Letters From a Bus
May 2008: Springtime High Plateau
4th entry for May
First
Previous
Next

We Discover Tropic Reservoir and the Story of Tropic Ditch

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

Sunday, May 11, 2008 — Eleven Months

Friday, May 9.  We drive to Cedar City for supplies.

On Friday, we decided to drive to Cedar City.  Our neighbors, Carol and Glenn left at the same time we did.  They asked for my website address and I also gave them my email.  We had a nice sunny day at 54° although windy and we drove down the canyon making it to Walgreens in Cedar City by eleven.

Dennis sat in the car doing bills on his laptop because he can get on the Internet in Cedar City.  I made some general purchases at Walgreens and then walked across an intersection to Starbucks.  I still have more than half a pound of coffee beans but if we move down to Escalante we won’t be near Starbucks for another two weeks or more so I decided to lay in an extra pound of French Roast whole beans.  In the vacuum seal bag I think they will stay fresh.

At 1:00 p.m. we drove to Albertsons where Dennis remained in the car to do more bills.  In the corner of the shopping center I saw a sign for dog grooming.  I went into Muddy Paws and asked for the impossible.  I’d washed both dogs this week and combed them about half way.  They still had lots of snarls.  I’d used scissors to slice out about half of the

Glen and Carol pull out just ahead of us and we follow them south on SR-89. 05/09/08 9:58 am
snarls.  They were a real mess when I started and were now about 75% improved.  Could they finish the job and give them a professional clip and trim?  Both women were busy and they were due to close at four but they agreed to try.  I left Rudi and Margot with them and went into Albertson’s to shop.

Soon Dennis came in to help.  I began to feel lightheaded with a funny stomach.  I take Propranalol to control the shaky head (benign tremula) and it causes low blood pressure.  I had two croissants in the morning and no breakfast.  We finished our shopping as quickly as possible and went in search of lunch.  There are only two major sit-down restaurants in town that we’ve discovered: Applebee’s and Chili’s.  Applebee’s didn’t make the cut last time so we went to Chili’s.  By 2:30 p.m. we were seated and we both had their Swiss-mushroom burger and soon I felt much better.  Our waiter was outstanding.  He told us that Applebee’s and Chili’s are the only two restaurants in town with a license to serve liquor.

Our waiter also told us where to go to buy tequila because Dennis would like to make a margarita once in a while.  After lunch we located the State Liquor Store where we bought all the ingredients to make a margarita the way our friend, Duane, taught us to do it: tequila, triple sec, and beer.  It’s been a long time but we think we remember how to do it.  Of course I can’t drink so it seems silly but it will be fun for Dennis and maybe some time we will have guests to serve.

We went back to Albertson’s where Dennis went in to buy frozen concentrate limejuice and I went into Muddy Paws to see how my dogs were doing.  Karen, at Muddy Paws, performed miracles.  She got rid of all the remaining snarls and my Cotons looked beautiful and well trimmed.  I asked her to shave their bellies so that they won’t pick up burrs so easily or so they will be easier to remove.  This shop charged $15 for each dog — an absolute bargain I would say.  I have their card and plan to schedule another visit next time we’re in town. 

From now on I SWEAR I will comb those dogs every night so I don’t get behind and the snarls won’t get out of hand.  I’ve decided the time to do this is in the early evening sitting on my bed while I watch the Insider or Entertainment Tonight.  In anticipation, I bought a major dog hair remover/lint roller so that I can get all those soft, cottony, white hairs off of the bedspread!

Saturday, May 10.  We hike up Tropic Creek to a waterfall and Mossy Cave.

I tried to buy “Auditions” the Barbara Walters book in Cedar City.  I called the four known bookstores and none had it.  Three didn’t carry it and the fourth was sold out.  I’m thinking about ordering it and having it mailed to Hatch!

