low gears, and don’t overheat your brakes. At the bottom, we were met by several passenger vehicles like Subarus and Dodge Sprinter vans. All chase vehicles following cyclists on the same trail. We encountered several cyclists and a few other 4x4s.
From the bottom of Shafer Canyon, we start to head east towards the White Rim Road. The further we go, the rougher the road gets. We took advantage of several opportunities to stop and enjoy the view of the seemingly endless canyons that lead to the Green River. At times, the road brings us right up to the edge. The more we stop, the further we fall behind.
Musselman Arch is to the west of the trail. The natural bridge hangs hundreds of feet over the canyon edge. The bridge is just a short distance from the provided parking area. Two National Park vehicles stopped and watched us until we left the bridge. Please keep in mind; recreation is highly monitored in Canyonlands National Park. Stay on the established roads and follow the rules, or there is a good chance you could get yourself in trouble.
We continued down White Rim road for several hours until we approached our campsite and the only challenging section on the trail. A long steep hill climb separated us and our reserved campsite at Murphy Hogback. And like clockwork, we have our only failure, a locking hub. Luckily, there was a spare in the toolbox. After a quick fix, we finally arrived at camp around 7 pm.
I took a walk along the rim until the sun disappeared over the horizon. The whole place is covered in sand with sandstone boulders everywhere. Along the rim, the views are spectacular, and the sunset definitely didn’t disappoint. There was another group of campers parked across the trail in a nicely equipped 4runner with mountain bikes. They seemed to be enjoying themselves with the best campsite in the area. I’m not a big fan of camping next to strangers, but I can deal with this.
Day four and five – Murphy Hogback to Telluride Colorado
The next morning, we backtracked to Shafer Canyon and ended up back in Moab. It was about time to restock on supplies, get fuel, and head to our next destination. I decided to skip Hells Revenge and split from the group. The intention was to spend one more day in Utah, but I saw an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. The family and daily life are waiting for me to return home. An extra day on top of the planned adventure wasn’t an option. I said my goodbyes and quickly smashed the blacktop towards the state line.
At this point, we had traveled over 300 miles of dirt and double that on the pavement. We crossed two states, and by the time we are done, I intend to cross two more. We had traveled two of Utah’s most iconic backroads and challenged one of Utah’s highest mountain passes. The new plan was to travel from Moab into Colorado, following current tracks uploaded to my GPS.
I invaded Telluride, Colorado, just before sunset. The remnant daylight was spent touring the historical town that reminded me of the small towns back home. Looking at the iconic peaks that tower over the city, I feel like I’ve already been here. Maybe on the next visit, we will head north, but today we will make our way south down the Colorado Backcountry Discovery Route towards New Mexico.
After searching for a while, I discovered a nice campsite off of the BDR. It was already dark, and I had little awareness of my surroundings. No mountain views to anticipate, or even a hint of moonlight, to slightly comprehend the landscape in front of us. I immediately started gathering firewood to cook up a pair of pork chops and beans on the fire.
Day six – Telluride to New Mexico
The next morning was among the best of the trip. I slept in until 10 am and took our time leaving camp. I made my way south from Telluride traveling through several private ranches. The GPS track indicated approximately 160 miles before I arrived at the Four Corners monument in Navajo Nation. Unaware of road conditions ahead, I decided to make good use of time and press forward while the track was good. Eventually, I was stopped by a fallen tree and was forced to re-route just north of Groundhog Reservoir. I was bummed out and was looking forward to visiting Groundhog Reservoir.
The new route followed a county road towards Dolores, Colorado. The track was smooth, and we made an excellent time. The route took us through several more private ranches that were incredible. I passed by several herds of deer, spotted a small, unhealthy Bear, and even crossed paths with a Mexican Grey wolf stalking a herd of cattle in a corral. I stopped to chat with a rancher we found on horseback. He was a good old fellow in his mid-60s. He was surprised to hear about the wolf we spotted. Those were his cattle in the corral.
We got to talking about environmentalists and eventually motorized access. We seem to speak the same lingo in frustration of overreaching regulation. “The forest service has been closing roads all over my ranch,” he explained. “Back there in the San Juan & Uncompahgre National Forest, it’s all a bunch of hippies! They keep releasing wolves and bears on my ranch, and I can’t legally shoot them, but I will,” He said.
