Letters From a Bus
May 2008: Springtime High Plateau
1st entry for May

Exploring Back Roads Above Casto Canyon

Hatch, UT, Day Seven at Cherokee Springs Golf & RV Park, Site: I-18

Thursday, May 1, 2008 — Eleven Months

Thursday, May 1.  We explore the dirt back roads off Highway 12.
Last night when Dennis took the dogs out to go potty, he said it was trying to snow.  It was so soft and damp that it didn’t stick but it was cold enough for snow.  This morning there is a dusting of snow or frost on the blue camp chairs but snow didn’t stick on the ground.  It is 14° outside.  Today there is no wind and the sun is out so maybe it will feel warmer.  However, there are clouds on the northern horizon and right now it is cold outside.  As a matter of fact, it is cold inside also.  The gas heat is running but we’re only up to 50° inside the bus. 

Today we plan to take the dogs and drive on some of the dirt side roads off of Highway 12.  Dennis wants to go up Redrock Canyon.  Fine with me. 

We had an amazing day driving around on dirt and gravel back roads.  There are so many.  You can’t do this in California.  Most roads are private or if you are on a back road you will see private houses along the way.  Here we could drive as long and as far as we wanted on back roads.  In fact they were designed for ATVs and were marked as such.  And we never once saw another car or ATV on any of the roads.  And we never once saw a private house along the way.  It was remarkable.

Dennis wanted to drive on a dirt road that he saw near Red Canyon so that’s how the idea for our day started.  But first we explored the road above us — Cherokee Springs RV Park.  We made a nine mile round trip in the east hills above us — the Paunsaugunt Plateau.  On the crest just northeast of us is Black Butte at 9,630’ el.  In theory, we knew that a road crossing eastward from our RV location would actually end up at the southern end of Bryce Canyon National Park, because it is due east of us.  There are some ATV dirt roads that run from the little town of Hatch, five miles north of us.  They go east up Proctor Cyn and Shank Creek and Blubber Creek to cross the plateau and then run north/south along the spine of the plateau.  That trail might even have views that look down into the national park. We haven't been up there.

We drove east up Bryce Woodland Rd and found a development with a few houses.  Above that we chose the George Mountain Rd. fork and found some cabins.  Finally we came to a stop on a narrow road that was covered with snow.  We went as high as 7,960’ el.  Dennis backed up and we turned around and came back down.  George Mountain is not on my map.  But our GPS put us at N 73° 31’ 45” & W 112° 24’ 7” and it was listed as being in the small town of Alton, a town that is south of here.

Essentially Cherokee Springs RV Park is in a valley by a creek called Spring Hollow, that runs northwest into the north flowing Sevier River.  Just north of our dirt road exit onto US-89, the northeast flowing Asay Creek descends past Asay Bench in the Dixie National Forest, crosses the road and runs into the Sevier.  Just north of that several other creeks descend from the Paunsaugunt Plateau and run into the Sevier.  The valley north of us is called Big Hollow. 

After this little excursion we went into Hatch and stopped to eat.  It was almost 11:30 and I was hungry.  Bandito recommended Café Adobe so went in.  It was a very cold and very windy day.  I would have been happy to have breakfast in a warm and cozy booth.  We did sit in a booth but it was a rigid wooden one.  The café was dark and so cold that I went back to the car to get my down parka, which I kept on during our meal.  They didn’t serve breakfast and it was hard to wrap my mind around lunch but I finally chose a cappuccino with a portabella sandwich and it was very good.

We drive east up to the Paunsaugunt Plateau behind us on Bryce Woodland Rd. 5/1/08 10:49 a.m. On our way up we spot some deer. 5/1/08 10:55 a.m.
On our way down we see our bus sitting in the middle of an empty RV Park near Bandito's house. A mile away in the distance in US-89. Above is Asay Bench in the Dixie Nat'l. Forest. 5/1/08 11:01 a.m. Right, After lunch in Hatch, heading north , we see a small fire near Hillsdale Cyn just before our turn east on SR-12. It is too windy to be a controlled burn. Winds from the west blow the fire up the canyon. 5/1/08 12:02 p.m.

At noon we set off and from SR-12, we turned north onto a gravel road just before the Red Canyon Visitor’s Center.  We had no idea where we were going or what we would see.  We saw a sign for Casto Canyon so then we had a destination.  Five minutes later we came to Losee Canyon where in a big level turnaround we saw two huge horse trailers from Ruby Inn.  Clearly a horseback riding tour for tourists had set out to ride up that canyon.  Dennis said, “I’m glad I’m not riding a horse today.  The temperature was 34° and it was extremely windy.

