Chris and I started out our ATV/camping trip a little before 9:00AM on Thursday morning, after having spent the better part of the previous evening making sure we had everything we needed and loading our gear. It was windy nearly the whole day, which made for interesting riding conditions. While riding at high speeds on gravel roads, sometimes gusts of wind would actually cause the ATVs to drift around a bit. We left Price on the gravel roads northeast of town and met up with Coal Creek Road, which we followed into Wellington. We crossed US-6 onto Ridge Road and then quickly turned onto Farnham Road and traveled into the San Rafael Swell. There wasn’t much stopping or sightseeing since it was all familiar territory. After crossing the Price River bridge, we stopped at an overlook for a couple of minutes, then cruised on the nice gravel roads further into the Swell. I ran over a snake sunning itself on the road, and we saw a couple of pronghorn, one of which was bedded down right next to the road until we came along and he bolted off.
A little more than two hours after leaving my house we arrived at the intersection at Buckhorn Well, and we continued roughly southwest along Fuller Bottom Draw. The river crossing at Fuller Bottom went smoothly, and on the south side of the river we took a break from riding while we ate a snack and rested. We got moving again and followed the moderately rough road around the Little Wedge, peering down into North Salt Wash and looking across to Sid’s Mountain. We got to Dutch Flat Road (at the Coal Wash staging area) at 12:30PM and started making better time on the graded (and in some places, graveled) road. We took a detour on a side road for a couple of miles so that Chris could find a geocache (involving a short hike) that I’d already found last year, and a bit farther down the main road we stopped for another cache that I’d passed up several times on previous trips through the area. After that we just cruised on toward Ferron and our first fuel stop.
On Molen Road, less than a mile from the gas station, my engine started to sputter. We’d gone almost 90 miles and I was getting low on fuel, so I turned the fuel switch to Reserve, which should have given me 20 or 30 more miles. At Gilly’s in Ferron, Chris and I got fuel (mine took an extra 0.2 gallons more than Chris’) and Chris went inside to get something for lunch. We drove around the corner to the city park and ate lunch and took our second break of the day. Then we rode into west Ferron to Millsite Reservoir, where we stopped to try finding a couple of geocaches, neither of which we found–they both seemed to be obviously missing. The locations were nice, though, and we had fun scrambling around on some rocks there. We continued up Ferron Canyon to the Dragon Trail that leads to the Joe’s Valley area. This was the first part of the route that I hadn’t previously been on, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. The trail immediately got steep and a bit rough, and it was an honest-to-goodness ATV trail (unlike the gravel and dirt roads we’d been following all day). It was really fun as the trail climbed and climbed, then reached a valley and traversed some hilly terrain all the way to the divide between Black Dragon Creek (which flows south into Ferron Creek) and North Dragon Creek (which flows north into Joe’s Valley Reservoir). From there it was nice gravel roads and a short stretch of pavement in the middle as we passed Joe’s Valley Reservoir on our way to our first campsite near Grassy Lake.
We took the Grassy Lake turnoff some time around 6:00PM and chose a campsite about two-thirds of a mile down the road. Our total mileage for the day was about 120 miles. There was a motorhome a few hundred feet away, but it appeared unoccupied. We set up camp and fixed dinner, and met the motorhome owner as he returned to his camp on an ATV. He later offered us some firewood, which we took and added to some we’d already collected from other unoccupied sites just after dinner. Chris and I each had a couple of drinks and spent the evening around the fire bullshitting. We turned in before 11:00PM, and I had a really bad night. I slept uncomfortably on the hard ground, and tossed and turned all night. Shortly after 7:00AM the next morning I couldn’t stay in bed any longer and got up to start breakfast. I made coffee by boiling some water and using a coffee filter to steep the grounds like you’d do with tea, and I cut a few pieces of banana bread off a loaf that I’d brought for both Chris and I. I also took some ibuprofen for the headache I had from lack of sleep and the pain that had developed in my shoulder and arm from sleeping on the hard ground. My shoulder felt like it had a muscle spasm and was pinching a nerve, and I could feel it all the way down my left arm.
