May 2010 Utah Spectacular


Captain Leisure
Site Team
Nov 10, 2005
Eugene, Oregon
The plan was to meet Simimike and Stew at the San Rafael Swell on Monday the 17th for some canyonlands exploration. I've driven to Utah many times and to break up the monotony of the drive I usually try to find a new route between Oregon and Utah. Jarbidge is an old mining town in a very remote mountain range near the border of Idaho and Nevada (on the Nevada side). The main access road is from the Idaho side - the road running south from Jarbidge is a high mountain road open in the summer only. I had hoped to make a loop through here but it's too early in the year so I decided to go ahead and do an out and back to Jarbidge on my way to Utah.

Stop one - Salmon Creek Falls Reservoir - there is a decent BLM campground here:


From here its down into the Owyhee Canyonlands - a place that warrants a lot more exploration


There are a lot of great campgrounds down here and I believe they were all free.
Then up the canyon to Jarbidge. Jarbidge is an old minin town turned popular hunter's outpost. These are some very remote mountains and I'm going to have to take a trip out here in the summer when the roads open up. The citizens of Jarbidge were very friendly. One guy opened an old historic building for me to check out and another invited me into his home and burned a CD for me that contained almost 100 historic images of the town. I even got free coffee out of the deal!


The next part of my trip was to be the Pony Express trail - over 100 miles of dirt roads in NW Utah just south of the Dugway Proving Grounds. As the name implies, this road follows the route of the old Pony Express trail. The PTE starts in the ghost town of Gold Hill, Utah. In the desert west of Gold Hill there is plenty of open space to set up camp:

Gold Hill:
The Pony Express Trail for the most part is a very easy (but long) dirt road. However, the west end of it is in the mountains and it was quite muddy when I was there. Clay mud - the bad kind. I almost didn't make it. The PTE has numerous trail markers and historic station remains.


The campground at Simpson Springs is pretty nice but I was in for quite a surprise after I setup there. It turns out that the valley directly below the campground is an artillery range in the adjacent Dugway Proving grounds. They were shooting off rounds all afternoon until darkness set in at about 8:30. After I was surprised by the first few explosions, I realized that most of the campers had binoculars or telescopes with them. Apparently watching artillery rounds explode was THE activity at this campground :)


After PTE I dropped by my bro's place in Salt Lick City for a short visit, then off to San Rafael Swell! First stop is the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry


5 or 6 miles beyond the quarry is a spot called The Jump which is a dead end in a box canyon that was used by ranchers to run cattle to the lower canyon. This is a fabulous primitive camping spot. On Saturday night I was the only one there and there is very little trash in the area.
On my way to meet the guys at exit 131 on I70, I drove the Buckhorn Wash trail. Wedge Overlook is a 6 mile side trip but is well worth the drive. There is developed and primitive camping at the Wedge (see Wedge page for more details on camping)


Buckhorn Wash Pictograph Panel


The pictographs were really neat but even after extensive restoration there was still visible evidence of graffiti and vandalism which is pretty infuriating. Friends don't let friends be rednecks.
I camped that night at San Rafael Bridge Campground - another good place to camp:


There are a lot of primitive sites in Buckhorn Draw to the west of this campground if you are looking to save a few bucks.

So I got myself into a bit of a pickle here. I found that I had left my awning extender thingy at my campsite in Idaho. I found that it was fairly easy to open the awning by turning the extender whatchemecalit by hand. BIG MISTAKE. Since the awning is spring loaded reversing this process by hand was virtually impossible. It seemed nothing would fit into the eye of the whatchemecalit in a way that would allow it to be turned adequately. I was stuck at the campground with my awning out.

Well lucky for me I had put nuts on my turnbuckles. I don't know what I would have done otherwise:
I successfully rendezvoused with Stew and the decision was made to head down to Capitol Reef to drive the Cathedral Valley loop. The loop consists of Hartnet Road and Caineville Wash Road. The Hartnet side of the loop starts with a ford of the Fremont River and we thought it a good idea to drive that first to verify the ford could be made.



Entering the Bentonite Hills:

These hills were pretty spectacular but unfortunately the light was really bad this day and capturing them in a photo was difficult.

Entering Capitol Reef National Park by the back door:
Glass mountain - this is a mound of large, pure gypsum crystals:

Temple of the Sun and Moon, Glass Mountain lower right:
After completing the Cathedral Valley loop, we decided to head south on Notom Road and setup camp at the Cedar Mesa Campground. This is also a free backcountry campground but is much easier to access than Cathedral Valley CG, so it was pretty full. We squeezed 3 trucks into one spot:

The boyz:
We popped into Deer Creek Campground just to give it a look and discovered the world's largest cottonwood tree:

At the intersection of the Burr Trail road and highway 12, in the town of Boulder, there is a restauraunt called the Burr Trail Cafe - THIS IS A MUST STOP! I was blown away by the food here. Some of the best I have ever had. Serious chefy stuff going on here.

With our Burr Trail adventure complete, we decided to hit the Devil's Backbone loop west of Boulder:

The Devil's Backbone Bridge was amazing - it spanned the jagged intersection of two canyons and there was nothing but amazing canyon views on both sides.
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