Emery-Wasatch Plateau Loop

Contemplating a crossing of Muddy CreekOn Saturday I finally got around to doing a trip I’ve wanted to do all year. I originally planned it as a two- or three-day ATV ride beginning in the town of Emery and camping somewhere high on the Wasatch Plateau, exploring the mountains a lot, then returning to Emery via a different route. Instead, doing it in a single day was exhausting, and I had to skip one of the hikes I’d planned, but it was a fun time nonetheless. On the drive south Saturday morning, I changed my plans and decided to start the ride along Muddy Creek at the bottom of the Hole Trail. There are some private property issues along the route between there and Emery, and I wanted to get that part out of the way first so I didn’t spend the whole day worrying about it. I started the ride at about 8:20AM. I did have some difficulties at the start, and it was a relief getting them out of the way early on.
Emery LDS church buildingMuddy Creek was flowing higher than I expected, and at my planned crossing point it was too deep to attempt. Just 100 feet downstream the creek was wider and shallower, so I bushwhacked along the bank until I got to where I could cross easily. Just after the crossing there was a flooded area that I’m quite sure I would have bogged down in. The water was relatively deep and the mud beneath looked like it would easily swallow my 4-wheeler. On the other side of the mud hole was a road following the Emery Canal. There was a short but faint trail leading around the mud hole and meeting up with the canal road north of where the original road should have joined it, and I tried it. I got to the canal road just fine, but after turning south I was stopped by two large boulders completely blocking the road. I returned along the faint trail and managed to do more cross-country travel to get around the mud hole and onto the canal road south of the boulder blockage. For the next several miles as I rode toward Emery, I kept expecting to encounter a locked gate, but it never happened. I rode through Emery and breathed a sigh of relief.
Box Canyon overlookPast Emery, the road was smooth and covered in loose gravel for several miles. I climbed up the road through Link Canyon, half expecting some difficult sections, but it was easy going (although steep) to the top of the mountain. It wasn’t until I was almost to the top that the scenery changed from pinyon/juniper to aspen and various larger pine trees. Once on top, the road was bladed across the native soil and rock, and was relatively flat. I stopped to hike through Box Canyon, which looked fascinating from the satellite imagery, and it didn’t disappoint in person. The canyon started out meandering and almost slot-like, more like something I would expect to find in the desert. The sandstone seemed unusual for these mountains, though it’s Castlegate Sandstone much like I’m used to around Price. Due to recent rain, the bottom of the canyon was filled with water, and the narrowness of the canyon made hiking through the bottom impossible without getting wet and muddy. I just hiked along the canyon rim, and the canyon got deep quickly. I went as far as I could while I could still see the bottom of the canyon, but it didn’t take long before the trees were so thick and the canyon so deep that all I could see was the tops of the trees. I hiked back to the ATV and continued riding north, making a few stops for photos and one stop to hike around looking for the White Mountain Cabin listed on the USGS topo map, which I failed to locate (I assume it is no longer there).
North Fork of Muddy Creek tributaryOn my way to Skyline Drive, I stopped to check out the remains of the Clay Springs ranger station. All that remains is a stone foundation, a broken iron stove, and an outhouse. The family of the first forest ranger there erected a plaque in the middle of the foundation, and left a visitor register nearby. I signed the register and read through years of entries, surprised by the large number of people who had visited the ranger station. I stopped for photos at Mill Fork Creek and Fish Creek, which were both flowing well, and again near Peavine Flat at a very picturesque, unnamed creek that contributes to the North Fork of Muddy Creek.
Snow drift on Skyline DriveBy 12:30PM I was at Twelvemile Flat, and I was curious about what I would find in the short distance between there and Skyline Drive. I’d read on ATVUtah.com that, as of last weekend, the road was blocked by snow drifts between Twelvemile and Ferron Reservoir. There was a “Road Closed” sign in the center of the road at the turnoff to Skyline Drive, and I was hesitant to ride past it after hearing stories of forest rangers being assholes and ticketing people for such things. However, after seeing several vehicles come down off that road, I decided to continue on. I passed a couple of minivans and a passenger car going the opposite direction as I ascended toward the pass, and I couldn’t imagine that so many vehicles had gone up the road and been turned back by snow drifts, so I was suddenly hopeful that the road was open. Almost to the top there was deep snow on both sides of the road, and at the very top there was a huge snow drift blocking the road to Skyline Drive. The road down to Ferron Reservoir appeared to be open, though. I rode to Ferron Reservoir and found that there was still a drift covering easily 300′ of road, but a narrow path had been carved (recently, by the look of it) on the downhill side just wide enough for a full-sized vehicle to pass.
