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ATV Adventures: Another day in a UTV in the San Rafael Swell

By Lynn R. Blamires - | May 12, 2022

Photo supplied, Lynn Blamires

Coming down off the narrow ridge and riding toward the Spirit Railroad site.

It was the second day of the First Annual Swell Jamboree and I was excited to ride more new trails in the San Rafael Swell. I was not disappointed.

Trailering out of Jamboree Headquarters at the Buckhorn RV Resort in Huntington, we took the Oil Dome Road going east from Highway 10. At a junction with the Buckhorn Draw Road, we took the Chimney Rock Road and staged at its junction with the Box Flat Road. So you know exactly where we were, right? I didn’t think so, but there we were.

Lining up, we started our ride on the Box Flat Road with Wayne Pahl as our guide. At this point this road is less of a road and more of a trail. We were riding over great slabs of rock like flat boxes rolling through dips and rises on a track winding through gnarly junipers – what a ride!

Just before we came to the end of this trail, we turned right and made a short climb to an overlook. We were looking down into what is called “Devil’s Hole.” The overlook was pretty, but the clouds were so low that we couldn’t see the hole.

Backtracking, we crossed the Box Flat Road and traveled north. In a short distance, we turned right and dropped down about 200 feet to a large opening in a rock face. It is known as Cowboy Cave. Cattle ranchers ranged cattle there and the cave bore signatures carved into the rock. Looking closely, I saw that some lonely cowboy had carved MM + CK in a heart. I thought, “Now, ain’t that sweet.”

Photo supplied, Lynn Blamires

Climbing out of the little valley where we visited the Cowboy Cave.

Our next stop was for lunch at a place Wayne called, “The Big Hole.” He told us that the Spanish Trail passed through here. In those days in these parts, a traveler didn’t pass any place he could find water. We were in the bottom of a wash and we could see where flash floods had flowed through here.

About 100 yards northwest of our position was the hole. I looked over a ledge and could see a large pool of water at the bottom more than 100 feet below. Wayne explained that there was always water in the pool and travelers would lower buckets to the pool to replenish water supplies.

Gastro satisfied, we continued on the trail north. Reaching the Cottonwood Wash Road, we turned west and followed it. Turning north on the Chimney Rock Road, we followed it for 0.02 miles and turned west again.

At a point on this trail we rode out on a ridge that kept getting narrower until we were looking straight down about 50 feet on either side. Finally, we came to the end of the point and the trail dropped us gently down onto a flat. “Whew.”

Wayne then took us on a spur out to some old ranch houses. They were in ruins, but you could still see rock walls standing and where there were fireplaces. It sure seemed like they were a long way from the nearest Walmart.

Leaving the ranch houses we were heading back to Chimney Rock Road and our starting point, when we made one last stop. It is an interesting point in the Swell, known as the Spirit Railroad Complex and it is located on School Trust Lands’ 31,000-acre Cedar Mountain block where there is an information kiosk.

The name “Spirit” was given the railroad because it was never completed. In 1880 the plan was for a narrow gauge railway to go from Green River into the Swell through Cottonwood Wash and Buckhorn Flat to the Castle Valley Junction, located east of Huntington. The rail line would serve Emery County and while the grade was nearly completed, the rails were never laid. The company decided to cut straight to Price, leaving Emery County out of the picture and canceling the route to California.

Photo supplied, Lynn Blamires

Riding the Box Flat Road was like riding over boxes through the gnarly juniper trees.

While the county didn’t get its rail service, the project was a boon to its economy because Emery County men were hired to build the grade. It is interesting to note that crews continued working on the railroad grades for two years before they got word the project had been canceled.

Traveling back to our trucks, we could follow the railroad grade next to the trail. We finished a ride through about 43 miles of incredible scenery in the Swell. When you go, take plenty of water, keep the rubber side down, and find scenic treasures in the San Rafael Swell.

Lynn R. Blamires can be reached at quadmanone@gmail.com.

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