It was very windy last night.  This morning is sunny but cold and windy.  We left the bus at noon without the dogs because we planned to hike on a park trail.  First we took a back road, #121, just past Red Canyon.  It ended up on the plateau and we came out at Horse Corral where we were on our first back roads exploration.  We came in from a different route, below.  It’s fun to get to know this area and know where we are.  We drove out on the improved gravel road, #117, and came out on SR-12 near the Pines. 

The scenery at the beginning of our drive from Red Canyon looked like this. 05/10/08 12:31 pm Twenty minutes later as we pulled above the canyon, the scenery looked like this. 05/10/08 12:51 pm
Then we went to our planned destination, a trailhead we noticed when we did our Highway 12 drive to Boulder.  It is past Bryce Canyon entrance.  The road drops down below the Pink Cliffs and there is a trailhead by the Paria River.  It goes west towards Bryce Point far above and it is a trail that follows a creek towards a cave and a waterfall.  It was an easy walk and very pretty.  The falls were fun to see and then we followed another fork up to the cave.  Mossy Cave has snow, ice and lichen. Water seeps out of the roof of the cave.  This was a very enjoyable hike.  We were there for about an hour.
This is why we didn't bring the dogs. I have no argument with the policy. It's for the best.
05/10/08 1:32 pm
This is the start of a short and easy walk to Mossy Cave and to a view of a waterfall. 05/10/08 1:36 pm
Dennis starts up the trail.
05/10/08 1:37 pm
Tropic Creek flows east towards the Paria River. 05/10/08 1:37 pm
The canyon gets a bit steeper as we hike upstream. 05/10/08 1:40 pm So Tropic Creek is Tropic Ditch!
05/10/08 1:45 pm

Tropic Ditch.
In this climate most streambeds are dry washes — yet this channel continues to flow even when other streams run dry.

When pioneers came to this valley in the 1880’s, they found no reliable source of water.  Even the Paria River ran dry most of the year.  To ensure a year-round water supply for their new town, the settlers spent more than two years digging a 10-mile ditch on the plateau above, from the East Fork of the Sevier River to the canyon rim.

Water flows over the rim, then follows natural drainage channels to the highway bridge near the trailhead.  From there a handmade ditch channels the water to both East Valley and the town of Tropic.  By controlling the flow out of Sevier River, Tropic residents have been able to water crops, pasture, and animals, and live in the semi-arid environment year-round.

The waterfall is just ahead.
05/10/08 1:51 pm
First we head towards the waterfall. 05/10/08 1:50 pm
We discovered that the creek is called Tropic Ditch and it is man made by the settlers in the town of Tropic.  The Paria River dries up and they needed a regular source of water.  So they went up to the plateau and west to the Sevier River.  Then they dug a ditch east across the Paunsaugunt Plateau to the rim of Bryce Canyon.  The water freefalls down the canyon and ends up where we parked.  There is plenty of water in that creek.  It isn’t running slow and it’s not just a little trickle.  It runs along the Paria to Tropic where they have plenty of water for their crops all year long. 
The trail goes past the waterfall. Here a slide made the climb difficult for me.
05/10/08 1:58 pm
Looking downstream. We turned back to go to the cave. 05/10/08 1:59 pm
Dennis reaches the cave. 05/10/08 2:11 pm
We climb a trail up a small side canyon. 05/10/08 2:09 pm
The interior is covered with white ice and green lichen. 05/10/08 2:13 pm The cave is under a rim or lip of stone that crosses the canyon. 05/10/08 2:14 pm
Snow remains and it is very cool in the cave.
05/10/08 2:13 pm
Looking across the little canyon with the cave on the right. 05/10/08 2:14 pm
Back in the Tropic Canyon we look up Hoo-doos. 05/10/08 2:23 pm The Mossy Cave trail goes back down to the Tropic Ditch Canyon. 05/10/08 2:15 pm


We were thirsty when we got in the car and drove back up to the plateau and we were joking about finding an A&W for root beer floats.  We stopped at the Pines and had a late lunch / early dinner.  They made us fabulous root beer floats and we had fish and chips that were excellent. 

