A serpentine of switchbacks, a remote red rollercoaster, and a hairpin hell track; are just a few of the terms used by road trippers to describe southern Utah’s, Moki Dugway.

Built during the uranium frenzy of the 1950’s, the Moki Dugway transported uranium ore from the Cedar Mesa mines to the processing mills in Mexican Hat. Over two million tons of ore were extracted from local mines, leaving a toxic environmental legacy for generations to come.

No longer used as a mining road, Utah incorporated the Moki into its highway system. Every year, forty thousand road trippers take the plunge and drive the Moki. Today, it would be our turn.


Exercising caution, the Perfect Stranger, Shadow, and I made our way onto the unpaved gravel dugway.  Over the next three miles, we would ascend 1,100 feet on switchbacks that had been blasted into the cliff’s edge. Considering it was late winter, we were prepared for road conditions of snow, slush, ice, mud, and rock slides.

Regardless of the season, expect the unexpected on the Moki, and keep your eyes on the road at all times.




After traversing our first set of switchbacks, the Valley of Gods came into view.




Winding seventeen miles through isolated buttes and towering pinnacles, the Valley Of The Gods is a dusty backcountry road that guarantees an escape from civilization.


The Valley Of The Gods

Backcountry escapes had been the foundation of our desert winter love story. What started as a friendly eight-day road trip evolved into a never-ending honeymoon of adventures.



In a few weeks, I would be returning to my seasonal job in Vermilion Cliffs, Arizona, and the Perfect Stranger would be completing her thesis and managing her foundation in Long Beach, California. How would we manage the distance? Being together was now more familiar than being apart!



Continuing our Moki ascent, the road started to narrow; leaving minimal room for oncoming traffic.


Driving the Moki is a master class in blind faith and mindfulness. Without guardrails, the Moki leaves no room for human error or driver negligence. One can only hope that drivers respect the speed limit without the temptation of treating the Moki like an off-road race track.


Our final set of switchbacks left me with a new-found respect for the civil engineers who deemed the Moki’s construction possible. Eighty tons of explosives transformed a mountain into a uranium ore thoroughfare; convincing courageous Cold War truck drivers that this human-sculpted road was drivable.


Despite our numerous stops for photos and honoring the five miles an hour speed limit; we completed the dugway drive in two hours.



On the Moki’s summit,  a five-mile access road leads to an overlook and camping area, known as Muley Point. Originally, our plan was to spend the night there. Unfortunately, after noticing the road was covered in slushy snow and soft mud, we decided otherwise. Without a four-wheel drive, we were not willing to risk a potential bogging in the middle of nowhere.


Muley Point access road

After a family conference, the Perfect Stranger and I decided to drive an additional fifty miles to Blanding, Utah. Having spent the last few nights camping at Goosenecks State Park, a hot shower and a warm bed sounded very appealing.


The Moki Dugway serves as a living testament to the Cold War and our nation’s urgency for nuclear superiority. Forgotten, is the government’s sacrifice of rural Utah’s health and environmental safety. Thousands of uranium miners, mill workers, local residents, and Native Americans died or were sickened from toxic exposure. Contaminated soil and water supplies have been left for generations to come. Millions of tons of radioactive tailings continue to cost American taxpayers billions of dollars to remove and safely bury.



At the end of Utah’s Highway 316, lies three hundred million years of geological activity and an opportunity to stand on the edge of the world.

Eroded by wind, water, frost, and gravity, the Goosenecks of the San Juan River are a living testament to the earth’s skeleton.

The Goosenecks are a series of tight loops that geologists refer to as entrenched meanders. Weaving back and forth for over five miles, the San Juan’s meanders measure one linear mile.


Beyond the visible Goosenecks, the San Juan River continues to twist and turn before spilling into Lake Powell.

In my opinion, the Goosenecks are Utah’s answer to Arizona’s Horseshoe Bend, but without the crowds.

After setting up camp, the Perfect Stranger, Shadow, and I cautiously walked along the canyon’s rim towards the Goosenecks observation point.

The one thousand foot drop of geological madness to the silty San Juan River left me awestruck. Feeling awestruck has as much to do with how we look at the world as it does with the world we are looking at. Could being in love cause mother nature’s metamorphosis to appear more magical? Does sharing awestruck moments reveal a couple’s capacity for wonder and surprise? Can awestruck moments serve as markers to the sacredness of time and life? Sharing awestruck moments with the Perfect Stranger reminded me of our beginning and mother nature’s role in the ever-developing story of us.


On a personal level, mother nature feels like the family I never had. She has been present for every adult birthday, seasonal holiday, personal milestone, heartaches, heartbreaks, and professional achievements. Mother Nature fills the void of not having family. Having no direct experience of going home for the holidays or sharing holidays with family members leaves me feeling awkward, out-of-place, and downright uncomfortable. Celebrating seasonal holidays in a traditional way feels very foreign. I do not feel the same happiness or joy that others seem to be experiencing. It’s no wonder I have opted to spend holidays backpacking or camping. I’m with family and it’s familiar. For this reason, sharing adventure trips with the Perfect Stranger is sacred to me. I’m taking her home to meet the family!

Under the watchful eye of Shadow, the Perfect Stranger carefully navigated her way down to a rocky outcropping.

Standing guard, Shadow disapprovingly watched as the Perfect Stranger ventured down the canyon wall towards the precipice.


Standing on the edge of the world, the Perfect Stranger, the love of my life, found herself in an awestruck moment. Captured in her natural habitat, these moments bridged the distance between the remoteness of the landscape and the connection I felt to her.

Awestruck moments require connection with mother nature as opposed to the conquering narrative we have manifested in our minds. Does this sense of conquer originate from within? Mountain climbers frequently describe the physical and mental struggles endured in summit attempts.  Does the internalized sense of struggle and the intense feeling of accomplishment evolve into a conquering state of mind? Is it ignorance or arrogance that fuels our sense of conquer? Perhaps a connection to the planet reveals one’s vulnerability to self and others.

Returning to camp, the Perfect Stranger, Shadow, and I ate a light dinner while patiently waiting for the sun to set. Outside of the gentle breeze, the world felt remarkably still.


For the next hour,  the Perfect Stranger and I bathed in the pink, orange, and purple hues that painted the Monument Valley skyline. There was no one here, it was the off-season; a time when solitude can be found.


In the final twilight minutes before darkness, mother nature saturated the sky with brush strokes of pink and purple. Mother nature’s canvas was complete, signaling the end of our day.

After surviving a cold windy night, I was happy to get up and share my morning coffee with the sandstone buttes in the distance.

Twenty-four hours ago, the Perfect Stranger, Shadow, and I were exploring the dirt back roads of Monument Valley. This morning, I had a base camp with a view.

In a few hours, we would be leaving a state park that possesses the greatest example of an entrenched meander in North America. A state park that resides at the end of a highway. A state park that many a road tripper has unknowingly and unwillingly driven by. A state park without hiking trails, shade, or water. A state park that allows you to dance on the edge of the world.