The Moki Dugway

I’ve been traveling out west for the past week and will have many photos and stories to share about my time in New Mexico and Arizona; however, I had some downtime in Gallup and wanted to share one particular event from yesterday’s time on the road.

Thursday morning, we departed from Monument Valley on the Arizona/Utah border, planning to head due east towards Four Corners.  Our guide from the sunrise tour of the valley (photos from which I can’t wait to share later!) recommended an alternate route a little north into Utah, through Mexican Hat and Bluff.  He said it was a lot more scenic.  That appealed to us, so we altered our route as we left.  Since my data signal was a luxury throughout the Navajo reservation, I couldn’t map it on my phone…but it was easy enough to follow along Highway 163.

Not far down the road, we had another choice.  Muley Point, a beautiful canyon overlook spot, was now within range.  Although I was indecisive about taking yet another detour that would add time to the day’s trip, Samantha was very encouraging.  Why not stop and see it since we were here?  I agreed, and we diverted from Hwy 163 to State Hwy 261.  The landscape surrounding us was stunning, as it had been throughout this part of the country.


We seemed to be getting closer to a mesa, and soon enough it looked like the road we were on was carved through it.  There were many signs alerting us to the fact that the road ahead was gravel and narrow, but we didn’t think much of it.  Sam’s Nissan was plenty good on that kind of road.  Then we saw very low mph warnings and a sign about multiple switchbacks.  We realized that this road didn’t go THROUGH the mesa; it snaked upwards.

The Moki Dugway is 3 mile long serpentine road at a 10% grade up the side of Cedar Mesa.  It was constructed in the late 1950s as a way to haul uranium ore from a nearby mine.  I couldn’t imagine driving a big truck down the narrow lane, as it was taxing enough to navigate the twists and turns in our sedan.  I kept both hands on the wheel and leaned forward the whole way, taking great care not to glance out the window.  My fear of heights had been kept in check throughout the trip but it was threatening to return with a vengeance.

dsc05553Samantha, however, did not have the luxury of focused driving to keep her attention.  I could hear her noises of anxiety as we rose higher into the sky, only a few feet away from the steep dugway dropoff.  Her fear of heights is even greater than mine.  She was a trooper, though, and took photos through her window and the windshield as we drove, knowing I couldn’t look.

I stopped once, at a nice wide turn blocked on the cliff-side by a giant boulder.  I took a few photos, marveled at the great distance below me, and hopped back in the car.  We passed a few vehicles as they came down; each time, I felt the cold sweat on my brow amplify.  At one point, a land rover PASSED me going up!  I was driving the speed limit, but maybe they live around here and it’s no big deal.


When we finally arrived at the top, we breathed a big sigh of relief.  We were so relieved, in fact, that I missed the turn-off for Muley Point.  By the time I realized we had missed it, we were a dozen miles down the road.  I decided I would have to see that canyon another day.  It was not the adventure we were expecting, but an adventure nonetheless.

2 thoughts on “The Moki Dugway

  1. We approached from the other direction, thus having the luxury of driving DOWN the dugway. We had gotten directions from a gas station owner in Hanksville. He told us about Muley Point. His directions?
    “Drive down the road until you hit gravel. You’ll see a sign that sez STEEP GRADE, then a sign that sez DANGEROUS SWITCHBACKS, that’s where you DRIVE OFF THE ROAD a few miles out to Muley Point.”

    I suffer from high driving anxiety and I am SOOOOO happy we drove down the Dugway, rather than up it.

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