Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Red Springs Canyon Freehike, UT - July 2002

Here's a Skinnyhike Report from some years ago when I first started freehiking:

Red Springs Canyon is one of the best freehiking areas in Parowan Valley (Southern Utah). It’s much more isolated than Staircase Canyon, so it’s very unlikely that you will ever see anyone else. The canyons and washes are typically wide, and brush-free. There are no biting insects, and only a occasional fly. The scenery is spectacular. For these reasons, this is a great area to first learn the joys of freehiking.

To get to Red Springs Canyon, go north on Main Street from the intersection of Center and Main in Parowan, Utah, and take I-15 going North. At exit 82 (Paragonah), turn right, and then immediately left onto the East Frontage Road. Go north four miles to 2700 North, and turn right (by an open hay barn). Follow the main dirt road which turns left at 1200 East, then right at 2900 North towards the mountains. Park at the gate which blocks the road (at the last house). This is 9.5 miles, and about 7 minutes from the starting point.

The hills here are sandy red and white, with weathered red cliffs, and covered sparsely with Juniper and Pinion trees. Bald Green Mountain juts above these hills in the distance. The mouth of Red Springs Canyon is slightly right of straight ahead. From the car it looks like the canyon doesn’t go far because it turns right just past the entrance.

It’s a short five-minute walk up shallow, brush-free washes which pass through low sage brush, to the mouth of the canyon, where you’ll meet a small creek which flows year-round. Forty foot tall weathered red cliffs and trees guard both sides of the entrance.

It’s safe to disrobe and do some freehiking just inside the canyon, at the first Juniper tree by the creek. Two minutes further on, the creek drops down a beautiful 30 foot tall staircase of red sandstone, capped by a gravel conglomerate top layer. The cool waters of this spring will provide a refreshing splash at the end of your hike. It’s an easy climb, stepping up the dry red rocks around which the spring water flows, to reach the top of this watery staircase. In just a few feet, the canyon turns hard right, and the spring ends in grass, surrounded by tall reeds.

Soon the wide wash in the bottom of the canyon becomes sandy gravel, with a few large boulders. The canyon walls of red, weathered sallstone cliffs and red gravel with many Junipers and Pinions, rise steeply on both sides. These canyon walls provide your naked body cooling shade from the hot noon sun, making this canyon an ideal afternoon hike on hot days.

After a pleasant walk up the wide wash, a short slot canyon branches to the left, which dead ends at a tall cliff over which water occasionally falls during spring runoff. A deer trail branches from here into Hidden Valley (another excellent freehike). More easy walking brings you to a larger slot canyon to the left, which abruptly ends in an even a taller red cliff. A seldom used trail here leads into Hidden Wash (third spectacular hike). The main sandy wash ends at this point.

Just before the main wash ends, it branches; take the smaller wash straight head, on the right. It narrows quickly and becomes steeper. This wash varies from red gravel, to rocky areas, small cliffs, and large boulders, with many colors – red, black, purple, white, yellow, and grey. Several dead trees which have fallen across the wash are easily passed. Be sure to look back occasionally; below, in the distant, narrow mouth of the canyon, you’ll see farms, and dark Mount Magog across the valley.

As you continue to climb, the wash become steeper, and rockier, until it becomes almost a staircase of boulders. Occasional light, refreshing gusts of wind blowing past you, Junipers provide natural cooling as you exert yourself at this point. As you climb higher, the red side hills gradually become less steep, with fewer cliffs, and more trees.

About 35 minutes into the hike, the trail divides; take the central trail between the washes. As you drop back into the wash, it becomes sandy, flattens out, and winds past small red cliffs. At this point the wash becomes very small, so it’s often easier to walk the trails through the trees on either side. In a few more minutes, the wash splits again as it widens out into a tree filled valley. This is a good point to rest, and view Mount Magog in the distance below.

Turning back here makes the hike about one hour, round trip. However, the best views come after you leave the wash at this point and climb the steeper, sandy-red hill on the left. Look above you as you climb and you’ll see your goal, a small, beautiful red-rock mesa at the top of the red-sandy ridge. This is especially beautiful when the evening sun turns this mesa gold.

After about ten minutes you’ll reach the ridge line. Here is a fantastic view of weathered red and white sandstone and gravel valleys (Hidden Wash and Hidden Valley) which descend from the bald Green Mountain above. The north end of Parofree hikeey stretches out below, with Mount Magog in the distance across the valley. Climb up the barren ridge line until you reach the Red Rock Mesa at the very top of the ridge. As you near the top, be careful; the red gravel becomes a little lose for the first time. Turn back if this becomes frightening.

The view is about the same below the mesa, but it’s great to stand on the top, feel the wind caress your nude body, and view the spectacular red canyons, the green farms in Parowan valley, the distant Black Mountains, the rocky Toucher Mountains to the north, the nearby bald Green Mountain rising above Red Mesa, and the green forested hills and valleys which stretch to the south and east.

When it’s time to leave, going down the ridge to your left (as you face Parowan valley) is probably easier. The trip down the canyon takes almost as long as the trip up because of the steep staircase you climbed. Be sure to look up occasionally on the way down to view the beautiful valley below.

You’ll look forward to the end of the hike, especially on a hot summer day, because nothing feels better than sitting on one of the rock ledges and lllting the cool water of Red Springs fall over your shoulders – the perfect close to a perfect freehike.

The short distance back to the Juniper where you disrobed gives enough time to dry, and another five minutes walk brings you back to the car. The hike takes less than two hours; two and a half total to Parowan.

Note: It only takes a few minutes longer to drive through Paragonah as you return to Parowan, but there are several interesting places to visit if you have some extra time. You’ll notice some mounds of red dirt in the fields on the left, at the north edge of Paragonah. These mounds are the remains of an ancient Freemont Indian village (about 1300 AD). It’s interesting to pick up Indian pottery and an occasional arrow head here, but don’t dig; that’s illegal. The black cliffs at the south end of town feature many Indian Petroglyphs, an Indian gaming rock, and an Indian cave.

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