Utah ATV Adventures: Riding through Black Dragon Canyon

Thursday , August 03, 2017 - 4:00 AM

By Lynn R. Blamires, ATV Adventures columnist

On the third day of three days on the Arapeen Trail System, we had experienced all the elements of a great ride — pouring rain, slippery mud, detours, trail food, beautiful scenery and good friends. We were up from a good night’s sleep at Gilly’s in Ferron and ready to get back to reality.

Ferron is situated in a unique position between the high mountain trails of the Arapeen Trail System and the trails in the canyons of the San Rafael Swell. Just north of town, The Old Spanish Trail — a trade route connecting Santa Fe with Los Angeles — crossed the mountains between Manti and Clawson. This trail saw extensive use for 20 years, from 1829 to 1849, by pack trains.

Early 19th-century Native Americans living in the Manti area accessed this route to get to Mexico. We traveled portions of that trail on both previous days and would again today.

There was not a cloud in the sky as we left Ferron and headed west up Ferron Canyon. After missing the turn to the Ferron Picnic and Staging Area twice, we regrouped at the trailhead.

This trail was of great interest to me for several reasons. When riding the Reeder Canyon Trail and other trails near Joe’s Valley Reservoir, I could see a trail going south from the lake. As with any trail I come across when riding or driving my car, the thought crosses my mind, “I wonder where that trail goes.” Finding this trail on the map, I also noticed that it was marked with a 50-inch width restriction.

When we stopped in the Ferron picnic area the night before, we found a sign indicating that the trail had been widened to 66 inches. With our widest machine sitting at 65 inches, we determined to take this route.

The name of the canyon also caught my attention, because I have ridden another trail in the San Rafael Swell with a similar name. While that trail is called The Black Dragon Wash, this trail is The Black Dragon Canyon, with a creek at the bottom with the same name.

After passing through the gate, we crossed a bridge over the creek. Our 65-inch machine had little room to spare. The trail has some technical terrain that we enjoyed. It looked and felt like many trails I have ridden in the Swell.

Traveling north on  No. 62, we passed through the challenges of The Black Dragon Canyon and rather than sharing a well-traveled wide road with larger vehicles, we turned up the mountain on  No. 61.

This trail took us up high into cooler temperatures with picturesque views of Joe’s Valley Reservoir. This section was peppered with Utah juniper and pinyon with little grass. Approaching the reservoir, we dropped back down to  No. 62 and skirted the boating and camping facilities. We regrouped in the shade of a tree on the west side of the lake.

Leaving Joe’s Valley, we began our climb back to the Skyline Trail on No. 56. Seely Creek was far below us on our left as this track hugged the side of the mountain. As we neared the top, a sign marking a trail to the Ephraim Tunnel caught our attention.

Reaching the structure, we learned that this tunnel brought water down from the mountain into Ephraim and was built in 1937. That time slot falls into the day when government projects helped bring our country out of the Depression.

Making our way back to the Skyline, we zipped south, turning down Manti Canyon on our way back to the trucks. Stopping at a campground near Yearns Reservoir, we partook of some of our remaining trail cuisine and mused over our three-day adventure on the Arapeen.

Kevin Christiansen, with San Pete County, talked to me about trail projects planned for the summer. “Because the wider UTVs are becoming so popular, by the end of the summer we will have widened almost 78 miles of 50-inch trail to 66 inches,” he said.

When you go, take plenty of water, keep the rubber side down, and get a free map of the Arapeen Trails at www.sanpete.com.

Contact Lynn Blamires at quadmanone@gmail.com.

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