We continued eastward and ten minutes later we came to the trailhead of Casto Canyon.  Here we saw a sign with destinations up the Casto Canyon trail: the Fremont Trail in 5.5 miles; the Losee Canyon Trail in 9 miles; and the Red Canyon Trailhead in 13.5 miles.  We figured the horseback riding tour must make a loop along some of these.  From this trailhead, Casto Canyon was a wide, flat, gravel wash.  There were no canyon walls.  But I made a mental note that it must be fairly major and scenic from further north up on the plateau.  We turned around and went back to SR-12 where we turned east.  We drove past Red Canyon and up towards Bryce Canyon National Park.

On Sr-12, Ruby's Inn advertises horseback rides in Red Canyon. 5/1/08 12:03 p.m.
Right now, the bottom of Losee Canyon is a dry wash. 5/1/08 12:26 p.m. At Losee Canyon a sign points us toward Casto Canyon. 5/1/08 12:26 p.m.
Casto Canyon is also a dry wash, but clearly these river beds can carry a lot of water. 5/1/08 12:33 p.m. Casto Canyon is a trailhead for a number of destinations. 5/1/08 12:35 p.m.

Ten minutes later we turned north onto a gravel road in the vicinity of Coyote Hollow and Mud Spring Creek.  This was well marked with several signs.  One told us that it was number 117 National Forest.  Another declared that it was a Great Western Trail — Utah Section and it showed a conestoga wagon.  Is this one of those roads they take on annual westward frontier days?  Another sign either declared we were on Tom’s Best Spring Rd or that we were going to it — wherever that was!  We set out.

Six minutes later we came to Lightning Draw.  Three minutes later a sign identified our road as the Fremont ATV Trail.  Wait a minute!  Didn’t we see a junction for the Fremont trail as being 5.5 miles above the bottom of Casto Canyon?  Landmarks were beginning to link up.

Here at a fork we were faced with choices:  Berry Spring Creek went forward; Cabin Hollow and Casto Canyon turned right (east).  We decided to keep going north and in eight minutes we were stopped at Berry Spring.  Our elevation was 8,000’ exactly.  Our location was N 37° 45’ 47” & W 112° 14’ 22”. 

As we return to SR-12 we see the forest fire ahead of us. 5/1/08 12:51 p.m.
Seven minutes north of SR-12 our gravel road is still easy as we approach a cattle guard. 5/1/08 1:10 p.m. We are on a fairly level plateau at 8,000' el. The temperature is 33 degrees. 5/1/08 1:15 p.m.
Despite the wind and cold it is a beautiful sunny day and the scenery is wonderful. 5/1/08 1:19 p.m. If we turn right we will stay on the Fremont ATV Trail.
5/1/08 1:25 p.m.
We go forward and come to a dry bed called Berry Creek 5/1/08 1:20 p.m. There is moisture somewhere because a black hose runs down the middle of the creek bed. Maybe it goes into a pond or a holding tank for cattle. 5/1/08 1:20 p.m.

We continued north and came to Corral Hollow.  On this high elevation plateau we saw many places for camp grounds. Maybe they are used by those horseback riding tours. It is my favorite kind of camp and hiking environment because I prefer high elevations with views rather than being under evergreen trees with limited views. We let the dogs out to go potty and stretch their legs. Since we've gotten used to letting them run free in Cherokee Springs, we decided to let them be free here. There was no one around to distract them. I am impressed with their responsible behavior. The nose around and play but they don't wander far and they come immediately when called. Of course we keep a close eye on them. It is a calculated risk but they are so happy with their freedom that I think it is worth it.

From Corral Hollow, the road became more narrow and stony and it went uphill on a long narrow bench that bent northeast.  New destinations were: Caslon Canyon: 2 miles and Limekiln Canyon: 9 miles.  Soon the road became too rocky and it was covered with snow. 

We see several large firerings. Perhaps horseback riding tours come up here to camp. 5/1/08 1:23 p.m.
Looking back down the road from Hollow Corral. 5/1/08 1:28 p.m. Rudi and Margot are happy to get out of the car and run around a little bit. 5/1/08 1:28 p.m.
I love this kind of country. I wish I could get on a horse and start riding... 5/1/08 1:29 p.m. The road continues to climb from Corral Hollow. But four minutes above this spot we ran into snow. 5/1/08 1:29 p.m.

