Utah Travel Headlines Blog

Monday, January 29, 2007

Winter Bridge Hunting in the San Rafael Swell

Hurst BridgeI’ve got spring fever - got it bad. In Provo, where I live, weak sunshine has been penetrating the daytime haze and warming things up enough to get me thinking about hiking and camping and fishing.

Last Friday the weatherman said temperatures would warm into the mid 40s across southern Utah’s red rock country. That was too much of a temptation to resist and so I ditched work and made a very enjoyable day hike to Hurst Bridge, in the San Rafael Swell.

The weather was perfect: warm sunshine and a deep blue sky. We quickly shed our jackets and hiked in T-shirts. There was snow in shady spots, and that slowed us down a bit as we scrambled up and down cliffs, but didn’t keep us from having a very enjoyable hike.

Some of Utah’s arches and natural bridges are famous tourist attractions, but the state offers hundreds more that are off the beaten path and seldom seen by visitors.

As you can see from my photo, Hurst Bridge is beautiful. It is located in a remote, rugged area on the edge of Ernie Canyon. It is a bit difficult to find because you’ve got to hike through a literal maze or narrow canyons. The entire area is very scenic – national park-like terrain in an area that is virtually unknown and seldom visited.

San Rafael SwellI was drawn to the area by Hurst, and by another bridge located even deeper in the maze. Exclamation Bridge is so well hidden that it wasn’t even discovered until 2004. It is said to be a stunning triple bridge, one of the most amazing sights in the region, but is difficult to reach because of steep, rugged terrain.

I searched diligently but could only find vague directions to Hurst, and just a tidbit of detail about Exclamation. Still, being an intrepid hiker, I figured I could march right to them.

Wrong! I should have spent more time preparing, studying maps and programming waypoints into my GPS. We wandered a bit trying to identify the right slot and then finding Hurst. It is only about 1/4 mile from Hurst to Exclamation, as the crow flies, but we looked at the deep chasm in front of us, saw the sun sinking toward the horizon, and decided we would never make it out before dark.

Hurst alone was well worth the hike and I will return another day to find Exclamation. I’ll wait a few weeks, until days are longer and the ice has melted from the slickrock.

Meanwhile, I recommend Hurst as a great winter adventure hike, with the following cautions. The hike requires intense scrambling up steep ridges and cliffs, some with loose rocks. You need to carry a 7.5 minute topo map, and know how to use it. Larger scale maps are not sufficient. You need a GPS, and you need the wisdom not to follow GPS directions right off a cliff.

It took us 4 hours to reach Hurst and just one hour to hike back. Even now, I don’t think I could hike directly to the bridge. The maze is that confusing. If you go, plan on wandering.

Carry water because there isn’t any in that drainage. And you’ll need a high-clearance 4X4 to get to the Ernie Canyon Trailhead.

So, where are the hiking instructions? I’m not going to give any. I’ll give the latitude and longitude of Hurst Bridge (N 38º 44’ 10”, W 110º 34’ 16”), but that’s all.

With that, if you know what you are doing, you can study your map and plan a route. If you don’t know what you’re doing then you have no business hiking in that country.

- Dave

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