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Old 04-15-2017, 03:44 PM   #1
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UTAH Passes... I-70 is a Roller Coaster!

I have driven the I-70 west route from Denver, Colorado through Utah, where I-70 ends and connects with I-15 going to Salt Lake City to the north, or Las Vegas going south. Five round trips in the last 12 months. Each trip I am more impressed with Utah's Mountain Passes. I now have more respect for Utah's unnamed passes and those towing a trailer on the I-70 Utah Roller Coaster.

When you crest... there is an elevation 'sign'... and no name. Unlike Colorado, which names every Pass possible. These are serious climbs and descents with 5% to 7% grades. Some parts... 7% may be a little too... low.

I must also mention the Virgin River 'gorge'... just entering Arizona on I-15 from Utah, as probably the most beautiful dramatic drive with scenery. It looks like Utah... but Arizona got in the way of the Virgin River meandering across State Lines.

When driving in a vehicle, you do not notice the large number of 'Passes' to the west of Grand Junction, Colorado, I-70 to I-15, until you are pulling a trailer... or in my case... full 26 foot long cargo diesel trucks of household items to the Las Vegas, Nevada area.

Some of these passes are over 25 miles from beginning to end with steep grades. From one river valley to the next, having to climb for miles to round the Pass and hang on... another up and down added to the mix.

Green River, Utah to Salina, Utah has no services for over 100 miles and is one collection of ups and downs to give anyone great lessons to manage any of Colorado's Passes. Some on this route make Eisenhower and Vail Passes just inconvenient challenges. Utah... is not to be taken as, just, beautiful Vistas and Mesas, but more 'unnamed Passes' that one can remember to force the driver to firm their grip onto the steering wheel.

Your hands will 'sweat' more than your brow... trust me.

Although Monarch Pass in Colorado is something to be experienced... give Utah a look. Not only for 'passes'... but for those wanting to Dry Camp Boondock, there are numerous possibilities of public lands 'outside the National Park' campsites! We have already discovered more remote campsites over the last ten years that could be National Parks, themselves...without a name, or a designated campground or sign even a sign along the highway. Exit and follow the improved dirt road(s) off of I-70. Any exit will do... the rugged landscape is just off the highway! We do this... every time we are towing through Utah. Unlimited.

Take the Utah I-70 Roller Coaster Pass ride this year. Many are at elevations that you would expect to find only in Colorado. YOU may have some of your favorites to mention. Fish Lake National Forest... 'it ain't just for fish', as this is wild and open to explore while in Utah!
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Old 04-15-2017, 04:13 PM   #2
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Living a couple hundred miles north, in Park City, I feel very fortunate with the incredible places in southern Utah. I-70 cuts in half what is know as the San Rafael Swell. Can't tell much from the highway, in fact the whole area can look very unappealing and barren at time. But get off the highway and explore, it's amazing the places there are to boondock

Looking at a color-coded map of where all the federal lands are...I feel sorry for those in the East with so little choice. The west is a bounty!

Enjoyed your post!
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Old 04-15-2017, 05:10 PM   #3
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I like your post a lot. The section of I 70 where it runs beside the river in a gorge for several miles has to be one of my favourite stretches of road.
Andrew Thomson
London, Ontario

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Old 04-17-2017, 10:28 AM   #4
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We like the stretch of I-70 between Green River and Salina, Utah that is signed, "No services for the next 106 miles." This takes you right through the San Rafael Swell, which has beautiful national park-quality scenery, but without the crowds. The south San Rafael swell is a little more popular with the OHV/jeep crowd, so we tend to go north.

If you take exit 131, Temple Mountain, and head north/east there is a graded, gravel road to a primitive BLM campground at the San Rafael bridge, at the outlet of Buckhorn Draw. No water, let alone hookups, so fill up your fresh water tank first and bring a jerry can or two plus a funnel. There are clean pit toilets and picnic tables. Bigger rigs should head north of the river, but with our Bambi we stay in the part south of the river.

You don't need to stay here, dispersed camping is allowed pretty much throughout the San Rafael Swell. Then you can drop your AS and either explore the Mexican Mountain road, or hike the San Rafael River upstream. We enjoy exploring winding little washes/side canyons on foot-- weather permitting. We once got stranded by a flash flood in this area, and don't recommend it.

Or, you could camp at or explore The Wedge overlook, nicknamed the Little Grand Canyon. This road is also graded and sometimes graveled. It's colder and windier up there, though, if you camp in the shoulder seasons.

If you head south at exit 31, there are some graded loop roads. There is a designated big parking lot for camping at Temple Mountain, but it looks a lot less appealing. It's just north of Goblin Valley State Park near Hanksville, which is worth a look-see.

There are jeep roads all through the area, but we prefer not to beat up our truck too badly or get stuck in deep sand, and some of them are really more suitable for OHVs or hard-core mountain bikers.

National Geographic has a published map of this area. It's not entirely accurate, but close enough.

Further west, one of the passes on I-70 is at the south end of the Wasatch Plateau. It's pretty snowy up there this time of year. Local people camp and hunt up there, but it is another one of Utah's hidden gems that escapes most of the tourism crush that we find around the national parks and around Moab. If you drop your AS at your campsite, the SkyLine Drive is a dirt road, normally suitable for high-clearance SUVs and trucks, with breathtaking scenery, that goes the length of the plateau.
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Old 04-17-2017, 10:57 AM   #5
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Drove from Utah through Denver on I70 on my way back to Missouri in June 2015 towing my 2008 Classic 25fb with my 2010 Toyota Tundra. It seem like the downhill would never end to Green River. It's roads like this that helped me decide to move from the Tundra due to some downhill braking issues.

