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ATV Adventures: Riding high on the Aquarius Plateau

By Lynn R. Blamires - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Oct 7, 2021

Traversing the expanse of the Aquarius Plateau

The Aquarius Plateau is the highest timbered plateau in North America, peaking at 11,328 feet at Bluebell Knoll on Boulder Mountain. Running for about 100 miles along the northern edge of the Grand Staircase, the Aquarius Plateau was formed by tectonic plate uplift on the Colorado Plateau.

The fact that it is timbered at such a high elevation is noteworthy. High above Marysvale, Utah, sit the Tushar Mountains. By the time you reach 11,400 feet at the pass, you are well above the timber line.

Boulder Mountain is known locally as Boulder Top Mountain. It is easy to see why when you traverse its lofty boulder-strewn meadows. As the story goes, a cartographer who loved fishing named the mountain Boulder Mountain. He named a nearby mountain Thousand Lake Mountain. Boulder Mountain has a lot of boulders, but it also has a lot of lakes. The cartographer curiously gave the Boulder Mountain name to the one that has many lakes and fishing opportunities, while he gave the other mountain, which has very few lakes and much craggy terrain, the Thousand Lake name. Doesn’t that sound fishy?

We staged our ride at Giles Hollow off Forest Road 178 about eight miles southwest of Bicknell. The elevation there is 8,000 feet. Following Pine Creek for a ways, we began to climb.

The trail was more of a road, but it took us through forests of pines and aspen that were ablaze in fall colors as the morning sun flashed through their quaking leaves.

By the time we passed the Boulder Top peak, we were at 11,280 feet, only 29 feet below its peak. About a half mile later we passed Bluebell Knoll, the highest point on the Aquarius Plateau.

We stopped at the knoll, noting its importance, towering as it did, 121 feet above us. We were at the top of the plateau and the trail we were riding stayed pretty close to 11,000 feet as we traversed the meadows across the top.

The top of the plateau featured open meadows dotted with boulders and pine-covered hills. Passing over the East Fork Boulder Creek, we saw that it fed Elbow Lake – one of the many lakes on Boulder Top that the cartographer/fisherman wanted to keep quiet. It was easy to see how the lake got its name.

Taking a side trail to the right, we passed the East Boulder Lakes and 12 more on the way to a spot that had been picked for lunch. It was on the shore of the beautiful Horseshoe Lake – the perfect place for a lunch break. There were 20 lakes beyond that, but the road ended there.

I didn’t find out until later that after the many rustic pioneer-named features we had passed on this amazing trail, we also went by Stink Draw. It was like listening to a piano concerto when the pianist hit a wrong note.

After enjoying our varied trail cuisine at the serenity of the lake, we went back to the junction and turned right, continuing our ride across the top. As if Stink Draw was not enough, we also had to pass by Stink Flats.

We passed Noon Lake and Big Lake and soon came to Pleasant Creek Meadow, where we found Pleasant Lake – wasn’t that nice? In the meadow, Boulder Mountain towered 362 feet above us. I know that is not impressive, but the remarkable part was that we were riding on a plateau so high that 11,000-foot mountains were mere hills.

Continuing from the meadow, we passed many more lakes until we came to the edge of a cliff that offered a stunning view. Autumn colors were laid out below us in a patchwork of yellows, greens and reds dotted with the deep blues of the mountain lakes. We could see Highway 12 snaking through this colorful palate toward Torrey and Bicknell.

We were directly above, looking down on Round Lake, Scout Lake and Long Lake. It seemed like there was no end to the myriad of lakes on this mountain.

Having taken in all of this wonderful scenery we could possibly handle, we turned around and headed back. This was an in-and-out ride, so with the exception of the side trail to Horseshoe Lake,  we followed the same track back to the beginning.

This was a ride with beautiful scenery of about 62 miles in length. Should you go, take plenty of water, keep the rubber side down, and enjoy the beauty of the Aquarius Plateau.

Contact Lynn Blamires at quadmanone@gmail.com.

Overlooking fall colors with the Henry Mountains in the distance. The lake that can be seen below is Long Lake.


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