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Johnson Canyon can be used as a through road if coming from Page and going up towards the Bryce Canyon area. Easy paved road at the beginning becomes graded dirt after about 25 kms and is treacherous in the wet. Has the added interest of being the home of the "Gunsmoke" film set, plus about 50 other films have some scenes shot here. The movie set is on private grounds and was closed to the public for many years but apparently there is a plan to restore it and there will be guided tours. The movie set is about 8 kms up the canyon road from Hwy. 89. The canyon road starts about 16 kms from Kanab and is also the route for Willis Creek and Bull Valley slot canyons that I have yet to visit.
Update from Sept.'09 - All the photos are from Sept. 2009 showing that nothing in the way of renovation had been undertaken since my first time here in 2003.
Updated Sep 10, 2010
Along Hwy 24 heading towards Capitol Reef and Torrey, about 8 kms from Hanksville is this strange scene, showing all that remains of the ghost town of Giles. There is a small parking lot with an information board. Settlers came here in the 1880's to farm the land on the banks of the Fremont River, but after withstanding much flooding and ruined crops, by 1919 the town was empty. Depicted on the photos are the relics at the entrance to the old "Blue Valley" farm. The original town site is further on, down the trail, but when I tried to walk there I was halted bya swift flowing creek. Apparently there are only a couple of roofless crumbling ruins to see now.
Written Sep 9, 2010
This is a section of Zion National Park that few people venture to. It is a shame because it offers outstanding views into the Zion backcountry and is a reasonably accessible trail.
It goes 13 miles from Lava Point Trailhead off the Kolob Terrace road to the Grotto trailhead in the main canyon. It connects up with the side trail out to Angel's Landing which is often included in any hike to the west rim.
Leaving from Lava Point the trail heads through fairly level top land covered with grasses, pines and cactus. Once you climb up to Horse Plateau the views of the canyons are truly incredible. For about 5 miles the trail hugs the edge and the views of red and white sandstone monoliths, deeply carved canyons and green mesa tops are non-stop.
Then it begins the descent into the main canyon, giving a close up view of what those sandstone slots can offer- shady hidden canyons and hot open slickrock.
For someone strong and in good shape doing this as a day trip would not be unreasonable. A shuttle would be necessary for a drop off at the trailhead. There are 8 campsites along the way, half reservable, permits required for overnight stays.
Written Aug 3, 2010
Just off interstate I-80 is the town of Stansbury Park. It is built around an artificial lake. This lake was fed by the waters of a small spring. Back in the 19th century this area was known for awhile as Twin Spring City.
In 1849 Ezra Benson was asked by Brigham Young to come out here and build a mill. This was only 2 years after the first pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake area. They needed somewhere to get flour ground. Thomas Lee and his sons took the main role in building and operating the mill. The resulting 4 story building was finished in 1854 and had a rock foundation and timber upper stories. The millstone, which is now displayed out front, had to be ordered from France and weighed over 800 pounds.
It was an active mill, at times grinding up to 200 bushels of wheat a day. It also processed corn and bran. It had 21 "elevators" to transfer material between floors. It was upgraded once with metal turbines and crushers. Finally becoming outdated in the 1940's it ceased operations and was left to deteriorate.
It was placed on the national historic sites list in 1972 despite its condition. In 1983 a group of devoted citizens promoted restoring the mill. By this time it was in bad shape and needed an extensive rebuild. It was rededicated in 1986 and open to the public.
Besides the Mill there are several other buildings of significance that have been relocated here. Several shepherd camps, some historic log cabins, a blacksmith shop, and a barn. A small mill has been built to illustrate the process of mill grinding. The Mill site also has a small amphitheatre and hosts several events throughout the year. There is a gift shop and a small picnic area.
My visit took about an hour. I picked a slow day and was the only one visiting. Entrance and a guided tour are free.
Updated Jul 10, 2010
There are a couple places that have significance at Summer Solstice. One is an ancient calendar, another a modern piece of art.
