We’re bad Utahns. We don’t follow the usual patterns of a Salt Lake adventure-bro. The adventure-bro is more migratory, in part because he has to justify owning an $80k van with an environmentalism sticker on it. He moves constantly between the Cottonwood Canyons, the desert, Western Colorado, and Southern Idaho depending on the weather. In the Spring and the Fall, when the trails are muddy and the snow is thin, he goes to The Desert: Moab, Gooseberry Mesa, Red Rocks, or the Swell.
Well, we’re working on being better Utahns. In search of interesting terrain for bikepacking, Taylor and I headed to the San Rafael swell for a two-day redrock MTBpacking adventure. The Swell is a huge domed upthrusting of buried rock that was thrown upwards during the Laramide Orogeny and the creation of the Rockies. With layers of different kinds of stone draped like blankets over a dome, eons of erosion by water and wind have scored complex and striated canyons into the dome. As with so much of the Utah desert, the Swell is characterized by seemingly boring sagebrush plateau that suddenly reveals precipitous drops into complex and beautiful canyons.
The route we chose was published by Patrick Hendry and Seth Kruckenberg on BikePacking.com as “A (San Rafel) Swell Night Out“. It begins in the Southeast corner of the swell and travels a clockwise loop across the Behind the Reef Road, North to Tomisch Butte, East through the big wash of Reds Canyon, and back South through the Uranium mining ruins of Temple Mountain. We made it into a 2-night trip out of necessity, making for 70 rough miles with a lean on a tougher first day. Uncertain about the availability of water in the aptly named “Muddy Creek” after a long summer drought, I cached water in advance at our camp to reduce that uncertainty.
Route details are well-described through the link above. If you want to follow this route as we did it, TCX files for use on a bike computer are available here: