Adapted from 4Wheeler article written in the 80’s, hope you like it
Flash back from The Last Grand Adventure
The burros had been well-behaved on the nine-day trip, and the time had passed quickly but now our donkeys were suspicious! They stood at Hall’s crossing looking out over Lake Powell as the ferry moved in to her berth and opened her maw to be loaded. I could see that six little brains were questioning my wisdom. The donks would take turns looking back at me as though to say, “This is just a camp-site right… I mean it is 4:00. Surely you don’t expect us to go on west from here!”
Then the ferry came cruising up the lake as it approached it dropped its loading ramp like a monster opening its jaws and regurgitating its content of cars and trucks. The burros turned to look at me as if to say “Okay we have seen the beast you don’t expect us to get closed do you?
I will always be thankful that the drive onto John Atlantic Burr Ferry was all downhill!
The ferry attendants motioned us to come on first, and Carol led out with lead lines attached to our leaders. I spoke to the team and let out the brake. They weren’t exactly willing to go on board that ‘steel monster’ but they went! With Carol leading on before and the wagons pushing from behind, they went!
You could see scuff marks from golden shoes leading up the gangplank behind us and six donkeys stood shivering and stiff-legged on the deck but we were on our way across Lake Powell.
The next three miles were the only miles of the trek that our donkeys got to ride. They were certainly good about the whole thing, the cars, and trucks rolling on behind us, the deafening blast of the fog-horn sounding in our ears and But when the waves started lapping against the moving ferry. That was the scariest part for the Guys I was real proud of them all. Even Rags! But just to make a show of caring I placed life jackets on each burro Bean and Chaps looked silly in bright orange life jackets and hats Bean with her Tweety Bird floppy blue hat and Chaps with his red ball cap from a local Truck Stop.
The only time they fretted at all was in Bullfrog Basin where the ferry unloaded her cargo. The cars and trucks were all allowed to leave first and the burros were afraid they were going to be left behind! They gnawed their bits and jangled their bells in earnest, asking for permission to join the procession. There were no scuff marks leading off that ferry.
Mark Pita, who was working for the U.S. Park Service came to Bullfrog Basin to meet us. He brought us a map of the area and while Carol drove our wagons the first three miles up hill from the ferry As I left the wagon the Guyswanted to put as much distance between them and the Atlantic Burr Ferry MONSTER (all Carol had to do was push the brake on the down hill the burros would find the boss for her.)
Mark took me into town to make some telephone calls and pick up some groceries. When I got to the store I was a little “furmusheled”. Now you might think that I am a “prude” but that store was filled with people in what they called swim suites. “I have seen more cotton in an aspirin bottle. Brazen Maidens of fifteen or so with their… EVERY THING hanging out and what was not hanging out was poking through the cloth. Not to say I was not impressed: it was that I was that was the problem. If Carol had been there she would have Smacked me and rightly so it was a place that I wished to leave and stay at the same time.
Roger and Debbie Randolph who raise churo sheep on Gnat Ranch north of Bullfrog delivered six bales of hay to us after we crossed Lake Powell and when they brought it they brought along four bottles of home-made gnat repellent, a loaf of home-made bread, a pound of big black cherries and two tomatoes. (Roger would show up twice more to help us along the way and bring generous gifts.)
The folk of Bullfrog weren’t done giving. Mark’s friend Lisa found us later and brought us two pounds of tortilla flour, two potatoes, one onion and a bag of carrots for the donkeys.
We invited her to stay for a dinner of omelets and fried potatoes. She declined. We offered to let her enter the electric fence to feed the burros her gift of carrots and she accepted.
Lisa must have told her friends about the fun she had feeding our pets, because two of her friends showed up the next morning to feed the burros more carrots!
Burr Trail is a short-cut that covers sixty-six miles of the roughest, and most scenic parts of Utah. We didn’t know how long it would take us to cover that short-cut when we started, but we did know it would be a difficult passage and we faced west moving on with grim determination.
Access to the trail was from Utah State Highway 276 just north of Bullfrog Marina and for the first couple of miles we plodded along over small hills on a chip-seal road. The speed limit signs suggested that we travel the road at 25 mph. That was a bit too fast for us!
There were two primitive camping areas beside Lake Powell in the first five miles, but we chose to camp alone at Bullfrog Creek which was dammed on the north side of the road. Since Bullfrog Creek was the last reliable water until Steep Creek, sixty miles away. We would make sure that all of our water tanks and receptacles were full when we left.
Roger Randolph saved our burros some effort in hauling all that water up hill when he came out to see us a second time. He took the water that was not in our built-in tanks up the first hill after Bullfrog Creek in his pick-up truck. It was a three mile climb.
When we got to where Roger left the water, the next day, I loaded that extra water and then we labored up another five miles that were more gradual but still a steady climb. Those two climbs were enough for one day.
It turned out that Burr Trail was all ‘rough country’ and it took twelve days of hard work to get it covered. Because the days were so hot and the work so hard we took two sweat-shirts soaked them in a barrel of water and donned them as personal air-conditioning units inspired by desperation. You see when water evaporates it cools that is why water boils at 2120 no matter how much heat you apply to a un-pressurized container.
Several times each day we’d re-soak our shirts, bathe the heads of the burros with a wet cloth and then put wet ball caps on their heads (with holes cut out for their ears.) They never liked getting their heads swabbed down but I believe they liked their caps.
It was all worth the work. We were getting further west all the time and on our rest stops we were rewarded with some beautiful views of Lake Powell shining like a sapphire, and surrounded by vivid red sandstone.
The road turned to gravel with frequent sand patches at Starr Springs Road and began to wind downward. Pulling sand is very difficult on flats and uphill climbs but luckily there hadn’t been any sand on Burr Trail until that downhill grade. We were heartened by the thought that there might be a cessation of hard labor for awhile; but then the road degenerated into a rutted dirt track!
