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Travels with Grama

Highway 261 Utah

Not Your Average Highway

Doreen and I are having a love affair - with a road!!! Highway 261 in Southern Utah.

Definitely not for the faint of heart. 6425 feet above sea level dropping 1100 feet in under 3 miles on hairpin curves at a 10% grade. Did I mention gravel road, barely 2 lanes wide and NO guardrails. 5mph? How about 3mph just to be on the safe side? Stay on the designated roads? OK sure. No problem. Where else would I want to go? Where the "designated road" ends a 1100 foot cliff starts - straight down!! Did I mention - NO guardrails? Oh yes, I did.

Your worst nightmare is that a motorhome is coming at you from the other direction.

Highway 261 (on Cedar Mesa) is located in southern Utah. It runs 34 miles connecting Hwy 163 just north of Mexican Hat, with Hwy 95, just east of Natural Bridges National Monument. The highway is part of the Utah section of the Trail of the Ancients, a National Scenic Byway. It includes steep switchbacks as it traverses the Moki Dugway.

Hwy 261 Photo Album

2002 - Discovery

This was the year we discovered Hwy 261 by fluke.

We left Moab, travelling south on Hwy 191 and stopped at a sub shop in Blanding. We got takeout, with the intention of finding a relaxing picnic spot. We were a couple of miles past a junction for Hwy 95 west, when I glanced at the map and noticed that Hwy 95 connected to another road which would take us to the west entrance of Valley of the Gods, and eventually onto Hwy 163.

An unexplored road left us no choice but to backtrack and head west. We found a nice area and stopped for our picnic, before turning south onto the infamous Hwy 261. Except for a couple of road signs saying tractor trailers and motorhomes are not recommended, this simple paved road gave little clue as to what might lie ahead.

It is a long, subtle climb on a flat plateau and slowly you realize the trees are now shrubs, the sky is within reach and it feels like you're at the top of the world. At about that time the signage was every hundred feet and the sense of misgiving suddenly hit us. "What were we getting into - again". Bravehearts that we are, we continued to the top of the plateau, where the world suddenly opened up below us.

This was called the Mokee Dugway and is a trail originally carved by the ancients. It goes from the top of Cedar Mesa butte and winds back and forth, crisscrossing the face of the rocks to the bottom.

Modern man has expanded the road, and carved deeper into the rocks to accommodate automotive travel, but the thrill is still there - especially, when one has a fear of heights.

1100 ft drop less than 4 ft from the side of the car, no guard rails and a small pile of gravel between you and the pearly gates does not give you a sense of security.


We reached Valley of the Gods from the west side, but didn't have time do the whole route. So we only drove in a short way, turned around and headed for the base of Hwy 261.

This year, we had made sure our travels brought us to the bottom of Hwy 261 so we could drive "up" it. It was just as much a thrill as the drive down - except the "straight down 1100 foot cliff" was now on Doreen's side of the car. Thanks goodness, we were hugging the mountain side. The expression on her face was priceless and I'm sure she was grateful she had a change of underwear in her suitcase.  (that would be that fear of heights thing again)

At the top, we met a group of five touring bikers and stopped to chat for a few minutes. They were businessmen on a road trip - not unlike us. So we took pictures of the group with their cameras and forgot to take one with our own camera. Bidding them farewell and safe journey, we continued north to Hwy 95, then east back onto Hwy 191 north to Moab.

2005 - We're Back

State Route 261 is located entirely within south-central San Juan County, Utah. It runs 34 miles north, from the junction of U.S. Route 163 three-miles north of Mexican Hat, to the junction with State Route 95, just east of Natural Bridges National Monument.

The highway is part of the Utah section of the Trail of the Ancients, a National Scenic Byway. It includes steep switchbacks as it traverses the Moki Dugway.

