Factory Butte Badlands is a little-known moon-like terrain northwest of Hanksville, Utah. We’d never heard of it before, despite having overnighted in the area at least four separate times. Worse yet, we learned about it from a German tourist who said “You must go. Words cannot describe!” When I asked a few locals about it, none had been there. I guess it's the same as not going to your local museum and thinking you’ll get to it someday.
The quickest way to get to the badlands is to turn on to Factory Butte Road (aka Factory Butte Bench) off of Utah-24, west of Hanksville. I say “quickest” because the road connects to Wild Horse Road to the north which can be accessed near Goblin Valley State Park (north of Hanksville on UT-95). The road to the dominant feature in the area, Factory Butte, is hard-packed clay/gravel and is drivable by any vehicle. About 10 miles in, though, a 4x4 moderate-clearance vehicle is highly recommended. Regardless of your vehicle, do not enter if it’s wet. Doing so could be costly.
Factory Butte rises over 6300 feet and sits amid a gray, stark, barren landscape that somehow manages to produce enough vegetation for open range cattle. The butte, so-named for its resemblance to a wool factory, is located in an area known as the Upper Blue Hills. A part of the Mancos Shale formation, the top of the buttes are made of erosion-resistant, yellowish Emery sandstone and underneath is gray, eroding Blue Gate shale that are forming skirt-like alluvial fans around the perimeter of the butte.
Beyond Factory Butte, though, are the real gems! The road comes unexpectedly to a T and you have the choice of going left or right (going straight would be deadly). Both offer distinctly different visuals, so, go crazy, and choose both! To the right there are more “wool mill” buttes scattered across the desert floor, with the San Rafael Swell in the background. To the left are multi-colored badlands reminiscent of northwest New Mexico and Artists Drive in Death Valley, again with the Swell peeking out behind the undulating badlands. Around every turn there’s another surprise that makes you want to continue further.
Please note that there are two endangered species of cacti found here, so stick to the established roads or get out and explore on foot. Also, there are no facilities in the area (other than a porta-potty located about 5 miles from UT-24) and there’s little-to-no cell service, so prepare appropriately.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.