Provo: Rock Canyon

May 22: 3.4 miles, 2.6 miles official BST, 0.6 miles unofficial route

Much of episode 5 is crossing very familiar territory to me. I have traversed these Provo segments of the BST many times, and on a map the segments south of the Y Trail and north of it look the same, but they couldn’t be more different. The stretch we hiked with the mayor is mostly level, with one gradual climb out of Slate Canyon. Today’s segment, on the other hand, is more of what we would expect with converted utility/firebreak roads. A straight line on the map means continually going up and down steep hills. Perhaps it’s time to think about Version 2 of this trail.

The Y Trail was just as crowded as you’d expect on a Spring Saturday. This short but steep climb is one of those dozen or so iconic Utah trails, and any self-respecting BYU fan has to climb it at least once; some people hike it every week. In 2014, BYU was able to acquire the property from the US Forest Service (yes, that did take an act of Congress). The University has put in a huge amount of effort since then to improve the area, including parking and trail improvements, permanent LED lighting of the Y for special events, erosion control, fire remediation, and even building a short new section of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail to bypass the busy parking lot.

To the north, the lecture of the day was on landslides. Some of the hills we went over were active landslides, evidenced by the numerous large boulders composed of the same limestone as the cliffs 2,000 feet above us. These are still technically active, and a subdivision platted here has never been built (perhaps a good cause for preserving open space?). During the very wet year of 1983, part of this rubble slid further (called the Oak Hills Slide), permanently engulfing a street and nearly destroying a home. In 2005, a 7-foot diameter rock fell 2,600ft from the high cliffs here and barely missed a nearby house, although it destroyed their guest house, and still sits in their front yard. Throughout this neighborhood, similar boulders have been incorporated into landscapes. Despite the hazards, the alternative trail route we took through this landslide and boulder field area is very pretty and much more interesting than the main trail up over the hill; if only it could be rerouted to go around the hill completely with minimal climbing, and designated as official.

There is a short section of National Forest property here, so we planned to put in a couple new signs. The first went in fine, but the second proved impossible, as the whole area was solid gravel and my 10 attempts to drive it in different locations basically destroyed the post.

Around a bend we entered the magnificent Rock Canyon, another very popular trailhead, overflowing with cars on a sunny Saturday. Besides the BST, this canyon is popular with rock climbers, and people climbing 2,000 vertical feet to the top of Squaw Peak. In case you are wondering, negotiations have been ongoing for years to rename this mountain to something less offensive to the native Ute nation, and apparently an agreement is coming soon. Provo City and the Forest Service have recently worked out a plan to greatly improve this trailhead park, with expanded parking, nature trails, and a project to use excess creek runoff to recharge the aquifer under Provo.

North of Rock Canyon, the official trail ends at the edge of Provo City property, but the mile of utility road beyond, through private property is still very heavily used by a variety of trail users. It is likely eligible to be dedicated by force under Utah state law (§72-5-104), because it has been open for more than 10 years, although it is unincorporated, so the city does not have the jurisdiction to make any demands. Personally, I would rather designate it in cooperation with the land owners, which would hopefully enable building and or designating a better route. Beyond that, there is still a mile gap through property that is clearly fenced and posted. Provo City has made closing the overall 3.5 mile gap in official BST here a top priority, but there are a number of obstacles in the way, so it may be a while.

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