Some of my favorite ATV trails are in the San Rafael Swell. Revisiting them renews the excitement I had when I rode them the first time. When I take people with me who haven’t been there before, it makes it even better.
Seeing changes is also a part of the enjoyment. It is also why I missed the turn I was supposed to take into the Swell. Previously there was a small sign on the west side of Highway 10 just outside of Castle Dale that indicated the direction to the Buckhorn Draw. Now there is a big sign that specifies an access point to the San Rafael Swell.
Managing to get turned around, we headed east on the Oil Dome Road. Passing the turn into the Buckhorn Draw, we took Chimney Rock Road to a corral at the base of Cedar Mountain.
This corral is where a growing number of riders gather every year in April to participate in the annual San Rafael Poker Run. We were riding this trail with three machines – two UTVs and an ATV. While we were not playing poker, we were gambling on having a good ride.
Heading west on the road we came in on, I was looking for a small mound on the right side of the road marking the turn. Finding it, we headed south to the Morrison Knudson (MK) Tunnels.
A series of these tunnels are found elsewhere in the Swell, but new to this one was a plaque with information about their purpose. Created during the 1950’s, they were contracted by the Department of Defense (DOD) for reasons kept secret.
When I first visited this site some twenty years ago, I was able to hike down to the entrance of this tunnel and explore inside.
A large hole was drilled into the fractured sandstone nearly 1,000 feet. Large explosions were set off underground to “determine the effect of disturbances on underground structures,” as stated on the plaque. The purpose is still classified.
The detonations created quite a large and secluded cavern. It was isolated enough to attract beer parties, which caused the closure of access to the interior.
While this site was interesting, we were anxious to enjoy the main purpose of this trail. The Buckhorn Draw is a famous attraction in the Swell because of a spectacular panel of Indian rock art in the bottom. The trail we wanted to take skirts the rim of this draw.
In addition to the landscape of the draw, the trail was just challenging enough to be fun. After all, what good is low range and four-wheel drive, if you never get to use them?
Following the edge of the draw, we came to a couple of landmarks that were familiar to me and add to the beauty of the canyon. They are two tall stone pillars rising from the floor of the canyon to a significant height. I thought they should have names, but I have never seen any on the maps I have studied.
Winding through stands of juniper trees, this trail offers remarkable views of three separate arms of canyons that make up the Buckhorn Draw. The challenging climbs occur at the beginning of the trail. There is something exhilarating in learning about the capabilities of your machine.
We stopped to take note of the plant known as Brigham Tea. In pioneer days, bunches of the green straw-like needles from this plant were gathered and brewed to make a hot drink. I haven’t tried it, but I know people who have. From their description of the bitter taste, I would rather have cup of hot cocoa.