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Miners Run

I'd classify Miners Run as an "adventure trail." It's hard to find, hard to follow, hard to ride. This is NOT a trail for your typical "ride a famous trail next month" bike rider. But it's an interesting and rewarding ride for those who're willing to give the effort.

Typical "trail" view as we roll over waves of rock. The Book Cliffs form the background. Photos and ride description March 23, 2011 by Bruce.

The trail is an 11 mile loop on the northeast edge of the San Rafael Swell, 7.6 miles west of US-6 near I-70. The ride starts at 4600 feet, with only 200 feet of absolute elevation change. Up-and-down vertical adds to 1300 feet of climbing.

There are no campsites, water or bathrooms nearby. There's no trailhead and no signs. In fact, there really isn't a trail. There's a route marked by occasional cairns (rockpiles). And if you don't have a map-display GPS unit, you won't find the route at all.

On the Four Corners Road as we ride from the parking spot, looking for the connection to the sandstone.

Let me emphasize that point: until this route gets fully ridden-in, you must have a GPS unit that displays the track as you ride. Without high-resolution GPS navigation, you won't find this route and you won't be able to stay on it. Don't even think about riding this trail with only a map. Until this trail sees a whole bunch of bike tires, staying on-course requires a track-display GPS unit that's zoomed to show about 400-600 foot width on the display.

This is the sandstone ramp leading to the top of the cuesta at the far south end of the ride.

It's also a good idea to have sharp-eyed riders watching for the next rockpile. In some areas the trail is very well-marked with cairns every 20-30 feet. In other spots, there's no sign of where you're supposed to go, and you'll have to compare your little "I'm here" pointer to the track line of your GPS display to figure out where you're going.

Here frequent rockpiles show the riding route. In other areas, navigation requires a sharp eye and careful following of the track on GPS. The rolling sandstone waves are the Salt Wash sandstone, formed in a river delta in the late Jurassic.

The west side of the loop is the fun part. It's over 95% slickrock. The rock rolls like a petrified ocean. I found it a very fun type of technical. Lots of upper body work, bike constantly shifting, rarely in the saddle for long.

On the cliff edge looking west, we see banded mudstone under the sandstone we're riding on. (I think this banded layer is the Summerville Formation of the San Rafael group, from the middle Jurassic. The white layer just above the valley floor would be the Curtis Formation, and the red dirt in front of the Navajo -- the white rock on the skyline -- is the Entrada. The Entrada doesn't form solid sandstone here because the environment was different than in the Moab area.)

From the trailhead (see below), ride 0.9 miles south on the gravel road. When you see a ramp of slickrock above you on the right, that's where you want to be. For my ride, there were no signs, no cairns, no tire tracks. You have to know where you need to go, and get through the dirt and brush up to the slickrock. Find the cairns and begin riding uphill to the west. 

Looking to the southwest, the sharktooth edges of the San Rafael Reef are composed of up-tilted Navajo Sandstone.

The trail will crest the ridge and turn south, then climb another slope to reach a view over Tidwell Draw to the west. You can see the San Rafael River gorge, and you might spot a little bit of river.

To the east are constant views of the Book Cliffs. There will be occasional views to the west of the San Rafael as you continue on.

Looking west to the San Rafael River gorge (the dark line in the cliffs).

The trail heads north with occasional short bits of dirt between rock outcrops. About mile 2.3, the trail turns away from the edge of the escarpment and heads east to enter an area of tiny old mines.

Landmark: the trail heads up behind this monolith to the mine area behind it.

I'm going to ID the sandstone as the Salt Wash Member of the Morrison Formation, from late in the Jurassic Period about 150 million years ago. The softer Brushy Basin Shale of the upper Morrison has eroded away, leaving a tilted tabletop veneer of sandstone. The tilt was caused by the upwelling of the San Rafael Swell.

A timber sits in front of a small mine.

