Moab, UT & Golden Spike et al (Part 3)
by K
en Womack

The Golden Spike Trail

Well it’s Monday of the second full week of Dan & Diane Neuss’s and our vacation to Moab.  We have already done Poison Spider Mesa, 4 days in The Maze, Cliffhanger and The La Sal Mountains.  When we did Cliffhanger on Saturday, we met a bunch of folks from the Larimer County Mountaineers.  They invited us to run with them Monday on The Golden Spike Trail.  Dan and I graciously accepted.  This trail Dan and I did without the wives, as it was known to be somewhat rough and long.  The Mountaineers are legends in their own time, known for being fun-loving trail runners with a quest for the most grins on a trail that can be had in a safe family atmosphere.  Chuck Stombough was normally the trail leader, but he invited another legend, The Grey Fox to lead.  Known for his knowledge of not only the trails, but also history and geology of the area as well, Bob, The Grey Fox was “the Man”. 

Dan on Poison Spider Mesa

We arrived at The Mountaineers camp at 7:30 am ready to air down and run.  We had about 20 vehicles on this run, with a full size Bronco and a Samurai to boot.  The trail starts out by doing Poison Spider Mesa, which leads into the start of The Golden Spike.  Grey Fox not only knew the trail, but all the “Extra Credit” obstacles as well.  This made the trip even better than it would have been otherwise.  Several of the group ran up very steep slickrock domes.  I chose not to run these, as I knew there would be plenty more good stuff ahead.

Most of the Jeeps on the trail were equipped as we were, with 33” tires or larger, lockers & low gears.  Not everyone had mud tires or winches, because the West has trails that are often dry and aggressive tires and winches aren’t absolutely necessary.  I think Dan’s Jeep was probably the most awesomely equipped Jeep there.  Many years of running Moab had Dan knowing just what he needed and wanted for his Jeep.  “Jeep Thrills” was equipped pretty much mid pack in the group of trail rigs.  We ran the Waterfall, then up the slickrock wall and up and around to “Little Arch”.  A few got out for pictures after the short walk down.  We later saw “Pig Rock” again and the turnoff for the beginning of The Golden Spike.  Marker signs and little painted spikes on the slickrock pointed the way. 

Ken on the Launching Pad

The start of the Golden Spike is almost all on slickrock.  Steep climbs and descents with a healthy dose of ledges get you to the first big obstacle - The Launching Pad.  It’s a very steep downhill (almost vertical) drop followed by an equally steep uphill climb.  It’s not near as difficult as it looks because of the unbelievable traction on slickrock.  

Dan coming down the Launching Pad

For those who may not know what slickrock is, it’s the sandstone rock domes that abound in the area around Moab, and in many places in Utah.  Slickrock was formed when the earth was forming by upward rising molten rock that cooled into domes.  Softer, more brittle rock was washed away by rain.  The harder rock that remains is slickrock.  It’s like climbing rough cement, but better.  You don’t need mud tires for this terrain, all-terrain tires work pretty well.

After the sheer thrill of the Launching Pad, we continued on to “Skyline Drive”.  This is another awesomely steep climb up a slickrock dome that’s pretty high up.  Climbing up, you can’t see the trail, just blue sky.  At the top, we turned left to go down.  Although this part is optional, almost everybody did it.

From here, Grey Fox led us down into a steep ravine via some seriously steep drop-offs.  There was another route, though not much easier.  Dan and I took the drop-off and faired well, although I scraped heavily on my rear bumper.  Snaking down and around through the ravine and up again to an overlook of Spanish Valley and Moab below.  We had an awesome view of the entire area.  A panoramic 360 degree view of the valley, Moab, the Uranium Mines below, the railroad heading west, the slickrock trail we had just done, and the beautiful Manti-La Sal Mountains to the southeast.

It was windy, and a proud eagle flew around the walls of the ravine below, floating in the wind.  A very nice view and a short break later and The Fox led us away again.  This time down and up numerous ledges through tight spots and some off-camber spots.  We had lunch just past the harder spots, while some folks repaired the front U-joints on a Samurai’s front axle.  Shade was the goal, as it was warm, but not real bad because of the wind.  We found shade underneath rock walls and outcroppings.  After lunch we did some extra credit stuff through Kevin’s Crack.  Now this was named obviously after a guy named Kevin who did some damage to his Jeep there.  It’s a 2-foot ledge then up through an off-camber opening just big enough for a Jeep (barely) to fit through, if you’re lucky.  Only half the group tried this one.  Dan made it through, but because his Jeep has much wider axles and flares, he scraped his right front fender up.  I didn’t do any better, scraping my left quarter panel.  A little booboo, what the hey!

