The Utah Traverse

person in silver helmet and black jacket riding a motorcycle down a rocky embankment in the high desert of the Utah Canyonlands


It’s often easy to get lost in the severe beauty of southern Utah in the high desert lands of the Colorado Plateau. The parched and arid red sandstone landscape is unforgiving, mountains and ridges appear everywhere shimmering in the distance, and plunging canyons seem to materialize out of thin air. While it can take your breath away it also demands respect from anyone journeying through it.

So, when four friends decided to take their off-road motorcycles on an epic weeklong trip across this region, they knew that things could and would probably go crooked quickly. But that is the beauty of doing the Utah Traverse.

a narrow reddish brown riverr cuts through a deep sandstone canyon

After over a decade of wandering into the faded red wreckage of the region, the genesis of the Traverse came to filmmaker and photographer Sinhue Xavier while looking over his map of remote campsites he had discovered there over the years. Once he pioneered it, he knew that it needed to be shared with others. “This area deserves to be explored slowly and intimately, in a way that allows you a chance to sink deep into the adventure that resides there,” he says.

Following an ever-adapting pathway that eschewed most paved roads for dirt tracks, slick rock, and hairpin switchbacks they worked their way northward. From the beginning they knew that they were behind the proverbial 8 Ball, their early November start would toss in an unpredictable weather forecast to an already spicy stew of adventure. But they wouldn’t have it any other way.

“We spent the majority of this trip in the wild, overcoming obstacles as they arose, it was pure adventure.”

“Adventure touring/Motorcycle Overlanding is one of the most incredible ways to see the country due to the nature of it mostly being on dirt,” says Scott Brady, the Publisher and Chairman of Overland Journal, one of the four men on the trip. “We spent the majority of this trip in the wild, overcoming obstacles as they arose, it was pure adventure.”

The beauty of traveling by motorcycle is that you can get into places most travelers cannot. The miles slip by as the dust settles upon your bike. Each climb is an unknown, each descent a question. It is you and your bike. Your panniers are loaded with all the gear you need, and the road stretches onward, ever beckoning you to continue down it.

bighorn sheep walking along a petrified sandstone dune dotted with desert shrubs

On the first day as the men climbed to the top of Gooseberry Mesa things were perfect. The weather had a slight crispness, the bikes were responding perfectly, and the views of distant Zion National Park continually kept begging for attention. Sitting around the campfire that night it seemed that everything was falling perfectly in place.

When one of the bikes refused to start the next morning, the team took it in stride. Part of the beauty of adventure touring is knowing that sometimes your machines, much like your body, won’t always cooperate. You need to be prepared to improvise repairs on the fly. Digging into the motorcycle the problem was diagnosed and repaired, soon the helmets were donned and deeper into the desert they went.

person pouring a white bag of coffee grounds into a mug with steam escaping from it

As they worked their way through the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument a few days in the feeling of remoteness sunk in deep. They were far away from todays gridded world, where everything in seems efficient and organized. Nature abhors straight lines and nowhere was that more evident than the dirt tracks they followed through the largest National Monument in the country. Human interactions disappeared and they were on their own, the way they wanted this exploration to be.

Their luck started to stretch thin towards the end of the journey as they entered the Canyonlands Region in the Southeast corner of the state. The clouds were starting to turn grey and white snow glistened on the tops of Bears Ears and Horse Mountain. They had planned on working their way into the higher elevations, for the passes through the mountainous terrain.

“It was survival time there, you could only focus on moving forward. That’s exactly how I always envisioned this trip. One that was hard yet memorable,”

By the time they had hit 7,000 feet while climbing Boundary Butte they knew they were in a tight place. The road was a quagmire of mud, muck, and patches of snow. The bikes were struggling to go forward, and the riders were exhausted, but they kept on. Finally, at midnight they crossed over and found drier conditions. Camp was set up by headlight and tired but happy they crawled into their sleeping bags.

“It was survival time there, you could only focus on moving forward. That’s exactly how I always envisioned this trip. One that was hard yet memorable,” says Xavier.

By the time they emerged at the end of the trip both riders and bikes showed the effects of the trip. One bike was a battered mess, the result of clipping a rock wall on one tricky decent, it wasn’t pretty but still ran. Mud and dirt coated everything, and more than a few eyes were bloodshot from fatigue, but the smiles were genuine. They had persevered, even when it seemed that the trail was impossible.

The thrill of adventure soaked everything, washing away the bumps and bruises. As they hit the asphalt and headed east towards Moab a voice came through Brady’s headset inside his helmet. It simply said, “That was amazing.”

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