Three Days in Heaven
We originally planned on having a week and half between leaving Terry’s house and our Habitat build in Libby, Montana but as the date neared the team leader communicated with us that they would be behind due to a late start and a shortage of volunteers so Tom and I agreed to condense our schedule in order to get there a week early. We did have two things on the schedule which we didn’t want to skip entirely however, the first of which was boondocking (camping) and hiking on the Paunsaugunt Plateau.
Part of Dixie National Forest two hours drive from our former house, this ranger district was just far enough to be inconvenient for a day hike – though we did it a few times – but perfect for spending a few nights in the RV. It remains my favorite place to boondock, period, and the opportunity to stay and hike there again was something I’d been looking forward to for months.
The plateau stretches roughly north to south for over 30 miles beginning at just over 7,000 feet and terminating some place over 9,000 feet. “Our” campsite is around 7,700 feet, low enough to not be freezing in spring, not more than 8 miles from the main road, perfectly level, and wonderfully quiet. We spent 4 nights here which gave us 3 full days plus the afternoon of our arrival to do some hiking and sightseeing. I planned 2 all-day hikes for us which left the first afternoon and the middle full day to scout out some new places and revisit a few of our favorites.
Our first order of business was to drive out the scenic backway to see if and where the road was closed; though it was the last day of May the late snows could easily have prevented the forest service from unlocking one or more of the gates. Luckily the road was open all the way through, and in the process of being re-graded to boot which meant we’d be able to get to some of the trailheads on the south side of the plateau. It also meant we were able to see more of the high country at this end, something we’d been prevented from doing on earlier trips. Here above 9,000 feet the grass was just returning to life fed by creeks and spring runoff. At lower elevations the creeks merged and the swollen East Fork of the Sevier River rushed, gurgling, through the miles of greening meadows and into the overflowing Tropic Reservoir. West of the river we started an exploration of a new-to-us section of hoodoos and pink cliffs of the exposed Claron Formation tucked behind a screen of lanky fir, bristlecone pine, and stately spruce but were turned back by approaching thunderstorms too soon. Despite not getting to explore as much of this area as we would have liked to we still spent an enjoyable couple hours climbing the steep limestone and wandering around the bases of the majestic formations.