We were excited about the Tropic Ditch and the idea that men dug a ditch for ten miles across contour lines to bring water to their town.  How clever of them and how enterprising that these men were willing to put in the effort to do that over and above their work as farmers.  I find it very admirable.  I brought in my map and while we waited to be served I found a little blue line marked Tropic Water on the map.  It looked like they started way up the East Fork of the Sevier River — maybe to get enough water and momentum to make it go the distance. 

This is such a pretty canyon. 05/10/08 2:25 pm

We decided we would make a goal of finding the beginning of this ditch — if it still exists.  We haven’t taken the south road near the Pines Restaurant — the one that goes south of Highway 12 from The Pine Hills up the East Sevier River.  From there maybe we can also explore the bench above Hatch and the Sunset Cliffs and Cherokee Springs.  On our way out, I finally remembered to ask about the pronunciation of this major river on the Paunsaugunt Plateau.  It is pronounced Severe. 

On the way back we stopped in Hatch long enough for Dennis to pay some bills on the Internet. 

Map of East Fork Sevier River, Tropic Ditch, Mossy Cave Trailhead, and the town of Tropic
This map is from the Tropic Ditch sign with some enhancements that I added to make it easier to see.

Sunday, May 11, 2008.  Mother’s Day.  We drive to Tropic Reservoir and up Badger Creek.
Dennis's son,
Brent, was the first one to call me in the morning to say Happy Mother’s Day.  He is such a sweetheart.  My youngest son, Chris, called after that.  He sent a card that he says I’m “going to love.”  It has to be forwarded from the office so maybe I’ll get it next Tuesday.  My sister, Sally, called me in the late afternoon.  She returned my call from the other day and left a message.  But I’m not getting voice mail messages.  My oldest son, Jeff, tried to call and left a message but I didn't know he had until I talked to him on Monday. I have to take my phone to Verizon and get it fixed!

Just past noon, we set out to locate the course of Tropic Ditch from the East Fork to "the Dump" where it falls over the amphitheater cliffs into the little canyon where we saw the waterfall and Mossy Cave. We took the dogs with us and we really had a fun day.  We drove east on SR-12 to improved gravel road, #087, which begins near the Pines and goes south along the East Fork of the Sevier River.  The forest road crossed the river almost immediately and we were astonished to see that it was dry.  The Sevier is a big system of rivers flowing north. As we drove south towards the headwaters, a little stream filled in and became a pretty creek as we progressed upstream.  To the west is Mill Hollow and to the east is Johnson Hollow.

This is how Christian Probasco describes the area.

“East Fork of the Sevier
From the turnoff onto FS 87, the earth appears to bend down to the head of the East Fork of the Sevier River, and that’s troubling because the river coalesces from its tributaries twelve hundred feet above where it crosses the road.  I can only ascribe this illusion to the roughly pyramidal peaks and the bare rock in the distance, where the East Fork originates.  On the Colorado Plateau, such weathering usually indicates downcutting too rapid for the earth to accommodate it with gentle banks.”

“I pass over the end of the Tropic Ditch; further on the road narrows and begins to meander as the East Fork straightens out.  Side roads curve off into Badger Creek, East Creek, Skunk Creek, Long Hollow, Blue Fly Creek, most of them coming to a dead end against the west boundary of Bryce Canyon or the backslope of the Sunset Cliffs.  Pink pedregals and inchoate hoodoo columns lean from side-canyon walls.”

“The East Fork dries up.  It’s a lost stream anyway, except the portion siphoned off for the fields down in Tropic.  The East Fork joins the Sevier, which evaporates or drains into Sevier Lake south of Highway 50 in the Great Basin….” 
Highway 12 by Christian Probasco.

