GRAND CIRCLE EXPEDITION
COLORADO, UTAH, & ARIZONA
The Grand Circle Expedition is an exploration of the Colorado Plateau. This 130,000 square mile region was once the bottom of the ocean. With the geological events that caused the uplift of the Rocky Mountains this area was thrust up into the sky. Ancient sea beds became petrified sand dunes with stunning red cliffs exposed and eroded into surreal landscapes.
These areas goes by many names from Grand Circle, the Utah Traverse. Regardless what you call it, it's home to the largest concentration of National Parks in the country. The endless amount of trails, canyons and ruins could provide a lifetime of exploration of this vast remote landscape.
A deep canyon makes for the perfect shelter from the wind cold night time temperatures.
Perhaps the most well known destination in the Grand Circle, and a logical jumping off point for exploration is Moab, Utah. This legendary playground hosts hundreds of miles of challenging 4x4 trails, two vast national parks, rivers, mountain biking, rock climbing and so much more, all within just a few minutes drive from a well-provisioned town.
There's a seemingly infinite number of trails to choose from nearby with intimidating sound names like Metal Masher and Steelberder, to the far more challenging, but innocuous sounding Pritchett Canyon. But for the Grand Circle, the real adventure starts just beyond those well known and well traveled routes.
The Grand Circle is like a Choose Your Own Adventure book for overlanding. Want to go north and explore the San Rafael Swell? Turn to page 47. Want to explore the alpine forests of the La Sal Mountains? Turn to page 63. How about the remote cliff dwellings of the Anasazi? Turn to page 19.
A rare Ring of Fire Eclipse passes over the Valley of the Gods in southern Utah.
There truly are a limitless number of routes and directions you can take to explore this area and countless things to discover. Near Hanksville lies a quarry that's one of the most dense sources of dinosaur fossils for paleontologists. Visit there in the early spring and you can tour the dig site and see the latest discoveries. Come after digging season and its far less impressive. Scientists will have covered all of un-excavated fossils back up to preserve them for next year.
Just to the east of Hanksville likes a remote section of the Canyonlands known as Robber's Roost. This area gets its colorful name from the late 1800s when Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and their train robbing colleagues would disappear into the maze of canyons after their audacious acts of larceny. While nearby are countless Anasazi pictographs like the Great Gallery in Horseshoe Canyon, home to cave paintings estimated to be 3,000 years old.
To the south lies Rainbow Bridges National Monument, home to some of the darkest skies in the country and an ideal spot for astrophotography. Or Capital Reef where you can see the uplift of rock that occurred when two continental plates ran into each other 65 million years ago.
Traversing a narrow slot canyon in the Maze District, Canyonlands, NP.
Further south, lie gems such as the Grand Escalante and the Glen Canyon areas which lead into remote sections of the Grand Canyon.
While it may seem as if we're being intentionally vague, the exploration and the adventure of this area is half point. Get your self a subscription to Gaia, OnX or whatever nagivation software you like and spend some hours pouring over routes and thinking about what's possible.
But be forewarned: wherever you decide to go, bring an extra vehicle and allow for more time, fuel and water than you think you'll need. The stakes are high if you get lost or breaking down in these remote areas. There's rarely cell service, gas stops are few and far between (the marina at Hite Crossing is a favorite to replenish supplies for us). If you don't believe us, ask Aaron Ralston subject of Danny Boyle's movie 127 Hours.
Morning sun slowly melts the overnight frost in the southern Utah.
Watching the sun set over the Grand Canyon from a cliffside campground along the South Rim located within Navajo Tribal land.
Please note, special permits are required to access the Navajo Tribal land. Do not tresspass on the land without proper authorization.