Skutumpah Road is a challenging stretch of desert road between Utah and Arizona.
From Kodachrome Basin State Park in Utah to Page, Arizona
Leaving Kodachrome Basin State Park, the turn north on Hwy 12 is under gorgeous, sunny skies. Based on yesterday’s route conversation with the Park Ranger, the only sensible choice will be to return from Kodachrome Basin State Park towards Panguitch then drop south on Hwy 89 to make the sweep south around the Escalante.
Eight miles (12.8 KM) later, at the unmarked, gravel, rural road # 500, known locally as Skutumpah Road, the car spontaneously turns left off Hwy 12. No guts, no glory.
There is no potential rain in sight. The desire to drive through and not around the Escalante is strong. If the going gets too rough, the alternative will be to turn around and take the safer, more sensible route. If the car gets stuck, there is sufficient gear available to hunker down for a week. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.
The first half mile (0.8 KM) of Skutumpah Road is quite civilized gravel road. Then all Hell breaks loose and it becomes apparent the deeply rutted and boulder-laden road is a navigational nightmare. The car has nowhere near the clearance to drive in the deep ruts but it is possible to maneuver the wheels onto the center rise and the shoulder, weaving back and forth to the most favorable side if and when the opportunity presents itself. Stopping regularly for boulder removal is mandatory.
There are very steep hills where, both up and down, the tires are often either airborne or struggling for traction. The seat belt is less for safety than for maintaining a presence in the vehicle. There are still active washes along the road from the previous night's rain and twice it is necessary to stop the car, walk ahead to survey the situation, and strategically plot direction and velocity to get to the other side.
There is not much water running but the temporary creeks have left broad foot-deep horizontal channels across the deep wheel ruts. Any attempt to go straight through may cause the car to bottom out so it is necessary to traverse diagonally down one side and up the other. On the second situation, the car plows gravel with the front bumper but there is sufficient speed to push through and over.
At the bottom of a gully the opportunity is taken to pull aside and allow the heart rate to subside while enjoying a close look at Bull Valley Gorge, a 1,500 foot (457 m) deep slot canyon which the road crosses. The assumption is there is something holding the road up, but both sides of it have been washed out, leaving a very narrow crossing with no room for error.
Crossing over the Bull Valley Gorge is likely the most exhilarating ten foot (3 m) journey ever driven. The road continues with roller coaster characteristics and changes color with the different rock layers as the car bounces its way up and down hills so steep the vehicle fights in first gear on the way up and the brakes are trying to hold sliding wheels on the way down.
There is an assortment of vehicle parts on both sides of the road from those who drove ahead. There is no time or opportunity for pictures as focus is consumed by making constant split-second decisions. Evidence of surviving the worst ten miles (16 KM) comes when the road improves slightly to less rutted and constant washboard. Now, it is like driving along a ten-mile (16 KM) long Texas Gate. The jaw is kept open to protect the teeth.
In several places washes have swept sand across the road and although they are powder dry now, the tires are once again fighting for traction. The tools of trade, in these parts, are the road grader and the front-end loader as humans and nature compete for superiority.
The pink cliffs of Bryce Canyon National Park
At one high point on the road, the vistas are breathtaking in every direction. They are completely expansive and, unfortunately, cannot be photographed in any meaningful way. Parking on the narrow roadside and taking a short walk through scattered sagebrush, yucca and cactus on red sand allows absorbing the overwhelming 360 degree view.
In the far distance are the white and pink cliffs of Bryce Canyon National Park. The surroundings are pure untouched wilderness with scents from desert vegetation wafted by a slight, warm breeze. From the car Jennifer Rush's rendition of 'The Power of Love' is playing on the stereo. This is home. This is as close to Heaven on Earth that will ever be achieved.
The farther the car travels, the better the road becomes. For many miles it is decent gravel as the car passes the incredible Escalante Staircase, and the massive White Cliffs to the left.
Skutumpah Road links into the Johnson Canyon Road which, for another 15 miles (24 KM) heads straight south though awesome canyons, first on good gravel, then on good but narrow two-lane pavement to Hwy 89 east of Kanab in Utah.
On the narrow Johnson Canyon Road there is a fleeting image off to my right which will be indelibly engraved in the mind. There is nowhere to stop or pull off on the narrow road. A pure white stallion stands alone grazing in a grass field. This magnificent white horse is posing in a sunbeam and glows within a circle of green grass against the shaded red rock cliff in the background.
At the intersection with Hwy 89, it is necessary to pull over to stretch and relax for a few minutes. The trip through the Escalante has been achieved. On the walk around the car, thanks is given to each of the tires individually. This little 1999 Toyota Tercel is an amazing vehicle. Everything humanly possible was done to protect it from any more abuse than absolutely necessary but it is somewhat astounding the little car survived the hostile Skutumpah Road.
Highway 89 east past Church Wells and Big Water to Page, Arizona is predominantly in a broad desert valley with cliffs mostly in the distance and occasionally some fascinating rock formations up close.
The only stop made is at Lake Powell which looms into sight at mile 552 for the overview above the lake for a few photos, before continuing into Page, Arizona and gaining an hour on the clock.
Page is a town originally established in 1957 for the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam along the Colorado River. The impressive dam was completed in 1963. To this day there is vigorous debate about the dam's feasibility and its environmental impact.
Lake Powell is formed by the dam and it took 17 years for it to fill the first time. Today the water level is 32 feet below normal level. A stop into the Carl Hayden Visitor Center, overlooking the dam, provides the opportunity to pick up maps and hiking trail information. Airport style security at the visitor center is very tight.
About a mile south, it is worthwhile to stop at the Glen Canyon Dam viewpoint for photos before checking into the Quality Inn. The day is warm at 97 degrees F and at the pool there is the opportunity to meet and chat with a couple from New Hampshire.
They are doing the 7 day Colorado River rafting trip with my friends beginning the next day.
After supper with friends, who have just arrived from Edmonton and Calgary, Alberta, attendance at the Diamond River Rafting Companies orientation reveals how the boys are likely going to die.