Moki (Mokee) Dugway, Route 261, Utah


How do you go from a 6,425 foot plateau, to a desert floor 1,100 feet below?  If you were on a nice, wide interstate, you’d probably drop down a long grade, and never even notice.  But that’s not how things are done here in southern Utah.  Nope, in these parts, they end the pavement and cut a crazy dirt road into a mountainside.

The crazy road is known as the Moki Dugway, which takes nervous drivers down the steep edge of Cedar Mesa.  Warnings abound, telling everyone to avoid this part of the highway if they’re driving a big truck or an RV.  They should add an advisory for anyone who likes to have a guardrail in between their tires and a thousand-foot drop.

The Moki Dugway only drops slightly before curving around the point you see in the distance.  The road is wide enough to stop here for some pictures…

… giving you a look at the road, after it reaches the floor.

After that, it’s one switchback after another.  The pictures didn’t turn out great, since in the late afternoon, the sun is in the wrong place.  But you still get the idea…

… no guard rails, combined with lots of twists and turns!

In case you’re wondering about the Moki Dugway’s strange name, here’s the breakdown.  A Dugway is simply a road that is dug out of a mountainside.  “Moki” or “Mokee” comes from the Spanish word “Moqui” — a name given to Indians by Spanish explorers during the 18th century.  The Moki Dugway was built in 1958 by a uranium mining company, to move ore from Fry Canyon (on Utah Route 95) to Mexican Hat (at the southern end of Route 261).

As soon as you get to the bottom of the Moki Dugway, watch for the turn to Valley of the Gods.  The dirt road was unmarked for southbound traffic during my visit in 2009.  You could also continue on to Mexican Hat and Monument Valley, which I visited during my 2004 trip to the area.

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