Moab, Utah, to Telluride, Colorado

Outlaw Territory

Jul 1, 2003
Outside Magazine
Tips & Resources

THE DRIVE FROM Moab to Telluride gains 4,700 feet of elevation, so prepare for wildly divergent climates. Any piece of gear that layers and wicks comes in handy. Find helpful info at or

ROUTE: Moab, Utah, to Telluride, Colorado
ROADS: U.S. 191, Utah 211, Utah 46, Colorado 90, Colorado 145
MILES: 132

Sage grows thick in the ruddy valleys beyond the shoulders of these roads—a good thing, since athletic travelers tend to work up quite a sweat en route. I like to cut a small stalk of sage, place it on my dashboard, and hope the herbal aroma chases away the backcountry musk, compliments of my five-days-without-a-wash bike shorts. Then my senses can get back to marveling at this drive's harmonic blend of desert and mountains. The road rises from Moab's red-rock canyons, skirts Utah's La Sal Mountains, drops into Colorado's dry Paradox Valley, crosses the Dolores River, and follows the San Miguel River up to Telluride, in a steep bowl of the San Juan Mountains. As the ubiquitous squiggly-line signs along the road indicate, straightaways are scarce, but revelatory panoramas (and promising trailheads) seem to hide around every corner. No doubt this is some of our nation's finest western scenery, beloved by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and all who escape to the Four Corners to behave like unwashed outlaws.

Climbing Indian Creek Canyon: Instead of turning east on Utah 46, stay south on U.S. 191, then head southwest on Utah 211 to get to Indian Creek (a 40-mile detour) for excellent sandstone climbing on spires and canyon walls ranging in difficulty from 5.8 to 5.13. The 5.10 Supercrack is a desert classic. Contact Moab Desert Adventures (435-260-2404,
Rafting the San Miguel River: Put in at Specie Creek, four miles northwest of Placerville on Colorado 145, and float Class II-III rapids nine and a half miles through a narrow, pi-on-studded canyon to Beaver Creek, a half-day run. Rainy summers can keep the river runnable till September, but the rafting is best before mid-July. Contact Telluride Outside ($65; 800-831-6230,
Mountain Biking in Telluride: Since Moab's summer heat can be intense, save your knobbies for Telluride. Rides here range from mellow converted-railroad grades to a World Cup downhill course. Start with the Mill Creek Trail, a singletrack-intensive loop that takes you from the San Miguel River to steep, winding hillside traverses, all in only 6.4 miles. Back Country Biking rents full-suspension bikes and runs guided tours (970-728-0861).

At the undeveloped Oowah Campground, which hovers at 8,800 feet in Utah's La Sal Mountains, you'll find views of the 12,000-foot summits and the fattest aspen trees you'll ever hug. Hike up the Deep Creek Trail to Burro Pass to watch the sun set behind the Henry Mountains, the last range to be mapped in the lower 48. For more info, contact Manti-La Sal National Forest, Moab Ranger District (435-259-7155,

Named after Norwood's signature mountain, the Lone Cone Restaurant & Saloon follows the unwritten law that eateries named after geologic features shall serve big portions of prime rib and a fine apple pie. (970-327-4286)

At the Bedrock Store, an outpost for travelers in Colorado's lonely Paradox Valley since 1876, admire the decorative barrels of antlers and stock up on a slab or two of honey-glazed beef jerky. (970-859-7395)

Long-haul landscapes require otherworldly sounds: Go with the Flaming Lips' stellar Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and the spaghetti-western strains of Calexico.

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