Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Burr Trail

In the previous post I discussed the Notom - Bullfrog Road from Highway 24 to the intersection of the Burr Trail. Here travelers can decide to either climb up and over the Waterpocket Fold to the west, or continue south to Lake Powell. For those who choose the latter option, it's another 30 miles of dirt road before reaching the junction with State Route 276.

At the end of the Burr Trail and the north end of the lake you'll find Bullfrog Marina. On the opposite side is the Hall's Crossing Marina. If your plans have you traveling south and you want to avoid driving back the way you came, you can take the Halls' Crossing ferry across the lake to continue the journey. If you want to spend time exploring the lake itself, both marinas offer food, lodging, boat rentals, and tours of the surrounding area.

The Notom - Bullfrog road can also be made part of a great loop through some spectacular scenery by choosing to turn west where the Burr Trail ascends the Waterpocket Fold. The road here is steep with tight switchbacks that are unsuitable for vehicles with trailers or any large RV. Once you reach the summit at around 5700 feet, you can stop to admire great views to the east of Strike Valley and the Henry Mountains.

Nearby is the turnoff to Strike Valley Overlook and the trailhead to Upper Muley Twist Canyon, where hikers can experience a great narrows section, as well as arches and natural bridges carved out of the Navajo and Wingate sandstone. Muley Twist Canyon was so named because parts are so narrow a mule would have to "twist" to get through. Be careful though - the road to the overlook requires a minimum of a high clearance vehicle and possibly 4 wheel drive.

As you continue on, look to the east to spot Peek-A-Boo rock, carved out of the distinctive white Navajo formation. To the west and south the country is a broken jumble of canyons and ridges covered in pinon and juniper.

3 miles after cresting the top, the road becomes paved as it leaves Capitol Reef National Park. The land here is part of the Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument managed by the BLM. For those looking for a place to spend the night dispersed camping away from the road is a possibility.

The western edge of the Waterpocket Fold rises as steep bluffs composed of Wingate sandstone, colored in vivid reds and orange. Called the Circle Cliffs, these steep and rugged walls form the boundary of the National Park.

The Burr Trail was named for an early settler and cattleman - John Atlantic Burr. His family settled here in 1876, and Burr used the area to graze livestock. With elevations ranging from around 4000 feet in Strike Valley to 6500 feet near Boulder, he drove his cattle to the lower deserts in winter and into the high country in summer. Cows can still be found throughout the region today - much of the country is open range which means no fences, and visitors should exercise caution while driving the road from this point west.

1.6 miles after the Park boundary is the eastern leg of the Wolverine Loop Road, leading south to the Wolverine Petrified Wood Natural Area. This side trip is just over 27 miles in length, and is passable to most vehicles except in wet weather. A short hike leads to some excellent examples of fossilized wood, and along the way there are many small canyons and gullies to explore.

After winding through the juniper covered hills in this area, the road makes for what looks like an impenetrable line of cliffs to the west. Here begins a long climb out of White Flats to the upper end of Long Canyon. At the top the view to the east reveals the Henry Mountains looming over the Circle Cliffs and Waterpocket Fold, with a rugged no man's land in between.

Cut into the Wingate sandstone, Long Canyon winds its way towards Boulder in the west. The upper end of the road has some fantastic rock sculptures where remnants of the Navajo formation have weathered into pillars of stone resembling guards or sentinels.

For nearly 8 miles the road travels the bottom of the canyon while soaring walls of sandstone rise majestically above. While not the deepest or narrowest canyon to be found in the southwest, it is easily one of the most scenic. The walls are sheer nearly to the top, and the red Wingate formation is beautifully streaked with long trails of desert varnish. The streambed is usually dry, but water surfaces periodically through the canyon providing sustenance for riparian plants and trees.

At the lower end of Long Canyon the road once again climbs up and out to emerge in the cross-bedded sandstone formations found in the Escalante Canyons. The Burr Trail ends at Highway 12 near Boulder, where travelers can choose to go north over Boulder Mountain and eventually reach Highway 24, thus completing the loop through Capitol Reef, or head left (south) and venture into even more spectacular scenery along Highway 12. Whichever route you choose be sure to have the camera ready - you'll need it!

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