At long last, we’ve completed Episode 3: Spanish Fork and Mapleton. Spencer had a tough job editing it down to a reasonable length; I was too eager to talk about this stretch closest to our own home. Maybe one day we’ll release the Director’s Cut! 🙂
The highlight for me was a great conversation with Dr. Jack Oviatt, the world’s leading expert on the history of Lake Bonneville. We talk about the origins of the cross that overlooks Spanish Fork, and how Mapleton has acquired so much land along the BST. My 5 minute speech on the legend of Gibby vs. Mapleton got shortened to 25 seconds, but that’s probably for the best.
On to Springville and Provo! Episode 4 will feature interviews with citizens who are working to improve and extend the trail, and landowners who have allowed the trail to pass through their property.
April 26, 3.5 miles (0 miles official, 2.5 miles unofficial route)
We started Episode 4 on a misty morning at the mouth of Hobble Creek Canyon. We had originally planned to do the entire 8+ miles of this episode in one shot, but we had to cut it short, and I’m glad we did because it would have been miserable in this weather.
The segment we did travel today, east of Spring Canyon, is heavily used, and I’ll bet 90% of the users you ask think it’s official, but it’s not. The first segment is part of the state-owned Hobble Creek Wildlife Management Area, and local residents are working to get the BST completed here. We explored it today with Chris Morrill, a Springville resident who is the driving force behind this effort. He is working with the Division of Wildlife Resources, Hobble Creek Bicycle Association, and Springville City on a grand vision of trails in and around the canyon. Part of the plan is to reroute this trail to a higher route that avoids the houses in the area, although it still has to cross private property. We climbed up to the bench where Chris wants to put the trail, which looked very promising, but it will be a lot of work. I have no doubt he will get it done.
We resumed the traditional route along a double track road, then subdivision streets, then another dirt road. This last stretch is on private property, with locked gates, but they have built “pass-through” gaps next to them that are just wide enough to walk through (sorry bikers), so I’m wondering if the land owners are officially allowing public non-motorized access.
Next up: our first steps on officially designated Bonneville Shoreline Trail!
April 17, 3 mile hike: 0 miles official trail, 1.5 miles unofficial BST route
Today we were fortunate to come to Maple Canyon on the first day the canyon (along with the trailhead at its mouth) was open for the season. It saved us some road walking. First was a short exploration of the old (and future) trail west of the trailhead that will eventually connect to the trail to the south where we were the other day, through the Clegg Canyon Subdivision that is just beginning construction below us. Then we headed east long the existing Maple Canyon Trail to where a trail heads onto the bench to the north.
This trail, known as the “Broken BST” in Trailforks, this stretch of unofficial trail on Forest Service property has always been a bit rough, especially a steep initial climb onto the bench, and a couple steep ravine crossings. Then in September 2020, the Ether Fire (one of several Utah County fires that were started last year by shooting), burned Ether Peak above us. The trail corridor was apparently the most convenient location for the firebreak, so the entire length of it was cleared. Then after the fire, to discourage motorized travel, the Forest Service plowed up the path into hummocks. Unfortunately, nothing was left of the trail. Since then, hikers, bikers, and horses have somewhat reestablished a path, but today, a few days after a major rainstorm, the whole thing was a muddy mess, especially in the north-facing slopes of the ravine crossings.
The trail ends at a fence, where the landowner does not intend to allow public trail access any time soon. Circumventing this ranch would require a climb of several hundred feet over a ridge, so the current BST plan of Mapleton City is to not use this segment at all, but rather to descend from the Maple Canyon trailhead down to follow paved paths along current and future city streets, connecting to the mouth of Hobble Creek Canyon in Springville. I suppose that is the most practical solution for the near future, but it would be nice to use the bench some time in the future.
Your generous donations at work! Our initial project is to install several signs in Utah County. We have received permission from Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest to install signs on some confusing stretches of the trail on US Forest Service property. These first two were installed Thursday near the Dry Canyon trailhead in Lindon. We are using an experimental all-steel sign design that is not quite as natural looking as wood posts, but is significantly less expensive and so far, appears to be more durable and more difficult for vandals to remove (and much cheaper to replace if they do). Your donation of $25 pays for one of these signs, as well as about 15 seconds of one of our documentary episodes.
