This post could properly be titled “New Explorations is Familiar Places, Part 2” since our two-part excursion that day followed the same method of (1) picking a place on the map, (2) determining a likely access point, and (3) seeing what happens. As is common we began walking on a forest road, quickly leaving behind the handful of cabins situated on the main road. The dirt track was steep and switchbacked up to ridge which we speculated would provide us with views of the Sydney Peaks and a sense of where the southern border of the Brian Head Fire was. We weren’t mistaken that once we reached the top we could see both those things, but we hadn’t counted on the total destruction caused by the flames here. Clearly there had been a fire break near the top to protect the private property below because we went from lush green forest to walking in charred sticks instantly with very little transition. Originally we thought we’d be able to hike up one of the canyons leading to high(er) country but the fire had not only burned out the trees here but also brought them down, creating an ashy obstacle course for any one who wanted to pass. We reconsidered and decided to turn east towards a meadow.
After scampering down a slope crisscrossed with blackened deadfall we found ourselves by the blue waters of a large spring. The spring had been marked on the map but the significant size was unusual and so it was an unexpected find in a way. Up ahead we could see a lush meadow and so continued on our trajectory towards it, cresting the last rise and then spotting a dirt road below – one that had not been on our map. Determining that it ended at the base of the closest peaks and would not grant us access to the canyons we had originally considered exploring we decided to follow it in the other direction, paralleling our initial track by about a mile away.
The meadow was lovely, sectioned by ribbons of spring runoff and bordered by late-budding aspen and young pine and spruce. It was entirely too mushy to cross however and we stuck to the road we’d come upon, passing yet another spring, water dripping through fissures in the rock. Rounding a corner we then discovered why there was a road here: a half dozen cabins, some of not insignificant size, were ahead making it likely that we were on a private road. This was confirmed a mile and a half later when we neared the main road and found ourselves on the wrong side of a locked gate. A very tall locked gate. We could climb it easily – and Abby gave no thought to ducking under the barbed wire fence adjacent – but we hadn’t intended to trespass and we did feel sheepish climbing over the tall blue steel.
Anyway, from the time we first spotted cabins until we reached the main road there were some fantastic views of the meandering creek in the meadow as well as the tumbling water and green mossy rocks speeding past an old single room cabin. It was easy to see why such a picturesque area had been developed for private residences.
A mile of walking across volcanic stones after climbing the gate we found the truck and made a plan to try our luck hiking in another area. About 15 miles away and a thousand feet down in elevation we pulled off onto another forest road and dropped into a shallow canyon that we believed would take us to Mammoth Creek. The abrupt transition from aspen- and fir-ringed meadow to ponderosa-studded red limestone is all too common in this section of the forest but it’s still impressive to have two such visually different ecosystems adjacent to one another. This arid and rocky canyon descended gently, and we were happy to follow the drainage through the tall pines and manzanita. Before reaching the creek we opted to scramble up to the canyon rim for some views and we were not disappointed; the majesty of the snowy Pausaungunt Plateau in the distance fronted by red mesas was a sight to behold.
Not too long after our ascent to the rim we crossed an informal ATV trail and followed it to the west where it terminated in a cul-de-sac. A faint footpath continued from here, rounding the ridge, but it was agreed that we should turn around here in order to get home to make dinner. We did use the ATV trail to return to the top of the canyon though and were treated to some very lovely views of the hills and mesas from the rim as an added bonus.