Top of the Bookcliffs
|A cable that supports gondolas that were used in an attempt to extract tar sands from just below Bruin Point still spans Water Canyon. The gondolas are of interest to almost everyone who passes through.|
The very name brings up images of sharp escarpments, coal mines and even some mystery.
ItÃ¯Â¿Â½s a place where men made fortunes out of black rock and others lost their lives because of it. ItÃ¯Â¿Â½s a place where the cattle still run free, and history (as well as pre-history) faces the traveler at every turn. ItÃ¯Â¿Â½s a place of ancient rock writings on stark, dry, desert stone and beautiful stands of pine and aspen shrouding snow until the middle of summer.
It is a land of contrasts and continuity.
And probably no place emulates the BookcliffÃ¯Â¿Â½s vast diversity than the Bruin Point loop road that winds from SunnysideÃ¯Â¿Â½s Whitmore Canyon to Cottonwood Canyon where the Great Hunt rock art panel stands.
For years the loop was literally inaccessible to most people because of the private purchase of land that closed the best route through the area. But a few years ago that changed when state and federal agencies worked with the private land owner to open up the road and create what can be one of the most beautiful and at times white knuckle rides anywhere in the state.
Last year after a new road was cut through part of the area to make the road accessible to all comers the Carbon County commissioners approved an ordinance opening it to use by ATVÃ¯Â¿Â½s. In addition to OHV use, the approved routes were also opened for horses, other motorized vehicles and foot traffic.
|A road sign points the way to Bruin Point and beyond.|
The route begins basically where Utah Highway 123, that runs through East Carbon and Sunnyside, leaves off. It heads up Whitmore Canyon and just before the paved road ends, the trail cuts left on Bruin Point Road.
The canyon that the road follows is Water Canyon. As travelers enter the canyon one of the first points of interest are the cables that hang first along the ledges of the canyon and then at one point high above them. The gondolas still hanging from the cables and the wooden support structures are the remains of attempts to extract tar sands from the cliffs on the way to Bruin Point.
At times, the road comes within a few feet of the decaying wood frames supporting the cable lines.
The road up to Bruin Point has been improved by the county. Though pitted with ditches and littered with rocks, the road is fairly well maintained considering the kind of traffic that travels on it and the abuse it takes from the weather in the winter and during summer thundershowers.
At first the road is just a dirt road and is not too rough or steep. But then the grade starts to flow to reach the top and the incline increases dramatically with frequent switchbacks. These features make it impassible for most regular cars. Only high clearance vehicles with four-wheel drive can make it over the pass. However, the road is perfect for ATVs and horses.
About halfway to Bruin Point the traveler will pass the remains of the loading area for the gondolas. Some of the equipment is still in place, but the area is very dangerous and should not be accessed.
As the road approaches the summit of the pass over Bruin Point, it reaches the highest elevation of the trail.
Bruin Point sits at more than 10,131 feet above sea level. Communication towers mark the highest point of the route.
Bruin Point has a number of radio towers. Signs at the bases of structures tell passersby the purpose of the towers. Some of the towers are used by the United States Federal Aviation Administration. Others are for telephone and television.
This is the highest point of the Roan Cliffs. To the east, trail users can see to the Green River and beyond. To the south, the trail overlooks the Castle Valley. On a clear day, visitors to the point can overlook the north end of the San Rafael Swell and see the smoke stacks of the Hunter Power Plant near Castle Dale.
At Bruin Point, the trail splits. A sign denotes that the traveler has arrived at the point, and that Patmos Ridge is toward the southeast. Take the other fork which has a sign pointing toward Dry Canyon.
Bruin Point itself is above the timberline, but just below its altitude the mountain is surrounded by stands of pine and aspen. But as the trail descends down the this side of the point, trail users are back into densely forested hillsides. These north-east facing slopes are still sometimes spotted with snow in early July.
As the traveler drives away from the point toward Dry Canyon there is a large amount of property that is private and the public should avoid going off the road for any reason.
This is also a place where the public can drive on roads that will take them through other Bureau of Land Management ground, but the wrong roads will end in locked gates, because of private property. Also, there is a long stretch on one road that runs over private ground that has signs at each end warning those who use the road that they shouldnÃ¯Â¿Â½t even stop on that section of road, much less go off the beaten path.
The roads can be confusing to those who want to get to Nine Mile Canyon from this point. Just follow Dry Canyon signs and eventually one will end up in front of an old water tank where another sign pointing back to Bruin Point and on to Dry Canyon and Nine Mile Canyon exists.
The trip down into Dry Canyon runs along the top of the ridge and then it dives down on the north slope of the mountain. Even in dry summer weather some parts of this road can have mud on it because of the patches of melting snow that can be seen and even touched from the road.
This is also a good place to see deer and elk as well as other animals. Remember this is also cattle country and stock can show up in the road at any turn.
After the route down Dry Canyon drops below 8,000 feet, the road follows Dry Creek. The canyon bottom widens and continues its slow descent.
As the road approaches Nine Mile Canyon, petroglyphs on the canyon walls remind trail users that this route may have been used more than a thousand years ago by Fremont Indians.
The route hits Nine Mile Canyon near The Mummy (petroglyph). More petroglyphs welcome trail users along Nine Mile Canyon Road. One set is on the north wall of the canyon, opposite the junction with Dry Canyon.
|The old crumbling structures that hold up the gondola cables provide some excellent photo opportunities for those with cameras.|
On Nine Mile Canyon Road, the trail continues east to Cottonwood Canyon. At the mouth of the canyon, two more sets of petroglyphs are visible on the west wall of the canyon.
The route veers out of Cottonwood Canyon and heads up Twin Hollow. A steep road out of the hollow takes trail users past a straight section of road that is wide enough and long enough to be used by small planes as a landing strip.
In Cottonwood Canyon the route passes the famous Great Hunt Panel, a burial site and the remains of a Fremont village before joining Nine Mile Canyon Road.
A short section of Nine Mile Canyon road has been opened for ATV use between Dry Canyon and Cottonwood Canyon.
The 1.5-mile stretch passes Rasmussen Cave and the improved interpretation site at Daddy Canyon.
While OHV riders have been traveling this route frequently, OHV use in Nine Mile was not sanctioned prior to the passage of the ordinance the commission passed last year. Other sections of Nine Mile Canyon Road remain closed for OHV riders, who may be cited if they are found riding on other sections of the road.
|An ATV rider negotiates a steep incline with large rocks during a trip last fall. If wet the rocky roads can be pretty slippery as well.|
For some the hope is that one day a trail will exist that will allow people on ATVÃ¯Â¿Â½s to make a real loop from Sunnyside through Bruin Point to Nine Mile, down the canyon to itÃ¯Â¿Â½s mouth and across the Clark Valley to East Carbon and back to Sunnyside. But as of now it is not legal to do that on all stretches of road that are accessible.
The journey one way is almost 50 miles. And while most people who ride ATVÃ¯Â¿Â½s can negotiate the roads, there are dangers with steep inclines, some very gravely places, some narrow places and more importantly in many places large and small vehicle traffic that must be observed and dealt with.
It is a definite Ã¯Â¿Â½Share the roadÃ¯Â¿Â½ trip that is unforgettable, particularly in the early summer and early fall.
(Parts of this article were developed in collaboration with Les Bowen of the Vernal Express).