"Moki" is a local term for the ancient Puebloan people who inhabited the Colorado Plateau hundreds of years ago. "Dugway" is a term used to describe a roadway carved from a hillside. The Moki Dugway is literally carved from the cliff face and talus slope on the edge of Cedar Mesa. The route connects Utah Highway 95 with US Highway 163 by crossing Cedar Mesa and plunging down the dugway at an 11% grade, revealing sweeping views of Valley of the Gods, stripes of color in the rocks of the San Juan River Canyon known as the Navajo Tapestry, and distant Monument Valley.


It wasn't quite dark, so we decided play around on Hwy 261 before stopping in Bluff; but, true to form, we found somewhere else to explore. After driving up and down Hwy 261, we went up again because I wanted to investigate a road we'd been ignoring for several years. The road is called Muley Point Road and I'm sure it is aptly named. Definitely fit for mules. Oh My Gawd.

Muley Road seemed to go on forever and we were thinking this is likely a waste of time, when suddenly the road ended and the world dropped 1200 feet into a magnificent gorge.

We were overlooking part of the Goosenecks of San Juan River in the eastern extreme of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. We could see forever and "no railings". Once again Doreen was 100 feet from the edge taking pictures of me peeking over the edge. Muley Point Info

The next morning we climbed Hwy 261 one more time then north to Hwy 95.


I wish there was a way to put a feeling into a photograph!! Highway 261 is definitely a "feeling". No matter how often I describe it, I'll never convey the emotion or the sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach as you crest the hill and you see what's in front of you. Traveling this road has become a focal point in all our trips.

We have somehow managed to include the area touring from both east and west coasts. I think we've secretly claimed Hwy 261 as our own personal road. I'm sure the state of Utah would like their taxes but they'll have to catch us first.

I absolutely love the signs here. The spelling of Mokee Dugway (Moki Dugway) changes from the top of the butte to the bottom. It says not recommended for trucks over 10,000 lbs. and the next sign shows a tractor trailer going down the hill. It also says not recommended for RV's and we've seen several trying to round those curves. The drivers either can't read or think the 30 ft. beast they're in is called a minivan. Backing up is sometimes the only option - such as in the picture below.

August, 2007 - Mom

On the west exit of the Valley, the road connects with the infamous Hwy 261. South takes you to Mexican Hat and north leads up the Moki Dugway cliff road to the top of the butte.

Since we were now on the homeward portion of our adventure, we turned north and I was able to show Mom my favourite viewpoint in all my travels.......... the southwest viewpoint overlooking Valley of the Gods.

Travelling from south to north gives you the incredible view from many different angles, but the true way to get the "oh my gawd" sense of awe is to travel north to south and come over the small rise thinking the whole world has dropped out beneath you.

The pictures here are at the starting point of the climb up the Moki Dugway on Hwy 261. The road is an ancient trail carved out of the rockface of this butte and is definitely not for those who are afraid of heights. My Mom, luckily, does not suffer from this affliction and was hanging her head out the window like a puppy breathing in the fresh air.

Once we had climbed the butte and crossed the mesa, we connected with Hwy 95 northwest to Hanksville and up Hwy 24, crossed I-70 to Hwy 191/6 towards Salt Lake City. There were only necessary stops between here and Salt Lake in order to leave enough time to take the scenic route the rest of the way home through Wyoming and Montana.


Moki Dugway is part of the 116 miles federally designated National Scenic Byway known as The Trail of the Ancients. The Trail, in the heart of the Colorado Plateau, circles through the ancient Puebloan (Anasazi) Country.

It includes Hovenweep National Monument, Edge of the Cedars State Park and Museum, Butler Wash and Mule Canyon Indian ruins, Natural Bridges National Monument, Grand Gulch Primitive Area, Valley of the Gods, Gooseneck State Park, Monument Valley, Historic Bluff, Three Kiva Pueblo and Four Corners Monument.