Looking southwest the river flowing north dries up in Mill Hollow at this old shack. 05/11/08 2:14 pm
The old mill or farm sits in the middle of an idyllic, pastoral valley. 05/10/08 2:15 pm
Looking east in Johnson Hollow, we saw antelope. They are very tame and don't run when they see us.
05/11/08 2:22 pm
We approach the northern end of Tropic Reservoir. 05/11/08 2:27 pm
We drive through a campground with a view of the lake. 05/10/08 2:28 pm We approach the southern end of Tropic Reservoir. 05/11/08 2:32 pm

It was a beautiful drive up a pretty little valley called Mill Hollow. At the end we found the lovely Tropic Reservoir created by a dam across the East Fork Sevier River.  At the south end I saw a sign marked, “Tropic Spring.”  Why would it be named Tropic unless this is the location where they started their ditch?  The spring had water bubbling out of a drinking fountain with a fence built around it.  There was no information sign that told us about the ditch but we felt this had to be the beginning and that perhaps it was memorialized with the fenced in fountain. 

We see a sign for Tropic Springs and we walk to an enclosure. 05/10/08 2:34 pm In it is a bubbling fountain. 05/10/08 2:35 pm
From the spring we look south towards the inlet of the river into the reservoir. 05/11/08 2:35 pm Oh no! Margot got into something boggy and muddy. Her legs are black! 05/11/08 2:37 pm

We walked down to the edge of the reservoir, which was shallow at the south end and sloped gradually into a grassy meadow.  Margot immediately got her feet and belly black with wet dirt in the swampy end.  We walked a bit north down to the water line where the grass was dry to the water.  Rudi instantly walked into the water and began to swim.  Margot followed but her style was different.  Bounce, bounce bounce, she leaped over and into the water with big splashes.  “Yikes.  This is cold and I’m not sure about swimming.”  She turned around and bounced out and then ran like sixty to us.  Then she turned around and bounced back into the water! 

Meanwhile Rudi was swimming and looking for a purpose.  He raised himself up looking for something to retrieve.  I quickly found a stick in the meadow and threw it to him.  Yes!  Rudi always needs a challenge and a problem to solve.  He got the stick and came out of the water.  That’s freezing snowmelt water, but he didn’t care.  Margot barked at Rudi and his stick.  She didn’t want to retrieve in the water but she wanted to take his stick away.  I threw another stick.  Rudi retained the first one in his mouth while he swam after the second.  He managed to clamp onto that and brought both of them out of the water.  What a dog! 

Both dogs had a terrific time.  There goes their grooming but I didn’t care.  I was laughing at their crazy antics.  Finally we walked back to the car through dry grass, got their towels and toweled them down on the back shelf of the hatchback.  They were so excited. 