With snow on the road, Dennis had to back up until he could turn around.  I said, “Well now I see why one might want to drive an ATV.”

Dennis said, “Oh no.  They don’t have that much fuel and can’t go more than twenty miles.  Besides, isn't it better to ride inside a car where we are warm and comfortable and out of the wind.  What we need is a jeep!”

We went back past Berry Spring to the Cabin Hollow and Casto Canyon fork and took that.  We wanted to see the top of Casto Canyon anyway.  In four minutes we came to Mud Springs Creek.  Mud Springs was one of the few things that we saw that was on my map.  Three minutes later we came to Pat Willis Draw and nine minutes later we came to Spring Creek.  None of these springs or creeks had any water. 

Once again we had a sign presenting us with choices.  We could go forward to Tom Best Spring: 5 miles; or turn left and go to West Hunt Creek: 2 miles; Showalter Creek: 3 miles; and Casto Canyon 4 miles.  We tried for Tom Best Spring but had to turn around in a few minutes and go back to the last junction. 

As we had seen Casto Canyon from the bottom, we were very curious to see it from the top.  So we turned to continue northeast towards Casto Canyon. 

We continue to see signs that we are on the Fremont Trail. 5/1/08 1:55 p.m.
Is that Casto Bluff in the distance? 5/1/08 2:07 p.m. Is the base of these pink cliffs just above SR-12 by Bryce Canyon? 5/1/08 2:09 p.m.

(I was using a map published by the Utah Travel Council called Southwestern Utah. It is quite good and detailed for general purposes but it dosen't have enough detail for back roads exploration.)

Soon we saw a sign with more creek destinations: West Hunt Creek 2; Clarence Creek 3; and Hancock Creek 5.  We continued up a windy road and came out on a level turnout with something of a view near a cattle guard gate.  Dennis said we better not go any further.  We got out and looked around.  We were near the edge of the canyon.  Clearly it was the top of Casto Canyon and it was frustrating not to be able to see more of it as it cut down towards Red Canyon.  Dennis walked up the road a ways and decided we could go on. 

From a distance, we can look back and see the snow covered ridge where we had to stop. 5/1/08 2:13 p.m. We climb up into pine country. 5/1/08 2:24 p.m.
We think we're getting near the top of the canyon but we stop because the road may be too stony to go on. 5/1/08 2:28 p.m. Dennis and the dogs walk up the road to take a look. 5/1/08 2:28 p.m.
I walk to a viewpoint and look back towards the car parked near the road. 5/1/08 2:30 p.m. I look southeast towards Bryce. 5/1/08 2:31 p.m.
I look northeast towards Casto Canyon. We are at an elevation of 8,300. 5/1/08 2:31 p.m. Is this Casto Bluff? The map says it has an elevation of 9,712'. 5/1/08 2:31 p.m.

We dropped down into a little river valley.  The road got narrow and stony but we were still able to manage.  We passed several little rivulets burbling down the hill and across the road.  In about  three miles from the creek sign, we came to our first really good creek with a fair amount of fast flowing water that crossed the road.  It was time to stop.  Because of the mileage we assumed it was Clarence Creek, but who knows?  There was room to turn the car around and there was a meadow.  We let the dogs play and they got wet in the cold stream and chased each other around the meadow.  The elevation was 8,200’ and our location was: N 37° 49’ 28” & W 112° 11’ 56”.  The winds and temperature were really very cold so after ten minutes we headed back up the hill by the cattle guard.  We gained 100’ in elevation.  By then it was 3:30 PM.

We go forward over a bad stony section and then begin to drop down into a valley. 5/1/08 2:39 p.m. Above us is a craggy rim. 5/1/08 2:45 p.m.
Out of sight on our right, the north side of the valley is a stream. An orangy plant grows near it. 5/1/08 2:48 p.m. Ahead,visible from a long distance away is an orange hill. 5/1/08 2:50 p.m.
It looks like a pile of red sand but it is an outcrop of red sandstone . 5/1/08 2:51 p.m. Everything else around us is made of gray sandstone. 5/1/08 2:50 p.m.
Looking up on the south side of the valley. 5/1/08 2:52 p.m. Another stream crosses the road. We stop and walk up to it. 5/1/08 2:56 p.m.
The dogs want to get wet but it's cold! 5/1/08 2:56 p.m. Looking upstream. 5/1/08 2:56 p.m.
Left, it doesn't look bad in the photo but we're not going to cross this in the Honda. Above, looking downstream. I say, "We made it — but where are we? We came three miles from the last mileage sign so I think this is Clarence Creek. 5/1/08 2:57 p.m.
Rudi jumps the creek to follow Dennis. 5/1/08 2:58 p.m. They walk up the road to see what's ahead but we don't drive over the creek. 5/1/08 2:58 p.m.

