Our Vantage Points
The Burr Trail
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.

Along the Burr Trail

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 Burr?

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.
Blossoming Large Desert Shrub
Blossoming Cactus
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.

The 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 mired. 

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 agree.

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 Burr Trail.

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 junipers.

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.


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