Torrey Fall Foliage Trip 2015 – Day 4

St. George Jeepers Trail Report – Oct. 1, 2015

Torrey Fall Foliage Trip – Day 4

Departure from the Broken Spur Motel on this last day of the fall foliage trip was much more casual and unstructured than the previous days. Many of the Jeepers had already headed out or had plans other than to return to St. George. Participants on the ride this Thursday were, Paul Furr, Ron and Ellie Motter, Joan and Phil Hayes, Leo and Dee Wingrove, Steve and Claetra Howcroft, Dan and Carol Gastineau and Bud Sanders. 

The Broken Spur is family owned and operated. They put out some very good meals, especially their buffet breakfast which is no additional charge to guests. Most of the group took advantage of some of the other excellent restaurants in Torrey for the evening meals.

We again traveled from Torrey to Loa, aired down and proceeded south on Posey Lake Road. Our first stop, after a climb up a steep incline, was to the Smooth Knoll Overlook. The knoll is a lava mound, rising several hundred feet out of the valley floor. The valley surrounding the knoll is rather nondescript, but there are nice views of the surrounding mountains. I would expect that the Native Americans or cowboys might have used this knoll as a good place to find scattered cattle, game or see whoever else might be within 10 miles. 

Below, Joan Hayes shares some of her extensive knowledge of the region with Steve Howcroft

Leaving the Smooth Knoll Overlook, we proceeded south on Posey Lake Road, #154, to the intersection with the Griffin Top Road, #140.

Griffin Top Road traversed some quite scenic terrain with plenty of very nice fall foliage. Following is a series of photos of scenery from along the trail. At the trail junction of FR #17, we turned onto that road toward the ghost town of Widstoe.

It is interesting to notice the distinct lower level of leaves on the younger aspens. This is called a browse line and is caused by animals that can reach only that high to browse on the buds and twigs.

Below is a photo that shows the reality of being somewhere other than the front of the pack. There are dusty roads in Utah.

Sometimes aspens do turn a very attractive orange and red.

Although there were definitely views today that registered very high on the awesometer, (Thank you, Joan Bryce) there was a different feeling today, like when you know the vacation is almost over. 

Our last trail stop was to air up at the Junction of FR #17, also known as the Old Escalante Road, and CR 1660. (Incidentally, County Road 1660 is an easy 65 mile per hour highway that is posted at 40 miles per hour.) At this junction is the old ghost town of Widstoe. Below are a few photos from the old town and a story of this historic town. It is a story typical of many formerly thriving towns throughout the desert southwest. 

“The first settlers, including Isaac Riddle and a wife of John D. Lee, came to John’s Valley as early as 1876. The Riddle ranch became an important regrouping point for the San Juan Expedition in 1879, but through the end of the 19th century the area was mainly used by local cattlemen to seasonally run their stock. There were few permanent residents. 

In the early 1900s Jedediah Adair bought land here and started growing oats, wheat, and barley. His success attracted other settlers, and by 1908 the community became known as Adairville. As the settlement continued to expand, it was renamed Houston for John Houston, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’s local stake in Panguitch. In 1910, Adair’s wife Julia donated 40 acres of land for the development of an official townsite. The town was divided into blocks 20 rods (330 ft) square with 4 lots per block and streets 5 rods (83 ft) wide. The new town was granted a post office in 1912, and its name changed again to Winder, in honor of recently deceased Latter-day Saint leader John R. Winder. 

Winder began to thrive and prosper. Sawmills were built in the canyon east of town to provide lumber for fast-paced construction. Besides the houses there was a combination church and school, two hotels, four stores, and a confectionery plant. In 1917 the post office decided there were too many places in Utah named Winder, and suggested yet another name change. The name Widtsoe was chosen to recognize John A. Widtsoe, then president of the University of Utah and an agricultural scientist whose expertise in dry farming had been very helpful to area farmers. 

Widtsoe continued to grow, becoming one of the principal communities in Garfield County. In 1919 the United States Forest Service relocated its district office from Panguitch to Widtsoe, and there was even serious discussion of moving the county seat here. In 1920 the population reached 1,100. Residents prepared for further expansion, enlarging nearby Pine Lake and building an embankment dam to supply more irrigation water. 

The town’s fortunes began to change in the summer of 1920, when a severe drought threatened the crops. Rain finally came late in the season and produced a good grain harvest, but the drought continued the next year. Widtsoe’s volatile climate started to drive farmers away. In 1924, as the drought wore on, William F. Holt, who had been successful in irrigating California’s Imperial Valley, came to try John’s Valley. Holt established a creamery in the valley, as well as a storage pond and flume to bring water down 7 miles from Pine Lake. This venture, in which he invested hundreds of thousands of dollars, was ultimately a failure. Observers noticed an apparent twenty-year cycle of alternate drought and abundant water in John’s Valley, and it seemed the drought period was just getting started. Soon the only successful crop was a high-altitude variety of lettuce. 

In 1925 the Forest Service office was moved away, and Widtsoe went into serious decline. By 1930 the population had dropped to 210, and in 1935 there were only 17 families left in town. In 1936 the federal Resettlement Administration stepped in to buy out local landowners, freeing them from unproductive land and delinquent taxes. The intention was to relocate inhabitants to more productive areas and use the land as a public grazing area. Unfortunately, the administration was inefficient and slow. The cost of administering the program was more than twice the amount paid out to purchase the land, and transactions that were supposed to last weeks took many months. Finally Widtsoe was emptied out. Government workers tore down most of the buildings and placed over 26,000 acres under the provisions of the Taylor Grazing Act. A few houses and an old community building still stand on the site.” 

The below photo from Google Earth clearly shows the fields from the old area farms and how the modern farmers deal with the periodic droughts. The center pivot irrigation systems have opened up huge areas throughout the country that otherwise would not be arable. The center pivots in this region are most likely fed from wells. 

After airing up at Widstoe Junction we left FR #17 and entered CR 1660 South toward Bryce Canyon and finally a lunch that wasn’t out of a lunch box. We went to Ruby’s Inn, north of Bryce Canyon NP, near the junction of Hwy 12. 

After 3 days of sandwiches for lunch, the salad bar at Ruby’s looked like a banquet. Anyone who has been on a long backpack hiking trip could appreciate the feeling even more. 

We left Ruby’s and got on Hwy 12. The scenery definitely wasn’t all in the rear view mirror! We passed through Red Canyon and its colorful red sandstone formations. 

At the junction of Hwy 12 and Hwy 89 we turned south and traveled to the intersection of Hwy 14. From there we drove down Cedar Canyon, beautiful at any time of the year. The trip unofficially ended in Cedar City.

Every region of this country, in fact this earth, has its own particular beauty, whether it be the seashore, mountains, plains, farmlands, desert or perhaps even urban areas. The purpose of these trail reports is to illustrate some of the natural beauty of this southern Utah and northern Arizona region. It is not the intent to compare to the fall foliage of the Northeast United States, which is incomparable, or the mountains of British Columbia, but to give the reader an example of the beauty we enjoy in these highly varied ecosystems found in southern Utah.

So concluded another well-planned, well-executed and wholly enjoyed adventure in southern Utah’s outdoor playgrounds. It is my hope that these trip reports are detailed and colorful enough to encourage you to get out of doors and visit the areas that we have enjoyed so much. A special thanks to Phil and Joan Hayes who plan and lead our twice annual outings. (Not to forget our weekly St. George Jeepers outings!) Also thanks to Rick Draney who leads concurrent trips during our spring and fall outings. Rick is a remarkable young man. We’re already looking forward to the spring flowers trip back to the Torrey area next May.

Submitted by Bud Sanders 

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