We turned back from Clarence Creek with the intention of going back to SR-12 on the same road where we entered.  But another crossroads tempted us.  A mileage sign promised to get us to the illusive Tom Best Spring in only five more miles.  After all, that was the name of the road we first took!  We turned northeast again.  We passed a sign for Center Creek: 1.5 and East Hunt Creek: 3. Ten minutes later we passed a sign for Cottonwood: 12 and Prospect Creek: 5.  At this point there was a left turn for Tom Mix Spring with no mileage.  We turned left and came immediately to a river that crossed the road and brought us to a halt.  This must be Tom Mix Spring!  But no, a sign called this Hunt Creek! 

By now it was 4:00.  We were at 7,520’ el.  Our locations was: N 37° 48’ 45” & W 112° 05’ 45”.  My map only showed a West Fork Hunt Creek.  We had seen signs for West Hunt Creek and East Hunt Creek and now presumably we were at Hunt Creek.

We never did find Tom Mix Spring but Hunt Creek was even bigger and better than Clarence Creek so we felt like we’d found a really neat place.  We walked around and let the dogs run and admired the beauty of the place.  It was still very cold and windy so we never lasted outdoors for more than ten minutes. 

We drive eastward and I take a closeup of the red bluffs ahead. 5/1/08 3:51 p.m. I am hoping they are located at the north end of Bryce Canyon and we will come out on the road there. 5/1/08 3:52 p.m.
The deer in this area are red and white. 5/1/08 3:53 p.m. A sign tells us this is Hunt Creek. 5/1/08 4:00 p.m.
Dennis and the dogs won't be crossing this creek. 5/1/08 4:00 p.m.
Looking upstream to the west. 5/1/08 4:00 p.m. Looking downstream to the east. 5/1/08 4:02 p.m.
Hunt Creek is pretty big. 5/1/08 4:02 p.m. Can you see the black legs? The dogs got in the water at Clarence Creek and here. 5/1/08 4:03 p.m.
We carry towels in the car to dry the dogs off and clean them up before they get in the car. 5/1/08 4:03 p.m. Looking northwest back at Casto Bluff (or whatever it is) where we drove down to Clarence Creek.
5/1/08 4:30 p.m.

We drove back to our last junction and once again we had a choice.  There was a wide level gravel road pointing to Widtsoe, 5 miles away to the east.  What was Widtsoe?  We decided to take it because we felt we might strike north/south SR-22, a road on my map that would take us back to SR-12 at the entrance to Bryce.  We knew our general direction had been northeast.  Northward, we were now familiar with the big black hump of a mountain at the top of Casto Canyon.  From my map I thought it might be Casto Bluff, 9,712’ el.  To the southeast we could see a line of red canyon cliffs and I felt that must be the northern edge of Bryce — the canyons that face west towards the Bryce amphitheater.  So it seemed sensible to take a wide gravel road that was headed east.

Very soon we came to the Garfield County dump.  We knew that past it there must be a major road to the highway.  Our gamble paid off and we came to the junction of SR-22.  Widstoe was just north (it’s a ghost town) and at this junction the road we were on continued seven more miles east to Pine Lake.  We turned south and drove 12 miles towards SR-12 and the entrance to Bryce at SR-63.

Our starting point from SR-12 on National Forest 117 was only six miles south on SR-12 from the Bryce Canyon entrance.  Basically we drove in a big loop north from SR-12 towards the top of Casto Canyon and then east by Hunt Creek toward Widstoe at the beginning of Escalante Canyon and then southwest on SR-22 back to SR-12 at the entrance to Bryce Canyon.  We probably drove about 80 miles within this vicinity.

What a day!  At quarter to five we stopped at the Pines Restaurant to rest and have dinner.  I had a delicious rainbow trout and we got takeout pies for a later dessert.  We got back to bus after six o’clock.  All in all we drove 120 miles. 