Arriving back on highway 261 is a good feeling for us. As much as it never seems to change - it really never stays the same. I even notice when some rocks have moved or a part of the road is changed - sometimes made wider and sometimes missing a shoulder.

This year we noticed a wreck over the cliff and we are absolutely sure we never saw that before. Whether it was a prop or an actual accident, it reminds us that although the road is stimulating, exciting and fun to drive - it can also be very dangerous.

Highway 261 makes you feel like you are on top of the world - and you are!! We never tire of it.

Because it was early evening there was very little traffic on the road. We could stop and view from just about anywhere. After driving up and down a couple of times the sun was starting to set and it was time to call it a day. We planned to visit highway 261 again before we left the area.

2008 Nightmare

At the bottom of the Moki Dugway on Hwy261 there is a turnaround where those less adventurous can about-face instead of climbing the butte. A fully loaded tractor trailer with a secondary pup full of sheep was pulling back onto the road from the turnout so we pulled into turnout to give him room to pass - assuming he had mistakenly taken a wrong road.

Half way up the butte - we came upon two cars of women and kids, one of which was attempting to back down the treacherous gravel road. A glance to the right gave us the explanation why someone would back up at this point and saw another fully loaded tractor trailer rounding the narrow bend heading in our direction. We were stunned as there was no doubt the clearly marked road restriction signs posted were intended for this type of vehicle. We suddenly realized that the first truck we'd seen at the bottom had not been turning around but had also just come down the hill.

The truck passed the 3 cars pulled off to the side and Karen yelled at the two men "Are you crazy" and they laughed as the drove by leaving a cloud of dust. Out came the camera and history is once again recorded.

2008 Nightmare on Highway 261 Slideshow


We're back! Sometimes we have a hard time stopping ourselves from jumping around in our seat in anticipation of the drive on this highway. We certainly have a hard time staying in the car. This year we should have locked Willie in the barn.

The road is always the same but only in the way it affects us. Each year we notice changes - some small some major. Every year we take more and more pictures and we are still in awe of the beauty.

This sign with the first curve in the background is like an open door invitation and the cliffs that follow for the next 3 miles are like comforting arms around us.

2009 - Willie's Cliff Hanger

We stopped at the top lookout and I got out to take a photo using Willie in the foreground. I set Willie on the abutment, took a few steps and when I turned back, he was gone. A gust of wind blew him over the edge. Doreen was sitting in the car watching the whole scene. I looked back at her. She said the look on my face was priceless.

OK - not funny. We have a problem. Willie is hanging precariously by a twig. If he gets dislodged from the twig (and all it would take is another wind gust), it is game over - 100 feet straight down type of game over. He was out of arm's reach, we didn't have anything long enough to try to hook on to him, and there is absolutely no way either of us is going to crawl down that ledge. After all, we were not going to risk our lives over a stuffed horse.

And then, along came Jones, tall thin Jones
Slow walkin' Jones, slow talkin' Jones
Along came long, lean, lanky Jones

Well, we don't know what his name was but believe it not, this hero cowboy crawled over the barrier and down the edge and rescued Willie. When we tried to stop him, all he said was "I climb mountains - this is nothing". After all was said and done though, he did say "this thing blows over again ladies, you're on your own".

I heeded his words and promptly put Willie back on the abutment, but this time where the rocks behind didn't drop off 100 feet straight down.

With Willie safe and sound and our cowboy driving off into the sunset, we bid goodbye to Hwy 261 for another year.


We didn't spend too much time dawdling in the Valley and hit Hwy 261 around noon - plenty of time to catch the Halls Crossing Ferry across Lake Powell. We stopped several times to take pictures and this time we were careful to make sure Willie was not going to fall over the cliff.

After all these years, I think I finally got the picture that really portrays the feeling of hanging on the edge. I literally stretched my arm out the window and in front of the windshield and aimed it where I was looking. Yes folks, that is a straight 1000 foot drop over the side of that gravel edge. No guardrails, no trees, no fencing, not even a convenient boulder placed to discourage gawkers. 8 years of going up and down this road and my stomach still flips like a pancake on a hot griddle. And I love every minute of it !!!