We took down camp and got rolling at around 9:30AM, and found a couple of geocaches on the road to Grassy Lake. After the second cache, we turned around and got back on the main road leading up to Skyline Drive. We detoured to Pete’s Hole (a very nice little reservoir) and the Ephraim Tunnel (used to divert water from one side of the mountain to the other), and found a few more caches while we made our way to Skyline. At Skyline Drive we turned north and followed it to the Spring City turnoff, and after a couple of miles reached the Spring City Tunnel (also used to divert water to the east side of the mountain). There was an old geocache there that I’d wanted to find for a long time. We then ascended back to Skyline Drive and continued north until we reached the Mt. Pleasant turnoff, which we took on our way into Mt. Pleasant for fuel. Skyline Drive had been fairly rough between the Spring City and Mt. Pleasant turnoffs, but the road leading down into Mt. Pleasant was downright nasty. It was nothing but rocks for the most part, and where there was some dirt, it was rutted and washed out. It wasn’t until we were almost to the valley floor that the road leveled out and was nicely graded and graveled. In Mt. Pleasant we fueled up, and both ATVs took about 2.6 gallons. We steeled ourselves for the bumpy ride back to Skyline Drive and set out again.
It was about 4:00PM when we left Mt. Pleasant, and we didn’t want to spend the night above 10,000 feet on Skyline, so we hauled ass north without stopping much. We crossed UT-31 at the top of Huntington and Fairview canyons, and also rode a couple of miles of pavement (probably illegally) on UT-264 to reach the northern stretch of Skyline Drive. We’d lost some elevation as we went north, and we found a camp spot about four miles north of the UT-31/UT-264 junction that was close to 9,000′. My shoulder and arm had been hurting all day, and the roads had been crappy, but by the time we reached our camp spot I was feeling better both physically and mentally. Despite what felt like a really long day, we only covered about 85 miles. We didn’t get camp set up until just after 7:00PM, and we scavenged enough wood from neighboring camp sites that we could have a nice big fire to keep us warm after a day of very cold riding. The sunset was beautiful that night, and the crescent moon and Venus were shining brightly in the western sky after the sun went down. I made some adjustments to my sleeping situation–I folded my sleeping pad in half and kept it under my upper body, and wore an extra sweatshirt–and slept much better that night. The next morning I awoke with no pain in my shoulder or arm, and I actually felt rested.
I was up at 7:30AM on Saturday, the third and final day of our adventure. I made coffee and got the fire going again while Chris slept a bit longer. We took our time taking camp down, and spent some time letting the frost on the tents melt and dry out in the sun. We were loaded up and back on the road a little after 10:00AM, and set out to find some more geocaches and to explore the area off our planned route a bit more than we had the previous two days. We found a couple of easy caches on Oak Creek Ridge above Milburn, then hiked to an old beaver pond just below a natural spring below C Canyon Ridge. We lost over 300′ of elevation bushwhacking down to the pond, found the cache there, then shed our jackets for the strenuous climb back up to the 4-wheelers. We took a few more detours on Jones Ridge, Garret Ridge (where we stopped briefly for lunch), and Fish Creek Ridge, finding some older geocaches along the way. We then followed Skyline Drive along Clear Creek, leaving the national forest, all the way to Tucker where the old rest area used to be just off of US-6. The rest area was demolished last year to make way for a widening/straightening project on the highway, and I wasn’t sure what we would encounter there, since the old dirt road used to pass directly through the rest area before turning south again and following Starvation Creek up to Scofield.
When we got to Tucker, it was hot! It was definitely the warmest it had been at any point on the trip, and we were anxious to gain some elevation and get back into the mountains where it was cooler. We got close to US-6, where I was expecting to find a dirt road curving around the hill to the Starvation road, but instead we were greeted with merely a stop sign at the highway, with traffic passing by at 60+ miles per hour. There had been an ATV trail farther back that climbed up and over the hill to the road we wanted to be on, but it was exceedingly steep and I didn’t want to turn back and try it with all the gear we had on the ATVs. Instead, we rode on the shoulder of the highway, weaving around the highway signs and reflector posts for almost two-tenths of a mile before turning onto the Starvation road. There was a geocache at the old Tucker cemetery that I hadn’t yet found, and a gated road led up to the cemetery after crossing over a rickety-looking wooden bridge. There were no signs saying that the road couldn’t be traveled, so we opened the gate, crossed the bridge (after standing/bouncing on it to test its worthiness for the ATVs), and checked out the cemetery. Then we cruised up the Starvation road, heading toward Scofield.
