East Canyon

Round Trip Distance: 55 miles (driving)
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation: 4737 - 8297 feet
Cellphone: 0-3 bars
Time: 4 hrs. 15 mins.
Trailhead: Old 6&50 and 1.8 Rd.
Fee: none
Attractions: Scenic backcountry, pictographs

The East Canyon Loop is a long drive that begins in Colorado less than 2 miles from the Utah border and ends 55 miles later at the Westwater exit of Interstate 70 in Utah. The route makes use of a network of backcountry roads that take it on top of the Little Book Cliffs to Arroyo Ridge where it follows the Book Cliffs Ridge Road before dropping into East Canyon. As the route travels down East Canyon it passes an old homestead cabin and an interesting pictograph panel. More petroglyphs and pictographs can be found at the mouth of East Canyon where the route crosses Westwater Creek after which it continues back across the desert for 12 miles to Interstate 70. The complete loop should only be attempted during the summer months after all snow has melted.

We start by driving west through Mack, Colorado on the Old Highway 6 & 50 and turning right on 1.8 Road. 

Just past the 4 mile point the route crosses into Utah where maps label the road as BLM 194, aka the Bitter Creek Road. As the road cuts north across the desert there will be other roads that connect to it on both sides. Some of those roads are part of the network of routes that crisscross the desert providing alternate routes back to town and elsewhere while others simply lead to gas wells in the area. Avoid taking any of these side trails and stay on the main road bearing right near the 10 mile point and then left at the next fork.

Continue along Bitter Creek as the road travels up Taylor Canyon. At the 16.1 mile point go to the left as the road begins climbing around the San Arroyo Compressor Station. The road gets steep in places as it switchbacks its way to the top of the Little Book Cliffs. As the elevation increases the sagebrush begins giving way to oakbrush and the pinyon and juniper trees give way to aspen and pines. 

Stay to the right at the 20.5 mile and 20.6 mile points where there are roads that drop off of the ridge into the canyon. At the 23.4 mile point the road reaches the top of a ridge where there is a 4-way intersection. Go to the left and then stay to the right as though heading toward Ouray, Utah. The road that is all the way on the left that passes between the corrals and the radio towers dead ends down in the canyon at a gas well.

From there the road drops down to a saddle in the ridge where at the 24 mile point we turn left and begin the descent into East Canyon. 

At the 28.8 mile point the road passes an old homestead cabin that is a little interesting to stop at for a few minutes. Keep your eyes on the cliffs on the right side of the road near the 31.1 mile point and you should be able to easily spot a panel of pictographs.

Some of the surface has flaked off forever erasing part of the images. 

It's hard to figure out what is going on with other parts of the panel. It almost looks like some of the images were plastered over. 

As the road reaches the mouth of East Canyon there are some nice petroglyphs on the right. They are on private property so you have to observe them the best you can from the road.

There are even more pictographs on the cliffs all around the small valley including the famous Robidoux Inscription. While this one of the finest concentrations of rock art in the area it is all on private property. It would be nice if the land owner would put up a collection fee box like you will find at the McConkie Ranch near Vernal, Utah so people could at least pay to look around since the land isn't being used for much else. 

Ater crossing Westwater Creek it is 12 miles back out to Interstate 70. That part of the road is usually in good shape except one wash crossing that is a little rough at times. There is even the option for the intrepid explore of back roads to find their way up to Vernal or over to Rangely, Colorado. There are so many spur roads that dead end at oil and gas wells that a person needs to be an expert at reading a map. We plotted out our route beforehand and created a GPX file that we used to keep us on the right course. On the day that we made the trip we would have been okay driving a passenger car but we really recommend a 4wd. The people that maintain the compressor stations travel many of these roads regularly but it is better to be well equipped and ready to self rescue than to depend on someone coming to your aid. If you want to skip some of the adventure and just go look for the rock art then consider just driving in from the Westwater exit and far enough up East Canyon to see the pictographs before turning around and heading back the way you came. That should make the round trip distance come out to around 40 miles and greatly reduce the chance of getting lost.