Next up, as part of Episode 4 in Springville and South Provo, which currently has several markers in good shape, we will be installing a couple more at some turns.
APRIL 12: 6 MILES (0 miles official BST, 4.2 miles unofficial open route)
Today’s trek was across the face of Spanish Fork Peak above Mapleton. This is an unbroken stretch of over 4 miles, most of which could be made official tomorrow, but for one minor problem: access.
We started at the mouth of Spanish Fork Canyon. The Mapleton trail master plan has the BST climbing from a highway underpass 250 feet up a reasonable slope. Unfortunately, this hill is behind a 10ft fence until this property is developed; a huge planned development here called Harmony Ridge has been on the table for 15 years, but has changed owners a couple times since the recession. In the meantime, we had to find an alternative route, which climbed very steep power line access tracks up to the shoreline level. This route could be made reasonable with a lot of work, but there is no highway crossing here, so it is probably just better to wait.
Once at the shoreline, almost the entire route is a relatively level doubletrack or road, much of which serves multiple roles as firebreak, power line access, and the Mapleton water mains coming down from their main tank buried just above the trail. Other than the initial climb, and one other hill, this was definitely the easiest walk we’ve had yet.
The southern portion follows a large area of Bonneville-level (5,100ft) bench almost as large as the one across the canyon in Spanish Fork. To understand these benches better, we had our first virtual guest, Dr. Charles “Jack” Oviatt, a retired geologist from Kansas State University who knows more about Lake Bonneville than anyone else (like any good 21st century expert, he wrote the Wikipedia page on it). Jack now lives in New Mexico, and while we hope that at some point along our journey he can join us to do some “field research,” today it had to be over the Internet.
We had a great conversation about the Lake, how it formed and how it rose to its highest level about 18,000 years ago during the height of the last ice age before catastrophically flooding into the Snake River in Idaho. We also discussed how the rivers that flow out of these canyons into the lake, such as the Spanish Fork, formed these massive shoreline deltas as the lake rose or stood still, then eroded into them as the lake fell, producing the multiple benches and valleys on which so many of us live along the Wasatch Front.
Mapleton is in a unique circumstance with regards to the BST. Almost the entire trail on which we hiked today is public land, mostly owned by the city, thanks to their Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program, one of the first such programs in Utah when enacted in 1998, and almost certainly the most successful at acquiring large areas of critical environmental land in public hands. A TDR works by allowing private land owners to trade away development rights in designated preservation areas in exchange for higher allowed densities in developable areas. Mapleton has had almost 400 of these transactions.
The primary challenge with this program of working with developers is that the city has to wait for them to develop close enough to the Bonneville bench to build access trails to its BST. Currently, this is a 4 mile official city trail with no official access. According to the city and our exploration, one or two routes in the middle of the trail appear likely to be usable in the near future.
The most obvious access, from the Forest Service trailhead at the mouth of Maple Canyon which is already at the shoreline level, was used for decades but has been closed for 20 years during the heated (bordering on legendary) dispute between the city, landowner Wendell Gibby (who wants to build a subdivision on the wide segment of bench that he owns), and several local citizens who want to prevent it. After multiple offers and counteroffers, court cases, referenda, compromises that have fallen through, and even a 2008 state law that has tied the hands of cities all along the BST (by eliminating the ability to use eminent domain for trails), it appears an agreement is finally in place for Maple Bench Estates [sorry, the linked plat is not the most recent version]. If this compromise holds, the BST will descend off the Bonneville Bench, partially along neighborhood streets, but at least it will be connected. It will have to wait until a couple phases are built, so we had to find another way down, where a narrow corridor of city property connects to 1600 South.
April 10: 6 miles total hike, 2 miles unofficial BST route
I’m sure many of you have your own “personal trail,” a path close to home that is your go-to when you only have a free hour or two, and which you spend time here and there to help maintain it just because you want it to be nice. This section is mine. In fact, we are building a house next door to one of the trailheads. It’s another section of unofficial trail, but generally open to the public.
