Salt Lake City to Hanksville, UT
The main purpose of this report is to update information with respect to signs, road conditions and my personal experience in bagging the last county highpoint in Utah. Elevations and waypoints are based on the readings from my Garmin GPS (lat/long used).
In reaching the crests of the county highpoints in Utah, except for a few instances I did them as day trips from my home about 10 miles southeast of downtown SLC. Bagging Mt. Ellen in a day requires approximately 14 hours of combined driving and hiking, and that was with me having to stop short of Bull Creek Pass. If one could drive to the pass one could save about an hour or so.
I left my home at 4:40 a.m., the promise of fair weather urging me to make this effort before winter conditions would push my attempt into 2010. I had asked several friends to accompany me, but given the early go and the lengthy driving time involved, all had politely but firmly said, "No thanks, maybe another time." Wimps.
One hour forty minutes later I was looking at the mining community of Price. At two hours and fifty-seven minutes I intersected I-70 and headed west, the proper direction for those wishing to drive to Hanksville. The odometer on my Honda Pilot read 173 miles. It was just a few miles until the exit for highway 24 and Hanksville steered me off of the freeway and put me on a southbound track.
At the 3+35 total elapsed time point I had crossed the Dirty Devil River and was at the Hanksville intersection (225 miles from my home) where I could either go left or right but not straight. I turned right, but quickly discovered that the proper way was back the other way. Sure enough, after a few hundred yards from the "go-left-or-right" sign the road turned south and a large sign told me I was now on State Route (SR)95. The mile markers began counting the miles. A Chevron gas/mini-mart on the right seemed the final remnant of civilization and the Henry Mountains now dominated the morning landscape to the southwest.
Ah, the goal is in sight.
Hanksville to Bull Creek Pass
I spent about 10 minutes at the Chevron complex and enjoyed talking with the store attendant. I mentioned to her, in the interst of safety, that I was heading down to climb Mt. Ellen. Now at least one person in the area knew that I was there for that purpose. I pointed out my car to her so she would also have that information. I think it never hurts to be "visible" just in case of an unforseen problem. It might save my life someday...
Between mile markers 9 and 10 I came to a road and I knew from other descriptions that I needed to turn west (right).
Leave SR95 at this sign.
It had taken me 4+03 elapsed time to reach this turning point. I thought to myself, "Gee, this road isn't half bad; in fact, it's great. What is all that talk about the bad road to the pass?" I would find out soon enough.
Immediately after turning on to this road the following sign was there for my information. It says that the next major intersection is 7 miles, but my odometer pegged the distance at 6.3. No big deal.
Immediately after leaving SR95 you will see this sign.
Drive another 2.7 miles and expect to encounter this sign. Should one wish to visit the Granite Ranch the choice is obvious. For County Highpointers continuing straight will provide the greatest satisfaction. The small mountain (in this photo) under the right hand corner of the sign is Bull Mountain. Eventually you will be traveling west of this peak, southbound, headed up to the Lonesome Beaver CG.
At 2.7 miles this sign is on the left. Continue straight.
The road deteriorates only slightly between SR95 and the signed intersection at the Fairview Ranch, but there are some dips and undulations which could be muddy or wet depending upon weather. I was able to maintain an average speed of 30 mph and spent about 15 minutes covering the 6.3 miles from SR95.
The following sign indicates that a left turn is in order. And it is here apparent that another section of unpaved road leads all the way out here from Hanksville, but that option would not have much appeal since SR95 is paved and allows a speed of 65 mph.
Turn left (south). The Fairview Ranch is on the right, but out of sight from this perspective.
At exactly 9 o'clock I turned south, heading toward Lonesome Beaver Campground and eventually Bull Creek Pass. The quality of the road transitioned from okay to questionable to ugly with each passing mile. At its worst point it reminded me of a cheese grater with a bad case of acne. Maximum speed dropped from 30 mph to between 5 and 10 mph after about one mile. It was clear from here on up that high clearance was a must and watchful weaving the name of the game.
It took me 25 minutes to reach the following sign, and it was a relief to know that I was in the correct county for a highpoint.
At last: I'm in Garfield County!
I was really beginning to worry about how far I was going to have the pleasure of driving as the conditions became ever more questionable. Ice and frozen snow were present in every hairpin turn which was shaded from direct sun, and boulders of every shape and size from softball to bowling ball littered the road, a road which became more narrow with each quarter mile. And the angle of ascent was also gradually increasing. No one had mentioned the actual crossing of Bull Creek, but on the day I was there the serpentine road crossed it not once but twice, and there was running water and a width of about 8 feet to cross. The water was deep enough to make me slow to a crawl in order to search for hidden rocks before I drove across. I was happy to find the following two signs. It had taken me fully 45 minutes to drive the 10 miles to the Lonesome Beaver CG.
At the CG sign stay left and get ready to climb! Yes, I am making progress, just not as quickly as I had envisioned
After one hour of white-knuckled driving on this road I finally reached Wickiup Pass, signed and flat.
Wickiup Pass, a major milestone in this tortuous journey. Seven arrows pointing south, seven arrows pointing west. Find Bull Creek Pass and continue!
Again, because of the signs there was no question about my location and there would be no chance to take the wrong turn as long as I knew where in the heck I was heading. Hooray, only 2.6 miles to Bull Creek Pass and the road heading out of Wickiup Pass looked to be an improvement over the bedeviling stretch I had just put behind me.
