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2016 Fall Mountain Trip Part 18; Utah State Route 261 the Moki Dugway

After leaving my hotel on US Route 191 in Blanding I took a westward turn on Utah State Route 95 towards UT 261 which is more commonly known as the Moki Dugway.


This blog serves as the 18th entry in the 2016 Fall Mountain Trip Series; Part 17 can be found here:

2016 Fall Mountain Trip Part 17; Utah State Route 275 and Natural Bridges National Monument

If you read Part 17 you may recall that I stated much of UT 95 lies within open range.  In an ironic twist immediately west of the US 191 junction I encountered a herd of deer just prior to the open range portion of UT 95.  I wasn't able to dodge as the last deer as it ran out onto UT 95 with about 40-50 left to spare.  The resulting impact heavily dented the hood of my car which at the time was a 2014 Chevy Sonic.  This picture from below is the resulting damage the week after I returned to California from my trip.


Luckily the impact of the deer smashing into the hood of the Sonic was largely cosmetic.  Although it did push the left front headlight in and the radiator back slightly.  After running the Sonic for about 20 minutes and not detecting any leaks from the radiator I decided the best course of action was to proceed as planned to the Moki Dugway.  The rest of my day was largely going to be spent driving through the Navajo Nation anyways and I wasn't missing the opportunity to drive the Moki Dugway.

After reaching the junction with UT 261/Moki Dugway I turned south and was immediately greeted with the first of many 10% Grade/Gravel Road signs on UT 261.  From the north terminus at Mile Marker 32.691 the route of UT 261 the highway runs 23 miles atop Cedar Mesa as a paved highway running southward to the gravel section which is the actual Moki Dugway.



UT 261 as a whole is an approximately 32.7 mile State Highway entirely located in San Juan County which traverses from UT 95 south to US Route 163.  UT 261 is mostly known for the 3 mile gravel section known as the Moki Dugway which was constructed in 1958 by the Texas Zinc Mining Company.  The purpose of the Moki Dugway was to haul ore from the Happy Jack Mine located on Cedar Mesa to a processing mill located in Mexican Hat.  UT 261 was approved by the Utah State Legislature in 1957 and the route is presently part of the Trail of the Ancients which can be seen on this map below.

Utah Section of the Trail of the Ancients

Approaching Muley Point Road the route of UT 261 enters the Moki Dugway.  Traffic is warned of the steep grades, gravel surface, and switchbacks over the next 3 miles.  Muley Point Road splits from UT 261 at Mile Maker 9.656




As the pavement ends UT 261 southbound traffic is greeted with a Moki Dugway sign.


At Mile Marker 9.278 there is a view point at the rim of Cedar Mesa above the grade of the Moki Dugway which views the area below.  To the east the Valley of the Gods can be seen in distance.








The gravel surface on the Moki Dugway is excellent for an unpaved roadway.  Despite the 10% grades I didn't find that it was difficult to maintain 2nd gear speeds descending downhill.


The first major hairpin on the Moki Dugway southward provides an excellent view of the grade below.



The first southbound hairpin also a great place for a panoramic.


The majority of the vehicles traveling on the Moki Dugway were trucks.  I passed several San Juan County Sheriff vehicles ascending the Dugway northbound, seeing a dented up Chevy Sonic must have been an odd sight.  As I was descending southbound I found it hard to envision ore trucks negotiating the Moki Dugway on a regular basis.






Half way on the southbound descent on the Moki Dugway there is a much better view of the Valley of the Gods off to the east.  The Valley of the Gods is a series of weathered sandstone bluffs similar in size and shape to nearby Monument Valley.  Valley of the Gods was briefly part of Bears Ears National Monument before it's area was reduced by 85%.


At the bottom of the 1,200 foot descent on the Moki Dugway there is one last hairpin before the asphalt surface returns.  At Mile Marker 6.448 UT 261 junctions Valley of the Gods Road which continues east to the aforementioned formations.




At Mile Maker 0.874 UT 261 has a junction with UT 316 which is the primary access for Goosenecks State Park.  Goosenecks State Park is located to the west on a bend in the San Juan River.  UT 261 terminates at US Route 163.





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