We started atop Red Knoll, which is a hundred feet or so above the actual shoreline, because the Spanish Fork Gun Club occupies the entire bench. Maybe the trail could go along the back of the parking lot, but it isn’t likely. West of here, the trail could be extended a couple miles. There is a half-mile gap that would require construction through dense oak brush along a sometimes steep slope, but at least it is on public (city & state) property. Beyond that is a mile or more of good-quality trail on mostly public property that has been built by adjacent property owners, but is inaccessible to the public. Maybe my personal cause in 2022?
Spanish Fork has a significant block of property in these wooded foothills, which they have turned into a massive outdoor recreation area. In addition to the gun club, there is the Spanish Oaks Reservoir where we get our pressurized irrigation water, with its sandy beach and good fishing; a popular campground; a network of hiking/biking trails, and two brand new downhill mountain biking luge runs that had a lot of riders this Spring Saturday. These were built using funds from the Utah Recreation, Arts, and Parks (RAP) sales tax surcharge, which other cities have used to improve the Bonneville Shoreline Trail. We weaved our way through the maze of nice trails, which are all official, but not yet designated as BST; no reason to do that just yet until a longer stretch can be established.
Crossing Snell Canyon, we entered an oddly isolated parcel owned by the federal Bureau of Reclamation (BLM). Here an old 4WD road follows a wide bench, which is one of the largest Bonneville-level benches that has not yet been developed. It very well could be, mostly being private property (Strawberry Canal Company), but it is basically impossible to get utilities and roads up here; maybe we can convince them to set it aside as public open space. It has a rather unique geologic feature, a large (10 acres?) 30-foot deep depression at the base of the mountains, which appears to have been a lagoon in the corner of the Spanish Fork River delta at the highest level of Lake Bonneville, 18,000 years ago.
This bench has unique close-up views of the massive wind turbines below, and looks up at the 1981 cross that commemorates the 1776 Dominguez & Escalante expedition searching for a route between New Mexico and California. How did they get clear up here; were they lost? Well, mainly it was because they were avoiding the legendary cliffs and canyons of the Colorado Plateau, and because one of their guides was originally from here and said they had to see the lake and valley, which the fathers called Our Lady of Mercy of the Timpanogotzis. The river they called the Aguas Calientes (due to the several hot springs in the canyon) was eventually renamed the Spanish Fork in their honor.
The trail currently ends where the bench disappears at the mouth of the canyon, with a great view of this “working-class” canyon. I think it is beautiful, but not as spectacular as some of the alpine canyons we’ll see further north. It sure gets a workout though: the Strawberry irrigation pipeline, a busy railroad, the main highway to Moab and Denver, and several powerlines. Crossing this busy corridor with BST is going to be a real nightmare. At some point, probably at least 10 years from now, the Utah Department of Transportation plans to widen the highway to 4 lanes, which will probably be as expensive as the similar project in Provo Canyon was, but will be a good opportunity to build in a trail crossing, likely connecting to a paved trail extending Spanish Fork’s river trail up the canyon.
It took us a while to get our website and everything up and running as well as filming this, but we are hoping to have an episode out every couple weeks. Our goal has been to have each episode be about 15 minutes long, so this one is longer than we’d like, but we hope you find it interesting. We appreciate your feedback on what we’re doing right and how we can improve in future segments.
Special thanks to our guest Matt Bekker for coming to talk about the natural hazards we see along the Bonneville shoreline; I’m excited for the guest we have lined up for our next episode, to talk about the history and geology of Lake Bonneville.
6 miles (0 miles official BST, 5 miles unofficial route)
Today’s trek looped around the edge of Payson, with several very nice trail sections that have good potential for becoming the Bonneville Shoreline Trail, but there are a few access issues that may keep the status quo without funding or other changes.
Starting at Picayune Canyon, we climbed onto a very narrow band of the Bonneville bench within the National Forest (although we hardly saw a tree all day). The trail on the bench is very nice, if a bit faint, but both of the two trails climbing up are unsustainable steep; we would probably need some switchbacks here. Three ravines along the way had poor crossings, but between them the views of Spring Lake and southern Payson (including the LDS Temple) were spectacular.
