Distance: 43.6 mile loop
Trail Rating: Moderate – Requiring high-clearance four-wheel drive
Climb: Approximately 700 feet
Highlights: Dinosaur tracks, petroglyphs, mind-bending geology, incredible vistas
Warner Valley sits on the southwestern border of Washington County and the Arizona Strip, a kind of no-man’s land under the stewardship of the BLM. It’s a destination for all off-road enthusiasts alike, not to mention those who like to discharge firearms, and as a result of all this activity, its environs are littered with everything from brass to toilet paper, beer cans being the most popular refuse. Sad, because this area holds vistas and geology unlike anything on or near the Colorado Plateau, our biggest secret in southern Utah, even though it might appear no one gives a crap about it.
I drive through Warner Valley a couple of times a week, shaking up my commute between St. George and Hurricane, and have come to love the trek along with the mesas, bluffs, canyons and terrain, so it’s a natural to be the first Southern Utah traverse documented on CorneringConsciousness.
There are two approaches to this loop, one from St. George just east of the new Highway 7, or the one I’m writing about, just a few miles due south of Highway 9 in Hurricane. Turn south on Airport Road (700 West) and drive through Hurricane past Sky Ranch where the road turns to dirt. This is a good spot to air down. This traverse is pocked with rough, washboard terrain, and large rocks along with stretches of deep sand, and 20psi will smooth things out a bit and provide more traction.
Head south past the BLM sign until you arrive at this fork. Bear right following the arrows to the dinosaur tracks.
The Warner Valley Road is a regularly graded, wide dirt road that runs west-east through Warner Valley. It’s passable by car though flash floods play havoc with the surface, eroding edges and creating ruts. Rain drainage washes over the road several times creating small lateral ruts and large washouts.
It’s easy to get to speeds in excess of 40 mph due to the surface quality of the road, but transecting washouts at these speeds will bottom-out suspension at the very least.
When coming upon a washout it’s best to slow down before crossing it, making sure you’re then off the brakes when the front axel(s) hit, giving your front suspension all the travel it has to absorb the impact. Many drivers come upon a washout too late to compensate for the suspension dive induced by hard braking, compounding the hit and bending rims and breaking control arms and other expensive bits.
Just after this washout the road tees into the main Warner Valley Road. Turn right and follow the signs to the dinosaur tracks.
The BLM has created a parking corral at the trail head to the tracks. A short walk beyond on the trail delivers you to the tracks themselves (over 400 of them) and to an interpretive kiosk.
A few more miles west on Warner Valley Road is a turnout south to the Fort Pearce site.
The interpreted remains of Fort Pearce sit on the edge of the Pearce Wash, a source for water for settlers in the area and a strategic site in a war that never happened, the Black Hawk war. The fort was built in 1866 by area settlers as one of several outposts in a fight against raiding Indians in the area.
The fort sat on the ridge of a small river valley not far from these petroglyphs.
Back on Warner Valley Road heading west it’s easy to overlook the rock formations on the farthest ridge to the south, one looking a bit like a great bear. There’s a road (not on any map) that goes up to this formation, a southern turn, that quickly disintegrates into deep, rutted sand that eventually hardens to a more passable surface. High clearance and a rear locker comes in handy. The formation in question appears almost dead ahead in the image below.
You can see it here as well.
Yes, I’m being vague for a reason, torn between sharing this remarkable find and keeping everyone away from it.
Bearing right on the first fork crosses this washout.
Bear right again onto the red tracks, and following this trail to its terminus leads to these views and the formation.
Above is looking north across Warner Valley.
Looking south over the edge to the Arizona border where this traverse continues on the road in the distance.
Due west of this location on the ridge are these formations:
And a few yards beyond is the bear formation with these petroglyphs on two sides.
Round this corner and you’ll find this:
But wait, there’s more, not in terms of ancient rock art, more so in geological mind bending.
A few yards north of the petroglyphs and the bear formation is this:
The terrain changes dramatically from Navajo sandstone to what looks like a riverbed.