After this was “The Eagle’s Dare” and a very scary spot for Dan.  You see, the day before, Dan’s CB radio started smoking (shorted out) and we had to communicate via Family Band radios.  Well they work really well, but everybody else was using CB’s, and The Grey Fox led and spotted via the CB.  Eagle’s Dare was an extremely (I ain’t kiddin’!) steep uphill slickrock dome with a thin narrow top to it, with dangerously steep drop-offs on both sides.  At the end was a long steep downhill spot that brought you back where you started.  The tire tracks indicated a trail down, but the safer spot was to the right.  Since the trail leader spotted by CB, Dan could not hear his directions to veer to the right.  I just barely snapped in time to warn Dan of the turn.  I think he would have still made it, but it may have startled him.  Good thing I had the radio clipped to my shirt.

From here, our crew headed out towards the “Golden Crack”.  On the left and down, you could see “Jeep Arch”, an arch that takes the shape of the Jeep profile, pretty cool! I had read so many times about The Golden Crack, and now I was here.  While Dan and most of the others had been here, done that, it was my first, and I was lovin’ it! Grey Fox was directing rigs thru the ‘Crack based on whether you had single or double lockers.  A more diagonal line was the preferred way with just one locker, while a straighter approach was used when double locked.  The Crack is about 2˝ to 3 feet across and looks formidable.  But, like most things at Moab, they are easier than they look, especially with a veteran spotter like Grey Fox.  There’s no way to cross the Golden Crack without scraping and there is no bypass, you gotta cross it.

Ken on the Golden Crack

Dan going through the Golden Spike

After the ‘Crack, The Fox took us to some more extra credit stuff.  There was an optional 6 foot ledge (yes, I said 6 foot ledge) that only about 8 of the 20 tried, Dan scurried up fairly easily, but I had never even attempted anything so steep and high.  I was tempted to pass on this one, but I hadn’t taken any “chicken routes” so far, why start now?  I guess I knew in the back of my mind that the incredible traction on slickrock and some “Moab Momentum” would probably get me up and over.  It did, and “Jeep Thrills” and I were thrilled (and the seat cover stretched) once again, and to a new level, “whew!”

Just past this spot a CJ broke a rear driveshaft on a steep, sharp ledge.  With no spare shaft, and just front wheel drive, his buddy strapped him thru the rest of the trail.  We still had The Golden Stairs to cross and the whole Gold Bar Rim Trail to go.  The Jeep towing the CJ would unhook the disabled Jeep to do the obstacles and then re-hook to pull the CJ thru the easier spots to get out. 

Ken on Golden Stairs

The consensus of the group was to pass on “Double Whammy” and the “Body Snatcher”.  The only 2 rigs that would have made it maybe was a XJ Cherokee and the full size Bronco, as only long wheelbase vehicles have much of a chance of doing the steep Jeep spaced ledges on “Double Whammy”.  The “Body Snatcher” is a narrow chute that’s after the ledges.  No one saw any need to do these, as certain breakage and body damage was the norm there.

We were at the end of The Golden Spike now and the beginning of “Gold Bar Rim”.  We were now going down steep rough ledges that were too numerous to count into a valley headed right towards “Jeep Arch”.  A right turn had us on the flats where the road was smoother and sandier.  We were running in high range now cruising past “Goony Bird Rock” on the road to the “Gemini Bridges”.  Back to low range to climb up again then down to the valley below.  Here “Jeep Thrills” started running rough and dieing out, the beginning of my fuel pump problems.  (Though I didn’t know exactly what it was at the time).

Though many of you have read my stories and heard me say how “this was the best trail I had ever done”, well I gotta say it again.  To me, this is my ultimate trail to this point.  Over the years there have been many, and will be many more, but “The Golden Spike Trail” was just wonderful.  Not just the trail, but also the weather, the scenery, the company and the fact that it was a long trail spanning nearly 20 miles.  Having The Grey Fox leading us with his knowledge of geology and history as well as the trail and the extra credit spots made this trip unique and special.  Even though Chuck could have led us, (as well as Dan, too) his years of experience just made it even better.  Many thanks to Bob, The Grey Fox & The Mountaineers for making this a special event for Dan and myself.   I hope you all get a chance to go to Moab and do The Golden Spike, and maybe you’ll get lucky and run into the Mountaineers or The Grey Fox or both! ….

Ken Womack