Posts Tagged ‘Burr trail’

“Perfect is overrated.” – Tina Fey

Burr Trail switchbacks through Waterpocket Fold on the back way to Capital Reef National Park.


Back when I was an environmental reporter for the Standard-Examiner in Ogden, Utah, there was an ongoing battle about what Southern Utah wilderness areas should be protected. One of the battle issues involved the Burr Trail that begins in the small, off-the-beaten-track town of Boulder. The four-wheel drive, mostly unpaved road takes adventurers through a spectacular landscape to Capital Reef National Park and/or Lake Powell’s Bullfrog Marina in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

Hoodoos at sunrise in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

I’ve driven the trail twice, once just for the sightseeing, then again with a photographer for a newspaper story shortly after the area was included as part of The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument that was designated by President Bill Clinton in 1996 – and more recently in 2020 reduced in size by the current man in charge at the White House.

Today, the first 30 miles of the 69-mile or so backroad is paved, which is more than when I traveled it.

I still remember those journeys vividly. Being away from all signs of human activity, surrounded by Mother Nature’s works untouched by development without even the mechanical hum of a refrigerator was soul renewing

I remember stopping at one breathtaking view and getting out of the vehicle to take it all in. It was one of those moments in my life when I felt I was exactly where I should be exactly when I should be.

Those moments have been rare, as I spent most of my life racing from one place to the next, hurrying to meet the expectations of both myself and others. I’ve met about half of those expectations, but until this season of my life never stopped to appreciate the outcomes.

While I don’t like the current social isolation so many of us are experiencing, I do like this quieter winter of my years. It has become the season for me to both learn new things, because I have time to read and study, and to make sense of my own history.

Each day I create a to-do list of more things I want to accomplish before day’s end than there are minutes and hours to accomplish. Thus, I have a starting point and a reason to wake up the next morning.

But when I first started this habit more than a half century ago, I actually expected to complete all the many listed tasks and heartily berated myself for failing. Foolish me!

Having accepted my limitations is why I copied the following quote by Dorothy Gillman in my journal when I came across it not too long ago while reading her memoir A New Kind of Country.

“… all of must grow inside or die, that it’s given to us to live, not on a straight line but a line that slants upwards, so that at the end, having begun at Point A, we may have reached, not Z, but certainly an ascension to I or J.”

I’m not sure I would have understood those words in my younger years. I guess it was the right time for me to read them. Just as the 1990s’ were the right time for me to drive the Burr Trail and explore the Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument, which I hope still belongs to all Americans when our children’s children are old enough to appreciate public lands.

Bean Pat: To all the utility workers in Tucson who got our power back on after the wind storm this week, and to all the others out there who continue to work at risk to themselves during this coronavirus pandemic, and to all those out in public who wear masks to keep not just themselves but others safe.

Pat Bean is a retired journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon, and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

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 “You cannot be wimpy out there on the dream-seeking trail. Dare to break through barriers, to find your own path.” Les Brown

The Henry Mountains as seen from Highway 12's beginning in Torrey, Utah -- photo by Pat Bean

*Travels With Maggie

Utah Highway 12, a 125-mile Scenic Byway that runs from Torrey just outside of Capitol Reef to Highway 89, has been called America’s most beautiful drive.

Yippee! Driving it was my agenda for the day.

The journey for my dog, Maggie, and I began in the Dixie National Forest. The narrow road through the woodlands, with rarely another vehicle in sight, climbed steeply upwards, offering spectacular views of snowy peaks in the Henry Mountains.

The nearer landscape was a mixture of red earth and rocks heavily dotted with cedar and sagebrush that gave away to tall pines and firs and still leafless aspen at higher altitudes.

I stopped at all the overlooks to gasp in wonder. I also gasped with delight when, just as I topped a 9,600-foot summit, a soaring red-tailed hawk glided past.

I didn’t mind at all that the winding and steepness of the road often meant traveling at speeds of 25 mph or even less at times.

The Burr Trail Grill and Trading Post, the civilized beginning of the Burr Trail Scenic Backroad. -- Photo by Pat Bean

It was just after 11 a.m. when I pulled into Boulder, a tiny town of less than 200 that was just 35 miles away from Torrey.

This scenic town was once so inaccessible that it was the last place in America to still get its mail delivered by mule power. That changed after a road was finally built to it from Escalante in 1939. It was 1947, however, before Boulder got electrical power.

My timing to hit the town, which sits at an elevation of 6,700 feet in the shadow of 11,700-foot Boulder Mountain, was perfect. I could have a leisurely lunch at the Burr Trail Grill, so named because of its access to the trail that’s been a hot land issue for Utahns for many years.

Pointing the way. -- Photo by Pat Bean

As I sat there, eating a spicy, guacamole hamburger made from 100 percent organic beef raised in Boulder, and my split pea, asparagus and shallot salad, memories of my last meal here and my drive on the four-wheel drive trail flooded my little gray cells.

I had been accompanied back then by a professional photographer. We were paired up together to do illustrated newspaper stories on the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument that had been newly created by President Bill Clinton, and on the controversy surrounding the proposed paving of the Burr Trail.

The wild and scenic backroad, which is now partially paved, begins in Boulder – right next to where I was having lunch — and runs through Capitol Reef National Park’s Waterpocket Fold and then on to Bullfrog in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

While the road is only about 70 miles long, it took the two of us from early morning to dusk to drive. Of course that included frequent stops and us getting lost a couple of times.

One special moment of the trip that I recalled this day was standing beside our turned-off vehicle, facing a landscape that appeared untouched by human hands, and being amazed at the quietness. It was as if all of a sudden I realized how amazing it was not to even hear the quiet hum of a refrigerator.

If ever I had a day I could repeat, this one would certainly be on the list.

But there was no time for regretting that this wasn’t that “Groundhog” day. There was still more of Highway 12 ahead. And next up was the mind-boggling Hogsback section of our drive.

I’ll tell you all about that tomorrow.

*Day 11 of the Journey, April 29, 2011

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