North of the third ravine, the route crossed into private property. This area has been generally closed to the public, but the new landowner is potentially interested in trails and open space, and we were able to get permission to explore. The best route for the BST through here follows the road along a natural gas pipeline, nice and level. As it wrapped around the north end of Dry Mountain, we finally were in some trees, a very nice trail. We hit a narrow band of Forest Service land before a private property fence stopped our progress. This narrow band crosses Payson Canyon, so we decided to do a bit of bushwhacking to see if we could cross on public land. The short answer was “yes,” the long answer was “hardly.” We had to drop 200ft down an extremely steep slope, then we had to cross Canyon Road, then Peteetneet Creek (building our own temporary crossing with a log). So yeah, we could get a public land trail through here, but it would be challenging and expensive.
Now on the flanks of Tithing Mountain, we climbed another gas line utility road up to P Hill. These utility lines often look like promising trail routes because they are nice and straight, but that often means they go straight up and down steep hills; this stretch would need rerouting in places to be usable. P Hill is an “island” of public (Forest Service) land, which should make trail designation possible, except that all four of the current trails that enter it pass through a small stretch of private property: in some cases, no more than 100ft. Only one of the four (in the northwest corner, just off Canyon Road) currently appears to be unrestricted. The one in the northeast corner, on Goosenest Road, just about touches the road, except that you have to cross the Highline Canal, which is not safe. Fortunately, as we ended our hike today, it was still dry.
Passing the base of the P brought to mind the history of these “geoglyphs,” and my obsession many years ago with attempting to “geo-collect” all of the hillside letters in the Western U.S. I eventually mapped over 500 of them. We’ll see several more close up along our journey.
From the east side of P Hill, the future route of the BST through Elk Ridge, Woodland Hills, and Salem is much less clear, with three options:
Most city and county plans have it as a paved bike path along the Strawberry Highline Canal, much like the Murdock Canal trail in the northern part of the County. This will be a great trail, and worth doing eventually, but it will be insanely expensive and is not really the character of the BST. Currently, a gravel road follows along the canal, but it is clearly posted no trespassing at every road crossing.
The second option is to keep the wildland-urban interface character of the trail by wrapping around the upper reaches of Elk Ridge and Woodland Hills, at the base of the steep mountains. This will be a beautiful route, but it is a very long stretch of new construction, and almost all of the route passes through private property, including several who have actively restricted public access. Also, this would require a significant climb above the actual shoreline, with the upper edges of Woodland Hills being above 6,000ft. Future suburban development in those hills may make some of this trail possible.
The third option would be to just walk through the neighborhoods of lower Elk Ridge and upper Salem. This route most closely follows the Bonneville Shoreline elevation (5,100ft), but sidewalks don’t quite seem BST-y
Unfortunately, none of these three options is currently traversable, so we have no alternative but to skip the next several miles and start again in Spanish Fork.
Today we started the “real” episodes of State of the BST! March in Utah being March in Utah, after our nice spring weather three weeks ago, we started today hiking in several inches of snow. Half of it had melted by the time we finished.
We had to skip a couple miles from our last jaunt because of private property concerns. One of the rules we are living by is to only hike sections where we would be willing to let all of you visit, which means no trespassing on posted private property. So, we started this morning in the southeastern corner of Santaquin, along the big diversion channel built after the mudslides of 2002, which were a result of the “Mollie” forest fire on Dry Mountain in 2001. So it seemed a great place to talk about the nexus of natural hazards we seem to have along the BST (the Wildland-Urban Interface or “WUI”), and I know the perfect guest to talk about hazards, my office neighbor, Dr. Matt Bekker.
Matt is a physical geographer who specializes in dendrochronology (tree rings), but he also teaches a general education course called “Landscapes of Disaster.” We had a very interesting congregation about the recurrence of fire, floods, debris flows (mudslides), landslides, and earthquakes along the Lake Bonneville benches, the irresistible pull of the views, the woods, and the wildlife that draws new housing developments up into these areas (including what looks like another subdivision preparing to be built), and how we are (or should be) trying to mitigate the hazard that results from this collision along the line that is the Bonneville Shoreline Trail.
