driving on wet clay

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regehr

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Mar 28, 2012
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Memorial Day was pretty rainy and I wanted to relate a little experience with driving on clay in the rain. Bear in mind I'm not a total noob, and have driven a lot of miles in the desert including in the rain. For example, just this spring I was camping out on the Sam's Mesa road when a third of an inch of rain fell in the area. More memorably, I was out on the HITRR a number of years ago in August when it was really pouring, and in fact later that day or maybe the next day that road got washed out like 20 feet deep one spot and wasn't repaired for days. I mention these experiences only to say that nothing in them, or in any other driving I've done, prepared me for driving on wet clay.

So anyway on Monday I wanted to do a bit of exploring the San Rafael Desert from I-70. I drove down the Baker Ranch Road, which in good conditions is very fast, smooth traveling. I had just come up from Torrey on HW 72 and had seen a lot of rain in the area but I sort of stupidly figured it would mostly hit the mountains. Anyhow, after I passed the intersection with the Lower Last Chance Loop it started raining for real and my tires were kicking up a lot of clay and I should have taken a hint and got out of there but I continued. Near the top of the Last Chance Dugway the weather opened up for real, the kind of rain you can hardly see through, and I knew I was done, so I turned around and all of a sudden the character of the road changed to pure axle grease, much more like driving on ice than snow. I slid sideways almost immediately and would have gone right off the road if it had been canted even a tiny bit. So I slowed down and white-knuckled it -- sliding all over the place and barely under control, at 15 MPH, with good tires and 4wd -- all the way up to near Willow Spring Wash where the road changes back to something that isn't clay, at which point I could drive normally.

Anyhow, I got a bit lucky and felt pretty dumb and wanted to mention this as a warning. I'd heard it could happen but my imagination had sort of failed me as to the degree of slipperiness. I'll be giving clay roads some more respect in the future.
 

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regehr

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I've run into that a couple of times, the worst being about 15 miles east of Ferron. Only the top layer of the road was even wet, with dry dirt an inch below, but it was difficult to maintain a straight line even on a straight, level stretch of road.
Nice video, yikes!
 

powderglut

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Too many scary moments on the red clay to mention them all. I learned a lot about the red clay on my many day fishing trips to the Green River at Indian Crossing. Going north from Maybell, Colorado into Browns Park is decent enough pavement. But..as soon as you cross the border into Utah the road is unpaved and either sand or red clay. The ride past the Jarvie Ranch was sometimes a major ordeal just staying on the road in my 4Runner. And that was just after a light rain. Loved the deep ruts and the slime created by a little rain and driving the road "3/4 sideways".
Another scary one: Before they paved the road behind Goblin Valley by Little Wildhorse, we were just returning back from a great hike in the slots when the rain began. It got so slippery we stopped to wait it out. When you say, you almost slid off the road if it had been canted a tiny bit. We started sliding sideways while we were parked. I thought , " This isn't really happening is it? We can't really slide off the road into the side ditch while sitting in park...Can we??" Somehow stopped right at the edge. Lucky the rain was short and the sun came out so we could drive back to our campsite at the park an hour later. Huge respect for the red slime!
I definitely feel your terror!
 

Rockskipper

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They're already having problems with the new road to Tuk, but I think it's the stretches where they chose to open it early instead of actually finishing it. I would love to drive it.
 

Yvonne

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I had a few times in winter driving down House Rock Valley Road with snow on it. During the daytime thaw, it turned the road into a clay and mud puddle for miles. While heading down to my campsite at Stateline Campground I just hoped no one was coming the opposite way, because I could not even break. Just sliding down the hill.
Was a bit scary.

 

Scott Chandler

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The North Fork Road east of Zion is another "when wet" monster. It totally changed my opinion of those "impassable while wet" signs. And has made me feel especially proud of my car, its faired way better than expected on that thing.
 

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regehr

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Ah, good to know about chains, I don't tend to carry them this time of year, but makes total sense.

I kept driving since I was nervous that things would get worse and also it looked impossible to pull off the road without getting totally stuck and I didn't want to stop right in the middle of the road. Ugh.
 

wabenho

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The North Fork Road east of Zion is another "when wet" monster. It totally changed my opinion of those "impassable while wet" signs. And has made me feel especially proud of my car, its faired way better than expected on that thing.
^ This is the road I thought of when I read this thread. I've hustled up there in the rain a couple of times trying to grab a car spot before it got greasy and then white knuckled down.
 

powderglut

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I had a few times in winter driving down House Rock Valley Road with snow on it. During the daytime thaw, it turned the road into a clay and mud puddle for miles. While heading down to my campsite at Stateline Campground I just hoped no one was coming the opposite way, because I could not even break. Just sliding down the hill.
Was a bit scary.

Yep. One year had to drive it south out of Stateline CG to 89A because the upper section was a soupy mess. Of course... 1 vehicle from Paria outfitters managed to be the only vehicle we saw that day go by Stateline. Probably doing South Coyote Buttes or White Pocket with many clients.
 

Titans

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I've run into that a couple of times, the worst being about 15 miles east of Ferron. Only the top layer of the road was even wet, with dry dirt an inch below, but it was difficult to maintain a straight line even on a straight, level stretch of road.

Whoa...!!!! Scary- we have seen the warnings about the wet dirt roads, but never experienced it ourselves. Great video- thanks for sharing.
 

Reef&Ruins

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I've a somewhat similar experience on the Notom-Bullfrog road near Cedar Mesa campground. But mine wasn't as bad as the guy who came out of said campground and ended up trashing the whole downslope slide of the road (at the exit) by getting his 4Runner+pop-up trailer stuck in the mud on that side of the road. Saw him later and he was none to pleased especially since he (and wife) were camping with a very young child.
 

Carcass

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I had a few times in winter driving down House Rock Valley Road with snow on it. During the daytime thaw, it turned the road into a clay and mud puddle for miles. While heading down to my campsite at Stateline Campground I just hoped no one was coming the opposite way, because I could not even break. Just sliding down the hill.
Was a bit scary.

This pic reminded me of the last time I visited CBS. I made sure to go very early in the morning when it would be mostly frozen. But there was still a couple spots that I got the "driving sideways" treatment.

Made sure I went south to 89A to return home.
 

zionsky

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Dec 23, 2018
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Ok..so this isn't driving but I wasn't sure if hiking in wet clay deserved a new thread. I'm sure most have done it but I wanted to share (and relive) a fond memory from a few years back. It was early October and we were staying at the zion ponderosa resort. This is a great place if you like to be away from the crowds in Springdale. Anyhow, I had planned to drive from the resort to the east boundary and hike in via the mesa trail to observation point. The afternoon before, it started to snow.
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I was thinking this would be cool to hike in but the snow changed to rain. It rained all night! The next morning I woke up and walked up to the main road. Our house was close to where the pavement stopped and dirt began. Someone had put a sign up on a chair saying "do not go down this road or you will get stuck!" From the looks of it, I believed them. The rest of my crew was content to lounge around the house that day but not me. I had to hike so off I went determined to make it to observation point. From the trailhead, the hike is a little more than 3 miles. The problem was I had to get to the trailhead first. That required slogging nearly 2 miles through some wet clay.
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This is looking back towards the resort. The first mile was muddy but I could occasionally find a way without sinking up to my ankles
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This was the second mile. Slipping and sliding and sinking!
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After 2 miles of fun, I finally made it to the trailhead. The trail was actually in pretty good shape but unfortunately the views weren't the best that day.
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Oh well.... I wouldn't do it again but I had a lot of fun that day
 

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