The Drama of Long Canyon

My plan, as it had been in 2010—take the Burr Trail southeast from Boulder, through the bottom of Long Canyon and down a series of switchbacks to meet the north-to-south running Notom-Bullfrog Road, and then continue north on that graveled track to Highway 24. We’d end up close to Capitol Reef National Park and another target, the Cathedral Valley Loop road. And it was a good plan, except for the weather.

Light, widely scattered showers had fallen in the area yesterday, but the forecasters were getting serious today and into tomorrow, giving 90% odds of measurable rain. As we well knew, Southwest roads need only a little moisture to become nightmares—was this to be a replay of 2010? Was Cathedral Loop going to elude us again?

First things first. The Burr Trail is paved for 18 miles, before it dives into the Waterpocket Fold, and there are many turnouts (and a few campgrounds) strategically spread along this section. I was likely thinking ahead to the next day when I drove out of Boulder, but entering Long Canyon banished those thoughts.

Mile by mile, one amazing rock wall after another, we used up most of the day, until we reached the cattle guard where the pavement ends. Time to make a choice—go down to thirty-plus miles of gravel, or back to Boulder for the night? A sprinkling of rain had followed us earlier, but the smell was strong now, the sky uniformly gray.

Of course, as we arrived back in Boulder bright sun returned and the sky cleared. We pulled into a restaurant for coffee and considered what to do.

Coffee became lunch, and when we left I followed a hunch. From Boulder to Torrey isn’t that far, mileage-wise, but the highway is steep, topping out at nearly 9600 feet—at that altitude, and at these temperatures, rain quickly becomes snow in October. Decision made, we wound uphill through dense forests of aspen, pine, and evergreens, the aspens already shorn of their yellow coats, stopping only at a scenic turnout for sunset before reaching Torrey.

At the Rimrock Motel I stepped outside to check the sky before I went to bed and was heartened to see only a small cloud or two, a good sign for tomorrow. 


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