09 June 2015

Pine Valley Mountain: Comanche Trail

Dixie National Forest



DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3

(Day 1 of 3) The Pine Valley Mountains rise from the surrounding plains in southwest Utah. The Summit Trail crosses the top in a little under 40 miles and various trails climb up to it from the sides making a handful of small loops possible although hiking the whole trail would require a shuttle or generally out and back route. Besides some suggestions that there is nice hiking there, quite a lot of bugs, and this year has been dry and some water sources may not be available, I found little information on the area. I picked New Harmony for a starting point. The paved road bends around the cemetery and central buildings, but a small sign alerts me to stay straight onto a gravel road for the trailhead. A short way down it, there is a huge parking area with information. The map on the sign and my map seem to disagree and I can see where I end, but not where I start. A little more study shows it is probably up the private road a short way and there is an alternate route along a parallel trail.

a fenced edge in front of somewhat green mountains
There are some mountains back there.

The trail goes along a ditch that directs water, then crosses the road and is randomly hard to follow throughout due to side trails. A sign marks the start of the Comanche Trail and the trail is much clearer behind it. They are not dense, but there are many flowers blooming along the trail. It follows the course of a ditch that is more of a rocky gutter that was one of two built to secure water for the town when it was founded. All around me is evidence of a bad fire with more for miles up on the mountain.

two bugs on three flowers
Many insects in the flowers seemingly wallowing in the pollen as well.

Comanche Ditch
The trail follows the Comanche Ditch through burned and dead trees.


At first there is a lot of water in the ditches, a little in the creek, and even a thin layer in the old ditch. This is short lived and I find myself walking along a dry creek bed for a while. Various springs are marked on the map higher up, so the expectation is that water is more likely upstream. The day is predicted to be hot, but the small threat of thunder keeps getting between me and the sun making it quite pleasant for an easy hike.

common stalk flowers in very light purple
Delicate stalks of purple lean over the trail.

Comanche Spring is the first spring along the way and is no help to the dry creek. It is fenced up and tightly piped as it is still an important water source for the town a little way below. The canyon is red rocks by it. As I continue, the canyon grows and the rocks darken. It is just three miles up when the creek starts to flow reliably.

Comanche Spring
The fenced in Comanche Spring among red canyon walls.

taller, darker cliffs
There is a lot of structure to these cliffs behind the recovering oak trees.

shallow pool with indications of use for swimming and horse trough
A shallow pool along the side of the trail looks to have seen plenty of wading and horses drinking.

columbine
A columbine hangs out near the water.

The trail starts to climb away from the creek. I can hear it pouring its water further up the canyon and am suspicious of waterfalls. Things seem steep in that direction, but they also seem steep where I am going. The red cliffs of Kolob Canyons become visible far across the valley as I climb. Gradually, I hear another bit of water nearer to me as the trail approaches a tributary coming from one of the marked springs. The landscape gets less steep as the trail drops in next to the little stream with good flow.

on up Comanche Canyon
Looking up Comanche Canyon as I leave it for a tributary. Many places along here are not burned badly.

Kolob Canyons
Stark red cliffs turning grey with distance are the Kolob Canyons in the north part of Zion National Park.

rocks leaving a square opening for water to pour through
A little bit of water pouring from above.

blue stripes on white petals
A sprig of flower near the spring water.

I have been following a single set of hoof prints along the trail with no other markings. Route finding is not a problem below, but up here it is nice to have some level of confirmation that I am following the right trail. There is a cabin and coral maintained by the local Backcountry Horsemen unit and I take a moment to glance around it, just as the rider did before me. A large campsite sits by the stream near it. Past it, a sign points the way to the Quaking Aspen Spring and as I look down the trail, the bunch of aspen quake for me.

orange cabin
The cabin the Backcountry Horsemen maintain.

island of aspen trees
An island of aspen trees presumably mark the spring location.

rocks and trees and things
Looking back over the rolling valley with the spring as I climb out of it.

Once in the valley by the cabin, the trail is easy again. It is a gentle and quick climb out the far side and around toward Big Water, my final destination for the day. The views east open up again as the trail makes its way around the mountain top. The day is downright comfortable, and turning a corner, I find I am not the only one who thinks so as a rattlesnake on the trail starts an awkward rocky climb out of my path and into a bush. It is one I have never seen before. I let it get to where it is going, but it still gives me a buzz as I take the next step along the trail.

green bumps of land
The hills ahead. The distant ones seem to be covered in charred toothpicks.

rattle and rings on the tail of a rattlesnake
Likely a Great Basin rattlesnake disappearing under oak and sage.

After meeting the local venomous snake, there is just a last few feet of climb before dropping down into Big Water. It is a huge green meadow with a shallow pond at the bottom held in by an earthen dam. The evidence of use as open range land is everywhere, but the cows are not yet here for this year. The camping spots I expected to find are not forthcoming. It is no doubt unattractive once the cows get here. There is a space big enough to lie down on and it becomes a camp for the night.

soggy grassy meadow
Coming into Big Water. The meadow is soggy, but the hills are high and dry.

dam holding in Big Water
Big Water sits behind an earthen dam.

looking across most of the lake
Just a rectangle of water beside the mountain.

gentle dip in the meadow
Further up the meadow, the stream can be picked out.

Continue reading: day 2




©2015 Valerie Norton
Posted 7 July 2015

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