A sign along the road indicates the efforts by several environmental groups. Like in Arizona, These folks take credit and arrogantly display their pride in closing roads. For me, it’s no surprise this is happening. Folks all over rural America are experiencing the pressure as environmental regulation clamps down in recent years. The folks in Colorado are going through the same issues as Arizona.
The New Mexico line
The route continued south, meandering through tall Burch trees until we finally arrived in Delores, Colorado. From this point, the Colorado Backcountry Discovery Route guided us across Navajo Nation and into the four corners region. I soon arrived at the New Mexico state line, and it was about time to find a campsite for our sixth and final night on the road. We found ourselves a nice campsite at the beginning of the connecter route for the New Mexico Backcountry Discovery Route, right in the middle of the Navajo Nation.
The New Mexico Backcountry Discovery Route is a 1,100mile-long overland route that travels from Colorado to Texas. The route is rated lower in difficulty compared to other BDRs. The Arizona route, for example, is rated the second most difficult of all. This one is a cakewalk. Our prospective route would take us deeper to the south, where we could meet the connector to the BDR northeast of Alpine, Arizona, and eventually make our way back home.
I soon realized our route turned to pavement, and it wasn’t long before I started looking for an alternative. We were there for dirt, not that nasty black stuff that leads back to the land of societal woes of today’s chaos. We seek mountain passes and flowing water, lush forest and open meadows, and that’s exactly what I found.
A Navajo friend of mine told me about The Chuska Mountains. She said it was her favorite place on the reservation and always offered to show me around. Talking with her throughout the last few years, I have learned a lot about the area and decided to “wing it” and see what we find. We had only a few more hours of daylight before the sun disappeared over the horizon. It was just enough time to get up in the mountains and find a campsite for our final night on the road.
The Chuska Mountains are located in the northeast corner of Arizona and are split in half by the New Mexico line. It’s a forested mountain range that is flanked on the northwest by beautiful red sandstone cliffs. There are several lakes and campgrounds in the area and what appears to be cinder hills on the southern end of the range. Elevation reaches as high as 10,000 feet, and you will find several backroads to explore.
My mission was to scout the trailhead for a future adventure. Our campsite marked the halfway point on a 454 mile offroad trip across Navajo Nation that I have been planning for almost a year. My son and I found ourselves off to the side of a beautiful meadow. Although we were now in New Mexico, it reminded me of the White Mountains in Arizona. We quickly set up camp with the remaining daylight, and it wasn’t long before both of us were snoring under the moonlight.
Day seven – Navajo Nation to home
We were on day seven and starting to run low on resources. Despite the Kung Flu, we had traveled over 2000 miles across four states and haven’t strapped on a single mussel, haven’t quarantined for the required 14 days before entering New Mexico, and we’re crossing our fingers that roads in and out of Gallop were re-opened. According to Google, the roads were free and clear, and we were due to arrive in Springerville mid-afternoon.
The entire day was spent sightseeing along with our route home. We planned to take the Devels Highway, AKA, the Coronado Trail, south towards Safford, to catch another highway west towards Phoenix. We were approaching Springerville, and we got the first hint of what was ahead. Smoke filled the air, and a large plume towered over the horizon. We were approaching wildfire, and I was afraid we would need to turn back. Just ahead, my expectations were confirmed when we found a sign that read “forest fire ahead, ROAD CLOSED.”
I got on the trusty old Fire Conditions page and decided to take a look for myself. The 22,319 acre Bringham fire had consumed a good 10 miles of the road, and continuing forward wasn’t an option. There were no alternate routes to bypass the fire without backtracking hundreds of miles, and that’s exactly what we ended up doing. We traveled back towards Showlow, and by nightfall, we were traveling through Payson. Kennith was quiet as a mouse, staring out the window as the beeline feathered him to sleep.
I couldn’t help but appreciate how far we’ve come. This trip was an amazing experience, and I couldn’t have asked for a better sidekick. Knowing how much he enjoyed it, I can’t wait to get home and plan our next adventure. “I do it for you, son,” I told him while the whole world came down on his eyelids.
Kevin is an American outdoorsman born and raised in rural Arizona who grew up exploring the Arizona backcountry with his father. Today, he and his son travel to the most remote regions of Arizona, scavenging for the remains of early western pioneers. As a lifelong outdoorsman, Kevin has learned to stick close to his roots while engaging in important advocacy work regarding motorized access to public lands. You can find his work in many local and nationwide publications, including The Western Journal, 4Low Magazine, and his website AZBackroads.com.