Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Mill Creek South Fork Trail

The Mill Creek Trail is a popular hot weather hike in the Moab area in southeast Utah. The trail head is at the east end of Power House Lane, an east turn off of Mill Creek Drive. This area is on the southeast side of central Moab.

At the trail head area there is a map of the Mill Creek Trails. After 0.75 miles the trail splits into the North Fork and South Fork trails. The North Fork is the most popular as there are two swimming holes fed by the year round flow of Mill Creek. The first swimming hole at about 1.0 miles has a waterfall and low cliffs for jumping.

There are also examples of ancient rock art along the North Fork. I had thought I was going to hike the North Fork, but somehow missed trail junction and hiked the longer South Fork Trail. There is also a Mill Creek Rim Trail that starts at the same trail head.

The early part of the trail passes the historic Mill Creek Dam, The dam was build in late 1919 to replace an earlier wooden dam that was destroyed in the August 2 flood in 1919. The dam generated power for the Moab area until 1945.

Beavers are continuing the dam tradition by building their structures just upstream of the concrete dam. Sections of wire fence have been installed to protect large cottonwood trees from becoming part of the beaver dam project. The beaver works have flooded a short section of the trail, causing hikers to step carefully along a rocky cliff. But expect your feet to get wet on this hike even if you are not here for swimming.

The Mill Creek was very full during my mid June hike. I crossed four times in a short stretch. The water was up to my calves and the current was enough warrant careful stepping. I found a long stick to use to test the depth and help with balance. After the four crossings and 1:00 hour of hiking I arrived at a rocky gorge that I thought was a swimming hole, but this was on the South Fork trail.

The creek bottom area is very lush with Cottonwood Trees and Willows and other riparian vegetation. In some places the trail cuts through a thicket of dense growth. The canyon sides have Pinon Pines and Utah Junipers.
About 10 minutes past the rocky gorge there is a petroglyph panel with mountain sheep very close to the trail. Above the mountain sheep is a larger panel with many figures. The trail passes below this panel and you have to look back to see it. Many sheep and horned human figures are here.

After 2:00 hours of hiking the South Fork Trail starts to climb out of the Mill Creek Canyon. I could see a house near the canyon rim. It looks like a hiker could loop back to the trail head using trails along the rim. I noticed other side trails along the way that climbed to the rim.

Some joggers passed me while hiking up the South Fork and they didn’t return, so perhaps they were doing a loop. At the point where the trail was leaving the Mill Creek Canyon, there is a large alcove further up canyon. In other areas, such a large alcove would be a good place to look for ruins.

The main South Fork Trail is on the south side of Mill Creek. Across, I could see a minor trail along the cliffs. Scanning with binoculars I noticed a large petroglyph panel. On the return hike I crossed the creek to look closer.
The minor trail continued back downstream so I followed it and was surprised by how many petroglyph panels were along here. Some are large and some small.

I spent about 0:40 minutes on the petroglyph segment of the South Fork Trail. There are more images here than I can talk about. I recrossed the Mill Creek slightly upstream of the rocky gorge that I thought was the swimming hole. From the gorge it was about 1:00 hour back to the trail head.

When I started at 10:00 AM it was 62 F degrees and there were two other vehicles in the parking area. At my 2:00 PM finish it was 78 F degrees and there were about 30 vehicles. Large groups were starting as I was finishing. I didn’t realize that I had hiked the South Fork until I reviewed the map at the end of my hike. My total hike was 4:00 hours for 7 or 8 miles. I carried and drank 2 liters of water.

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