Jeeping the White Rim All By Myself
Last month I was planning on meeting my BFF Pete in Moab to celebrate his birthday. I figured if I was going to make the long drive out to Utah with my Jeep Cherokee, I might as well put the 4wd to good use. I started watching for White Rim campsite permit cancellations, and strung together 3 nights in Canyonlands Island in the Sky (iSky) National Park. That took a few weeks of checking almost daily, so I guess that’s not exactly luck! The idea was this: I’d swing through the White Rim area and pick up Pete at the Moab airport when through. It was pretty critical that I not get stranded somewhere, because he would really be depending on me to meet him (he is vision impaired). In preparation I bought a some things for my Jeep, like some traction boards and a tow strap. Ultimately though, knowing off-road bros the way I do, I knew they’d be stoked to find a stranded female out there and excited to finally use all the toys I myself wasn’t going to carry (like a winch and a farm jack). There was just one thing… my Jeep was making a noise.
As it turns out, my driveway is more rugged than most of the White Rim* and I didn’t have anything to worry about… except the damn sound coming from under the hood. This went away exactly long enough for me to enjoy peace and quiet on the White Rim, and I finally found the source of the noise… 10 months later!
The Drive to Moab
When I first bought my Jeep Cherokee (XJ), it was making belt noise. The PO warned me about the noise, and it made itself very clear on the test drive. I thought I was sooooo smart grabbing a cheap Jeep that only needed a quick cheap squeak fix. But then it wasn’t a quick cheap fix. Sometimes it didn’t squeak as much. But I installed a new belt, very tight, since the Jeep Cherokee manual owners seem to all agree it should be some unknown variety of very tight, and the sound went away for a while.
But last month while leaving to head to Moab… it was back. Faintly, but definitely there. I drove out highway 6 to Ely, grabbed some Chinese takeout through a hole in a plastic wall in a restaurant barricaded against Covid-19, then caught highway 50 out toward Utah, pulling over to sleep near a Spring crowded with Deer. The sound had changed over the course of the day and I was worried. So I began plotting my next day from camp (which though remote had full LTE). I stopped at Napa in Delta and picked up a new tensioner pulley, installed it in the parking lot, then realized it had a ridge on it that didn’t allow for belt travel, and returned it. I left Delta without a solution, but had a new hunch. The sound wasn’t coming from the tensioner pulley. It was coming from the power steering pump pulley.
Now, with one day to get toward my White Rim trailhead start, I wanted to find a steering pump… and install it. I ordered a PS pump to a Moab O’Reilly and started the drive to meet it. The day became so frenzied that I locked myself out of the Jeep at the incredibly JJWD Hardware Store in Salina, Utah. That accident led me to some wonderful interactions with the locals that almost made me want to move to Salina. I had locked my keys under the hood, and they were just barely visible thru the gap, sitting over the radiator. One man reminded me the struggle is real when he mansplained to me how I could get them out, and then proceeded to use zip ties as chopsticks for nearly 30 minutes in a 100% futile attempt at fishing the keys out. I had to just smile and watch, and luckily he finally gave up. Another local drives semi trucks and told me he hates driving loads of pigs because pigs love to die when cargo, and the cleanup is harder than with cows. Like I said, I wished I could move to Salina and just be with my new friends all the time. Eventually — and before AAA could show up — a man was informed through the social network in Salina that an outsider was stranded at JJWD, and showed up to quickly slim jim my Jeep. Just to be nice. Wouldn’t take my money.
Once in Moab I ran the errands. Power steering pump and some fluid, check. Water filled, check. Some food in the cooler, check. I headed out towards iSky and found a quiet place to camp where Mineral Canyon Rd. breaks off highway 313. I got to work replacing my power steering pump. Did this need to happen? I was pretty sure? Was I sure? No.
White Rim Day 1 – to Airport A
The Jeep fired right up and I celebrated it being quiet… but I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. At the ranger station I pick up my permit, but not after listening to the guy ahead of me in line ask about doing the entire White Rim road in one day. I’m beside myself. One day!? Why? This just sounds like such a bad idea. 100 off-road miles in one day, in an extremely beautiful area. The man claimed he was a photographer. I just can’t imagine how he found time to let go of the steering wheel, much less get out and take a photo, with 100 miles in one day. The ranger asked me some questions about my preparedness and sent me on my way. She wasn’t alarmed at all about me going on my own, but then again, my permit applications mentioned my medical background and history hiking the remote desert of Utah solo. I asked how the recent rains might have made things muddy, and she said the Green River side was a bit tacky. And that was it. I was on my way!
I didn’t have very far to go on day 1, so I really took my time. I was flaring a bit and pretty stiff, so my side hike was awkward, but was so relaxing. And I got to see the River!
The River Gooseneck
It was neat to climb out the Jeep and walk down the little use path (Gooseneck Trail) to that viewpoint. The trail isn’t necessarily easy to follow but I was charmed to see that most people found it and stayed on it, and that the area’s tiny plants and flowers weren’t destroyed. They were so pretty.
