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ATV Adventures: Riding in the San Rafael Swell from the Big Mountain Lodge

By Lynn Blamires - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Apr 18, 2024
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Passing a cattle pond on the Buckhorn Rim Trail in the San Rafael Swell.
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Riding close to the edge of an arm of the Buckhorn Draw in the San Rafael Swell.
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Riding out of the end of an arm of the Buckhorn Draw in the San Rafael Swell.
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Entering a cut in the rock on the Spirit Railway bed in the San Rafael Swell.
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Lynn Blamires

The Big Mountain Lodge is located in Ferron and it has become a great jumping-off point for OHV trails in the San Rafael Swell. Many of these trails are accessible from the lodge without the need to trailer to the trailheads.

Brad and Julie Benson did a great job hosting a group of my friends for a three-day ride in the San Rafael Swell. We had 36 riders and 20 machines in our group.

Every time I have ridden the Swell, I have learned more about new trails. This time I learned that there is a trail connecting Ferron with features on the north side of the Swell.

The connecting trail is Fuller’s Bottom Road. I know where to find this trail, but it crosses the San Rafael River with no bridge. Spring runoff puts that crossing at about 4 feet deep and the water is running fast. Intelligence tells me that the trail is there, wisdom tells me not to take it this time.

We trailered to the other side of Castle Dale and took Oil Dome Road east to an information center. This is a good staging area for places like the Wedge Overlook and the Buckhorn Draw.

The information center is similar to what you would find in a rest area by a highway. It has toilets, picnic tables, an information kiosk and a parking area.

We unloaded here and headed east toward the Buckhorn Draw on Oil Dome Road. Passing the turn-off to the draw, we picked up Chimney Rock Road.

We turned off Chimney Rock Road and traveled south to one of the sites in the Swell where the MK Tunnels are located. These tunnels were a part of the Army’s Underground Explosion Test program, whose purpose was to test the effects of explosive detonations on underground structures buried in soil and/or rock.

The test proved that the fissured Navajo Sandstone was not as safe a place to put underground facilities as the granite found in Colorado. The tunnels were a favorite place for beer parties until access to them was closed.

The trail continued around the rim of one of the arms of the Buckhorn Draw. We were treated to amazing views down into the draw as we rode to the end of the arm. We then got to ride in the other direction on the other side of the draw, seeing a different view that was equally amazing.

We climbed some challenging rock steps on a trail that brought us to the viewpoint of another arm of the Buckhorn Draw. From this point, we could see the main road at the bottom of the Buckhorn Draw.

The canyons in the Swell are unique, rugged and wonderful. It is a treat to have access to them.

Our ride took us to another overlook where it followed the rim of that part of the draw for some time. Here is where the trail began to twist through the trees on a fun track that brought us to a dry camping area.

The access road to this camping area took us on a fast track back to Chimney Rock Road where we circled the “wagons” and had a “powwow.” It was still early enough to do a little more riding.

We found a track that would take us further north toward the face of Cedar Ridge. It towers over the valley by over 1,600 feet in places.

We were delighted to learn that this trail was the railbed for the Spirit Railway — a track that was planned to bring mining material from Green River for processing. The bed was made, but the track was never laid. Another route proved to be a better option.

We got to ride that railbed through the cuts in the rock and on the raised bed that was built up to make it possible for the train to run through this rugged country. Riding that railbed through history was a highlight of our ride.

We headed back to the information center to load up and made it back to the lodge, where we had a special meal prepared by the Bensons — smoked brisket, baked beans, Dutch oven potatoes and vegetables. What a treat.

When you go, take plenty of water, keep the rubber side down and plan a ride where you can enjoy the amazing amenities the Bensons have to offer at the Big Mountain Lodge in Ferron.

Contact Lynn R. Blamires at quadmanone@gmail.com.


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