by Tom Garrison
Off the beaten path
|As an outdoor writer I often hear, or use, the phrase “off the beaten path.” For this story, that is an apt phrase sans hyperbole. Our destination is Pine Park and the South Boundary Trail, approximately 26 miles on mostly dirt roads southwest of the closest town, Enterprise, Utah. Appropriately for such a remote area, it is a fantastic playground with a surreal landscape.
Pine Park is located in the extreme western portion of Dixie National Forest just a couple of miles east of Nevada, and in the northwest corner of Washington County. Headquartered in Cedar City, Dixie National Forest occupies almost two million acres and stretches for about 170 miles across southern Utah. It straddles the divide between the Great Basin and the Colorado River.
The adventure began on the last day of July. Our group, in two vehicles, included my wife Deb, me, and our friends Jim and Julie Kuhns and their dog Kona.
From the Bluff Street (aka Highway 18)/Sunset Boulevard intersection in St. George we traveled north 37 miles on Highway 18 past Vejo to Enterprise. At Enterprise, population estimated at 1,752 in 2012, we turned left (west) at the intersection with Main Street and set our odometer to 0. Main Street soon becomes Highway 219 (and later Crestline Road) and the paved highway becomes a good dirt road dirt road at 13.4 miles. Along the way we halted to watch a small flock of wild turkeys meander across the highway. Since they were not chickens, we did not ask them why they crossed the road.
We continued west and at 16.6 miles from the Highway 18 intersection turned left (south) onto Forest Road 001 at the sign for Pine Park. Staying on Forest Road 001 (aka White Rocks Road) we stopped about seven miles in at the signed (on the left or south side of the road) northern South Boundary Trail trailhead to examine the starting point of our hike. We would return.
At 9.5 miles from the Highway 219 intersection we rolled into Pine Pak campground. It is basic with few amenities—some fire pits and picnic tables. We wandered around a bit admiring the views, the small perennial stream (Pine Park Spring Creek) along the northern boundary of the campground, and nearby rock formations suitable for climbing.
Our destination, the South Boundary Trail, has two distinct sections. The east-west section has its trailhead in the campground and the north-south route trailhead, where we briefly stopped on the way in, is approximately 2.5 miles back up Forest Road 001. The former looked less interesting and the reason we brought two vehicles was to hike the latter. We piled into one vehicle and backtracked to the northern South Boundary Trailhead.
Along the last two miles of Forest Road 001 we marveled at, and stopped a couple of times for photos, the major feature of this isolated land, white to ivory colored mountains and volcanic rock formations including a field of massive cones—quite a sight in predominately red rock county and evidence of erosional ferocity.
The northern South Boundary Trail begins at 6,030 feet elevation and drops almost 550 feet to the campground. The upper 2/3 of the almost 1.7 mile trail is fairly steep with scree in several sections. The last half mile is flat and runs along Pine Park Spring Creek. The temperature was in the low 80s with a few puffy clouds drifting along as we began.
The steeper portions of this seldom used trail were faint and we often scouted around to pick it up. The views are why one hikes this trail and it seemed as if the turn of every corner brought a new vista of nearby white monoliths and mountainsides. And unusual for southern Utah, there was an alpine feeling to the hike due to the pine trees dotting the landscape. Of particular interest was the spectacular mouth (to the left or east) of White Hollow about 1.1 miles in and slightly above where the trail begins to flatten. This tree choked deep canyon with massive orangeish and grey walls invites exploration. Next time.
The last half mile the trail followed the riparian environment of the creek. There were several use trails, but all led to the campground.
The desert, even high desert, is an intimate place—a place for people comfortable with the idea of being alone. Our small group encountered no other people in the Pine Park Campground or along the trail.
This easy hike took slightly more than 1 ½ hours at a leisurely pace and the only concern is to be observant and remain on the often faint trail. As an added bonus, there is no entrance fee and no permit necessary for the hike. While Pine Park is remote, the dirt roads are in good condition (road conditions can change) and a standard car, if driven carefully, could traverse the latter part of the road. To be safe, I recommend a high clearance vehicle.