The modern art has been placed in the wastelands of the Great Salt Lake desert...giant culverts called Sun Tunnels placed so that the summer sun rises and shines through them. I am still looking to get there.
Far to the south a unique piece of geology left a cleft in a mountain pass just west of what is now Parowan Utah. At the beginning of its historic time ancient people would pass through the gap to reach the shores of Lake Bonneville which stretched north from here past what is now the Idaho border over 300 miles away. Somewhere along the years it was used as a solar and lunar calendar with petroglyphs left on the rock to explain it all.
Of course no one since has been able to figure it out until an astrophysicist took a look. It is way too complicated to explain here, but we went on a warm mid summers eve to participate in the ancient practice. There Nowell Morris explained the markings on the rock and then led us to the ancient pile of rocks which marked the spot where we needed to stand in order for it all to work. And sure enough just like the markings on the rock showed the sun went down right in the center of the gap.
Updated Jul 8, 2010
There are certainly plenty of places to get off the pavement in Utah. From the Northern mountains to the western desert to the southern red rocks. Years ago I picked up at book called Scenic byways and backways of Utah. Slowly I've tried to get to all of them. More recently I picked up the book called Utah Byways, 65 of Utah Best Backcountry drives by Tony Huegel.
I love the PONY EXPRESS trail. This 129 miles dirt road looks and feels much like it would have 150 yrs ago when stagecoaches and pony express riders rode the dirt playa to California.
I love the OUTLAW TRAIL out of Vernal. Here is where the Wild Bunch would hide, or take the trails between Wyoming and central Utah. It is still wild west with a few ranches, some good fishing on the Green and the John Jarvie Ranch restoration to explore.
The WEDGE OVERLOOK in the San Rafael Desert covers part of the old Spanish Trail. The route from Santa Fe to the missions of California had to go the long way around the Grand Canyon and desert plateaus surrounding it. There are views of the Little Grand Canyon of the San Rafael river, and in Buckthorn Wash dinosaur prints and ancient Indian petroglyphs.
The WHITE RIM TRAIL in Canyonlands National Park winds 103 miles along a plateau reached via several white knuckle roads down from the mesa top. Camping on the trail requires advance permits that go quickly in the prime Spring and Fall months.
The COTTONWOOD WASH or JOHNSON CANYON/SKUTUMPAH roads in Grand Staircase-Escalante provide great views and off the beaten paths options. From the Cottonwood road you can see Grosvenor Arch or the Round Valley slot canyons, explore the Cottonwood Coxscomb and narrows. From the Johnson Canyon you can visit Willis, Lick or Bull Gorge Slots.
There are plenty of others, those are just the ones I've been on. It is important with dirt road travel that you have the right vehicle that you are well prepared with vehicle repair items and have sufficient water and food for any emergency as you are often miles of empty desert or mountain away from help.
Updated Jun 27, 2010
If the building in my photo looks familiar, maybe this will jog your memory:
”Raindrops keep fallin’ on my head ...”
Yes, this is the location for the famous “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” bicycle scene, as well as several other less well-known films. The building formed the backdrop as Butch took Etta for a ride on the then new-fangled invention.
Grafton is fairly well-preserved, although not restored to the extent that some ghost towns are, so it retains a lot of character and is very photogenic. It is also rarely visited despite its proximity to popular Zion National Park. Access is down a four mile dirt road, but perfectly manageable in a standard car – we were fine in our hired Toyota.
The town was established in 1859 as a settlement for cotton-growers farming the fertile plains next to the Virgin River. Frequent floods and Indian attacks caused problems for these early pioneers, but some persisted and the town became quite successful. It lasted until the 1930s when residents moved away to better land in Hurricane, 30 miles west. Today you can still see several of the buildings, including a church and the large house featured in the film. There is also an interesting the old cemetery, with a few dozen graves from the period 1860 – 1910. Inscriptions tell of the harsh conditions experienced by Grafton’s early settlers, such as the three Berry brothers (and one wife), all killed by Indians on April 2nd 1866, or the five children of John and Charlotte Ballard, all of whom died between 1865 and 1877, all under the age of 10.