Ten minutes later I rounded a left-hand bend and saw that the shade had halted any melting of the two snowstorms in October. Six to eight inches of snow covered the entire road, and the only evidence of someone making it through was the set of tracks left behind by an ATV. I ventured carefully into the first few yards but quickly decided against tempting fate, backed down to dry roadbed and pulled off the road to park and walk the remaining 1.3 miles up to the pass. The trip odometer now read 255 miles (from home). I had only a little over a mile to walk and the extra 500' of elevation gain was gentle.
My GPS showed this parking spot to be just over 10,000'. Mt. Ellen is just visible through the trees.
I left the parked car at 10:20 and walked 100 yards when an ATV, driven by an obvious deer hunter, rumbled around the corner and stopped next to me. The friendly fellow asked me if I wanted a ride to the pass, but I politely declined saying I need the exercise! Twenty-eight minutes later I was reading the nice sign marking Bull Creek Pass and gazing north at the snow-packed trail leading from the fence opening toward the distant summit. Oh, boy, I was finally at "the" trailhead, the one which opened the way for me to bag the final county highpoint in Utah. It was actually going to happen!
No question about where one is.
Bull Creek Pass to the Mt. Ellen summit
I hurriedly signed the register which was next to the "gate" at the wooden fencing and began the trek to the top. Much of the trail was covered with a 3"-thick ribbon of hardpack snow, and that made the going easy. From time to time the trail was the usual mixture of rock and frozen mud, but it was always quite easy to follow. The few times, mainly on the tops of some intermediate bumps, the way was unclear, but some kind soul had built small cairns to keep one from straying too far from the correct direction.
I had read about the several hundred free-ranging bison which were supposed to inhabit these mountains, but I never saw a single head. Along the trail there was ample evidence of the bison having been there, but living beasts I never saw. There were two or three false summits or bumps along the way, and as I neared the true summit I could make out a 3-foot high cairn. Early in the journey from Bull Creek Pass a west wind had kicked into high gear, and I was very glad for the hooded shell I had brought with me.
Fifty minutes after passing through the Bull Creek Pass gate I was rejoicing at the summit cairn and eagerly preparing for a few pictures. The wind was gnawing away at my body temperature, so I wasted no time signing the summit log, a very official looking book, I must say. My GPS put the lat/long as follows: N 38 degrees 06.541' W 110 degrees 48.812'. I took the official summit picture and thought to myself, "Well, this is it: the last one. No more Utah county highpoints to worry about. It has been quite an adventure but well worth the hundreds of miles and the thousands of feet of elevation gain."
At the summit, wind-blown but very happy.
Looking at my watch I realized that I would not have time to bag Mt. Ellen Peak, a conical beauty to the north of Mt. Ellen. I didn't want to prolong the day and I wanted to give myself plenty of time to retrace my way down the tortuous excuse for a road which would lead me back to SR95 and blessed pavement. So I took a picture in the four cardinal directions and left the summit (oh, I bagged the little bump just to the north, too).
A view to the west from the Mt. Ellen summit. A view to the south from the Mt. Ellen summit. Looking east from Mt. Ellen summit. Looking north from the Mt. Ellen summit. Mt. Ellen Peak is sticking its ice cream cone top up for all to see.
Leaving the summit and returning home.
I left the rock-strewn windy summit at one minute after noon. The capricious wind would now have time to scour the right side of my face. I was standing at Bull Creek Pass 38 minutes later. You're right, I didn't waste any time getting down. The pesky wind was fine incentive to get off of that ridge. Twenty-three minutes later I was back at the car, taking off my Asolo hiking boots and feeling the luxurious comfort of my Teva sandals as they wrapped my wool-clad feet in their Velcro framework.
I left my cozy parking spot at 10 minutes past one o'clock, wary of what was below me but confident that care and low-gear would make it doable if slow. The way down was worse than the way up, primarily because of the steep grade. It would have been helpful to have a manual transmission for the descent, but I did the best I could with L1 and intermittent braking.
I actually stopped twice to let the brakes cool; the last thing I needed was to burn up the brakes in the descent. The icy spots were still there, the humongous boulders littering the road were still there, Bull Creek was still running, but there were no hunters to bag the several deer which scampered across the road in front of me. After an hour and five minutes of road terror I breathed a sigh of relief as I approached the turn to the 6.3-mile stretch of improved gravel road which would lead me to the security of asphalt.
I was on the east/west stretch of road for thirteen minutes before easing on to SR95 northbound. It had taken me 1+25 on gravel to reach the parking spot below Bull Creek Pass, and the trip in reverse had taken 1+18. In round numbers one can plan for 1+30 on the gravel portion of this route.
One hour after accelerating to 65 mph on SR95 I was pulling into a Conoco gas station on the outskirts of Green River, stopping only long enough to pump expensive 85-octane gas into the tank to get me home. Traffic was light and the roads were as dry as the Sahara sands in mid-summer. At 6:30 I pulled into my driveway, noting the round trip had taken 10 minutes short of 14 hours and put 513 miles on my Bridgestone all-season radials.
So that was it. A long day but a worthwhile goal achieved. And all done safely and without major hitches. What more can one ask for?