We walk down to the reservoir and Rudi immediately gets in and swims. 05/11/08 2:46 pm Both dogs are very excited. 05/11/08 2:42 pm
They chase each other, bark and run back and forth. 05/11/08 2:42 pm
Too late to worry about keeping their groomed look. 05/10/08 2:46 pm
Margot doesn't swim, she bounces in and out of the water. 05/10/08 2:46 pm Margot watches Rudi swim away. 05/11/08 2:47 pm
Rudi turns and swims for shore. 05/11/08 2:48 pm It's shallow at this end of the lake but Rudi is out of his depth and swims. 05/11/08 2:48 pm
Rudi turns to retreive a stick. 05/11/08 2:49 pm Whatever Rudi has, Margot wants. 05/11/08 2:50 pm
Rudi has two sticks in his mouth. 05/10/08 2:55 pm Rudi is the stick retreiving winner. What a champ! 05/11/08 2:55 pm
We drove around the backside of the reservoir and saw where the Sevier flowed into it.  I was worried the dogs would be cold and wanted to keep the windows up.  But they wanted to see and sniff out the windows so we put them down again.  There was no dust and on dirt roads we don’t drive fast.  There were many signs for back roads so we decided to explore a creek valley to the west that would take us towards Cherokee Springs.  We followed a beautiful meadow valley called Badger Creek for eight miles.  It took us up in elevation from 7,835' at the reservoir to a major north-south ledge at 9,200' elevation.  Eventually we came to a crossroads.  Oh, my gosh!  There was a sign for Hatch that said it was ten miles on a dirt road.  The road went down Proctor Canyon. Although it was off my map, we decided to try it.  But one curve down the road brought us to snow and we had to back up.  We need a jeep.
Map of East Fork Sevier River, Tropic Ditch, Mossy Cave Trailhead, and the town of Tropic
This is the OHV Trail Map Dixie National Forest PAUNSAUGUNT. I added dotted orange on the roads we took and enhanced the creeks, river, ditch and added commentary and road and creek names.
From the reservoir we turn west and start to drive up Badger Canyon. 05/11/08 3:09 pm We come to a fork. We could go north and follow these trails. 05/11/08 3:12 pm
We continue west up Badger Canyon on the north side of this long meadow. 05/11/08 3:12 pm Up every canyon you will see signs of the ever present red sandstone. 05/11/08 3:16 pm
Another trail choice goes north but we continue up Badger Canyon. 05/11/08 3:19 pm We are taking a western trail, Badger Canyon towards a north/south bench trail, Proctor Canyon.
05/11/08 3:40 pm
At the top of Badger Canyon we come to a crossroads. East Fork would take us south along the bench and then we would drop down another canyon parallel to Badger Canyon and return to the East Fork Sevier River.
05/11/08 3:41 pm
Oh my gosh! We didn't know Proctor Canyon would take us north along the bench and then drop down out of the Sunset Cliffs westward back into Hatch. Have we found a shortcut? Can we make it on this dirt road? 05/11/08 3:41 pm
At the top of Proctor Canyon we have a view looking west down towards SR-89 and the Sevier River. 05/11/08 3:42 pm Looking west, we can see the white gravel and sand piles near Hatch. What a coup! We feel like we stumbled on a big discovery. 05/11/08 3:43 pm
Darn! See the next snow drift ahead? We don't get far. In fact it is easier to back up around a few corners than to turn around. 05/11/08 3:44 pm We decide to drive east back down the same canyon. Here's that long meadow again. 05/11/08 4:06 pm
We need a break so we take a walk on this lovely meadow. 05/11/08 4:06 pm
Snow drifts beckon. 05/10/08 4:09 pm
Dennis encourages Margot and Rudi to get in the snow. 05/10/08 4:09 pm The dogs get excited barking and chasing each other. 05/11/08 4:09 pm
"Oooo. It's cold!" Margot is trying to bounce over the snow. Rudi is going to ambush her. As usual we end up laughing at the antics of our Cotons.
05/11/08 4:09 pm
Always game, Rudi trots down off the snow. 05/11/08 4:09 pm
We thought about turning south on Rd #599 and returning along Skunk Creek Rd #233 but we weren't sure about conditions and it was getting late. That was a good decision because later I discovered that parts of the road are for ATV only. We came back the way we came in but circled around the west side of the reservoir.  We stopped at the dam and found a vibrant creek running down.  Where does it go?  It gets sidetracked from the Sevier and eventually must run east as the Tropic Ditch.  Where does it leave the river and turn east?  We drove back down East Fork Rd #087 keeping a careful eye on the creek to see where it might turn off.  At the old shack in Mill Hollow, the water ran into a pile of rocks.  After that the volume dissipated.  Somewhere there, the water is taken by modern means and no longer runs in the ditch?  We don’t know. 
On the west side of Tropic Reservoir near the dam. 05/11/08 4:39 pm
Standing on the dam looking down on the outlet creek, East Fork. 05/11/08 4:43 pm
Apparently all of the water coming out of the dam is siphoned off into the Tropic Ditch. 05/11/08 4:45 pm
On our way out of the valley we see Antelope again. 05/11/08 4:52 pm
We try to keep track of the East Fork to see when it dries up and where Tropic Ditch turns east. 05/11/08 4:55 pm
This is where the East Fork dries up. It goes into a pile of rocks near the old shack (middle right) and dissapears. 05/11/08 5:01 pm
Further north, near the highway we crossed a culvert.  It was a large man-made trough but it was dry.  Was this the original ditch?  Next to it was a dirt road #088, which turned east.  We decided to follow it.  On my map this road soon becomes a hiking trail but our road followed the path on the map and it remained a dirt road that was drivable for the Honda.  However it turned south and went around the backside of a hill.  Our Tropic Ditch would have turned east and stayed on the north side of the hill.
We wandered around until I saw that we were in a place called Davies Hollow.  (The north side of the Davies Hollow triangle on the map is a foot path, not a road.) The road or trail was marked “Winter Use” and we were approaching Ruby’s Inn on SR-63 at Bryce Canyon.  Clearly we were on winter ski trails.  We didn’t cross our ditch again but emerged on SR-63 at the point where they have a pullout with information signs before the park entrance.
Was this dry ditch the original course of Tropic Ditch? Has the Tropic Water been piped and detoured by modern means before it is allowed to drop down into the canyon we saw? We try to follow this ditch on #088 but it veers south and our view of the trough is blocked by a big red hill. We wander around in Davies Hollow and eventually emerge on #175 at the Bryce information pullout of SR-63. 05/11/08 5:01 pm
Crossing under our road, #087, before we get back to SR-12 is this trough. It appears to be dug out and not natural, but it is dry. We see it near two dirt road forks, #088 and #089, 05/11/08 5:06 pm