An aggregate of polished rocks fused in sand as hard a cement. I’m no geologist, but it’s clear a river used to run through here. What’s cool about this, is that “here” is about eight hundred feet above the valley floor below.
The line in the shot above is the edge of this ridge of polished rocks and sand.
Quite a contrast to this.
Back on Warner Valley Road continue west to its end at a junction close to the Highway 7 overpass. Just before this exchange is a frontage road on the right (south). Take it heading south. The road changes from dirt to asphalt to dirt again and maybe another round of this combination. This might explain why the road does not continue on Google Maps, though it does on planet earth.
When this road turns to dirt one last time, a careful look to the ridge line to the east will show the other side of the bear formation and give you an idea of its elevation.
This road continues south across the Utah/Arizona border, just past a ranch and a sign indicating a direction to the Navajo Road. It’s the road seen in the vista from the bear formation. Stay to the left and continue a few miles where you’ll come upon a hill made of glass called by the locals, Sparkle Mountain, a bit of hyperbole on both accounts.
It’s actually selenite, a crystal that resembles mica. Legend has it that pioneers used it as windows to allow light into structures.
Remount the main road, (now BLM 1035), also known as the Sunshine Trail for mountain bikers, and head south until the road divides just under high tension power lines.
Stay to the left heading due east now and follow the road to another Y.
Stay to the left again, roll another half mile and you’ll come to this gate and cattle guard. This sets you on the path to return to the east side of Warner Valley.
And this path is nothing like the Warner Valley Road. This is where you’ll appreciate airing down to 20 lbs. As you climb in elevation the surface deteriorates rapidly. I had the luxury, though, of making this trek right after the road was graded.
Some, like my wife, would argue that this circuit is more scenic in its inverse, instead of taking the road on the right at the beginning, take the one on the left. When I stopped for this pic, I was thinking she’s right.
Vistas like this bust open around corners where you’d least suspect it.
BLM 1035 doubles as a service road for the transmission lines and towers and winds through their span until you hit the Colorado Plateau. On most of its ascents, the road is littered with large rocks and loose shale. It’s important to pick a good line, being mindful of sidewall exposure as well. These minerals can cut right through the letters.
It’s hard to focus on the track with so many beautiful diversions.
This is probably a good time to point out that it’s always best practice to be completely prepared on a traverse like this; survival, recovery and communication.
The H3 is stocked with a number of days’ rations and water, along with survival gear including first aid kits for a range of injury and trauma, fire-making tools, shelter and sleeping bags rated for the weather, a variety of lamps, and blades for everything from chopping trees to filleting fish.
Recovery includes a 9500 lb. winch and recovery points (standard H3 fare), traction devices (TREDs), shovel, Hi-Lift Jack, an air compressor, and a variety of recovery straps and supporting gear. No adventure should be ventured without appropriate tires and a spare tire, if not two. Tools suited for a complete suspension repair, along with top-end engine maintenance and repair are on board along with an iPad that has a complete shop manual downloaded.
Communication includes an on-board CB radio, a HAM radio, and a pair of two-way radios, not to mention the most important comm, my iPhone. There’s a solar panel array on board as well to keep everything charged.
Towing costs for recovering a vehicle in this area exceed a grand, not to mention costs incurred in an injury or even being stranded.
Looking due north you can see the red bluffs of Warner Valley.
BLM 1035 descends from the Navajo sandstone and shale into white compact sands. Eventually 1035 is bisected by 1036, a left you’ll want to make before 1035 takes you up the Colorado Plateau.
Heading north now on BLM 1036. More ruts and washouts.
There’s a particularly long riverbed crossing, a tributary that can get violent and fast in a flash flood, on this route just before it mounts up along the base of the Plateau. It’s the same vein that feeds the river at Fort Pearce. If you’re in the very unfortunate position of making this trip during a flash flood warning, turn around and make the trip back.
Farther north on BLM 1036 and Warner Valley comes into view.
After leaving Arizona, this road eventually parallels the Honeymoon Trail and crosses it before it makes its ascent up the Plateau.
A few more miles due north and you’re back at this traverse’s starting point, completing a circuit of 46.3 miles.