Monday, October 18, 2010

UT 261 -- The Moki Dugway

I've been back home from our out-west bike trip for over a week now. I didn't get to do nearly as many posts from the road as I had planned to do because of time and internet constraints, so I'm going to try and catch up on a couple of posts that I should have done from the road.

Utah Highway 261 north of Mexican Hat (home of the swinging steak as seen on Alton Brown's Feasting On Asphalt) is probably the most interesting and challenging road we encountered on this least the section known as the Moki (or Mokee, or Moqui) Dugway. The MD is a three-mile stretch of UT 261 that climbs the face of Cedar Mesa. It is unpaved, steep, and narrow, with very sharp hair-pin switchbacks, steep drop-offs and no guardrails.

On our way from Durango, CO to Torrey, UT on this particular day, we had stopped at the San Juan Motel, perched on the north bank of the San Juan River in Mexican Hat, for some liquid refreshment for old-times sake since we had stopped at this same establishment on a previous trip several years ago. On that previous trip, the temp was 106 F and the gas boiled out our tanks onto the pavement while we were inside in the swamp-cooled air. On this day, it was only about 90 F and much more comfortable.

Upon leaving the San Juan, we headed north on UT 163 and took the first left on UT 261 which runs north to UT 95 and Natural Bridges National Monument. We weren't really prepared for what lay ahead....the Moki Dugway. When we saw the sign above, we knew we were in for a challenge, since none of our bikes would be considered off-road worthy. On my AAA Utah state map, the road appeared straight and 100 percent paved. If I had had access to Google Maps, I could have seen the following two representations of that section of 261.

One approaches Cedar Mesa from the south gazing at what appears to be a shear rock wall and wondering "So where does the road go?" As you get closer, you discover the answer is "Up the face of the cliff." To add insult to injury, they have left this section of the highway unpaved and covered in loose gravel. To the state's credit, they have paved a few feet in each of the hairpin switchbacks to make it easier to negotiate those tricky sections.

We pulled over at the bottom of the mesa where the road transitions from asphalt to gravel to psych ourselves up for the ascent and then proceeded the three miles to the top without incident. Once on top, the road is again paved and relatively straight.

Roads like this are what memorable rides are made of. For obvious reasons, I didn't shoot any video while negotiating the Moki Dugway, but here is a link to a You Tube video that someone shot from a truck while driving down the Dugway from the top to the bottom.


  1. I watched that clip. Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ! I would have driven a thousand miles not to have to drive that road. You must be insane!
    I had enough trouble with Beartooth Pass from Wyoming to Montana. In a car! Never again.

  2. Yeah, well, I won't say it wasn't scary.