Colorado Plateau Photo Odyssey 10: Trek Up Shafer Canyon

Canyonlands AU11-25

One of the great jeep roads in the world connects Potash, west of Moab, with route 313 in Canyonlands National Park. The road sort of follows the Colorado River through Meander Canyon, past Goose Neck, and then branches out into Shafer Canyon, where it climbs to the very rim of the Island in the Sky:

Essentially the route takes the “Potash Road” from Potash to the “Shafer Trail Road.” Then it climbs the “Shafer Trail Road,” including maneuvering on all the many switchbacks up the steep canyon, to Route 313 at 5,920 feet. Christy Karras, in Scenic Driving: Utah, describes the Potash road as follows:

Beyond Potash the road winds up through a tortured landscape, a rough and inhospitable place. You will drive right beside a couple of huge evaporation ponds.... There a couple of short, steep intervals, then at about 2.5 miles beyond the pavements end you come upon a fascinating series of level redrock.... At 8.5 miles you come up on top of one of those great, broad, grass-covered mesas overlooking the Colorado River...

Here’s some photos. First, a photo of the road from Dead Horse Point:

And more photos, starting with the evaporation “ponds”:

This is not a road for a normal passenger car. It’s best travelled in a jeep. Here is a picture of our mode of transportation that afternoon:

And a more distant view:

The most exciting part of the drive is the “thrilling ascent,” as Karras dubs it, up Shafer Canyon. As Karras explains:

If you saw the road adventure film Thelma and Louise, you may recognize this as the location of the final dramatic chase scene (although it is represented in the movie as the Grand Canyon). If you are into scary, steep “thrill” driving, you’ll love this one. There are no guardrails, and it is definitely better driving up than down. Thinking, again, of the final dramatic scene from Thelma and Louise, the thought of “life imitating art” would make the descent nerve-wracking.

Guardrails are for wimps — and, in any case, they only spoil the view. Here’s some more photos. First photo taken from Shafter Canyon overlook peering down on the road:

Now some photos from the road itself:

No guard rails indeed! Beyond that ledge is about a 700 foot drop.