cycling utah June 2000

Trail O'd Month

Overlook offers a Titanic view of Grand Staircase

By Gregg Bromka

Powell Point is more than just another yawning overlook from the edge of southern Utah's high plateaus. It is a Titanic viewpoint-a salient where the Great Architect oversees its handiwork in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The point forms a tall, blunt terminus to the peninsular Table Cliff Plateau. When viewed from afar it resembles the bow of an ocean tanker crashing through a sea of white, pink, and salmon-hued breakers.

The ride to Powell Point is every bit as enjoyable as the commanding view from the turnaround. The initial doubletrack rolls through damp, muffled forests across the Table Cliff's broad summit. About a mile before the plateau's terminus, the doubletrack ends and a playful singletrack takes you to the point.

The "short course" is to embark from the trailhead atop the Table Cliff Plateau, 6.2 miles and 2,000 vertical feet up from Pine Lake. Here you can take a gander eastward to the Kaiparowits Plateau province of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Sprawling beneath your feet, Upper Valley steers countless tributaries from the Aquarius and Table Cliff Plateaus toward the Escalante River. Although out of sight, the Escalante's down-cutting temperament is evident in the incised, naked sandstones of the Box-Death Hollow Wilderness and the Escalante Canyons beyond. The ruler-straight rampart running southeastward on the horizon, appropriately called the Straight Cliffs, marks the dividing line between the Kaiparowits Plateau section in the foreground and the Escalante Canyons section afar.

From the outset, the doubletrack rises gently for about one mile then flattens as it crosses the plateau. Twice, the Table Cliff necks to a narrow divide where opposing slopes attempt to merge through the efforts of headward erosion. Continual views of Upper Valley and the Aquarius flash through a curtain of tree boughs.

The jeep road ends at the singletrack trailhead, signed "Scenic Viewpoint 3,000 feet." (The trail is closed to motorized travel.) As you round the first turn, you will sneak a peek of the colossal views yet to come. Cross a neck in the plateau, which affords sights of the crumbling cliffs, and then struggle up a short steep slope. Finally, ramble through the pines to Powell Point. You'll know when to stop!

Imagine the exultation of John Wesley Powell's survey crew in 1880 when they too gazed from this divine perch. Clarence Dutton, Powell's protˇgˇ, described the point as ". . . the aspect of a vast Acropolis crowned with a Parthenon."

At the trailhead, you sighted across the monument's Kaiparowits Plateau and Escalante Canyons sections. Here, at the point, your eyes fall upon the namesake Grand Staircase section. Powell Point combined with Bryce Canyon to the west define the Staircase's colorful top rung, collectively named the Pink Cliffs. The Paria River, due south, along with its attendant tributaries has effectively sliced deeply into the province's subsequent steps-the Gray and White Cliffs. The stratigraphic succession continues across the Utah-Arizona border until it culminates in the depths of the Grand Canyon. When you are through admiring the sights, return to the trailhead by backtracking. Savor the sweet singletrack and then charge across the table top.

Just the Facts:

Distance: 9.2 miles, out-and-back.

Tread: Mellow doubletrack and all-too-short, sweet singletrack.

Physical Difficulty: Novice to intermediate (nearly flat with one short steep hill near the trail's end.)

Technical Difficulty: Low (packed dirt, mud holes and ruts, a couple of tight switchbacks on the singletrack, occasional deadfall).

Elevation Changes: The trailhead on the Table Cliff Plateau is at 10,120 feet. Although the trail tops out at 10,260 feet and only gains about 500 feet overall, the high elevation can be taxing on the lungs.

Trailhead Access: From Bryce Junction (2 miles north of Bryce Canyon National Park), take Utah Highway 22 north 11 miles toward Antimony. Turn right on Forest Road 132 (all-weather road) for Pine Lake and Table Cliff Plateau, and drive 5.5 miles to the reservoir and campground. Continue on FR 132 for 6.2 miles to the plateau's top, where the road bends 90 degrees left/north. (High clearance is recommended.) Park at the viewpoint just around the bend. Bikers packing some gusto should try starting from Pine Lake.

Excerpted from Mountain Biking Utah's Brian Head-Bryce Country, by Gregg Bromka:

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