No spring chickens on the chicken corners trail

When last we left our grey-muzzled off-roaders, they were holed up in a motel room in Moab, Utah, recovering from the excesses of underestimating their ages on the 100 mile White Rim Trail.)

The room is dark when I awaken, realizing that I don’t appear to have moved much since going to bed. It seems that the secret to a night’s rest is to completely and utterly exhaust oneself the day before. Rested, maybe, but actually getting out of bed, that’s another thing, probably best not described in any detail here. I’m surprised that the creaking and cracking of joints didn’t trigger seismic alarms all over the southwest. But the magic of this area is marvelous, erasing such trivial corporeal concerns and leaving only the desire to get out there and do it again.

Our route for today, decided over dinner last night, is to be the Chicken Corners Trail. This one leads out to the southwest of Moab, and derives its name from the last bit where the high bluff over the Colorado River gets very narrow as it clings to the wall in a turn. Legend has it that early guides would let the “chicken” tourists who couldn’t handle the thought of riding their horses around this section get off and walk through the corner.

We ride into the valley where the campers are, on wide dirt roads, then cross the creek through the water up to the hubs and start into the open country. The “road” here is more defined than yesterday’s, but still sometimes just a path across the rock floor. It leads up into the hills, where suddenly the valley below opens up in a vista impossible to capture on camera.

The ascents here are not as dramatic (read “scary”) as on the White Rim or Shafer trails and more user-friendly for tired old men. It adds to the fun of working one’s way up and down these rocky slopes when one isn’t constantly in fear of imminent death by falling. These had just the right difficulty to be challenging without the feeling that this next one might be just a bit above one’s skills.

More sand, of course there is. Give nature a lot of sandstone, wind, a little water and a few million years and she can produce an astounding amount of sand in surprising places, some of it so deep that I’m sure at least once or twice I bounced off of someone else’s helmet down there below my wheels.

On this trail we have encountered a few other tourists driving four-wheel buggies, some conventional “side by sides” and some a different sort of thing seemingly designed just for this type of place with a wide stance, four large knobby-tired wheels and suspension tall enough to float over most obstacles. One of these held a middle-aged man and his small white dog. They had stopped at a point on the trail where the valley could be seen spread out below and as we approached, the man beckoned me over to ask a question about where the trail went from here….obviously not having seen our way-back-east license plates yet. As I stopped and raised my helmet to hear him, the little fuzzy dog leaped out of the buggy and made an enthusiastic attack on my right boot. Though he growled fiercely as he worked, the frenetic little guy was no threat, not tall enough to get much above my ankles and completely unable to make any progress through protective riding pants and an armored boot,, but he seemed undeterred by his lack of effect. I watched his efforts with some amusement until his companion had stated his question, heard my unhelpful answer (“I don’t know, we just got here ourselves”) and then finally called the fearsome beast back into the buggy. My gear was none the worse for wear, but I’m sure the dog felt that he had saved his uncomprehending master from certain annihilation at the hands of these strangely dressed intruders.

Besides the four-wheelers, we encountered very few other motorcycles on the trail. The ones we did see were impossibly tall, very loud and piloted by strong young men who apparently had yet to learn the weaknesses of the flesh made so obvious by being catapulted off a speeding motorcycle in the rocks. They would come up behind us, flash around in a flurry of bright colors and loud noise and be gone into the distance. We “mature” riders kept on at our reasonable pace, feeling ever more close to the parable’s turtle than we would have thought possible when we were young.

Near the end of the trail, the Chicken Corner appeared and I could easily see the reason for its name. The Colorado River is a very long way down and the edge of the trail, leading to that tremendous drop, is uncomfortably close to the wheel trac. We did ride on through, supposedly proving ourselves “non-chickens”, but perhaps that appellation properly applies only to those who weren’t scared while riding the narrow gap. It is a dead-end trail, for motorized vehicles (the walking trail continues on, cut into the side of the cliff, too narrow for any handlebars) so we had to backtrack to our starting point. Knowing where one is going changes the time perspective such that the return trip seems much shorter, a good thing for tired old men. Short term memory loss must already be in effect, for we frequently were surprised by the same sand pits we came through on the way in.

In preparation for this trip, both Jay and I had installed racks on the XT’s with a “Rotopax” one gallon gas container, figuring that out in the Utah desert would not be a good spot to overestimate the bike’s fuel economy. Pushing a dead motorcycle in the sand is one of my least favorite exercises. On the Chicken Corners Trail we learned that what we had underestimated was the pounding these racks would take on the rocks everywhere in Utah. Both racks broke in the same spot, right at the bends where they bolt to the frame, leaving them to flop around with their flammable cargo under our rear ends. Fortunately, we always carry zip ties and bungie cords, the universal fix-its, and, after emptying the gas into our tanks, these makeshift repairs were sufficient to get us the rest of the way back to Moab, where a bit of parking lot wrench spinning freed the broken bits from the bikes and retired the racks from further duty. We weren’t planning now to take any super-long excursions, realizing that our endurance was less than the bikes’ fuel capacity.

Back in Moab as the sun was getting low, we cruised around a bit and settled on the Broken Oar restaurant for supper, an excellent choice with an outdoor deck just perfect for us to experience a bit more of the scenery and for the patrons inside not to experience the pungency of two geezers that had been riding in the desert canyons all day.

About johngrice

Retired small town lawyer, lifelong motorcyclist, traveler and old guy sitting around thinking.
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