Dirt Road Driving with John and Pam – Canyonlands NP

After our exciting 4-wheeling slickrock adventure, we were fortunate to enjoy even more travels on some rough dirt roads around Moab with John and Pam (Oh the Places They Go).  Our Honda CRV can’t handle some of those roads, and John and Pam, who we have hiked with several times, offered us a ride in their Jeep so we could experience some great areas of Canyonlands National Park that few people get to see.

Canyonlands NP

The dirt road route we followed is in red – Photo credit: BLM

Long Canyon-Shafer Road

The plan was to drive on Potash Road, then turn right on Long Canyon Road and ascend through Pucker Pass.  Their Jeep was the star in this section, as all passengers got out to see it climb through a rough area.

The ladies pose near the first challenge


Pucker Pass
Waiting for Steve to run up the hill to be the spotter (well, actually to take a photo)
I think John was whistling a tune as he navigated big dips in the road – he made it look easy

Once at the top we took a look around:

Long Canyon road
The view of Long Canyon with its fins, and the La Sal mountains in the background

When hanging out with John and Pam, a hike is always included in the plan – and that was fine with us!  Our trek followed along the canyon rim within Dead Horse Point State Park. The park is situated 2.000′ above the Colorado River, with breathtaking views of canyons, mesas, buttes and the river all around.

Dead Horse Point State Park
A fantastic view on a perfect day

The hike along the east and west rims was easy, and we stopped often to enjoy the vistas from every angle:

Dead Horse Point State Park
Pam points to the switchback road we’ll be following down from the mesa
Shafer Road
Another look at Shafter Road
Dead Horse Point State Park
Not a bad spot for our lunch break

Below was a study in geology.  Millions of years ago deposition, erosion, weathering and volcanic activity created this spectacular topography.  Mesas, canyons and buttes were sculpted, and the Colorado River carved its path deep into the ancient rock layers on its way to the sea.

Canyonlands National Park
Spectacular panorama of the Colorado River meandering through Canyonlands
Canyonlands NP
These boys are living on the edge

After the hike, we began our descent on Shafer Road, a series of long and stunning switchbacks:

Shafer Road
Going down a very steep Shafer Road

After a few miles we passed beneath Dead Horse Point State Park, and above the Colorado River.  This road has been used in countless commercials and movies, and it’s easy to see why:


Shafer Road
The arrow points to where we had enjoyed lunch at Dead Horse Point overlook
Goosenecks of the Colorado River
Goosenecks of the Colorado River – we were probably 500′ above the river here

During this drive we couldn’t ascertain exactly where the famous last scene of Thelma and Louise was filmed, but we knew it was nearby.  John and Pam subsequently confirmed the location and drove back with Dave and Sue on another day.  Click here for that story.

As I was busy taking pictures of the surrounding sculptured pinnacles, buttes and tall canyon walls, a small flower begged to be acknowledged.  While taking this picture I heard the Jeep’s horn honk, and I knew it wasn’t John but rather my dear hubby signaling me to get on with it.

Evening Primrose
Evening Primrose


Canyonlands NP
Darth Vader – or a floppy-eared dog – kept a close watch on all travelers

The dirt road passed the evaporation ponds of the Potash plant, an indication that we were nearing paved roads after our scenic desert crossing:


It was a long and enjoyable ride on our guided dirt road tour.  Although they have driven here before, John and Pam were willing to share this beautiful scenery with us that we would otherwise have missed.

Canyonlands National Park
Thank you John and Pam!




  1. What a wonderful ride, I think a jeep rental is in order when we one day we get back to Moab.

  2. A beautiful day with great friends. Dead Horse SP has some great hikes. The scenery is spectacular.

  3. It was a great day! So glad we were able to do the loop roads and throw in a very nice hike in the middle. Glad we could show you around a little:)

  4. Looks like a beautiful day out! Question, you said your CRV wouldn’t make it, but a Jeep would. Is that because of clearance or roof height or something else? I’m curious because we’ll be towing a Nissan Xterra and I’m wondering if we’d be able to drive these routes with it. I think the Xterra clearance is a bit higher than the CRV, but I’m not 100% sure. Thanks in advance!

    • Clearance is usually the issue for us, on roads with large rocks or ruts, or areas with deep sand or mud. When we say “couldn’t make it”, it’s really due to the low threshold we’ve set for our car because we’re a bit paranoid about damaging it. We don’t want to go anywhere that badly and are willing to rent a jeep for the day if it’s a “must-do” for us. We’ve driven many rough roads and always go slowly, but when we hear about a hike at the end of a 30-mile long rough dirt road we look elsewhere. Something to consider – tell a park ranger what vehicle you have and ask if it can handle the road. We have found they are pretty accurate in their answers. Hope that helps!

  5. I’ve been there before but it’s always exciting to see the location even as photographs. Great post! Thank you! – HJ

  6. Incredible country. We drove my little red truck part way up Longs Road but turned around when it got more challenging than my comfort zone (we also didn’t know where we were at the time… the real reason we didn’t continue lol) Love that scenery!

  7. Amazing! My family and I wanted to do this a few years ago when we were at Canyonlands but a Toyota Corolla and Shafer Trail are clearly not compatible. Looks like I’ll have to rent a jeep next time.

  8. Love that closing picture. I have had jeep envy on many of John and Pam’s trips to places I could never go. Lucky you to get to do Shaffer road with them. I have seen the road from above and imagined how tough it would be. What great views from your hike. Looks like a fabulous day.

  9. Wow! This is your best post yet! (And they have all been great.). It’s now on our list for next year when we are in the area…with our new Jeep. Wahoooo!!

  10. What a blast—you four together, I can imagine how much fun you had! Those views from the top were spectacular. But please tell Steve that he is not allowed to beep the horn when you’re taking a photo of a flower or a bird because I like seeing those photos in your posts. :-)))

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