So how spoiled are us southwestern Utahns? The lower trailhead for the colorful and always surprising Ashdown Gorge hike is a 10-minute drive from my house. And after living in Cedar City for over three years, this is the first time I've found time to squeeze it in between countless other nearby adventures.
Don't make the mistake I did and wait. If you ever have a day to kill in the Cedar City area, you must do this hike.
Ashdown Gorge is an all-downhill 11-mile hike typically done as a shuttle starting just outside of the north entrance to Cedar Breaks National Monument, and ending at Highway 14 in Cedar Canyon where Ashdown and Crow creeks join to become Coal Creek.
To mix it up a bit I decided to use a bicycle for my shuttle vehicle rather than a car.
Early morning sun illuminates grass-filled meadows below 11,000-foot high Brian Head Peak.
After walking a ways through some meadows you arrive to the rim of the Cedar Breaks amphitheater.
Interspersed between open views of Cedar Breaks, sections of the trail enter dark forests crowded with aspen and fir trees.
After descending for several miles through high alpine scenery, the trail makes it way down toward Ashdown Gorge. Here (above) the trail parallels the upper gorge rim giving a bird's eye preview of what is to come later in the day.
There are no shortcuts into the gorge. Sheer walls of sandstone of the Cretaceous-age Straight Cliffs Formation rise 100s of feet from the bottom of the drainage, meaning you must follow the trail eastward until you are above this sandstone cliff. You should keep an eye to the sky for thunderstorms before entering the gorge as a quick exit is equally impossible.
Above: the trail eventually leads to Ashdown creek above the narrows of the gorge.
From here you can simply put on you water shoes and walk down the stream bed into the narrows, but I recommend a quick side trip up the creek to see the remains of the old Ashdown sawmill site.
After checking out the sawmill ruins, head back down canyon and into the narrows.
Ashdown creek has carved a deep twisty canyon with a few large undercuts. Eventually, as these undercuts progress, the stream will break through the meander in an attempt to straighten out its coarse leaving some impressive natural bridges. If you could come back in several thousand years from now, Ashdown Gorge may look very similar to White Canyon in Natural Bridges National Monument.
Above: Tom's Head is an important landmark indicating where Lake Creek joins the canyon from the north.
Hike a mile or so up Lake Creek Fork to find more good watery narrows and a couple of tall waterfalls.
Heading back down the main canyon, less than a mile downstream from Tom's Head, stay to the left (south) side of the river and keep an eye on the north rim of the canyon to see Flanigan's Arch. Although the arch's (actually a natural bridge) dimensions are pretty impressive, it will look pretty pathetic from your vantage point down by the river.
As you near the trail's end at Coal Creek, try and find these 40s-era vehicles and equipment on the north side of the creek hidden behind some shrubs.
Another 3 minutes of hiking will bring you to your shuttle vehicle.
I was too tired and scared (more in a second) to stop and take pictures of the bike ride back to the top.
Anyone who has biked or driven HWY 14 up Cedar Canyon will know what I mean by being scared. We are talking about an extremely narrow road with absolutely no shoulder in many places. And very busy - mucho traffic on a Saturday. And not just any traffic, many, many large SUVs and trucks pulling ATV trailers.
But the most harrowing moment came where the road just begins to ascend Crow Creek. Here, the road hugs a huge cliff forcing you to ride somewhat within traffic just inside the white line. This is usually manageable because what are the chances that you, a car going up the canyon, and a car going down the canyon are going to simultaneously converge at this one exposed point?
With my luck, apparently, the chances are pretty good.
And what are the chances of this occurring, but rather than two cars passing you simultaneously, they are two semi-trailers! The chances are astronomical - you rarely will see semis on HWY 14 because it is generally unsafe for them.
If you were to add up the width of two semi-trailers and my 26-inch-wide handlebars and compare it to the width of the road, it would be awfully close.
I call it a miracle.
Final numbers: 12.5 mile/5500-foot-loss hike
18.6 mile/4670-foot-climb bike ride
7.5 hours to complete the loop
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