Riding the "Swell" has a completely different meaning to an ATV rider than it does to a person on a ship in the ocean.
Riding the ATV trails of the San Rafael Swell is one of the unique privileges available to the OHV community. The trails range from easy to challenging, the history is fascinating, and the scenery is spectacular.
I recently rode the Swell with members of the ATV club. We split the group, with some camping at Justensen Flats while the rest stayed in Ferron to meet the group at the flats for an afternoon ride.
I led the Ferron group south out of town to the first turn past Ferron Creek. The staging area is about 13 miles east on a dirt road. We were on the trail into Coal Wash by 9 a.m. on a beautiful autumn day. Reaching a point where Coal Wash splits, we turned east up the northern branch.
We stopped for a break in a copse of cottonwood trees glowing bright yellow in the morning sun. The rock wall to the south features a big horn sheep chiseled into the dark varnish. About 10 feet up from the sandy base, it is no bigger than a man's fist. It is easy to miss if you don't know about it.
The trail twisted through the cottonwoods and onto the entrance to the Devil's Race Track. The name is a joke because this trail is anything but fast. The benches, steps, and rock gardens make walking speed seem too fast. While it is a challenge, the rock formations, arches and overlooks are stunning. We looked into canyons with sheer walls dropping hundreds of feet to the valley floor.
Leaving the Devil's Race Track, we passed Dutchman's Arch and the Head of Sinbad, which features some magnificent rock art. Passing Swasey's cabin, we dropped into Eagle Canyon.
This canyon is a great ride by itself. The trail is easy and it features the Eagle Canyon Arch as well as passage below the two bridges that allow traffic on I-70 to cross the gorge. At a point where the trail is blocked by a fence, we turned left and climbed out of the canyon to meet our friends at Justensen Flats.
Reorganizing to include the rest of the riders, we took a trail to explore the Globe Copper Mine. On the way, we came upon a granite marker that reminded us of just how wild this country used to be. The monument relates the 1890 murder of Henry H. Jensen, a sheepherder who didn't heed the warning of outlaws in the Robbers Roost gang to keep out of their territory.
Arriving at the copper mine, we took some time to explore this piece of 19th-century history. The first thing that caught my eye was a huge stack of wood gathered to run a smelter at the site. The furnace was built from bricks made locally and included a large billows to fan the fire. When the fire got hot, the ore started to melt, but the brick was not the refractory kind and melted faster than the ore. The whole building collapsed. Exploring the workings of this mine made me appreciate the struggles of the miner. No rich vein was ever discovered.
I looked around and noticed that everyone was gone. I hurried to catch up, looking for dust from the last rider. As I came over a rise, the trail split. I saw a puff of dust on the right fork and followed it to the top of a ridge.
Looking down, I saw a line of riders moving on a trail below. Figuring out that it was my group, I began yelling and waving my arms. They noticed and sent a rider back to the turn to meet me. Now they make me wear a lime-green vest so they can find me when I get lost.
When you go, stop at Gilly's in Ferron. They have free maps and will talk about places to ride. Take plenty of water, tread lightly, keep the rubber side down, and enjoy Utah's great outdoors.
You may contact Lynn Blamires at firstname.lastname@example.org.