Exploratory Hiking in First Left Hand Canyon

The day after we hiked in the foothills of the Pine Valley Mountains Terry and I decided to head up Parowan Canyon to see if, 2 years after the Brian Head Fire, a few of our favorite side canyons were still intact. The devastating forest fire torched over 71,000 acres in June and July of 2017, smoldering some of the most magnificent places in the Cedar City Ranger District of Dixie National Forest. Crews are still active working to restore roads and trails and will likely continue to do so for quite some time as erosion accelerates and mudslides become more frequent in these once tree-filled canyons.

Unfortunately we were unable to satisfy our curiosity since the road leading to the side canyons was blocked so on a whim we drove back downhill and up First Left Hand Canyon instead. Five miles up First Left Hand is Yankee Reservoir, an area we knew to be burned out, but we continued driving towards it regardless, interested in tracing the borders of the destruction. Three miles or so in as we climbed past the sandstone and red rock formations we began seeing traces of the flames; within a half mile of that we were cruising past swaths of signed skeletons of ponderosa, aspen, and fir. Below the road we could see the outflow of the reservoir, Yankee Creek, winding through a narrow strip of green and though we were eager to see it up close we drove on until we reached the roadblock at the reservoir itself. Here we witnessed the remnants of what must have been one of the hottest sections of the fire, the dulled blue water surrounded by gray and black hillsides.

Thoroughly depressed we retreated back a half mile or so and began walking down canyon along the ribbon of life adjacent to the creek. Here we relished the clear water, green grassy banks, and living trees and reminisced when the whole canyon looked this beautiful. After awhile we turned up a forest road to the east thinking we might skirt the edge of the dead vegetation and followed another small creek as we wound up the steep grade. As we gained elevation we had some really lovely views over untouched pockets of trees and meadow that soaked in. To our surprise we encountered a shallow holding pond once the road leveled off at the top of a plateau – and a gate with numerous signs warning about the consequences of trespassing. Both Terry and I found this interesting since we weren’t aware of any private land there but bypassed it by staying on the road until it terminated at some dispersed campsites.

Wandering around by the pond we found a faint track downhill and decided to take a chance, thinking it might be an old ATV trail. We alternately walked and skidded our way down the rocky trail under dense tree cover, coming upon another small holding pond and startling some geese. Both Terry and I remarked how glad we were that this habitat had been saved since it contained an abundance of water.

Once we finally intersected the road and looped back to the truck we decided we’d like to do a little exploring, voting to do some crawling around on the red rock near the mouth of First Left Hand. This excursion led us into some new sections of canyon but a quick-moving rain storm turned us around before we got more than a mile: a narrow canyon in Utah is no place to be when it rains. Luckily we had enough time to climb over a few ridges, gaining vistas down to Parowan Canyon, and spotting a few interesting sandstone formations.