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Warner Lake - A Cool Escape
by Marcia Hafner


A blistering desert hike on a scorching summer day makes no sense to me. Instead I toss my pack into the truck and head for the refrigerated coolness of the high country. I want relief and find it at Warner Lake. At 9400 feet, it is a cool escape from the oven baking heat I left behind just forty-five minutes ago on the valley floor.

Warner Lake is a popular spot for a lot of reasons. With its idyllic mountain scenery it’s an ideal place to pass a lazy afternoon bird watching or fishing for rainbow trout.

Close to the lake there’s a picnic area and a campground with twenty tent sites. The group campsite accommodates fifty people. A small cabin for four people even has a shower for the frivolous get-away.

For the more active minded, there’s a choice of four hiking-mountain biking trails:

• Miners Basin Trail - two miles to the pass and two more miles to Miners Basin,
• Oowah Lake Trail – two miles,
• Burro Pass Trail – over four miles to the pass and two and a half more to the Geyser Pass Road.
  Mill Creek starts at Burro Pass and in its six-mile course drops 1500 feet to the creek diversion at Warner Lake.
• Dry Fork-Beaver Basin Trail – five miles with a brutally steep climb near the top.

According to excerpts from the histories of George A. Day and Eli Day, published in volume 41 of the Canyon Legacy, this spot was originally called “The Upper Place.” Herbert Day, his wife, Mary and their twelve children lived here in the summer because grazing was good for their dairy cows. In the winter they lived in the “Lower Place,” currently known as Wilson Mesa. They marketed their dairy products at Miners Basin, Gold Basin, and to stockmen who worked in the mountains. Herbert Day and the older boys built the dam and the ditch for their irrigation system on Wilson Mesa, but the lake was named after a forest service ranger. Abandoned in 1912, nothing remains except the lake, dam and ditch which is still used to transport water from Mill Creek into the reservoir.

In the spring of 1933, the Civilian Conservation Corps camp was established at the Warner Ranger Station near the current campground. In one season, almost 200 men completed range improvements, overhauled trails and roads, and dug lengthy water diversion ditches. They developed the reservoirs at Warner, Oowah, Clark, and Medicine Lakes. The Geyser Pass Road and the Castleton-Wilson Mesa Road, now part of the La Sal Loop Road were also rebuilt.

I decide to take the less traveled Miners Basin Trail and walk about 100 yards down past the information kiosk where a sign indicates the beginning of the trail. It is the only sign on the trail. I follow the footpath and climb over the wooden fence. Then there’s a right turn on to an old dirt road. At the beginning of the trail there are two gates that take a minimum of effort to open and close. After that a quick right turn is easy to miss. If you end up at an enclosure with a wooden fence next to a small water tank you’ve gone past that turn. Trust me on this: the trails going out from here go nowhere. Since I had no desire to do a lot of bushwhacking, I backtracked the short distance to the turn.

Soon I’m following a wide switchback through the aspens to the trail register. Mountain chickadees “dee-dee-dee” their trademark calls while red-breasted nuthatches “yank-yank-yank” a tinny trumpeted song. The fluted chorus of the hermit thrush adds to the forest enchantment. The thick, full branches of the Engelmann spruce and sub-alpine fir umbrella me in rippled shade and I use several clues to tell the difference between them. Fir is soft to the touch (hence the name); spruce needles are sharp. Spruce cones hang downward. With the exception of Douglas fir, fir cones are upright.

For a long time this trail holds close to the stream going past talus slopes on the other side. An easy stream crossing brings me into a meadow dotted with aspens. There is an abundance of flowers from the bright yellow splash of daisies to the explosive red of trumpet-shaped skyrocket gilia. The orange-red Indian paintbrush and crimson columbine add to the flower bouquet. In the shaded moist areas, I am delighted to find exquisite blue columbine swaying in a slow, breeze-tossed dance. A wide right curve goes past the remains of an old cabin. Now I leave the stream and the meadow and start a series of switchbacks through the aspens with occasional views of the desert floor below.

The steady uphill is long and gradual. Getting close I can now see the pass and that urges me onward. At the pass there’s a small clearing surrounded by conifers. On a whispery cool breeze, the pleasurable scent of pine fills the air. This is much too appealing to walk on by. Thud goes my pack to the ground for a long, refreshing break. There is no panoramic view at this spot. For that I walk northwest an extra half-mile to the top of Gold Knob, named for the fall golden color of aspen.

This trail continues north two more miles down to Miners Basin but I’m running out of time so that will have to wait for another day. After the downhill walk back to the truck, sitting down to take off my hiking boots feels wonderful. Physically I’m tuckered out but mentally I feel refreshed and rejuvenated.

With bridge construction on the La Sal Loop Road, the best way to get to Warner Lake is to go north on highway191 about two miles out of town. Just before the Colorado River Bridge, turn right on to highway 128 (the river road) and go approximately twenty miles. A short distance past Red Cliffs Lodge at the Mayberry Preserve, take the right hand turn for Castle Valley. Follow the Castle Valley Road to the intersection of the Gateway and La Sal Loop Road. Turn right on to the La Sal Loop Road and go eleven more miles. Almost to the bridge construction, look for the sign to turn left to go to Warner Lake. It’s five miles to the lake. Be prepared for a jouncy ride over the washboard sections of the road. This forest service road is not plowed and is only open during the summer-early fall season.

Cryptobiotic soil garden
Cryptobiotic soil garden

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