The Salt Wash Sandstone is a uranium producer. Meandering streams in a river delta during the Jurassic Period accumulated organic debris and occasional deposits of lime. While these rocks were buried far underground, hot water brought uranium which substituted for the carbon in these small river channels. The result is small uranium deposits scattered here and there, perfect for small wildcat mining operations.

This appears to be the wooden frame of a shaking screen from a mining operation.

After descending east out of the mine area, the trail turns north again. Route-finding is sometimes easy, often tricky. Watch your GPS track, and watch for cairns in the distance.

The trail runs down this wash with small mines scattered in the sandstone outcrop.

The track crosses a dirt road at mile 3.4. If you need to bail, head east then southeast on the doubletrack, and you'll be back at your car. The loop ride continues north, and for a while it isn't as nice as what you've been riding previously. Keep riding and cairn-finding.

Back out in the open desert, we roll past mine debris on the sandstone. Flora consists of ricegrass, bitterbrush, and sage.

At mile 6.8, the trail reaches a small crest heading northwest, then turns to northeast and begins descending a rock wash. The rock disappears, and soon there's no sign of trail. Well, maybe in future years there will be a trail. The descent follows an old road. On the Garmin map, anyway. In reality, it just seems like open desert. Follow the GPS track east downhill to a doubletrack and turn south. 

Another exploration hole in the sandstone.

Now navigate south through an odd moonscape back to the main road. For the southbound ride, the road is at times barely perceptible. At other times, it dumps into the soft hateful loose dirt of a shallow wash. Watch your GPS display to stay on the right ghost-road. Again, it's not obvious where you should be going.

Undermined "waves" in the sandstone with daylight showing at the back end.

Riding notes, clockwise loop:
0.0   South on gravel road N38 58.689 W110 22.168
0.9   As road veers L, note slickrock above you on R
        N38 57.968 W110 22.443
        Head uphill toward slickrock, find cairns
1.5   Trail turns from S to NW N38 57.734 W110 22.828
2.0   On edge of cliffs heading north
2.4   Mine area N38 58.348 W110 22.707
2.5   Descending east in ravine
2.6   Trail turns back north N38 58.309 W110 22.463
3.4   Cross DT (DT returns east to TH) N38 58.802 W110 22.390

The gray thing just below and to the left of the arrow is my house key, placed to show the size of this petrified tree trunk protruding from the sandstone. (The arc at the far left is the edge of the trunk protruding from sandstone. The chunk mid-right has fallen away.)

3.7   Dirt area, keep N, follow GPS track
6.8   Trail reaches small crest, turns E and downhill
        N39 01.127 W110 22.225
        Follow rock edge of wash
7.0   Path disappears, keep east and downhill
7.3   R on DT N39 01.297 W110 21.639
        Branching paths, head south
        Follow GPS track when in doubt
10.5 DT climbs up to gravel road, L
        N38 58.790 W110 21.978
10.8 Back at parking

The trip back is a weird moonscape of bare shale. This is the Brushy Basin shale of the Morrison Formation.

Getting there:  Go east through Price on US-6, heading toward I-70. When you're almost there, US-6 comes over a small rise, and you'll see the interstate in front of you. Immediately look for a gravel road on the right, only 1/3 mile before the lanes of US-6 split to join I-70. Turn right onto this small road, County Road 1029, also called Four Corners Mine Road. At mile 6.8 from US-6, continue straight as another dirt road crosses. Head slightly uphill and the road will veer a bit toward the south. At mile 7.4, you'll pass a small dirt road on the right, which is your return route. Keep straight. The road drops down into the canyon bottom. At mile 7.6, a small doubletrack comes in at 90 degrees from the right. Park here at N38 58.689 W110 22.168. Begin the ride by pedaling south on the main gravel road.

Bathrooms: none
Water: none
Campgrounds: Green River, or further into the San Rafael at Buckhorn Wash
Bike services: Moab or Price, an hour either way

Riding resources:
Single-page, printable riding guide
GPS track file (right-click and select "Save Target as..."):
Topo map for printing:    High-Res
Lodging, camping, shops:
     Links to Moab area resources
     Links to Price area resources

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