At the top of Hwy 261 we passed a car from Alberta and couple of miles down the road curiosity got the better of us and Doreen stopped, flagged them down to find out where in Alberta they were from. Edmonton. We didn't chat with them long as traffic was coming up behind us on the highway. Felt funny seeing another Albertan that far from home - "what were they doing on "our" road anyway"......


Our intention this year was to head in a south/east/south trend and that lasted until we reached Cortez, Colorado. There we had to make a decision - continue with the south/east/south route or hightail it to our favourite road - hwy 261. A quick stop at McD's, a hamburger and smoothie later, the decision was made. Let's take the 80 mile trip to Bluff and hwy 261.

Painted Desert

Once we reached Bluff, we checked in at the Desert Rose Inn and went to Twin Rocks Cafe for supper and of course, shopping, then went to play on Hwy 261 until dark.

We stopped to catch a picture of the painted desert. As I turned back to snap the photo of the sun hitting the hills behind us, a group of bikers whizzed by. It turned out to be a great picture.

Highway 261

We drove up and down the road for well over half an hour before any other vehicles even came along. This allowed us to take pictures of every angle of scenery and landscape possible. But this time, we hung onto mascot Willie with a death grip.

Going over the cliff is not an option for him any more. It isn't likely we would get a second hero to come along and rescue him

We played till dark and then it was finally time to go back to the Inn We had a lot of time to make up and needed an early start in the morning.

The clarity of a clear night in the desert is difficult to express in words, but this shot of the full moon can give you an idea of what it's like.

If it hadn't been for the lousy bugs, it would have ended a perfect day.


We're Back!!

We have more pictures of hwy 261 that any other place we're travelled. With the exception of 2004, we have been on this road every year since 2002. Doreen has been on it several times on extra trips. We don't even try to explain any more how this road makes us feel - it just does.

Utah State Route 261 is located in south-central San Juan County. It runs 34 miles north, from the junction of U.S. Route 163 north of Mexican Hat, to the junction with State Route 95, just east of Natural Bridges National Monument. The highway is part of the Utah section of the Trail of the Ancients, a National Scenic Byway. It includes steep switchbacks as it traverses the Moki Dugway.

The Moki Dugway was constructed in 1958 by Texas Zinc, a mining company, to transport uranium ore from the "Happy Jack" mine in Fry Canyon, UT. to the processing mill in Mexican Hat.

Willie's Cliff

We stopped at the top to let Willie view the cliff he dangled from in 2009. We put him in a different position (one that had a ledge on the other side) and held on to him tightly just in case he decided to take a flying leap for old times sake. It was a very wide ledge - Doreen was actually standing on the other side of the guard rail.

May 20, 2016

Highway 261

After having driven up at dusk and down in the dark last night, you'd think we'd be rather nonchalant about the overlooks, but no such luck. I was still leaning into the drivers seat and gripping the door ledge as if it was going to stop me from falling over the cliff. Doreen doesn't quite understood how I can walk to the edge and look straight down but can't sit in the car and look out the window....actually, neither can I.

August 2007 Two Huge Rocks

There was one new fallen rock at the base of the road where we usually stop for photos. The two massive rocks from prior trips were gone and replaced by a small slab hanging precariously over the cliff and seemingly supported by a small tree. We took a couple of pictures so we can continue to compare the scene on future trips

Once we reached the top of the butte and continued north SR 95, we ran into another unique sight. There were a couple of cows on the road, which we slowed for and suddenly out of the bushes, came the whole herd, followed by 4 riders on horseback cracking a whips and driving them up the highway. They waved us ahead and said the only way to continue was to literally push them out of the way. It is a truly special sight to be at the south end of a northbound cow gently persuading it to get the heck out of the road.