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In Our Back Yard: Buckhorn Wash

Oct 03, 2018 12:30PM
Interesting and little-known history from the Cold War, dinosaur tracks, prehistoric Indian pictographs, and outlaw Matt Warner’s inscription are all part of an easy gravel road drive in the spectacular steep-walled canyon known as Buckhorn wash. The 9½ mile canyon is a wonderful place to spend the day exploring with the family. It is about a two-hour automobile drive from South Utah County and fall is a perfect time of year to visit with generally mild temperatures.

Drive to Price on US Highway 6 and then turn south on Utah Highway 10. In about 30 miles, just before you get to the town of Castle Dale is a turn off to your left (west) accessing San Rafael Swell destination. The landmark for the turnoff is an old and photogenic corral complex. This begins the drive on a graded gravel road to the north entrance to Buckhorn Wash. This part of the road is known as Buckhorn Flats. After about 12 ½ miles you will arrive at a four-way road intersection with a BLM information site, vault toilets, and picnic tables. From this point, you will see a sign directing you to continue east 2 miles to Buckhorn Wash. In two miles you will see a road to your right turning southbound. A few weeks ago the BLM direction sign pointing to Buckhorn Wash had been torn down and only the two vertical posts were present, so watch for this intersection. Straight ahead eastbound is a BLM road sign that informs you it is 16 miles to US Highway 6.

The major points of interest are listed below in reference to this road junction.

0.9 miles: Morrison Knudsen Tunnels with two tunnels visible on the west and east side of the road. As a secret Cold War project, the Department of Defense hired the Construction firm of Morrison Knudsen to tunnel into the sandstone of upper Buckhorn Wash. The purpose was to test the suitability of the rock for underground bunkers safe from air delivered bombs. On October 4, 1948, a blast of 320,000 pounds of explosives were detonated on the mesa above one of the tunnel complexes. Soft sandstone did not hold up as well as the hard granite of Colorado where NORAD and other government facilities were eventually located.

1.6 miles: Dinosaur footprint on a ledge about 15 feet above the east side of the road. The west side of the road has room for parking. The dinosaur footprint is on a large flat sandstone area almost right under your feet when you are on the ledge above the road.

2.1 miles: A small set of petroglyphs that can be seen from the main road but they can be difficult to find. The clue is to look for some bullet holes where someone tried to shoot their initials into the rock wall. The initials are TKG and the petroglyphs are left of the initials.

2.3 miles: Park south of the cattle guard and you will find a trail on the east side of the canyon going up a steep hill. At the top of this trail is a panel of petroglyphs that cannot be seen from the road.

4.2 miles: Outlaw Matt Warner’s inscription dated Feb. 17, 1920, located about 40 feet above the east side of the road. Matt Warner was an outlaw who ran with the Butch Cassidy gang and after serving a jail sentence became a respected lawman in Price, Utah.

5.5 miles: Spectacular 150 foot long Prehistoric Indian Rock Art display that may have been painted more than 2,000 years ago. The area has a large parking area, interpretive signage, and restrooms. The Buckhorn Wash Rock Art Site was listed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1980.

9.2 miles: San Rafael River Bridge and the end of the Buckhorn Wash Road. A BLM campground is located on both sides of the river with picnic tables and vault toilets. South of the river is the Cottonwood Wash Road which connects with I-70 in about 20 miles.

Your return home can be to backtrack your route north up the Canyon and then take the Green River Cut Off to Highway 6 or continue driving down Cottonwood Wash to I-70.

This destination is one of 42 in the author's trail guide to the San Rafael Swell available from Dickerson Automotive in Spanish Fork and Art City Coffee Shop. You can also contact the author at [email protected]

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