Canyon Tales: Opening the Wasatch Back

Our new home in Ogden is about a mile and a half as the crow flies from the mouth of Ogden Canyon.  The canyon is a gash through the mountains from the Wasatch Front (where Utahns live) to the Wasatch Back (where we play).  Snowbasin Ski Area is on the back.  Pineview Reservoir is there, too.  It’s beautiful wide-open country, a big part of the reason people like me have been heading west for over two hundred years now.

The shaded area is Ogden Canyon. Our house is the yellow star. I'm not an impartial observer.

The highlighted area is Ogden Canyon. Our house is the yellow star. I’m not an impartial observer in this.  I have skin in the game.  Lots of skin.

From my perspective, though, the most important thing on the backside of the Wasatch Range is a whole lot of nothing.  There are literally thousands of miles of lightly traveled two lane roads that extend all the way across eastern Utah into Wyoming, Montana, the Dakotas, and on to Minnesota before they run into a city of any size.  Needless to say, I plan to explore and ride back there.  Maybe I’ll get lost.  That would be cool.

The mouth of Ogden Canyon backlit by sunrise. You can see the road if you look closely. This is narrow and tight. That's actually a water pipeline hanging over the road. It's a credit to UDOT that they're incorporating active transportation elements here.

The mouth of Ogden Canyon backlit by sunrise. You can see the road if you look closely. This is narrow and tight. That’s actually a water pipeline hanging over the road. It’s a credit to UDOT that they’re incorporating active transportation elements here.

The mouth of Ogden Canyon from above. Downtown Ogden is to the left of 12th Street in the upper left hand corner of the image.

The mouth of Ogden Canyon looking down the canyon from above. Downtown Ogden is to the left of 12th Street in the upper left hand corner of the image.

But first I have to get there and I can’t…at least not yet.  The narrow mouth of Ogden Canyon is a chokepoint.  There’s no safe bicycle route.  Big yellow warning signs advise cyclists not to risk it, though I think it’s totally legal.  There’s a marathon that runs down the canyon.  The Tour of Utah goes there, too. It’s extremely dangerous, though…a tight, twisty canyon road full of cars, trucks, tourists, texting, alcohol, drugs, high speeds and heavy metal.  No, thank you.  I prefer a little better odds…even if they’re not totally on my side.

Fortunately, this is about to change.  The Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) has put together a study and plan for Ogden Canyon that includes active transportation components.  In fact, active transportation is an  integral part of the plan rather than some worthless sop to the Greenies as is the case so many other places.

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The top of the canyon opens into some spectacular mountain countryside…the kind of places where you could ride forever.

But UDOT is a state highway department so time moves at a glacial pace in their world.  I want it now.  Fortunately, so does the city of Ogden and Weber County. They’re assembling right of way for a recreational connection as well, so it’s very possible that in the near future there will be a multi use trail plus bike lanes (possibly protected bike lanes) on the road up the canyon.  I like that… a lot.

Years ago, I rode a bicycle over Vail Pass in Colorado.  To this day, it remains one of my most memorable rides.  In fact, the only way it could have possibly been better is if it was my daily commute instead of a once in a lifetime recreational ride.

That’s why I am especially excited about UDOT adding active transportation components to the Ogden Canyon plan.  It tells me they’re serious about active transporation as a solution to the state’s transportation challenges, even in areas where maybe at first glance it doesn’t seem like it should be a high priority.

But it should be a high priority.  UDOTs numbers suggest close to a quarter of a million people will cycle Ogden Canyon every year.  It’s a conduit between the city and some of the most beautiful countryside anywhere. It should be accessible to all road users, whatever sort of vehicle they choose to pilot.

It will be.  By adding active transportation components to this type of roadway, UDOT is challenging the conventional wisdom and moving this discussion to where it needs to move.  That will make it easier for the next state highway department to make a similar move, and that’s a win for everyone involved, regardless of whether they live in Ogden or somewhere else.

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