A Bit and a Piece: Upper Blowhard Trail Via Potato Hollow
I have a tradition of getting lost on trails. My friend Terry also seems to be prone to this. So even though our destination was a place that Terry was familiar with, we ended up getting lost. However, this actually worked out perfectly – though it made for a longer day than Terry bargained for.
We started at the Crystal Springs trailhead in Dixie National Forest and began hiking the two miles to the junction of the Potato Hollow – where we turned right instead of left. But first I need to mention how stunning the meadows are at Crystal Springs, filled with deep gold grasses and bordered by towering aspens and healthy firs. Within a mile the meadows fill in completely and the trail becomes enclosed by dense forest as it switchbacks down 500 feet until it reaches the rim of Blowhard Hollow. The deep valley, whose rising slopes have a series of orange striped sandstone cut out from the carpet of fir trees, provides quite the view. To see the oranges and whites poking out from the green is unexpected despite the prevalence of exposed sandstone in the Cedar Mountains; it is particularly surprising since the trail up until this point winds through mature forest, thick with plant life.
Here we turned onto the Potato Hollow Trail which parallels the rim, climbing steadily through ponderosa, aspen, and fir. We stopped often to inspect the clusters of oddly-twisted aspen trees and view the different angles of the valley below. After about 3 miles we reached a marked trail junction of the Potato Hollow and Blowhard Trails and that’s when Terry realized we weren’t where we were supposed to be. He quickly explained that we could turn and go down the Blowhard trail to complete the loop, which he estimated to be an additional 2-3 miles, or we could hike the upper section of the Blowhard, then return to the junction and back to the trailhead. How long a hike will that be, I ask? Well… it’s a bit and a piece.
Since it was my choice, we of course started up the Blowhard. Although we’d been steadily ascending since we reached the rim of the hollow at the terminus of the Crystal Springs Trail a few miles back, the path now drastically increased in grade and lost most of it’s tree cover as the track transitioned to loose limestone and sandstone. After a slew of switchbacks over the course of a mile we emerged onto the bare edge of the bowl, and were treated to fantastic views across to the opposite rim and down thousands of feet to the forested hollow.
Turning back into the forest we then began climbing Blowhard Mountain proper. And climbing. This would be the aforementioned “piece,” which was made fairly strenuous by the altitude. After another couple miles and another 1,500 feet or so of elevation, we emerged into a lovely clearing where we found Abby was patiently waiting for us under a tree. The last half mile of the trail had less than 200 feet of elevation but Terry suggested he and Abby dine on his can of tuna while I walk up to where it ends at SR-143. I took him up on the offer, hiking up to the 10,500 foot summit. All said and done, our route ended up being 2,000 feet elevation gain/loss which definitely felt like more due to neither of us being acclimatized. Still, as long as you are accustomed to hiking, its not more than moderately strenuous and shouldn’t be a problem.
Even though the hike was a bit more than Terry had bargained for that particular day, it ended up being perfect weather for such diverse trail conditions: Warm but not hot for the laborious uphills that were under full sun and cool but not cold once we were exposed to the wind on the climb to the rim up Blowhard Mountain. Once we turned around we skidded our way down the steep, loose-rock and then took the loop back towards Crystal Springs. This section of the trail dropped through younger stands of aspen, and eventually opened into pockets of meadows as we approached the trailhead at Crystal Springs.