It occurs to me that my enthusiasm for old stock trails might be a little unusual. This hike, however, was one of the best I’ve done in some time. The Cove Trail came to my attention about three years ago, and shortly thereafter something more came to my attention. I originally noticed the trail on the 1948 USGS topo map for Woodside, Utah, but it’s omitted from later maps. I don’t remember what led to me finding an archaeological report related to nearby mining activities, but that report mentioned some cultural sites at the top and bottom of the trail.
Alan and I finally put this hike on our calendars and set out on March 11th to get ‘er done. We took my Jeep and drove as close as we could to the bottom of the trail, first along an old railroad grade and then following an old bulldozed road, neither of which have received any official maintenance in many years. I shifted into 4-low, more to take it slowly over very rocky sections than for traction. A washout kept us from driving as far as I’d wanted–it was passable by ATVs but I didn’t dare attempt it in my WJ. After some road-walking we began searching for a boulder shelter that had been discovered and excavated by archaeologists in the early 80s. The report I’d read mentioned several metates and manos that had been left behind, as well as many stone tools and potsherds that had been collected. A couple of metates and a mano were still visible there, along with a couple of worked stone tools. The report concluded that this was primarily a plant processing location. Standing in that spot, I couldn’t help but wonder what sort of existence could be made there with no water available.
Working our way back to the road we discovered some historic junk: an old cowboy camp and some apparent leftovers from when the road was originally bladed. The road crossed a steep wash and there we departed the relative ease-of-travel in favor of a rocky path leading to the steep escarpment of the Book Cliffs. Vestiges of the old sheep trail were barely discernible in the lower clay layers. Above the narrow clay ridges the potential path widened and we began seeing relic cans, bottles, and jars. Alan suggested a snack break, and so while looking for a spot to sit down I discovered an old coyote trap three-quarters buried in the dirt. What a neat find!
Upward we continued, ascending the mountain while only occasionally seeing definite signs of the trail. I imagine that in many stretches there was no single trail but, rather, a general route that the shepherds followed. Only through the more rugged portions was a trail constructed. We reached the bottom of a large cliff band and followed it generally south until we were below the “notch.” Here, a fault or some other force of nature has created a rare cleft that breaches the cliff band. At the bottom of the notch were a couple of rock walls that once served to keep livestock constrained to one end or another of the trail.
One final steep but smooth climb led us to the top of the Book Cliffs. A huge, eight-foot-tall cairn greeted us there. Alan (I think half-jokingly) mentioned that I should place a geocache there. I thought about it for a few seconds and decided it was actually a great place for one and pulled a small container out of my backpack and placed it at the base of the cairn. We ate lunch nearby and then, just for the helluvit, walked a little way up Little Park Wash. Twice in the past [1, 2] I had searched Little Park Wash, both upstream and downstream from this area, for a petroglyph panel that I had read about in the mining report but didn’t locate it either of those times. I only wanted to quickly walk through the wash on this trip to rule it out–I wasn’t actually expecting to find any rock art. But that we did! Alan was walking just ahead of me and said something like, “Is this it?” Sure enough, once I got within a few feet I could make out the badly weathered and faded petroglyphs. Very few of the petroglyphs could still be distinguished even though the panel was originally very large.
Finding the rock art was the cherry on top of an already satisfying hike. We headed back toward the trail and enjoyed the view from the top before descending. We were able to more closely follow the trail on the way down due to our high vantage point. Alan found an old pair of shed antlers, and I found an old 7Up bottle while we dropped in elevation. It took us a fraction of our ascent time to get back to the bottom of the trail. The road-walking back to the vehicle was a bit of a drag, but spirits were high in light of the success of our excursion.