High Top, the highest point on Skyline DriveSince Skyline Drive was blocked, I planned on eating lunch at Ferron Reservoir instead, but I couldn’t find a shady spot near the water. I rode back up toward the pass and planned on eating lunch at Twelvemile Flat, but on my way up I took notice of a turnoff that headed north and that road appeared to go to Skyline Drive. I stopped and looked at the map on my GPS and, sure enough, the road bypassed the section of road that was blocked by the snow drift. I ascended the road, hoping not to find any more snow. There was a very small landslide partially blocking the road, but some ATVs had already driven over the landslide and it was easily passable. I got up on Skyline and stopped at High Top, the highest point along all of Skyline Drive. Woo-hoo, I’d made it! There was a sign proclaiming the high point and listing the elevation, and the ground behind it was covered in snow. I naturally wanted to play in the snow, and hit the throttle so I could do a few donuts. The relatively warm temperatures had made the snow quite soft, however, and my 4-wheeler just sunk right in. Shit. I started freeing my shovel from the bungee cords that held in place, when a couple in a RZR and, I presume, their son on a sport quad, rode in from the north. The guy driving the RZR offered to pull me out and save me a few minutes of digging, which I graciously accepted. We chatted for a bit afterward. They were from Kansas, and staying in Manti while exploring the Wasatch Plateau. They were a nice couple and it was good talking with them. After they moved along, I tried unsuccessfully to find the geocache a short distance from the high point. I rode a bit farther north and found a nice overlook of Duck Fork at which to eat lunch, then headed south. I was about halfway finished with the ride.
Natural arch above Twelvemile FlatThe next item of business was to hike to the highest point on Heliotrope Mountain. It would have been a total of four miles of hiking, but with as late in the day as it was, I decided to skip it. This proved to be a good decision later. I did ride into the gravel quarry where I had planned to begin the Heliotrope hike. I wanted to check out a small natural arch that I first saw last year when Chris and I were in the area to hike Mary’s Nipple. It was a short, steep scramble up to the arch, and it was larger than it appeared from below. I got back on Skyline Drive briefly as I rode south, then took the east fork in the road south of Twelvemile Flat. This road would lead me around the south ends of Heliotrope Point and Ferron Mountain, and eventually down the Hole Trail and back to where the truck was waiting. I stopped at Spinner’s Reservoir and was surprised by the high water level. There were small pine trees which are normally well above the water, but they were submerged now.
Flagstaff PeakThe other hike I’d had planned was to Flagstaff Peak. I was going to park on the north side of the mountain and hike straight up the steep, heavily-wooded north slope. Upon looking at that slope, however, I said, “No way.” I almost skipped this hike as well, but I knew I would be kicking myself if I didn’t do it. I rode back around to the west side of the peak and started hiking up the western ridge, which was longer than the northern route but clear of heavy trees and less steep. I was surprised at how easily I ascended the mountain, after getting my ass kicked by Mt. Ellen last weekend. The last 200 feet was a little dicey–a knife-edge ridge with a sheer dropoff on one side and a merely near-vertical slope on the other. One misstep and I would either be dead or wishing I was. I made it to the high point and really enjoyed the view from there. I could see the Book Cliffs far to the northeast, the Henry Mountains to the southeast, and most prominently, North and South Horn mountains. The descent was very fast, and after letting Torrey drink her fill of water back at the 4-wheeler, I was on my way back southeast toward the truck.
Hole Trail through Bill's ForkI had no more planned stops, except for the occasional photo stop wherever I felt like I need to snap a few. The road got rougher and narrower and steadily descended into the valley. The rise in temperature was noticeable as I got lower in elevation. The terrain gave way to an area of grasslands, then again turned to pinyon/juniper forest. I came to the top end of the Hole Trail, which is limited to vehicles 50 inches or less in width. As the trail descended into Bill’s Fork, it became rockier. Once it hit the actual bottom of the canyon in Bill’s Fork, the trail followed the water course for about 1.15 miles. It was the worst stretch of trail I think I’ve ever ridden. It was rocky and bouldery, and with the obvious changes in the water course due to heavy runoff, the trail changes often. It didn’t look as though many vehicles had been through since the last major water event, and routefinding was tricky. Several times I had to back up and find a different route due to cut banks or rocks too large to crawl over. It was a great relief when the trail climbed out of the canyon’s bottom and paralleled the canyon on higher ground. Torrey also hadn’t been enjoying the bumpy ride, and when we got out of the bottom of the canyon, I let her off to run alongside for the first time of the entire ride. In a short time I was back at the main road along Muddy Creek, and the truck was just around the corner a few hundred yards. It felt good to have the ride behind me, not just because it felt like an accomplishment, but because I was exhausted and simply ready to be done! 🙂
It took me 11 hours and I covered 80 miles on the ride. I got home and completely crashed for 10 hours. I really enjoyed most of this ride, but wouldn’t do it again because I so disliked the Hole Trail. There are no other roads or trails crossing the Muddy Creek drainage, so the Hole Trail is unavoidable if wanting to do a loop from Emery and avoid a lot of backtracking. I really loved the area up around Skyline Drive, but next time I think I’ll access it from either Ferron or Joe’s Valley. Next time better come soon, ’cause even with the snow still on the mountain, it’s only a few short months before more white stuff lets fly.

Photo Gallery

GPS Tracklog and Photo Waypoints (Google Earth .KMZ Format)

GPS Tracklog and Photo Waypoints (Google Maps)

1 thought on “Emery-Wasatch Plateau Loop

  1. Absolutely fantastic review and amazing pictures! Thanks for taking the time to write and document this – reading this really makes me want to go out there!

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