 More About the Tropic Ditch
“…the Mormon pioneers came together in 1889 and decided to revive a project Ebenezer Bryce had initiated years earlier, which was to divert the East Fork of the Sevier River over the edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau, from the drainage of the Great Basin to the Colorado Plateau and Tropic Valley, “under the Dump.”* 

“By spring of 1892, the nine and three-quarters mile diversion was nearly ready to receive the waters of the East Fork.  Andrew Hansen, chairman of the incorporated water district records, coming across Jack Thompson of Henrieville and his family ad some cattle, who were all on their way to the head of the East Fork, wrote:

‘There were several men and a number of women and children.  It was a beautiful evening, and they were scattered about all over the flat on the green grass.  I was asked about the canal.  Did I think it would ever be completed?…I told them I expected the water along here to the end of the ditch tonight, and I feared that it would disturb their camp.  They only just laughed out loud at me.  They said that they’d heard about the water coming along in that canal for years, and that they would like to see some of that water….They spread their beds out all over the flat and went to bed, and in their dreams no doubt had visions of the follies of men such as I, who was spending my time trying to make water run up hill.

Being camped only about one quarter mile distant, I could not help but get a “kick” out of the scene that followed at about 2 A.M.….when the water having reached the end of the finished part of the ditch, backed up and ran over, spreading itself over the grassy flat where these good people were sleeping in peaceful ignorance of what was “pendin.”  Their first warning came, of course, when someone woke up finding themselves floating in water. ‘” 

Highway 12 by Christian Probasco

*According to Probasco, “A dump is a declivity where water can dump off the edge.”

I was using a National Geographic map, "Paunsaugunt Plateau, Mount Dutton, Bryce Canyon". Now I have the more detailed National Geographic map, "Bryce Canyon". Next time we could go looking for the ditch where it falls over the cliff and becomes the creek that we saw in the amphitheater below on our Mossy Cave hike.  I foresee another exploration drive. The map shows a walking trail loop by FS 650 near Ruby's Inn where Tropic Ditch "dumps" into the canyon below.

I am surprised at how much I enjoy these drives.  It is so much fun to explore a back area and discover how it all goes together in the mountains and valleys.  I felt like I had a very nice Mother’s Day.  As usual, we stopped at the Pines.  It was late so this time we had a dinner menu and we got in on a Prime Rib special.  The restaurant was much more crowded with families and very convivial.  It was a good ending to our day.

In the evening I watched the Survivor finale.  Poor Amanda lost to Parvati.  I couldn’t believe it.  But I was happy to hear that she still has a romance going with Ozzie.  The viewers voted $100,000 to James.  I was hoping it would be Ozzie.  James was astounded.  His life as a gravedigger might change….

Elsa Walton, Cherokee Springs Golf & RV Park, Hatch, UT, Sunday, May 11, 2008