Once at the cliffs, there’s a great panorama with the Colorado River below. In 2019 I got to canoe along the River around the Gooseneck. It was a hot day and we took cover in the shade offered by the bend for some snacks. It took so long to get around it that I mused it might be quicker to hike the canoe over the Neck!
I didn’t know what to expect when I showed up at the enormous pull-out parking area for Musselman Arch. I’ve seen a lot of arches throughout the Colorado Plateau, but this one is certainly unique. It’s more of a bridge than an arch, and more of a bridge than any other land bridge I’ve ever seen. In fact, it used to be called “Little Bridge” before some Muscle Man came along. It’s six feet wide, five feet thick, 187 feet long and hangs 300 feet over the soil below! People are NOT supposed to stand on it, and so I had a great time exploring the area while staying in view… to keep an eye on a father/son duo who I could tell REALLY, REALLY wanted to walk on it. They kept looking back to see if I was still in line of sight, seeing me, then finding other things to do. That game of chicken didn’t last very long. They gave up and went back to their really fancy rental Jeep, and drove off.
A Mellow Night at the Airport
My neighbors were really quiet for the most part, even when playing frisbee. I didn’t have the energy to be social. It’s just a new thing to me to feel so… crippled, essentially. I almost feared them coming over to say hi because I feel like I’ll have to make excuses. I’d love to be able to play frisbee, but I’m a young perfectly-healthy-looking person who… can barely move. It was a not-very-social evening, but that’s oK! I did a little hike into the terraces above the camp, and spent some time enjoying the stars in the middle of the night. I’m so glad I have my Jeep so that I can keep exploring these kind of places.
Day 2 – On to Murphy Hogback
March 28th was a sort of dreary, overcast day, and a lot of the driving was somewhat monotonous, following the contours of the canyon rim. Traffic was much heavier, and I passed a couple bike groups and some moto groups, too. I stopped after driving for about an hour to explore Buck Canyon downstream off the rim. This was really cool. A little way down a spring struck up a trickle of water and there were some pretty cottonwoods and flowers. I wonder if the cyclists knew about the water, because there weren’t too many foot prints down the canyon, and a lot of the bicyclists looked thirsty.
The sandstone cuts and worn pebbles of all types were fascinating, and the obstacles were fun to scoot around. I went down pretty deep. I decided instead of re-tracing my steps to just try to exit out from there, with about 100 feet straight up to go. As I was puzzling over my final few moves to make the exit (it got a little technical, and very exposed), I looked over my shoulder and saw the father/son duo on the opposite edge of the canyon, watching me! I laughed quietly and paid them no mind. How funny that they would take a turn spying on me after the Musselman episode yesterday! I thought maybe they wanted to make sure I was safe in my decision to exit the canyon that way, but when I turned back before making my big final move, they were gone. The walk over the white slick back to the Jeep was nice, too. I guess it was just great to get out of the Jeep.
If only because of this spit of land called “Hogback,” I’d recommend anyone faint of heart travel the White Rim counter-clockwise, that way they can descend the difficult Eastern approach. Then again, there’s an equally challenging problem at Potato Bottom if you’re going up the north side of that. So, direction probably doesn’t matter day-by-day, and by going clockwise, you’re likely to avoid sun in your eyes.
Binoculars would come in handy while scouting from the foot of the Hogback. Make sure the top seems clear (e.g. nobody wanting to come down the hill) and scoot right on up. I went into 2L and was very glad I did. High clearance was also a big advantage because there are some big holes. The men I met and chatted with at the base went first because I was nervous, but turns out had they not been there I would have gotten up easier. They made a lot of speed changes that could have resulted in loss of traction, so as I saw that happening I just fell behind a ways. They were thankful to me for having stopped them at the foot and having noticed a huge party of cyclists wanting to come down. They came down and the coast was then clear for us… and they didn’t have to eat our dust. My camp was Murphy C, which was delightfully apart from the other camps to the East, and with its own restroom. Cyclists coming up the west approach invariably went to the bathroom and lingered on the rocks nearby to admire the incredible vista, and I enjoyed their happy chit chat except when it ramped into lungfuls of hoots and heckles for friends making the grueling ascent. I made the effort to shut up my chirping power steering pump, now mountain bikers, you can Leave No Trace, too, and HUSH! As a once bike racer and professional heckler, I’d say that in the middle of nature, one yell would suffice.
To get away, a short walk to the south brought me to the southern tip of Hogback. Fantastic views… but no cell service. It was a great evening for napping and reading. I felt relieved to have the toughest bit of my White Rim voyage behind me.
One Last Hurrah
Coming off Hogback is a windy and mostly smooth ride. The Rim has officially swung west and northward and the vista totally changed to a Green River one. Let’s turn the page to part two of this adventure (stay tuned)…
* Don’t take it to mean that my driveway is extreme or that the White Rim is easy as pie. My driveway is an old 4×4 track that has not been professionally maintained in a long time.