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Iron Wash
(Twin Knolls to Blue Trail)

Iron Wash is an 18.4 mile loop in the San Rafael Swell. It offers a bit of cruising, some deliciously technical rock singletrack, an ATV-track grind, and some "castle country" vistas. Peak altitude is 6800, bottom 6000, but there's a lot of up-and-down riding.

View  shows the red dashes that mark the trail, with one of the Twin Knolls on the skyline. Photo November 22, 2002 by Bruce.

The Red Trail portion of this loop requires good skills and strong legs. There are some short but brutal climbs and very technical descents. This loop is quite strenuous, and we recommend it only for well-conditioned advanced-technical riders.

The loop has 3 miles of easy-cruising doubletrack before officially starting the Red Trail. The Red Trail is 4 miles of advanced-technical singletrack, with uncountable rock ledges -- both uphill and down. When the Red Trail forks east, you'll continue south on the singletrack Orange Trail.

 After about a mile on the Orange Trail, the loop forks right on the Blue Trail, as the Orange Trail continues south towards Temple Mountain. The Blue Trail takes you back to the main gravel road, where you make a high-speed cruise back to your car.

Dominic rolls down a chute. Many stunts are followed by a drop into a sandy wash (endo city), while uphill ledges are often preceded by power-sucking loose dirt.

Many climbs are difficult, because loose sandy dirt sucks your momentum before you can hit the ledges. Some are simply too steep to ride. This trail originated as a trials motocross trail -- for advanced motorheads -- so it's almost impossible to ride everything on a bike.

Mike takes advantage of a rare flat spot to eyeball the next plunge.

On the Red Trail, the riding surface is Coconino sandstone. Although a tad smoother in grain than the Navajo sandstone of Slickrock, Coconino has cross-hatching "ribs" that create lots of ledges and rough spots. Many climbs are extreme, intended for trials motocross.

While there are a gazillion small ledges, you don't have to take big air on descents. But many of the downhill spots are spooky-steep and rough, yet require a fair amount of speed because of upward-facing ledges. We think this is fun stuff.

Bruce follows yet another chute down. The highly-technical area totals only about a mile and a half. If you want LOTS of this stuff, try the Five Miles of Hell Trail.

While there are a lot of tricky spots on the Red Trail, Cement Hill will stick in your mind. This is a steep, rough descent on sandstone, dropping into the bottom of Iron Wash. Take a deep breath and go for it. It's very rideable.

Where does this unusual landscape come from? See our page on the geology of the San Rafael Swell.

Here's Mike, heading down Cement Hill towards the bottom of Iron Wash. Very scary.

The mesa areas are covered with a soft yellow dirt, with bits of broken rock (including geodes) lying on top. There's sage brush, juniper, desert plume, and pinion pine. This veneer is supported by a thin layer of Kiabab Limestone. Where the limestone has eroded away, the underlying Coconino Sandstone rapidly breaks up into hundreds of rough tiny valleys. Sand fills the bottom of each small wash. Pinion pines cling to life in cracks in the rock.

Dominic heads towards open mesa. Trees are mixed pinion and juniper.

The dirt of the Blue Trail feels like glue under your tires. You'll tend to sink in a little -- not enough to bog down -- and work extra hard to keep the bike cruising. Although you gain only 700 feet in 6 miles, you'll feel the burn in your thighs. Think of this section as a "toning and conditioning" ride.

There are a few "cruiser" areas, slightly downhill, where you can really cook. Here Bruce flies The Beast over a ledge.

This trail is remote. Although the trail seems well-traveled and easy to follow, you won't see many fellow bikers here. (Coming back to the Red Trail 10 days after a previous visit, my tire tracks were the most recent!) If you're riding alone and can't get yourself back to your vehicle, you'll probably die. When you bike the San Rafael, you must be prepared with adequate water, food, emergency tools and supplies -- and a biking buddy.

On the Blue Trail, we're looking back across Iron Wash at the Twin Knolls, where we started.

Trail notes:
0.0    Head east on DT
         N 38 47.340' W 110 42.583'
0.5    Keep straight (L)
1.4    Fork R (L = return)
         N 38 47.232' W 110 41.513'  alt=6700'
3.0    DT ends, sign-in trail box
         N 38 46.200' W 110 40.865'
         Straight S on ST, follow red dashes
4.0    Keep straight - R (red dashes) at sign
         N 38 45.780' W 110 40.190'
6.0    Cement Hill. Drop into wash and turn L
6.7    Climb R out of Iron Wash
         N 38 44.812' W 110 38.685' alt=6020
7.1    Fork R onto Orange Trail
         N 38 44.700' W 110 38.497'
8.2    Fork R onto Blue Trail
         N 38 44.420' W 110 39.011'
         Alternate: continue (L) on Orange
                            fork R on Green Trail at mile 11
12.0  Green Trail joins on L, keep straight
         N 38 45.032' W 110 42.239' alt=6580
15.3  R on gravel road
         N 38 46.049' W 110 44.839' alt=6800
         Keep straight (R) at intersections
18.3  R on trailhead doubletrack
18.4  Back at car
Getting there:  On US-6 approaching Green River, turn right (westbound) on I-70. Drive 25 miles and exit at Ranch Exit 131. (Note: this exit was numbered 129 until a few years ago, and is still shown that way on most maps.) Turn left under the freeway, then veer right with the road. Keep straight at all intersections. Note a first cattle guard at mile 3.2. After crossing a second cattle guard at 6.7, descend and turn left on a small road at mile 7.6. Park on the left 0.1 mile down the road, just before the wash, N 38 47.340' W 110 42.583'. Begin the ride by continuing on the road.
Riding Resources:
Printable one-page guide
GPS track files (right-click and "Save as..."):
    Garmin      GPX  (includes nearby options)
Topo map for printing:  Low-res area   High-res loop
Lodging, camping, shops:   Links to San Rafael area resources

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