Directions Turn south from UT-9 near Rockville on Bridge Lane, cross the Virgin River (on a single-track iron bridge), and follow road, which soon becomes unpaved. due west. After 2 miles the main road curves back south, while the road to Grafton turns off to the right, parallel to the river.
Written Apr 5, 2010
Among the delights of touring in the US are the quirky “one of a kind” sights that you can come across from time to time. Often tacky, always somewhat kitsch, these make an occasional change from the wonderful landscapes and capture our imaginations in a very different but nevertheless enjoyable way. One such sight is Utah’s Hole N" The Rock, south of Moab. Here a 5,000 square foot home has been carved out of a sandstone cliff. This home was the dream, and in part the creation, of Albert Christensen. After 12 years of labour, during which he also carved this sculpture of Franklin D Roosevelt on the rock face above the entrance, he died in 1957, leaving his widow Gladys to carry on and fulfil his dream. She completed the 14 room house and developed it into a visitor attraction. She died in 1974 and the couple are buried here near the home they built and loved.
Since we visited it seems further attractions have been added, such as a petting zoo, but it is the house itself that you should consider stopping for. The interior is something to behold! Unfortunately photography was not allowed inside, so check out the photo gallery on the website to see what I mean.
Entry costs %5.00 for adults and $3.50 for children, who I imagine would love it here.
Directions 12 Miles South of Moab Utah on US Highway 191
Written Apr 5, 2010
While Utah is best known for its wonderful natural attractions, Newspaper Rock State Park gives us an opportunity to pause and think about the people who came this way long before us and no doubt were as awed by this landscape as we are today. Here etched into a 200 square foot chunk of sandstone are the images and symbols carved by different cultures over 2,000 years of human habitation in this area. The first carvings were made around 2,000 years ago, and although a few are as recent as the early 20th century, left by the first modern day explorers of this region, the main groups have been attributed to the Anasazi (AD 1 to 1300), Fremont (AD 700 to 1300) and Navajo (AD 1500 onwards). What is more, unlike many other similar sites, this one is very easily accessible and very clear to see. Time and weather have varnished the stone with a black patina and the carvings stand out very clearly, as you can see from my photos.
The rock is right next to Utah Route 211, 24 miles northwest of Monticello on the main road into the Needles section of Canyonlands National Park. But I have placed it here as “Off the Beaten Path” because apparently most visitors to the region hurry past without even realising what they are missing, I’m so glad my research pointed me towards it so that we knew to stop and see this record of human history.
There are no facilities here to speak of, apart from a parking area and picnic site. Camping is not allowed. There is no entrance fee.
Written Apr 5, 2010
Not far from Green River is a cold water geyser going by the name of Crystal. Apparently it goes off once every 10/12/15 hours. There's not a lot of people actually stay there long enough to have a good idea, so even in town we found no-one that could actually pin the time down. So, of course we didn't see it, but did witness quite a bit of hubbling and bubbling. The owner of the motel we stayed in gave us the reason for the pipe that is rammed into the head of the geyser and that it is a security measure. A while ago in another area, a small child slipped into a geyser's head as wide as this one, so there was a widespread panic over all geysers that are in un-watched areas such as this. Green River solved the problem of this one by having this long pipe rammed into it. Not very aesthetic but......
The road out is quite simple : Follow Main street out to the east past the truck stop (they do a great breakfast) and over the I-70. a hundred metres on take the left at the T-junction. Follow this through to the first crossroads and turn right. There is an information board here and a couple of old buildings that are part of an ancient missile site. From there follow the road round always keeping to your right. There are a couple of signs to help out.
Updated Jan 9, 2010
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