Along the Burr
|When it's hot, the desert is not a nice place
to be. But when the temperature is moderate, I enjoy the
special charm of a varied desert landscape. The rocks, the
hills, the little canyons, the shrubs and gnarled trees and the
silent backdrop of mighty mountains do something good to me.
It's probably a visceral reminder of something I enjoyed as a small
child. I think it takes me back to when I was three or four
years old and we were visiting my grandmother living in desolation
where she was helping my uncle homestead a claim of 160 acres in the
desert below Big Bear, California. My mind provides this
wonderful picture of awaking to slanting rays illuminating a 200
foot hill covered with huge boulders, cactus and Joshua trees.
I remember the meandering road that my uncle had scraped out to
reach the cabin. I do enjoy roads that meander.
|Moving along this narrow dirt road into
this delightful desert setting was exactly the trigger needed to
bring up this desert fascination from my subconscious. But
this road is longer than the one my uncle built. His was
possibly three miles long. This one is 66 miles. His was
called Parsons Ranch
Road. This one is The
Burr Trail. |
Back in 1846, a bit before my
visceral stimulants were formed, a boy was born. His name was
John Burr. But his name couldn't stop there. It had to
be John Atlantic Burr. Why? Because he was born
on the SS Brooklyn somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. His family
eventually found their niche and named it Burrville, Utah about 100
miles north of here. John himself began seasonally running
cattle here between Boulder, Utah and Bullfrog Basin. And his
trail... well, it's this road now called the Burr Trail. And
don't you think "John Atlantic Burr" is the perfect name for
a Lake Powell Ferry running in the area opened up by John Atlantic
A Desert Landscape
|Now deserts do not all have this
charm. Those that stretch hopelessly into sameness, those that
do not invite you to stroll to a rock with shade or a spot of
green, a sandy wash or a narrow draw; those leave one wanting to
drive and drive to a more pleasant place. But here along the
Burr Trail, the sights and fragrances are varied and often
touchable. Here, at the right moment, are blazing colors of
vibrant life. |
Large Desert Shrub
Look but do not touch!!
|There is absolutely no way that you can
call this road "boring." Around each turn you find another
surprise. One reason: We are following one of the most amazing
geologic phenomena anywhere, the 100-mile-long waterpocket fold of
southern Utah, the place where the earth was moved by the finger of
God and tipped up to form this long barrier reef. It is so
unique it has been established as Capitol Reef National Park.
John Atlantic Burr followed it with his cattle as we are today, in
that we also are looking for the place where we might cross.
|But you need a map to understand how
this trail works. And you need a few words about what to
expect in terms of road quality and safety. |
recommendations I read say that in dry weather you can expect to
travel without difficulty with any ordinary passenger car. But
RV's and vehicles pulling trailers are "not recommended." And
if it rains, there are places where even 4-wheel drives can become
So here we are with a "not recommended."
But let's not go over that again. We'll be "careful."
Before long the road begins to tip upward. Not
too badly; just a little curvy. Then suddenly I see a sharp
turn ahead where the roadway abruptly ramps up even more! My
reflexes put the automatic transmission lever into "1" then I push
on the accelerator. Gotta keep our momentum!! Must not
stop on this hill with a trailer behind! My subconscious
visualizes trying to back down with the trailer.... No
way!! The engine whirrs with determination! Our angels
are flapping their wings with all their might! The wheels are
gripping. Can it be there is no loose gravel on this dirt
road?? One tight 180-degree turn upward! Another!
Then another! .... Don't bother counting, just
concentrate! I don't know if it was five or fifty, but we
finally crept over the top.
I read later that this
road rises 800 feet in just a half-mile! That calculates to a
30% grade, a 30-foot rise for each 100-foot run. In our
travels the steepest grade I've seen signed on a public roadway was
15%. This one had no such sign. But then this is
The Burr Trail.
Chills come over me every time I ponder the possibility of the
engine missing a beat, or the momentum slowing to a stop. I'm
convinced it was a miracle that we made it. Thank you Lord for
your mercy, and for letting us experience this fascinating place!
Mary says, "Let's not do that again!" I silently
When I began breathing again, I stopped to take a
picture of the switchbacks below.
I could see only one hairpin, probably the third one down. I didn't want to get too
close to the edge to look. Yes, there's the road coming up to
the switchbacks. But I can't see the bottom of the
switchbacks. They're hidden by the brow of this precipice!
But how did John get all those cows up here? . . . .
|Here's a picnic table with a view rivaling the space
needle! The Henry Mountains are standing beyond the east
side of the "fold" across from us. All is silent.
Above us we know for certain that God is smiling. And
right now, even baked salmon would be no more special than our
baloney sandwiches. We are at the half-way point on the
The dirt road continues for another 3 miles to the western border
of Capitol Reef National Park. Beyond that we have a solid,
smooth, paved highway.
|Once out of the National Park, we begin crossing the northern
corner of Escalante National Monument.
The colors of the these
dunes compete well with those of the Painted Desert east of
Holbrook, Arizona. If my memory serves me, these reds are much more
brilliant and are dotted more frequently with green sage and
When President Clinton was invited by
environmental activists to stop by at the Grand Canyon's South Rim
to sign his Executive Order, he brought these 1.7 million acres into a
new national monument called The Grand Staircase - Escalate National
Monument. That was September 18, in the election year 1996. It was a
popular action with people far away and disconnected with the area,
but it put many local people into hardship.
But because of
prior mining activities, Escalante has a wealth of hiking and
primitive back roads to be explored by outdoor enthusiasts.
To Capitol Reef National Monument >>
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