This ride in southeastern Utah highlights two of my favorite features in the state: the Moki Dugway and Goosenecks State Park. Driving four miles south of Blanding on US 191, a right turns leads to UT 95 and the Bicentennial Highway Scenic Byway, a marvel in its own right as profiled in the Utah’s Ancient Dwellings & Bridges Wide Open Ride. But about 29 miles down UT 95, a left turn onto UT 261 points you south. The next 25 miles give no indication of what’s to come. It’s a rather peaceful drive through fairly flat, forested terrain with little traffic. And then suddenly, pavement turns to dirt and you’re on the edge of a cliff, seemingly at the end of the world. A spectacular viewpoint gives sweeping views of the valley, 1200 feet below. So how do you get to the floor from high atop Cedar Mesa? (Gulp.) You drop via a narrow dirt road with a spine-tingling 11% grade. Built during the 1950s to haul ore, the Moki Dugway is literally dug into steep cliffs. At 15 mph, it’s three miles of sheer terror lasting about 10 minutes. Actually, the gravel road is very well-maintained and wide enough for two cars to pass. So it’s not that scary. (Gulp.) While the Moki Dugway may not be for the faint of heart, the payoff at the bottom of the cliff is certainly worth the fright. Dirt becomes pavement again and another five miles reaches the turnoff for Goosenecks State Park. While Horseshoe Bend in northern Arizona gets more attention (see for yourself in the Lake Powell to Horseshoe Bend Wide Open Ride), Goosenecks is no less spectacular and usually much less crowded. Formed by the San Juan River over 300 million years, Goosenecks is a twisting, turning canyon with thousand-foot high walls. Within its majestic confines, the river meanders six miles while only advancing 1½ miles. The cliffs and buttes are equally impressive: there’s a mathematical artistry to the precise sculpting, as if every formation were painstakingly measured and calculated. Goosenecks borders the Navajo Nation with Arizona on the horizon. Traveling nearby US 163, the highway passes by another geological marvel, Mexican Hat, before crossing through the tiny town of the same name. The road continues to Monument Valley and onto Lake Powell and Horseshoe Bend, stars of the aforementioned Wide Open Ride.
Route & Map
Starting in Blanding, it’s 120 miles to see all of these sights, ending in Kayenta, Arizona and the northern part of the Navajo Nation.
Length & Time
It’s about 2½ hours without stops. So plan on four to marvel at Goosenecks and Mexican Hat and swallow your heart medication at the top of the Moki Dugway!
Best Time to Visit
All of these roads are well-traveled and well-maintained year-round. Obviously winter can be tricky, particularly on the Moki Dugway so monitor Utah and Arizona road conditions.
Blanding lies south of Moab and has motels, gas stations and food. In Arizona, Kayenta is larger with all major services. There’s not much in between so be sure to fill the tank or make sure your battery is charged.
Utah has a writeup on Goosenecks State Park and the Navajo Nation maintains a travel website worth checking out.
Utah's Ancient Dwellings & Bridges