August 15, 2008

Swift Creek


Then, rockier.
That pretty much describes the Swift Creek trail. We didn’t see any other riders on the trail last Wednesday when we rode it, which wasn’t surprising in retrospect. We did see half a dozen hikers. We assume all of them had gone or were going to the lakes past the Bluebell Pass.

There were some good points. The fast moving stream sported lots of cascading whitewater.
Taking a break four miles up the trail for pictures beside the scenic creek, we saw a beautiful black and white butterfly that temporarily perched on Mischief’s mane. Onward and upward, we came to a series of well-constructed beaver dams, apparently still maintained by the original engineers or descendants thereof.
There were several crossings, some rocky, others boggy. We had one boot ripped by the bog, but it didn’t fall off until we were on dry ground. Another boot disappeared into the muck, never to be seen again.
Deer Lake is about 6 miles from the trailhead. It hangs in a valley below a scree slope. Passing that by another couple of miles, we came to an unnamed lake surrounded by a beautiful grassy meadow with mountain peaks in the background, where we stopped to let the horses graze while we scarfed a few peanut butter crackers.
Mischief begged for a taste. Daisy was attentive, hoping for crumbs.
We continued beyond this lake for a mile or so, hoping the trail might become less rocky since the terrain was flatter there. Not so. At that point, we decided to scrap our original intent to achieve Bluebell Pass, and instead 180’d back toward the trailhead.
As I’ve started keeping records on our rides, I’ve taken more photos of plants and find myself spending hours after we return home trying to figure out the unusual ones. On Swift Creek, we found ripe raspberries, (no problem identifying those!)
Dwarf birch (interesting seeds in little nutlets, Grouse reportedly feed on them. Moose and beaver enjoy the resinous young twigs.)
Bear berry (kinnikinnick) is related to Manzanita, which we have seen on our Grand Canyon hikes. Like Manzanita, it has reddish-brown bark and smooth, leathery leaves. This time of year, the shrubs are dorned with bright red berries, a favorite food of bears and grouse. Kinnikinnick was the Native American name for tobacco substitutes, Evening primrose Mountain bog gentian, seen around the higher lake. Anticipating the boot-eating boggy crossings, we pulled what was left of our Easyboot Bares and went the last 6 downhill miles barefoot. The going was slow (the horses are very careful about foot placement when they don’t have boots to protect their soles), but we’re working toward going barefoot entirely, so this was good conditioning.
Our GPS computer showed 6 hrs moving time, 9 hours total. We traveled 16.3 miles with 2965 ft elevation gain, reaching a 10,600 foot high point.
In the parking lot, while unsaddling, we were approached by a Duschesne district forest service employee who asked about trail conditions, and a campground volunteer who wanted to know our itinerary.
When we commented on the rocky trail, the volunteer told us that he sometimes sends Boy Scouts looking for a project up that trail to throw off the rocks. They never lasted very long at it, and obviously, they haven’t done much good. All the Boy Scouts in Utah could work on the Swift Creek trail for 5 summers without making significant impact. We’re talking some major rocks, large and small. However, I wouldn’t argue with the wisdom of putting the boys on this project. Those kids need something to do to keep them from their unfortunate tendency to get lost or start forest fires.
We inquired about camping outside the campground where we could graze the horses. The helpful volunteer directed us to Grant Spring, about a mile back down the road. It turned out to be an ideal spot, with good grass and water and a relatively flat place to park the gooseneck so we could sleep in the nose.
The campground volunteer warned us of a black bear sow and cub that had been roaming the area. We figured the horses would let us know if she came around (Boss is a great bear alarm. He snorts loudly and becomes very nervous if he scents one. Since we heard no snorting and stomping during the night, the sow must not have paid our camp a visit.)
Steve identified a limber pine growing near the spring. The location was unusual, not an area that was particularly arid or windy, but the tree had needles in bundles of five and the characteristic pale-colored cones.

We enjoyed a lovely sunset. Man, woman and the beasts slept well, in preparation for another adventure in the morning.

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