The Starvation road had been pulverized from heavy traffic and in some places had several inches of fine dust covering the surface, and it was by far the dustiest road we rode on during the trip. We were getting low on fuel, and as we traveled toward Scofield we kept expecting the engines to cut out. About eight miles up the road from Tucker mine finally started sputtering, so I stopped and turned the fuel switch to Reserve once again. Chris was a long way behind me due to the dust, but it seemed like I was stopped there for a really long time before he caught up. When he finally did catch up, he said that he’d also had to stop to switch over to the reserve. We hadn’t gained much elevation at that point, despite having traveled quite a distance from Tucker, but the road ahead entered a narrower canyon and began climbing first through thick aspen and then pines where it reentered the national forest. When the road reached a saddle between Starvation Creek and Pondtown Creek, we were faced with a choice. Our fuel gauges were almost sitting on Empty, and though we had an extra two gallons of fuel to split between us, we really didn’t want to have to use it. There was an intersection at the saddle, with one road climbing northwest toward Bear Ridge and two more geocaches, and the other road descending southeast into Scofield.
We decided to risk having to dip into our reserve fuel supply and headed up toward Bear Ridge to find the caches there. One of them required a short hike, and then a lengthy search among some rocks where we finally found the cache after nearly having given up the search, and the other cache we drove right to. We began heading toward Scofield then, taking it easy on the throttle and even coasting in neutral down the steeper hills. We reached Scofield Reservoir at the bottom of Bear Canyon, and from there it was a fairly level road to the town of Scofield, most of it paved. We’d been riding for about 10 miles with the fuel gauges on Empty, but we made it to the Snack & Pack gas station in Scofield without having to use the extra fuel in the gas can. We each took on about 3.2 gallons (the ATVs have 3.4-gallon tanks), then rode south out of Scofield on UT-96. A coal train was blocking the railroad crossing at the bottom of Broad’s Canyon, so we had to ride farther on the highway to the end of the tracks, then followed a gravel road on the other side of the tracks back to Broad’s Canyon. We stopped there to don an extra jacket, since the sun was setting and it was cold in the shadow of the mountains. We climbed the switchbacks out of Broad’s Canyon and back into the sunshine, then began descending the other side of the mountain into the Consumers area.
At the bottom of the road coming down off the mountain, we hit the paved Consumers Road and made good time toward Helper. Just past the Wildcat loadout, we turned onto some dirt roads leading into Helper, and the sun had fully set at that point and the Belt of Venus was beautiful and bright in the eastern sky. It was full dark as we passed through the tunnel under US-6 and the streets of Helper. On the east side of Helper we met up with the old railroad grade leading to Kenilworth which, due to washouts, had some of the most technical riding we’d done on this trip. Our headlights lit the way as we passed between Spring Glen and Kenilworth and onto the plateau north of Price. We descended Wood Hill and rode the city streets in the dark toward home, and arrived there to find that Traci had opened the driveway gate and left the back door light on for us. We’d ridden another 115 miles for the day.
All told, it was three days, 321 miles, and 29 geocaches found. I learned a few lessons on this ride. Thinking that it could be done in two days was overly-ambitious. Three days was barely adequate to complete the ride and to take in the sights and do a little exploration off the main route. I’m glad that we planned for three days, and that I had a full day to rest after the trip before returning to work. My assumption that the road into Mt. Pleasant would be a good one was also a mistake. A little research after the fact turned up what I now know to be true, that the road is in very rough shape. Knowing what I know now, I would have went into Spring City for fuel, even though that would have increased the mileage between our next fuel stop at Scofield, requiring us to use the spare two gallons. I also need to get a better sleeping pad–“roughing it” shouldn’t be that uncomfortable. Other than those few minor issues, the trip was overall a huge success. We got to see a lot of central Utah in just a few days, while getting away from the stresses and everyday routine of the “real world”. It’s probably a little late in the year, and too cold at the higher elevations, to do another trip like this, but I think it’s time to start planning the next one.
Photo Gallery: Castle Valley-Skyline Loop
GPS Track and Photo Waypoints:
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