Monday, December 8, 2008
Pine Park is another example of a spectacular natural wonder well off the beaten path in southwestern Utah that many locals are not even aware of. The surreal landscape at Pine Park, located within the Dixie National Forest, truly is a geologic wonder and surely would be a major attraction if it were found in one of the eastern states.
Relatively few people have been to Pine Park and as far as I know, I may have been the first mountain biker to roll down the almost-forgotten South Boundary Trail into the park on a dry and chilly November morning.
One contributing factor to Pine Park’s unpopularity is its remoteness. The nearest town is Enterprise in northwestern Washington County, a good 1.5-hour drive for me from Cedar City.
Once in Enterprise, head west on Main Street which eventually becomes old State Route 120.
On the way out to Pine Park, be sure to make the small side trip to the Hebron Cemetery. A little over five miles from town and just before the turnoff for Enterprise Reservoir, turn north on the signed dirt road, cross Shoal Creek, and wind 1.5 miles to the lonely cemetery. Cracked and crumbling tombstones with faded inscriptions are the only visible remains of the once prosperous Hebron that was settled in 1862. For several years, Hebron thrived selling produce, beef, and dairy products to the booming mining camps in eastern Nevada. But all attempts to convey water from the unpredictable Shoal Creek to thirsty farms eventually failed, and by the late 1890s many left to settle nearby Enterprise. The remaining few residents left in 1902 when a powerful magnitude 6 earthquake leveled what was left of the town.
Returning back to SR-120 and continuing west another 2.5 miles brings you to another interesting historical sight: Terry Springs Ranch. Here, several old photogenic wood, brick, and stone buildings can be found amongst the chest-high sagebrush.
Past the ranch, the road curves to the southwest, leaving Shoal Creek behind. Pavement soon turns to a well-graded dirt road as you enter National Forest lands, and a major fork in the road is encountered at Wide Hollow. Turn left off of SR-120 in a southerly direction to proceed toward Pine Park. The road from here was in decent repair when I was there (don’t count on it, however, when you’re there) and I probably could have carefully negotiated my low-slung Honda Civic along, but it was rough enough that I decided to bike in from this junction.
Ignore one well-used road forking off to the west toward Nevada’s Beaver Dam State Park, as well as several lesser used tracks that intermittently join in from both the left and right. Heading south, the road undulates gradually as you cross several wide washes. The sparse pinion-juniper forest feels unusually bare where the Forest Service has thinned the trees for resource management; scars of past wild fires add to the sense of bareness.
Less than 7 miles from the old highway, the dirt road comes close to and parallels the edge of Pine Park Bench. If you want to bike or hike down into the park, watch for the wooden Forest Service sign labeled “South Boundary Trail – Pine Park 1” on the left and park. This is a non-motorized trail open to hikers, bikers, and horses. The unmaintained and seldom-used trail is fairly steep and rough and should only be attempted by intermediate-level-and-up mountain bikers. Hiking the trail should present little difficulty. The trail snakes its way down to where White Hollow emerges out of a very interesting creek-filled canyon that invites exploration of its own. Indistinct in places, the trail then weaves across a sage-covered bench southward toward the Pine Park campground.
For those driving, pass the trail head and the road will first swing to the west and then turn sharply to the southeast descending steeply off of the bench offering expansive views to the southwest and giving you your first good look at the remarkably white and intricately carved Tuff of Honeycomb Rock. The tuff consists of more than 1000 feet of consolidated ash that was ejected from the nearby Pine Park Caldera (a large cauldron-like volcano) nearly 12 million years ago. The weathering of this volcanic rock formation is what makes the terrain at Pine Park so intriguing and scenic.
About 1.25 miles from the hairpin turn, look for a pullout and overlook on the left side of the road. Lying before you is an otherworldly canyon of melting vanilla-caramel ice cream topped with pointed dollops of whipped cream that just begs to be explored. You can hike into the canyon from here, but it may be better to set up base at the lovely Pine Park campground another 0.5 miles down the road.
Stately ponderosa pine thrive here with an abundance of water and rich, well-drained soils derived from the volcanic rocks. This gives the area a distinct alpine feel despite a paltry elevation of only 5500 feet above sea level. A small, cool stream flows year-round through the campground that purportedly supports some tiny trout.
Set out to explore the hoodoo-filled canyon, venture down the continuation of the South Boundary Trail to the east, or simply relax under the pines and soak your feet in the creek. There are many options in this little-known paradise and I’m already planning a trip back.
Final Adventure Stats:
Miles Traveled: 19 total (17.5 bike/1.5 hike)
Elevation Gained (feet): 1730 total (1430 bike/300 hike)
Time (hours): 5.5 total (3.5 bike/2 hike)
If You Go:
Despite the name, you will not find any playground equipment, pavilions, water taps, outhouses, or any such “park” improvements at Pine Park. So go prepared to spend some time in an isolated area with primitive conditions. Although most major road junctions are well signed, don’t leave before picking up the Forest Service’ travel map for the Cedar City/Pine Valley Ranger Districts, free from either the Cedar City office at 1789 North Wedgewood Lane, or the St. George Interagency Office at 345 East Riverside. From St. George or Cedar City, plan on spending the better part of a day driving out to and enjoying Pine Park.