Energy Loop Scenic Byway: Huntington Canyon

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The tiny downtown of Fairview goes by quickly.  There are only a few buildings along US 89, in this farming town of about 1,100 people, settled by Mormons around 1860.

Nowadays, the city proclaims itself as the Gateway to Skyline Drive, the ridge-top road along the Wasatch Plateau which, only about an hour or so ago, I had discovered was still snow-bound in early June.  But, another road was certain to be open: U-31, part of the Energy Loop Scenic Byway, which begins here in Fairview, and heads southeast to U-10.  From there, I could access a dirt road that led into the San Rafael Swell.

Much like U-29 into Ephraim Canyon, U-31 climbs quickly out of the Sanpete Valley, providing nice views of the town below, and the snow-capped mountains behind it.  Unlike U-29, though, this road was paved, so I wasn’t worried about snow stopping me halfway.

At the top of the Wasatch Plateau, U-31 makes up part of Skyline Drive.  This area gave me a taste of what I could have experienced, if all of Skyline had been open: wide-open fields that overlook the tops of foothills, with bigger mountains in the distance.

But, from here south, Skyline Drive is dirt, and it isn’t maintained in the winter.  Just beyond this sign (at the summit, 9,655 feet/2,942 meters), the southern end of Skyline Drive begins.  Clearly, it would still be days or weeks before the snow would be clear, and the mud dried out.

I’m not certain, but I think this is the view to the west, possibly of Mount Nebo, which tops out at 11,928 feet/3,635 meters.

Eventually, you have to leave the “top of the world” feeling behind, as the highway begins its drop down towards Huntington Canyon.  Along the way…

… you’ll pass Huntington Reservoir, which is stocked with tiger trout.  The reservoir wouldn’t be especially notable, if not for what happened here on August 8, 1988.

During a reconstruction project of the dam, workers unearthed a 9,500 year old skeleton of a Columbian Mammoth.

The mammoth from Huntington Reservoir was buried in soil that was just slightly above freezing.  It acted as a refrigerator for nearly 10 millennia.  The mammoth was roughly 65 years old when it died.  The area’s altitude (around 9,000 feet) was surprisingly high for a mammoth, which usually lived on the plains. It was likely one of the last Columbian Mammoths in North America.

Nowadays, there are a few interpretive signs at the site below the dam, but (as you can see by the picture) there isn’t much else to see here.  The mammoth bones are gone — and are now stored at the College of Eastern Utah Prehistoric Museum in Price, Utah.

The rest of the drive will be easy on your gas tank, since it’s mostly downhill to the town of Huntington.  As you pass through Huntington Canyon, you’ll be navigating a lot of curves…

… and following alongside Huntington Creek.

As you drive along U-31, you’ll pass nearby the infamous Crandall Canyon Mine.  In 2007, a collapse trapped six miners deep inside the mine, and in the days that followed, three more people lost their lives, during the effort to reach the miners.  The bodies of the original six miners were never recovered, and the mine was permanently shut down.  A year later, a monument was dedicated to their memories in the town of Huntington.

At Huntington, turn south on U-10.  Just before Castle Dale, watch for a road that turns off to the left, and a sign that promises access to the San Rafael Swell.  This road heads towards Buckhorn Draw, the Wedge Overlook, and eventually, I-70.

Drivelapse Video

Here’s a time-lapse dash-cam video of the drive over U-31, the Energy Loop Byway:

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