Spanish Fork: Coming Home

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.

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