We are happy to get back to the Pines Restaurant to rest and eat. Their specialities are homemade soup and pie so we order the soup of the day, Split Pea.
5/1/08 5:00 p.m.

It was really fun.  Dennis said, “I told you we should have gotten a jeep.”  The Honda is “all-wheel drive” but apparently that is different from four-wheel drive.  And a jeep has a higher axle to go over rocky roads.  Dennis said that he told me cross-country driving is fun. 

I said, “I’ve never seen roads like this.  They don’t have anything like this in California.  I thought cross-country driving was like those stupid guys on TV who are balancing over boulders and being macho with their jeep.  I didn’t want to go bouncing around over rocks and using a winch to get off of some cliff!

Dennis laughed.  “NO!  I’d never do that.  He knew that there are lots of ATV or jeep dirt roads in many states like the ones we had driven on all day.  I didn’t and I was amazed.  I said, “You know this is a wonderful replacement for backpacking.  The reason I loved backpacking wasn’t my love for climbing steep trails with a thirty-five pound load on my back.  I did it because I loved high elevation scenery and being able to get away from everyone and to have that sense of isolation in a beautiful wilderness area.  On these roads at this elevation we had exactly that experience without having to walk!

So we agreed that maybe in the future we would trade in the Honda for a jeep. 

NOTE:  5/4/08

A few days after this day of back road explorations I was able to find a map that shows the forest trails in this area.  I bought National Geographic Paunsaugunt Plateau, Mount Dutton, & Bryce Canyon, Trails Illustrated Map.  These are marvelous maps and they show me clearly what we did and where we went.  The numbers on the roads we followed are Forest Route, Forest Trail designations.

From SR-12, we took an improved gravel road, 117, northwest and turned north on Dirt Road – High Clearance, 121, at Berry Spring Creek.  It curved east and we turned south on 120 where we came out on Corral Hollow. 

From there we tried to go north on Four Wheel Drive Road, 251, up Horse Bench but we ran into snow and had to back up.  Then we tried to go north from 120 onto 121 towards Casto Canyon.  This would have brought us to the Casto Canyon trailhead, (General Trail 3089) but again we had to back up. 

We retraced our route on 121 southward and then turned northeast on 117.  We passed over Mud Spring Bench, Mud Spring Ridge, Pat Willis Draw, and Showalter Bench.  We turned northeast on Dirt Road – High Clearance, 122, and tried to go east up 183, along Showalter Creek.  This would have brought us to Judd Pasture Troughs and a trailhead to Hancock Fork (General Trail, 3064).  But we had to back up. 

I scanned and tiled my map and then I marked the roads we used. I marked SR-12 in red. It is designated an All American Rd for the scenery. In blue is SR-22 and SR-63 which is the entrance to Bryce Canyon. In yellow are the gravel and dirt back roads we took. The pink dots show our various destinations.

NOTE (CONT.):  5/4/08

So we took a parallel road, 122 going north along the West Fork of Hunt Creek.  We thought we had reached Casto Canyon but in fact, we were north and east of the trailhead at the top of Casto Canyon.  We were in an unnamed canyon cut by West Fork Hunt Creek.  We reached Clarence Creek a tributary running east into Hunt Creek.  The dark ridge above us on the east is called Flat Top.  The dark ridge above us to the west has no name. 

We retraced our path south on 122 and back to 117.  We turned east-northeast on 117 going towards Tom Best Spring.  We were going parallel to West Fork Hunt Spring but didn’t know it.  At 237, following signs for Tom Best Spring we turned north.  Our path was immediately blocked by the West Fork Hunt Creek, flowing east towards the canyon where we had just been. 

From there we continued east on 117 until we came out on paved road, SR-22, which brought us south through Johns Valley to SR-12 where we turned west and traveled through Emery Valley to our restaurant located in The Pine Hills. 

On SR-12 as we continued west towards home we passed Dirt Road – High Clearance, 120, heading north along a creek, Corral Hollow.  All in all, I guess we roamed around in an area on the Paunsaugunt Plateau about 10 X 15 miles square.  Mostly we were between 7,500 and 8,300’ in elevation.  The temperatures were between 33° and 45° for the day. It was windy but sunny.

Elsa Walton, Cherokee Springs Golf & RV Park, Hatch, UT, Thursday, May 1, 2008