Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Burr Trail

Henry Mtns in background, from Boulder Mtn on Highway 12
Highway 12 from Boulder to Escalante in southern Utah is considered to be the most scenic highway in all of Utah.  We have to cross Boulder Mountain (so named for the black, volcanic boulders strewn across the mountain) at about 9,600 feet and, because of the recent snow storm, parts of the highway at the top are still snow-covered.  We didn't get any snow in Capitol Reef National Park where we waited out the storm, but there is snow at higher elevations and the surrounding mountains are snow-capped.  Besides crossing the pass in the mountain, we also have to wind down the "Hogback", a high, narrow ridge with steep drops into white-rock canyons on either side.  The views are incredible!

The Burr Trail is a mostly paved road heading east from Scenic Highway 12 in the town of Boulder, Utah.  After some 50 or 60 miles, it becomes a good dirt road that enters Capitol Reef National Park and descends the Waterpocket Fold in a series of switchbacks - the same road that we drove up a week ago.  At the bottom, it meets the Notom-Bullfrog Road which takes you either north to Highway 24 or south to Lake Powell at the Bullfrog Marina.

We camp in a large parking area along the Burr Trail only about 5 miles from Highway 12 in Boulder (a town of only 200 people! with no cell phone signal for my internet connection) and just inside the boundary of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  This rugged and remote national treasure is a huge area spanning almost 1.9 million acres in southern Utah and was the last place in the continental U.S. to be mapped.  Grady loves our campsite as we are alongside a very sandy wash, and everyone knows how much cats love sand.  We take him out each day for a walk, and he runs up and down the wash at top speed like a little kid.  We are surrounded by tall ponderosa pine trees (about 50 to 60 feet tall) as well as the shorter cedar bushes (about 10 to 15 feet tall), and white slickrock rising a couple of hundred feet in all directions.  The Burr Trail is home to an "open range" meaning cattle wander freely with the occasional cattle guard - flat metal tubes that cross the road so that vehicles can travel the road, but cattle can't cross them - dotting the road.  Thankfully, cattle move slowly - or not at all - as we often encounter herds standing on the road.  We also see plenty of mule deer along the road, and knowing that they move much faster than cows, we are sure to drive slowly and carefully.

Driving through Long Canyon on the Burr Trail
Long Canyon along the Burr Trail is one of the most spectacular drives we have taken.  The road winds between towering red cliffs on either side, perhaps only 100 feet apart and about 300 feet high.  The lighting in the canyon is very dramatic, with the sun shining on one side of the cliff, reflecting its red-orange colour onto the other side, saturating the red-orange colour of these opposite cliffs.  The red sandstone is also full of water pockets typically referred to as "Swiss cheese" as this is exactly what it resembles.  Again, the forces of water in action!  We happen along Long Canyon Slot, a sliver opening in the north wall leading back several hundred feet.  We look up the narrow walls at the end and can see the indigo Utah sky.  But the best is yet to be seen - when we turn around and face the slot opening we just walked up - our mouths gape and our hearts flutter.  The sun is not only lighting up the red walls at the entrance to the slot, but naked trees in the wash are glimmering in the light against the red rock background of the cliff across the canyon.  The site is very spiritual.  The camera gets a workout today!
Brad in Long Canyon Slot

We drive the Burr Trail to the Long Canyon Overlook which sits atop a valley stretching to the east and the Waterpocket Fold, which doesn't look as spectacular from this angle (looking at the top of the Fold) as it does from the Strike Valley Overlook which is on the edge of the Fold looking east into the Waterpocket inside Capitol Reef National Park.  However, the view of the valley between here and the top of the Fold is lovely with its red gravel rolling hills dotted with green sage and pinion or juniper pines.

Driving through Horse Canyon
Just as spectacular is the drive through Horse Canyon from the Wolverine Loop Road accessed from the Burr Trail.  This is a 4x4 road with some soft sand and icy-covered spots (it was water, but the nights have been very cold!), but was easily passable in our 4WD truck.  At first, the canyon is wide but narrows as we go further, with 500-foot red rock walls strangely carved by wind and water.

Brad with petrified wood in Little Death Hollow
At the end of this 12 mile road, we follow the wash to Little Death Hollow, the next canyon to the east.  In the wash, which isn't dry in Horse Canyon and is only partly dry in Little Death Hollow, we find scattered remnants of petrified wood.  These ancient trees have been mineralized over millions of years, as water deposits various red, green, white or yellow-coloured minerals into every cell of the dead tree.  The result is a tree trunk or branch that looks like a rock, or is it a rock that looks like a tree trunk or branch?  Either way, these are beautiful - and they're ALL OVER!  Some are very large, weighing 40 or 50 pounds.  No collecting is allowed as we are on federal land, and it's hard to leave such beautiful specimens where we find them.

We are slowly making our way across southern Utah, unarguably our favourite state.  Its beauty and serenity are unsurpassed, and we will stay as long as the weather permits us.

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