The 9th Annual San Juan ATV Safari was a couple weeks ago, and I was VERY excited to get to go out on the Arch Canyon trail ride! My co-worker was one of the people in charge of planning the Safari this year and she had been trying to arrange for me to have a 4-wheeler to ride/drive myself, but after riding along in one of the guides’ side-by-sides for the parade and night ride on Wednesday, I was seriously doubting my skills! (I moved to Alaska when I was in high school and EVERYBODY up there has 4-wheelers, so I have had a fair amount of experience with them, but it’s been 15+ years since I’ve driven one.)
The trail that we were on for the night ride (part of Wagon Wheel) seemed really difficult- I could just picture myself holding up the whole group because of my lack of experience and I really didn’t want to do that. My co-worker must have taken pity on me, because she called me the next night and asked if I wanted to ride along with her (as a passenger) on the Arch Canyon ride the next morning. (*I’ve now found out that Wagon Wheel is one of the easy trails, so I don’t know what to say about that- looking back at the pictures now, the trail DOES seem very easy compared to Arch Canyon, but at the time I thought that there was no way I’d be able to drive on it myself!)
For the parade and night ride we met at Inn at the Canyons on the south end of Monticello at 5:30pm. We were all going to be riding down Main Street together, but the guides divided the group into two smaller groups for the ride to the place (West of Devil’s Canyon Campground between Monticello & Blanding) where we would be meeting up with the night ride that was leaving from the Visitor Center in Blanding at the same time.
The ride up in the mountains was really beautiful- I was surprised to see that the leaves were already starting to change a little bit up there. The guide who I was riding with said that in a few weeks when the leaves were at their peak, that it’s an absolutely gorgeous ride.
We were the first group to arrive at the meeting place, but there were a few people who were taking part in the Safari who had come ahead of time to get everything ready. When we arrived there was a raging bonfire going (which I was SO happy to see since the ride over was a little chilly!) and Ben Black, the owner of Blackhawk Tours in Blanding, was there with a huge pot of chili that he had made for all the riders!
Once everyone arrived we finally got to dig in to the chili, and it was WONDERFUL! It had started to rain by then, and I know that both the chili and the bonfire were very much appreciated by all the riders!
After everyone was done eating, we went around the circle and introduced ourselves with everyone telling where they were from and how long they’d been taking part in the San Juan ATV Safari. I was really surprised to hear how many people were from out of state- there were riders from Colorado, Arizona, Oregon, California, and even as far away as Iowa! It was also nice to hear that most people had been coming for several years- there was even one group who had come every single year since the Safari started!
For the ATV Safari there are about 15-20 different trails that you can choose from to ride each day. Each trail has a designated meeting place either in Monticello or in Blanding depending on where the trail is located. I think the meeting time for all the trails is 8am, so everyone meets up at their designated spot and the guides lead the way to the trails. The trails are all rated (Easy, Moderate, Difficult) and riders sign up based on their abilities.
I had never been up Arch Canyon before and was really looking forward to going, however, when I woke up that morning it was POURING and looked awful outside! Seeing the weather when I woke up made me start to regret having agreed to go and I was wishing I’d added an, ‘I’ll go as long as it isn’t raining’ when I’d said I’d go! But I knew that this was my one chance to get to go on the Safari, so I sucked it up and decided that I’d rather go and possibly be rained on all day, than to not go at all!
By the time we met up with everyone at 8am, not only had it stopped raining, but there were patches of blue sky starting to peek out from between the clouds. We met up with our group at Clark’s Market in Blanding at 8AM and from there we all headed east on highway 95 to the staging area at Arch Canyon.
We actually weren’t sure if we were going to be able to do Arch Canyon until we got there. There are 60+ water crossings along the trail, so if the water was too high from all the rain, we would have had to find a different trail. Luckily, when we got there the guides checked and said that the water level was fine and that we were good to go! By the time we got everything unloaded and started down the trail it was about 9:30am and had turned into an absolutely beautiful day!
As we started down the trail there were water crossings one after another. A few of them were pretty deep- we lifted our feet as much as we could, but the water was high enough that there was no way around getting a little wet.
We stopped several times on our way in- there were quite a few places along the trail where you could see ruins and our guides would stop and point them out to everyone. The one I was most looking forward to seeing was Jailhouse Ruin, which gets its name for the ‘bars’ in the window of the ruin. We didn’t have time to do much but take a few pictures, but I’d love to go back sometime and see if it’s possible to get a closer look.
The ride to the end of the trail was absolutely beautiful- there were all kinds of cool rock formations and I think we were appreciating everything even more than we normally would have since we’d woken up to such bad weather that morning.
At the end of the canyon (the end of the motorized trail anyway) where we were going to be having lunch, we were finally able to see an arch. After we all parked our ATVs some people started on their lunches and a few of us took the 1/4 mile hike to see another arch that was a little farther up the canyon.
I guess on the previous day of the Safari, most of this group rode together on a different trail with the same guides. There were 10 of us total; 2 guides from Blanding, 2 riders from California who have been coming to the San Juan ATV Safari for several years, 3 riders from Iowa- two of which had been to the Safari before, and then there were 3 of us that live in the area.
We sat around talking and eating our lunches for a while, then it started to rain and we decided that we’d better get going. The rain only lasted for about 20 minutes or so, and after that it cleared up again and was nice and sunny for us for the rest of the day. I think most of us actually appreciated the rain- we had all dressed for cold weather and it was so nice on the way in that it was actually a little hot when we would stop.
Our last stop of the day was at the Arch Canyon Ruins. We had passed them on the way up the canyon in the morning, but hadn’t stopped at that time. There are only a few walls still standing, but it looks like it used to be a huge structure. I’m not an expert on ruins by any means, but you could see holes carved into the wall that looked similar to other ruins I’ve seen that had been multi-level structures. I was so busy looking at the petroglyphs, that it wasn’t until we were headed back to the 4-wheelers that I looked up and saw what a beautiful view of Comb Ridge you could see from the ruins.
Even though I only went on one ride with the San Juan ATV Safari, I had such a good time! It really made me remember how much I used to love to ride 4-wheelers! There are a lot of things that I used to do a lot when I was in high school like riding 4-wheelers, trap shooting, fishing, etc. that I just don’t do anymore. It’s not because I don’t want to- because I do! I just don’t own any of the equipment necessary to do any of those things! I always tell people that the reason that I hike so much is because it’s the ONE thing I can afford to do! Yes, some people like to have all kinds of fancy equipment for hiking, but the only equipment that you really NEED is a pair of hiking boots-which I CAN afford!
Next year I’d really like to take part in all 3 days of the Safari, and I’d love for my husband to go too. When I came home from the Arch Canyon ride I immediately got online to see what the prices are for used 4-wheelers! I doubt that I’ll own one by this time next year though, so it might be a good idea to start buttering up the people I know in town who might be willing to lend me theirs!