Sunday, May 7, 2017

Moab to Jensen, UT the Long Way Around

Oy! It was a tiring day.  For a 238 mile drive, it felt much longer!  We went the long way around because of what we read in the Mountain West Directory about CO 139 which is the gray line.  There are 15 mph switchbacks and really steep grades on CO 139 which goes over Douglas Pass.  Then we read reviews on the web about peoples’ brakes catching on fire, and etc., so we went via 191.

moab to jensen

The first portion of the drive up UT191 is just delightful.  The pavement was good and the scenery was sublime.


But you knew that couldn’t last, right?  This is the right turn just after Helper.  Jim just read something on wikipedia about traffic tickets being a major source of income for the city of Helper, so watch your speed.  Anyway, it was a small sign and the navigator’s attention was diverted.  Fortunately the map was read and the turn was made.  There is some sort of road work being done there, since it was Sunday, no one was on the job. 

Helper got its name because it’s where the trains going through the area to Soldier Summit in the steam era picked up helper engines.  The grade required extra power.


It’s two lanes and climbs steadily.


At Indian Canyon Pass (9,114 feet) you come around the corner and see this.  It was pretty spectacular.


Then you see this.


There’s about two and a half miles of curving eight percent descent, followed by a few miles of six percent.  Then it becomes about three percent.  The road surface deteriorates significantly after you start down the hill.  It was a tedious drive.


Once you’re in the valley again, there is a surprising amount of pumping oil.  Apparently there are many wells in the Book Cliffs area, with the industry wanting to pave more roads and sink more wells.  Local hunters and environmentalists are not in favor of this.  Apparently the prong horn population has suffered from the current level of development.

I do not know what to say about this.


Why are we in Jensen you wonder?  We’re here to visit Dinosaur National Monument, and hopefully to do some road bike riding.  I’m supposed to go back to Grand Junction on the 16th to see the ear guy.  Plan A had been to drive back the way we came and stay at the KOA in Grand Junction again.  That plan was tabled today.  We would have to drive the stretch between Duchesne and Helper again, which would be worse in the other direction, and we don’t ever plan to drive it again at all, period.  So now Plan B is to try to find an ear guy in the Salt Lake area or Boise.  Plan C is to drive the short way to Grand Junction (CO 139) and do it as a day trip in the pickup truck. 

We’re watching the wind pick up and rain is developing off to the east.  There’s a weather advisory that includes the word “hail.”  We’re hoping it misses us.


  1. I did a post back in 2011 entitled the never again road. Yep CO 139. I didn't have the Mountain West Directory so we went for it. It was horrible. However, I would drive it in the pickup if we had to.

    1. I went through your archives and found that post. I can see why you would not return to that road. Congratulations on completing it.

  2. We had a good time in Vernal a couple of years ago. There is some great hiking and mtb biking as well as dinosaur tracks at Red Fleet State Park. I would recommend checking it out. We took the truck and fifth wheel and drove from Vernal to Grand Junction/Fruita via Rangely via 139 and yes there were a few tough/steep/curvy spots, but as long as we went slow it wasn't that bad.

    1. Thanks for the state park tip. We're planning to go there, when we're not dealing with RV weirdness.

  3. We approached Jensen from the west (Hwy 40), and I don't recall it being bad. I don't like those steep inclines or declines either, in the motorhome. You definitely made the right decision in taking the long way 'round. I hope you get some good weather; we loved the road cycling there. Are you staying in the campground in the park? If so, we were in site 13, a very nice spot!

    1. Hwy 40 is reasonably flat. Hwy 191 between Helper and Duchesne gains and loses about 5,000 feet. Once we got on Hwy 40 in Duchesne, it flattened out.

  4. We've driven that stretch of 139 between Vernal and Fruita twice. We just unhook the car so I can drive it, and Jim drives the Lazy Daze. We don't remember it being that bad, but then you are much longer!
    Good hiking in Dinosaur NM. Not sure about the biking. It's a pretty area.

    1. I think we're going to take the pickup over it on the 16th and go back to Grand Junction. It'll be a long day, but I kind of want to see the same ear guy.

  5. I don't know, maybe 10 years back we drove to Seattle and back from Houston going a different route each way. we went through Moab and spent some few days in the area. very stark and red and gorgeous.