I guess all the boondocking others have mentioned around there are during the spring and fall. When I came through the area in June the temperatures were around 90F

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Old 04-17-2017, 11:28 AM   #6
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Once again, Ray knows whereof he speaks.

For Andrew and Kelvin, and yes, there is a campground smack in the middle of the Virgin River Gorge. Not the worlds best dry camping in June thru August as it's likely 110 degrees and not a breath of air except that you create. Nor in February at +8 degrees and all the air in North America funnels down through the campsite. Other than that the gorge is beautiful.

And as Ray and Kelvin point out, from Richfield east you grow to appreciate a Diesel. Absolutely beautiful country - but let's keep it a secret. OK?
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Old 04-17-2017, 11:53 AM   #7
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I must also mention the Virgin River 'gorge'... just entering Arizona on I-15 from Utah, as probably the most beautiful dramatic drive with scenery. It looks like Utah... but Arizona got in the way of the Virgin River meandering across State Lines.
Agreed 100%. My problem was, I saw no pullouts/turnouts to stop and marvel at these formations. Will just drive slower next time. Safe travels. jon
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Old 04-17-2017, 09:30 PM   #8
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Wow, beautifully written!
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Old 04-18-2017, 06:53 AM   #9
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Good description, Ray. I haven't driven it but am now better informed as we plan a trip west. The Utah boondocking opportunities sound good too. Thanks. Mike
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Old 04-18-2017, 07:34 AM   #10
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I 70 Utah

We traveled I70 from Indianapolis to Utah last fall - with our 28' Safari S.O. and Tundra TV - what a beautiful drive There were several surprises along the way - fond memories of I-70 between Green River and Salina, Utah that is signed, "No services for the next 106 miles." a sign we saw after passing the last exit - with 135 miles range shown on our fuel tank we slowed to conserve and enjoyed the scenery - Magnificent!
This stretch of road has vistas and views around every curve - very much like The Blue Ridge Parkway point to point National Park only longer.
Travel in our AS is the consummate confirmation - It's about the journey not the destination - This Year we are planning to go north to the Tetons, Yellowstone, Glacier, and Mount Rushmore - See you out on the Road!

Arlette, Steve and Benji the wonder dog
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Old 04-18-2017, 08:15 AM   #11
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Ah.... yes. My favorite Green River, Utah to Salina, Utah and as the sign says 'NO Services next 106 Miles' is true.

When towing our trailer, I am very conscious of the fuel remaining in my tank. But... with the Penske Truck, 50 gallons of diesel, maybe 9,000 pounds of contents being transported... I had 'plenty of diesel' remaining so passed topping off the tank at Green River and headed to Salina.

I should have asked Arlette, Steve and Benji the Wonder Dog about their experience. Mine is worth mentioning, as well.

The Penske truck fuel gauge indicated plenty... but after a half dozen 'Passes' of ups and downs... when I was 35 miles east of Salina, the automatic 'beep' of the needle on EMPTY made its appearance. Empty was a reminder how one driving an unfamiliar vehicle and how the fuel gauge begins to drop faster, when nearing empty.

I slowed down on the UPS and put the transmission in Neutral on the way... DOWN to conserve fuel. Did I have 90 miles or 40 miles of fuel remaining? I really did not want to find out. This coasting in neutral was an old trick when western Nebraska gasoline stations would shut down at sunset. With a 1956 VW with the one gallon reserve... coast down the hills into the next town and wait for sunrise. But I wander...

What I discovered... is if the 26 foot truck is at a gas station... the surface is not always level. The tank was 'full' at De Beque, Colorado, just east of Grand Junction. Previously a Full Tank registered 7/8ths on the gauge, yet FULL. Little did 'Mr. Genius' discover was with this long truck, if the gas station was not level... you could not add any more fuel... but the angle left about SEVEN gallons of AIR SPACE in the not so, full, tank.

When arriving in Salina, use the Love's on the south side, as it serves NON 18 wheeler diesel pumps. The tank took in... 33.694 gallons out of a possible 50.000 tank. BUT, I did not know how empty at the time and learned a lesson. When opportunity is available and knowing 106 miles to get to the next station... TOP it OFF.

Top off your fuel on the most level part of the station. Never pass up topping off your tank when less than 2/3rds. And... never, ever post one's stupidity on a Forum. A lesson well learned. Save yourself using some old tricks and, if any, remaining dignity is left from this experience. The 106 miles of numerous passes seemed taller and longer when your fuel is running... low. I might have aged a couple months on this one.
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Old 04-18-2017, 08:38 AM   #12
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This Penske Diesel was an older model without DEF. As the fuel gauge sat on E with markings below E that indicated there was some 'slop' in being 100% empty.

This diesel engine 'rattled' loudly going uphill... with all cylinders in play. Quiet as a baby sleeping on idle, on the way down.

The combination of the Diesel Rattling using up precious fuel, going UP, and my Pulse Rate... with the thought that the next 'unnamed pass' would be my last if 'E' was actually Empty. If I learned anything on this trip through this part of Utah, it was... travel with the wife and two Blue Heelers. Never missed a gas station and always had plenty of fuel topping off the tank, if I needed to, or not.

Now... I will shut up.
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Old 04-18-2017, 08:48 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by Ray Eklund View Post

And... never, ever post one's stupidity on a Forum. A lesson well learned.
Moderators can you remove half of my posts? Nice thread Ray
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