The Trail, you say? Well, we got a mixed bag. On the east side of town, there is an ATV track between the edge of the subdivisions and the base of the mountain that can (at least for now) suffice as a BST. Some of it is on city-owned property, but most is on private property, so who knows if and when it will be developed. Also it is a steep climb from the northeastern corner of development at East Side Park (just below the actual Bonneville shoreline at 5000ft) up to the southwestern corner of town at the end of Oak Summit Drive at 5300ft. So we went looking at a route further up in the hills where development will likely never occur; even though it is far above the shoreline, more of it is on public lands and it could be taken in a more level route all the way around the city. I had hiked this route before and remembered a pretty good trail, but today, even though we were following it exactly on the State of the BST Explorer map, it was all bushwhacking along a deer path. At least the views were great, and it seemed a good route for future development. It crossed some very large geotechnical trench scars, so it looks like someone is planning a development right up against the mountain (P.S.: I found out later, it is called Scenic Ridge Estates, and apparently they were trying to find the Wasatch Fault to buffer the houses away from it. See, a perfect place to talk about natural hazards!) Looking at the 2016 Santaquin Parks and Trails Plan, it looks like the intended route of the BST might climb from Peter Rabbit Spring (270 South Oak Summit Dr) up to the higher bench.
After a gap of several miles to avoid the gravel pit north of Santaquin, we started at the Picayune Canyon Trailhead (National Forest) and went south for 1.6 miles and back overlooking Spring Lake. The northern end, in National Forest Land, was a very nice (if unofficial) trail built by local horseback riders that could instantly be designated as BST. The next half mile, on private (but not posted) property, was a stretch of very roughly plowed firebreak from the 2018 Bald Mountain Fire (a good precaution even though the fire never actually came down this side of Dry Mountain). It was clear of trees and not too steep, and used a lot by horseback riders, but it would need some work to be a decent trail. The southern half mile was along a narrow doubletrack just outside a tall fence surrounding a large orchard. I believe this fence was put in after the 2018 firebreak was cut through here, even though the same person owns the property on both sides of the fence. Does this mean he is allowing public access on the mountain side? This trail has a lot of steep up and down along the fence, so we tried to find an alternative trail in the hills, but this turned into another bushwhack. So, tonight I’m editing the map to take out a few trail segments that I had thought were in better shape, but I’m also adding a few that we found. I guess the trip accomplished its purpose.
I am so excited to explore the BST and evaluate how much has been accomplished in 30 years! Spencer and I started this 200 mile expedition at the Utah-Juab County Line. It turns out we could have started a couple miles further south, but that would have mostly been a hill climb, and this was a good place to introduce the project.
Hidden just beside I-15 in the southern end of Santaquin is a stretch of the original US-91 highway, replaced by the freeway in the early 1960s. Technically, it is a road, but the pavement is in such bad shape, it may as well be a trail. Here we worked on getting our filming legs under us. I am clearly no actor, but we wanted this intro to be completely scripted, so it took us a lot of takes to get it right. Spencer was also trying out some different creative approaches; I like what he chose in the end, except for my lame pointing.
We entered the Santaquin State Wildlife Management Area on a dirt road. This is not officially part of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail; in fact, we won’t reach the first official stretch until Springville. It was just an ordinary rather level dirt road, lots of time to do a few takes.
Eventually we shifted over to the bank of a rather large canal. I believe this was built in the 1940s to take excess water from Summit Creek over to the reservoir on the other side of the valley. It doesn’t appear to have been used for irrigation in this area, and looks like it was abandoned a long time ago. At times, there was a decent trail along one bank or the other. The north bank had great views of Utah Valley, as well as the rapidly expanding city of Santaquin.
Eventually we left the WMA, crossing into the Theodore Ahlin Park, site of Santaquin’s urban fishing pond. As these ponds go, this one is very well done, with a wide path surrounding it, and a disc golf course.
I don’t know if I will be posting my exact route every time. Although none of this trail was official BST, it was all on public land that is open to travel, so here is my route on Trailforks. Yes, our “first mile” was 2.25 miles; a fair bit of backtracking for multiple takes.