McKay Flat and Hondu Arch Backway
Southern Utah’s topography was laid over millions and millions of years then exposed and re-sculped over millions more. About 60 million years ago, near what is Green River today, a layer of rock buried deep beneath this area faulted, meaning the rock layer shifted up toward the surface, causing the surrounding rock layers to bend around it in a dome-like shape. This whole dome shape, called an anticline, is now part of the vast geologic phenomenon known as the San Rafael Swell. In short, it’s a rugged and striking place you have to see with your eyes and hike with your feet to understand. Once you do, it could become a sacred place you return to frequently, future devotees in your wake.
The San Rafael Swell, however, is an enormous geologic feature, located on 2,000 square miles of BLM land slightly southeast of the center of Utah. The Swell is bisected by Interstate 70; otherwise, it hardly contains a trace of man. It is a vast, open, remote landscape dotted by the mesas and rock towers that are the quintessential formations of the Utah desert. Explore it up close on the network of roads south of I-70 within the Swell, like McKay Flat and Hondu Arch Roads.
To get to McKay Flat Road and then to Hondu Arch Road — which leads to the impressive Hondu natural arch on the west side of the southern Swell — take Temple Mountain Road (Exit 131 off of I-70). There will be several junctions with smaller roads along the way — stay on the main road. After about 10 miles you’ll reach the junction of Heart of Sinbad Road, where you will continue west. About 3.5 miles later, you will reach McKay Flat Road. From here, it is 18 miles to the Hondu Arch. Continue south until McKay Flat Road intersects with Hondu Arch Road, which you will take to the west.
The journey will take you past fierce, beautiful landscapes with rock towers, mesas, and arches that expose the colorful rock layers of the Swell, from the limestone and sandstone of the Permian, to the shale and mudstone of the Cretaceous. You will also pass by one old uranium mine before reaching a stunning view of the Hondu (also spelled “Hondoo”) Arch, a keyhole formation at the road’s end.
When they are in good condition these roads are fit for passenger cars — but check out the current conditions and the weather report before you go because storms can render them impassable. Remember that if something goes wrong you could be a long way from help: make sure your car is running well, that you’ve got a full tank of gas, and bring a good map. Also, watch out for grazing cattle (sometimes they hang out on the roads). Otherwise, enjoy the seemingly otherworldly scenes of the Swell — as well as the solitude of the desert.
GPS Coordinates: 38.708545, -110.866661