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Photograph by Max Lowe

Utah by Dirt: The Ultimate Adventure Road Trip

Follow along as we chase dirt trails, ride the red-water rapids of the Colorado River, and explore hidden canyons in Escalante on our Utah by Dirt adventure. Follow along with the hashtag #UTbyDirt.

The looming sandstone towers obscured the entire northern skyline from where we had parked and were now setting up camp. We found ourselves under a dark night sky streaked with clouds that stretched out like long white fingers, painting the desert landscape around us with shifting moon shadows. Setting our tents up on what level ground there was within the undulating landscape of dirt and small scrub, we schemed on what was to come over the next few weeks.

Joined by my three friends skier/mountain biker Carston Oliver, skier Kalen Thorien, and mountain biker/filmmaker Joey Schusler, we would traverse the deserts of southern Utah, seeking out adventures inspired by and accessed from dirt roads. Starting here under the crumbling sandstone Book Cliffs outside of the small town of Green River, we would explore the state—mountain biking the White Rim Trail, rafting the frigid runoff of the Colorado, and finally exploring canyons in Escalante to end our journey—and all traveling by as many back roads and dirt trails as we could find.

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Joey Schusler looks on at the fluted spines of the Book Cliffs on the teams first night in the Utah desert; Photograph by Max Lowe

Once our camp was set with sleeping bags laid out and bikes prepared for the next day’s ride, which would be on the fluted spines running a thousand feet off the sides of the cliff face above us, we retired. Lying in my warm sleeping bag, staring up through the mesh of our tent as the desert night came to life around us in the sounds of crickets, distant thunder, and the smell of wet sage, I took a deep breath. Escape is what we sought here in the wilder side country of Utah’s deserts, a land of stark sky and red earth, where the life is hidden within the sage, juniper, and fleeting rain storms. A land where dirt is the theme, and the story to be told by that dirt is vast.

Up Next: Mountain Biking on the White Rim Trail

The Adventurists blog series “Utah by Dirt” is sponsored by Toyota 4Runner, which provided vehicle for this adventure.

Follow us on Instagram at @NatGeoAdventure!


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Max Lowe

Max Lowe‘s adventures are rooted in photography and storytelling. A National Geographic Young Explorer Grantee and Bozeman native who grew up in a family at the heart of the outdoor industry, Max dabbles in most outdoor adventure sports. Recent excursions have taken him from skiing Denali to surfing Sumatra. Three of his short films have been screened at Mountainfilm in Telluride. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic Adventure. See his last series for The Adventurists, including Exploring the Cold Coast, Navigating Baja, and Montana by Dirt. Follow @max.lowe on Instagram.

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Carston Oliver

Carston Oliver is a skier, mountain biker, and general lover of the outdoors. Many of his adventures over the years have landed in the pages of publications like Bike, Powder, Decline, the Ski Journal, Skiing, Outside, Backcountry, and others. He has also appeared in award-winning films by Sweetgrass Productions and National Geographic’s Extreme Photo of the Week. Follow @carstonoliver on Instagram.

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Joey Schulser

Joey Schusler is a professional mountain biker, photographer, and filmmaker from Boulder, Colorado, who has been a passionate member of the mountain biking industry for more than a decade. His skill set spans a vast range, from placing in the top ten at an Enduro World Series round to creating award-winning adventure films to having photos inked in the pages of Bike, Outside, and National Geographic’s Extreme Photo of the Week. Joey’s career is straying farther away from mountain bike racing and in the direction of bigger and wilder adventures to the far corners of the globe—with a camera always in hand. Joey is also a passionate backcountry skier. Follow @joeyschusler on Instagram.

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Kalen Thorien

Kalen Thorien a professional skier and adventurer based out of Salt Lake City, Utah. Before she gained professional status, Kalen worked odd seasonal jobs from washing dishes and flipping burgers at Alta Ski Resort to fighting wildland fires in the summer. From the cover of Powder Magazine to articles in Outside, her dream started to come to life and as she was able to pursue a skiing career year-round. Last summer Kalen shifted focus, bought a camera, and set out on every trail imaginable. From packrafting the Selway River to canyoneering through the Grand Canyon, a world of multi-sport opportunity presented itself! Now her time is split between winter ski missions and summer adventures, all with the focus of being human-powered. Follow @kalenthorien on Instagram.