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A Prize Winning Show at the Amasa Back
by Marcia Hafner

This spring April did bring those showers and May gave us a banner year for wildflowers, but the wildflower show doesn’t last long. The summer heat brings this performance to a standstill so I’m out there following The Amasa Back Trail for a front row seat at this season’s bountiful crop. An occasional breeze makes for a comfortable walk as I take my time absorbing the wild splashes of color from the fiery orange of the globemallow to the red tones of the Indian paintbrush. There’s the yellow fringe of the Prince’s plume, the passionate purple of the larkspur, and the soft lavender of the Utah daisy. It is a treasure to find all three cactus in bloom: the prickly pear, Whipple’s fishhook, and Claret cup with hordes of insects wallowing in that sweet nectar. The star performer, which has been off-stage for several years, is the exquisite sego lily, the state flower of Utah. In dry years, they are scarce and I’d be lucky to find just a few. Now I am seeing them by the dozens, many with a pinkish tone.

The Amasa Back is named for the cattleman, George Amasa Larsen (1866-1947), who arrived in Spanish Valley in 1880. It is a three mile, cliff-sided ridge that forms a gooseneck hundreds of feet above the Colorado River. With a gradual elevation gain of more than 1000 feet, this jeep trail follows the wide switchbacks of an old uranium exploration road. It is a rough four-wheel drive road and on the downhill a dramatic high flying ride over ledges for those on mountain bikes.

To get to the Amasa Back Trail, go south on Main Street and turn right at McDonald’s on to Kane Creek Blvd. Drive approximately five and a half miles to where the pavement turns to dirt. To make a loop hike starting at the Jackson Trail and down the Amasa back, stop at the open parking area to your right. The beginning of the trail is not marked. Look for it at the lower left part of the lot.

For access to The Amasa Back trailhead, which is clearly marked, continue about a half mile and park at the graded dirt parking lot on the right hand side. Then take the short walk up the road to the beginning of the trail. To get closer to the trailhead go beyond the parking lot and find a pull-off along the side of the road. The Amasa Back is a popular route for jeepers and bicyclists and during the tourist season it is a busy place. If you want to avoid the crowds, do this hike in the winter!

The beginning of the trail is a steep, rubbly drop down to Kane Creek so watch your footing. Loose pebbles and sand kicked up by so many vehicles make for poor traction.

At the stream crossing I glance over at a large alcove located at the base of Navajo sandstone where there are some petroglyphs, including a portrait of an owl. This is the only petroglyph of an owl that I have ever seen. A closer look can be had if you are willing to scramble up a heap of unstable rock.

The volume of water in Kane Creek varies depending on recent rains and spring run-off. When it is high, it can be difficult to keep your feet dry. Those on bicycles try to high-power through before lost momentum can dump them in the water. Today the water level is low enough to allow me to easily jump from rock to rock to the other bank.

Every step of this trail has dramatic views, starting with the tilted domes and finns of Behind The Rocks. Gradually I lose sight of Kane Creek Road and start seeing the La Sal Mountains. I can clearly see Manns Peak and Haystack Mountain in the northern range, Mellenthin Peak and Mount Tukuhnikivatz in the central section, and South Mountain at the very end.

When the trail starts to flatten out, I know I’m close to the top. Straight ahead is the Amasa Back anticline and to my left is the steep Jacob’s Ladder Trail that goes down to the abandoned river meander of Jackson’s Hole where John Jackson grazed his cattle and horses. Several dead-end spur roads now make following the trail confusing, but the main road forks to the north of the base of the Amasa Back formation. At the crest, the mountains shift out of view, and I’m looking at the Wingate cliff formations on the north side of the Colorado River along with a fantastic view of Deadhorse Point State Park and Jackson’s Hole. I’m also looking down on the blue evaporative ponds of the still operating Potash Mine.

Since I am making the loop hike down Jackson’s Trail, which is not drivable for a jeep, I start my descent at the power lines. Walking on a layer of Kayenta sandstone, my viewpoint quickly changes to a long stretch of river and the Poison Spider Trail and Mesa on the north side. Now I can pick out my truck in the parking lot and I am once again in sight of the majestic views of the La Sals and the twisted landscape of Behind The Rocks.

This is a straight-forward, downhill trail. The more I walk, the closer the river gets. Then I’m in dense sagebrush, rabbitbrush, and greasewood with another crossing of Kane Creek. When there is a high run-off, which usually occurs in the spring, the water level can be waist higher or more, but today the cool barefoot walk in ankle deep water is perfect refreshment on this overly warm day. One last stretch of tamarisk, one final, steep dirt scramble up and I’m back at the truck.

Cryptobiotic soil garden
Cryptobiotic soil garden

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