We saw a disreputable sign for Capitol Reef National Park a little further along. We had come in the back door, and there was nobody home! We stopped and got a park map from a brochure bin by the sign.
Just past the sign we found ourselves driving downhill on what appeared to be a twisting path; we were concerned that the track might just disappear altogether. However, the path went on, crossed a cattle-guard, turned north, and then broadened out into a road again as it traveled up through a beautiful rock folded canyon bounded by colorful canyon walls. We had made it to the “water pocket fold” where the Mormon that the ferry had been named for, John Atlantic Burr, had wintered his cattle a hundred years ago!
It was a good place to rest. We hadn’t spoken to anyone that day and the night proved to be just as quiet.
We traveled four miles up canyon, the next morning, before we got our first glimpse of the famous Burr Trail Switchbacks and they went right up over the sheer face of a red cliff! It was an impressive twenty percent grade, climbing 1,000 feet in one mile. I just knew we’d have some breath-taking views back down.
That cliff ascent gave me cause to use the caisson that Sumner and I had engineered in Blanding. I unhitched the sheepherder and left it resting there beside the road on four tires instead of two You See we had devised a cute little system which allowed that axel to attach to the tongue of the sheepherder by the means of a trailer ball and a through brace that kept the axel from folding under. The axel also had clips sa that the wagon tongue would attach by this means turing our two wheel trailer in to a four wheel wagon. While leaving it behind we toiled up the switchbacks. It might have been my imagination but when I looked back over my shoulder our sheepherder wagon looked like it was lonely.
The dirt track up the switchbacks was rough. It had small sand pits in it and rocks of all sizes were strewn about over it. Patches of slick-rock caused our tires to slip. It was a rough section but it was still early morning when we began the climb and the road was shady and nice where huge monolithic rocks leaned out over the trail.
I tried to get the burros to rest on each end of the switchbacks but they would have none of it. They could see what needed to be done and they were impatient to get the job finished!
It wasn’t yet noon when we climbed out, for the first time on top of the red cliff face, at 6,000′ elevation. I brought the team to a stop at the top of the cliff and we rested for a while under the shade of a cottonwood tree. While we sat there, a beautiful new red “Four-Runner” drove past us headed toward the top of that famous red cliff. Then just a few minutes later it returned. I waved and the driver hollered out, “There’s no way I’m driving down that!
I laughed, and he’ll never know why!
After the switchbacks were conquered, and both wagons were again following the burros at the same time, we wandered briefly down hill through more huge boulders where cottonwoods grew along the road. We could see the next climb in the distance. I decided that we’d camp and do the pull in the morning.
That next six miles took us up and up through Stud Horse Peaks to 7,000′. We noticed a difference in temperature as we climbed but we weren’t about to give up our wet-shirt air-conditioning. Those switch-backs offered us our last glimpse of Lake Powell. We had been within view of the lake for days and days and we weren’t sorry to see that we’d finally left it behind for good.
At the end of Capitol Reef National Park we entered Escalante Grand Staircase National Monument. President Clinton had just declared it a National Monument. That section of country was beautiful as I had ever seen but you could only see a narrow band of country. I told carol that this is one of the most beautiful scenic highways I have ever seen but why did Clinton have to take and run the cow ranches of the parts that no one will ever see. Why didn’t he just make it a scenic highway?
The next major climb was between and through the red rock Circle Cliffs. They, the Circle Cliffs I mean, were beautiful red cliffs arcing three hundred and sixty degrees around us and the top one hundred feet of the giant crown was of golden yellow rock.
We made it up and over the top of the crown and dropped into Long Canyon. Long Canyon is seven miles long and it forms a natural wind tunnel. It was easy to observe the effects of water and wind on rock here because great slabs had been cracked, by natural science, off the mountain sides and they lay scattered along both sides of the narrow road.
At the end of Long Canyon we crossed Steep Creek, made what amounted to a U-turn and headed abruptly up over the shoulders of Boulder Mountain on more switch-backs. I stopped the team several times on those switchbacks to view Long Canyon. I wanted to remember its’ color, and length and store in my memory our last views of this amazing, shady, red rock canyon.
Four miles of sunny mountain slopes covered with juniper, pinion pine, and bunch grass brought us to the ditch that holds Deer Creek, a dispersed camping area with six sites, an outhouse, and a hiking trail along the creek. It was a pleasant, calm place to camp the first night but we took a day off there and the second night was not so good.
It rained the second night, and I remembered that we were in a ditch. When we got out of bed the next morning our burros were out snacking on the white and yellow clover blooming along the stream. Their fence posts had fallen over and were buried in mud as were the wheels on the wagons and the harness. We were fortunate that the donkeys, hating water like they do, did not take off for higher, drier ground without us.
We weren’t waiting for the sun to dry us out; we dug partially muddy harness out of the mud, (it was still on the harness rack) brushed them off and slapped it on the backs of our freshly brushed burros, and headed for higher ground.
A steep climb brought us out of the ditch. Half a mile further on we were in sandstone hills and a small steam chuckling at the side of the road laughed in glee upon beholding our muddy forms. It kept laughing at us until we came to the junction of Route 12.
We could have turned right on route 12 and entered the town of Boulder, Utah and Dixie National Forest but after our trial of will-power in getting over Burr Trail, we were not about to turn east. No way! Even if the next town had been five-hundred miles away to the west, there was no way we would have turned east. We couldn’t change our focus. It had become fixed on the west. We turned left toward Escalante, Utah and Bryce Canyon National Park.
We had conquered Burr Trail. The rest of Utah’s Terrain would be about like I’ve described to you only now we’d be moving ahead, for the most part, on pavement instead of dirt track…