Friday, February 1, 2013

Moki Dugway, San Juan County, UT

moki dugway
Moki Dugway (photo by
The bike already weighed 890 pounds wet by itself, and then I had another 100 pounds of camping gear loaded on to it, and yet I was taking it down a 10% downgrade, descending 1,100 feet over three miles of switchbacks all on gravel road.

The truth is that I was excited to ride it, but also nervous. I mean, the bike was damn heavy.

I figured I could just go slow. That's always the safe thing, right? Except when you have other vehicles behind you, waiting to get around you, it somehow makes you want to go faster.

Seems you never know what you're made of until you push yourself to the limits.

The Moki Dugway is part of State Route 261 in south-eastern Utah. It one of those proverbial roads, "out in the middle of nowhere", and now seemingly exists more as a rite of passage for motorcyclists, seeking to test their skills. But at one time, it existed for trucks carrying uranium ore from Fry Creek to Mexican Hat.

You wonder why the State doesn't just pave this thing. But then again, why? It wouldn't be the Moki Dugway without it. Riders wouldn't go out of their way to ride it. And nearby Navajo villages like Mexican Hat would never bring in tourist dollars.

Some things are just better off leaving alone.

It was April of 2009 that I got my opportunity to ride it. I had just spent the night camping in Natural Bridges National Monument, and had awoke to find a layer of frost on my 2005 Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic Electra Glide (the second one after I totaled the first). From here, I would head south-west all day, hoping to reach the little known Grand Canyon Caverns along old Route 66.

But in my way stood Moki Dugway.

As it turned out, it wasn't the twisty, steep, gravel road that made it seem frightening. It was the amazing view.

Moki Dugway starts from atop a massive mesa nearly a quarter-mile up into the sky. You look over the edge and you can see a hundred miles into the horizon, almost like looking out the window of an airplane. When you consider how steep the decline, how narrow the road, and how slippery the gravel can be, it's a humbling experience.

I made my descent, taking it slowly.

But it seemed rather easy, so I increased my speed.

Then I got to the first switchback, applied the brake easily, and found my tires slipping a little. I rounded the turn, and opted to keep the bike in low gear just so that I wouldn't have to rely on the brakes.

moki dugway by motorcyclemoki dugway by motorcycle

Utah highway 261south eastern utah

 After a few switchbacks, it seemed rather easy.

And by the time I traversed enough elevation, it didn't seem as precarious anymore. I wondered to myself, "Is that it? Is that what other riders have been raving about?"

I guess what's to really rave about this road is the awesome view from the top. I could have watched it forever.  Imagine how amazing the sunrises from here!

Well, once I hit the bottom, and the asphalt returned, I rode into the tiny town of Mexican Hat, where I stopped at the Old Bridge Grill (inside San Juan Inn), where I had a roast beef sandwich on Indian fry bread. An old Navajo guy sat down with me and had some stories to tell. I hardly understood him, but I did a good job of pretending.


  1. That looks like an amazing road. I had not heard of it before. Now it has to go on my "to ride" list.

  2. I already knew about this road, it's on my bucket list for sure but I plan on tearing it going up first just for fun on my Tenere, then I will turn around and ride it down again just for fun :-)


About Steve

A vagabond who hauls a motorcycle around the country in a toy hauler, earning a living as a website developer. Can often be found where there's free Wi-Fi, craft beer, and/or public nudity. (Read more...)