Destination: Burr Trail Road, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Labor Day weekend was fast approaching and we were unable to find an available campground in Northern Arizona.  We tossed around ideas for about a week and then Sam saw an article about the Burr Trail Road.   The Burr Trail starts off in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and then crosses in Capitol Reef National Park and finally ends at Glen Canyon Recreation Area.  One of the highlights are some wicked steep switchbacks to get down to the Canyon Floor.   Wow, this would be a long drive, but after a call to the Rangers at the Monument, we found out the area is not busy and we would not have trouble disperse camping.   We took off on a Saturday morning with our fur babies in the back seat.

The first day we drove for about 8 hours.  We stopped along the way to let the girls stretch their legs.  This was a long time for them to ride in the car.  Even though Bella is blind she did pretty well.  She rolls with the punches and before long she will be able to figure out how high the truck is and how far she needs to jump to get to the ground.  For now we have a system for picking her up.   This is fine as long as you enjoy a furry shirt – roller tape is must with Bella.  She is the furriest dog I have ever known.  When she walks around the house I am reminded of Pig Pen from the Peanuts cartoons.  You can see puffs of hair coming off of her.  Missy cried for part of the trip – just the unknown I imagine.  The world at times can still be a very scary place for her.

We made it to Escalante National Monument Visitor Center and I went in to get a map and talk to the Rangers.  Always good to make contact and see what the road conditions are like.  I asked about the infamous switchbacks and they said they should be fine, they had not had any recent rain.  They gave us some tips of possible camp sites.  These would not be the nice organized campgrounds in State Parks.  This would be pullouts off the road more than likely.  It was getting dark as we started on the Burr Trail Road and we decided to camp for the night and get a fresh start in the morning.

The girls were happy to be out of the back seat, but this is the high desert and it was still warm at 6:00 PM.  They hung out in the camper till the sun set and then they wanted to explore.  We took several walks and could see very well by moonlight.  We had a great evening and went to bed with the windows open, trying to catch the coolness of the evening.

The next morning we realized that we did not bring enough bottled water.   Between us and the dogs we went through it really quickly.  We had some water in the tank, but we did not top off before we left Phoenix.  The first opportunity to get more water would be Bullfrog down near Lake Powell.   We filled the empty bottles and packed up and headed out for the drive.

The only word to describe the Burr Canyon is WOW!  The color of the canyon walls are so red that they don’t appear to be real.  It looks like a Disney set that someone had built in the middle of the desert.  It was truly one of the most beautiful places we have ever seen.  We could not believe that we did not see more people on the road.  We took our time and enjoyed the views.  We came to the switchbacks and as Sam maneuvered the first curve, I may have started to cry, I am really not sure.  I may be blocking it out.  We were very high up on gravel road, no guard rail on the side of cliff.  What could go wrong?

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We made it safely down to the bottom and had about a 30 mile drive on a washboard road.  We knew this was not good for the camper – the vibration moves things and can cause damage.  We took it slow and Sam did his best to keep the vibrations to a minimum.  We did stop for lunch and sat under a tree and had a picnic.

We made it to Bullfrog near Lake Powell and stocked up on water.  It was very hot and not the type of weather that Bella could be out in.  So we decided to head for home.   The girls did not complain about that decision.

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Moki Dugway – 3 Miles of Switchbacks

We decided to take a shortcut on SR 261 to get closer to Arizona.  As we turned the corner there were warning signs that said no “overweight or oversize vehicles”.  I asked Sam if we are oversized and he said “no, this is a pickup”.  As we drove further on the road, a driver in a car coming toward us starting waving her arms at us and shaking her head.  I told Sam “I think that woman is telling us not to go this way”, he replied that she was saying hi.  I knew we were committed.  22 miles down the road we came around a corner and saw the most horrifying sight.  1200 feet straight down – narrow dirt road, very steep switchbacks and again no guardrail.  Coming up the road was a truck, so Sam had to pull to the edge to let them pass.  They stopped to chat – why wouldn’t you want to talk to the crazy people taking a giant top heavy truck camper down a dangerous road.  This was confirmed when the lady in the truck told Sam that he is crazy.  The speed limit on the road is 5 MPH.  Sam very carefully maneuvered the switchbacks.  At one point I asked him if we are going to be ok, I was not joking, I thought it a real possibility that we could go over the edge.  He was as cool as a cucumber until we got the bottom – when he let out his breath and said how scary that was.   He said if we had gone over the edge at least we would have all gone together.   We never have to go on this road again.  Once was enough.

As we got near Flagstaff and the cooler temps we stopped to have a quick dinner.  We deployed the camp chairs and watched the sunset on the side of Hwy 89 eating the leftovers from the weekend.  We were all exhausted, within two days we drove around 20 hours and maneuvered 2 switchbacks that I believe took several years off our lives.  Getting the dogs in and out of the truck ended up being really difficult, and finding a safe spot to get off the highway was also problematic.  The fantasy that we had of taking our fur babies with us on a marathon trip was hit with the reality that this is very new to them and us.  We need to start small – limit the time in the truck to 3 hours for the girls and camp long enough that they can really get used to this new way of life.

The 2 days was a mix of incredible views and some lessons learned.

  • Take a case of water and fill the water tanks.
  • Desert camping is hot and dusty.
  • 20 hours in the truck are not much fun for the 4-legged and 2-legged members of the family.

It is OK that this adventure did not turn out like we thought.   The Burr Trail Road should be on everyone’s bucket list. This is an area that we want to explore more – without the switchbacks of course.    We got more experience camping with the girls, and level set the expectations of what we all can deal with.  The girls got to see Utah for the first time.  Well, Bella saw it in her own way – smelling.

3 thoughts on “Destination: Burr Trail Road, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument”

  1. This sounds like exactly the type of road I would try to talk my husband into taking with our truck camper! Thank you for sharing your experience. If we’re ever in the area, we’ll be sure to do it only in the Jeep!

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