Visit the Tar Sands

Directions

The Southern Route Up East Canyon: 

*This road can be tough to navigate if extreme rain or snow is present. It’s got a short section that is steep and at least 5 small stream crossings. If it’s wet, go up Hay canyon which is steeper, but not in a creek bed. If the weather is good or the ground is frozen, go up East Canyon (less steep washboard).

  1. From Moab or Grand Junction, take exit 227 off of Interstate 70 near the Utah/Colorado border on the Utah side and head West/North. (If you’re coming from Colorado that will be a right turn off the exit; if you are coming from Utah, it will be a left turn off the exit)
  2. Turn Right on Old Highway 6 and go 2 miles
  3. Turn left and go about 6 miles until you come to a T in the road.
  4. Turn left at the T and continue going northwest (the pavement ends)
  5. Pass a ranch.
  6. Take a Right at the sign for East Canyon (right after ranch, six miles past the T)
  7. Follow this road for about 16 miles up to the ridge top.
  8. Near the top, take a Left on Bookcliffs Ridge Road and follow for roughly 6.6 miles.
  9. Stay straight (right) at the three way intersection onto Seep Ridge Road.
  10. Go 1/3 of a mile and turn right at the horse corral. Veer left and take “the low road” to the BLM-managed PR Springs campground just 1.5 miles further.
  11. **The actual tar sands mine is just a few miles further on Seep Ridge Road (before you turn off at the coral).

The Southern Route Up Hay Canyon: 

  1. From Moab or Grand Junction, take exit 227 off of Interstate 70 near the Utah/Colorado border on the Utah side and head West/North. (If you’re coming from Colorado that will be a right turn off the exit; if you are coming from Utah, it will be a left turn off the exit)
  2. Turn Right on Old Highway 6 and go 2 miles
  3. Turn left and go about 6 miles until you come to a T in the road.
  4. Turn left at the T and continue going northwest (the pavement ends)
  5. Pass a ranch.
  6. At the sign for East Canyon (six miles past T), stay to the left/forward for Hay Canyon.
  7. Stay on the main road for another 15 miles. (Very shortly after E. Canyon, you’ll hit a fork in the road with a sign for Middle Canyon, and again head left/forward for Hay Canyon. You will be taking a road up the side of the canyon toward the ridge.)
  8. At the top of the hill there is a 4 way intersection, take a  right on Book Cliffs Ridgeline Road. After 9 miles or so, you’ll hit a T in the road.
  9. Turn left onto Seep Ridge Road (a big signed intersection).
  10. Go 1/3 of a mile and turn right at the horse corral. Veer left and take “the low road” to the BLM-managed PR Springs campground just 1.5 miles further.
  11. **The actual tar sands mine is just a few miles further on Seep Ridge Road (before you turn off at the coral).

The Northern Route:

  1. From Salt Lake City, head east on I-80 and exit 146 to Highway 40. Drive through Heber and Duchesne to Roosevelt, about 143 miles. If you get to Vernal, you went too far.
  2. At 200 North in Roosevelt, you have to take a right to continue on Highway 40, go another 16 miles.
  3. Turn right/south on Highway 88 (note, if you are coming from Colorado, you would be turning left/south from Highway 40 to Highway 88).
  4. Drive about 60 miles south on Seep Ridge Road.
  5. Turn left at the horse corral and stay to the left/take “the low road” down to the BLM-managed PR Springs Campground just 1.5 miles further.

Look at a Google Map of the norther route.

Geography

Our usual camp areas and the tar sands test pit are on the East Tavaputs Plateau in an area known as PR Springs. The southern and western faces of the East and West Tavaputs plateaus form what are known as the Book Cliffs.

The closest towns to PR Springs are:

  • Loma (Grand Junction): 58 miles.
  • Roosevelt: 94 miles
  • Green River: 112 miles
  • Thompson Springs: 87 miles (gas station only)

The terrain is a combination of sage-swept, high-plateau flat lands interrupted by tree-packed canyons bursting with Douglas firs, spruce, quaking aspens and so much more.

The lands we traverse are mostly owned by the public and managed by the BLM (federal government) and SITLA (state government) and both are free to be used for recreation purposes. The BLM manages a well-water pump and campground in the area that was originally constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Bathrooms, Water, Electricity, Cell Phones

There are no toilets.  We bury our waste. There is no electricity.

There is a well-water spigot of potable water at PR Springs campground.

Cell service is very spotty. Verizon works the best but still not well; AT&T occasionally gets some service but can not really be relied upon.

Roads and Vehicles

Most all vehicles can make it to PR Springs safely but good tires are important and spare tires a necessity. You do not need a four-wheel drive or high-clearance vehicle, however.

Many roads are pretty rough and unpaved. Be prepared for potholes and use moderate speed. Many roads off the beaten path are rougher than the main roads.

Dirt roads become very muddy quickly after rain or snow and may become impassable for many vehicles. 

The Northern Route to PR Springs is mostly paved while the Southern Route is mostly dirt road; the Southern Route also gains elevation faster than the Northern Route making it, overall, the more challenging route for your vehicle.

Respect for Wildlife (& pets)

Animals present include wild turkeys, elk, deer, coyotes, black bears, mountain blue birds, grouse, a number of hawks and so much more. There are also livestock cows.

This is BEAR COUNTRY–do not be afraid but take basic precautions. The American Bear Association says bears are “Nervous, shy, easily frightened – can cause serious injury if startled, cornered, or provoked. … Usually prefers to avoid humans.” Bears love human food and have superior senses of smell. Bear safety tips includes hanging or keeping all food items in cars when not in use and avoiding fragrant cosmetics. We’ve  encountered friendly foraging bears at PR Springs. They have been scared away numerous times by yelling and waving sticks. Occasionally, we’ve had to throw sticks and rocks at them.  If you encounter a bear on the trail, put your hands over your heard to look bigger and back away slowly–do not run. Bear spray is a plus. Cars have been broken into by bears at PR Springs, so hang your food.

Do not feed wildlife or livestock.

Dogs are welcome on the East Tavaputs Plateau off-leash. However, there is abundant deer, elk, cows and more that may prompt your dog to terrorize and take chase. If your dog can be trusted to stay close and is friendly with all people and all other dogs, feel free to bring them.

Leave No Trace

We are all responsible to pack out the waste generated by whatever we have packed in.

We try to leave the land in the condition we found it or better. That means leaving campsites and hiking trails free of any sign that you were there. It’s best to camp and hike on grounds and on trails that have already been impacted by  use rather than trample new spaces. Sadly, huge portions of PR Springs have been impacted by the fossil fuel industry–for roads, drill pads and more–and often our relatively light touch is imperceptible in the fray.

However, there are also vast stretches of wilderness lands that show little or no signs of human influence, development or exploitation. Regardless of the context, it’s important to strive to leave zero impact on our wild surroundings.

Read the The Leave No Trace Seven Principles.

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