Utah Highway 29: Ephraim Canyon Heritage Tour

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On the map, it seemed like the perfect shortcut across the Wasatch Plateau.  Utah Route 29 climbs up and over the hills, then drops down to U-10 at Castle Dale — right where I would need to be, to begin my drive through the San Rafael Swell on Buckhorn Wash Road.  I wasn’t worried that it was a dirt road, it was in great condition as I sped along outside Ephraim.

U-29 is the “Ephraim Canyon Heritage Tour”, and as it climbs into the Manti-La Sal National Forest, the road gains nearly a mile in elevation.  It didn’t take long…

… for a great view to open up behind me, looking west towards the agricultural town of Ephraim.

The road remained in good shape, as I passed some muddy turnouts, like the one for Bluebell Flats, an area that would have been covered in wildflowers in just a few more weeks.  I continued to zip by, knowing I was about to get my first glimpse at scenic Skyline Drive, which runs along the spine of the Wasatch Plateau, often at elevations topping 10,000 feet.  But then…

… snow started to appear at the side of the road.  It was June 6th, practically summer, and I was a little surprised that so much of the white stuff was still lingering here.  No worries, the road was still clear and dry.

Oh wait.  There’s some snow on the road.  No problem, I can squeeze by it.  Just get a running start, and plow right through.  It looks like the summit is just ahead.

And this is where I turned around.  Yep, the dirt road had turned to mud here, as the snow turned into slush.  Just beyond, the path was still completely covered with snow.  I was driving a front-wheel drive SUV, not a 4-wheel drive, so I wasn’t feeling confident enough to try my luck.  I stepped out of the car to take this picture, and my shoes sunk deep into the muck.  I didn’t have any choice, it was back to Ephraim for me.

In a way, it’s good that I discovered now, instead of later, that Skyline Drive was still snow-bound.  I had hoped to finish my vacation by driving the entire length of this scenic road.  But with so much snow still present, I knew there was very little chance that it would all be gone within a matter of days.  So, I reshaped my plan for Day 2, and for Day 9.  At the end of my trip, I ended up adding Salt Lake City and Zion National Park to my itinerary, which were both very enjoyable.  As for this moment, I knew my only choice was to drive up to Fairview, take U-31 across the Wasatch Plateau, then take U-10 down to Castle Dale.  It was a detour that would eat up an extra hour, maybe more, on a day when I was already planning to drive nearly 400 miles.  But at least it added some extra scenery to my day, in Huntington Canyon.

In Ephraim, watch for a sign pointing towards Skyline Drive.  You’ll turn off US 89 at 400 South, then go 3 blocks and take a right.   If you’d rather continue on to Huntington Canyon/U-31, simply continue north on US 89.

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