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Castlegate - The Getaway

Posted in Events on February 1, 2011
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Lone Writer was suddenly awakened by the sound of something snorting outside his tent. His hand wrapped around the grip of his .357 Magnum and his thumb released the safety. He was in bear country and his first thought was one of being visited by momma bear and her cubs.

It was that time of morning when the forest was beginning to light up, but the sun had not yet made itself visible on the horizon. A gentle breeze meandered through the trees, slightly rustling the leaves and making it difficult to determine which sounds were coming from the movement of air and which ones were being made by the visitor.

Whatever was outside slowly moved away from the tent. Lone Writer rose and opened a flap on one side. The scene outside his tent brought a smile to his face as his thumb reset the safety on his pistol. The campsite he selected the night before was filled with deer of all ages. He watched them for a while then unzipped the tent door. As if by magic, the deer faded into the forest.

Lone Writer was in the forest atop the Book Cliffs north of Harley Dome, Utah. He was following the getaway route of the outlaws who robbed Castle Gate in 1897. After spending a few months hiding on Robbers Roost, the thieves decided to head for Powder Springs on the border of Colorado and Wyoming. The plan was to hook up with Old Man Bender's Powder Springs gang and use the Castle Gate money to throw the biggest party of their lifetime.

The outlaws crossed the wide, open country between Green River and Vernal by riding an Indian trail up Thompson Canyon, then cutting across the Indian Reservation. There was not a road making that connection; but Middle Canyon road makes the ascent to the top of the Book Cliffs Plateau skirting the eastern boundary of that same reservation.

Today, the Middle Canyon Road is the only motorized access to the top of the Book Cliffs between Green River and Harley Dome. It is a major graded dirt road and is used frequently by heavy trucks servicing oil fields. It is winding, narrow in places, and has a steep grade at times, but does not take long before it reaches the crest. It then connects to the Book Cliffs Ridge Road where scenic views are plentiful. The ridge road works its way across the top of the Book Cliffs, meandering in and out of heavily forested areas with lots of great camping spots.

After turning off the Book Cliffs Ridge Road and heading North, Lone Writer passed an intersection for the ghost town of Rainbow. There are no buildings left from the town. If you wander around the area, you will see evidence of digging and mining.

Beyond Rainbow, the road runs in and out of one wash after the other, but continues to be graded. It eventually connects to a paved road going to Bonanza. Once in Bonanza, you will be almost due east of Ouray and still running parallel to the route used by the outlaws.

After leaving Bonanza, the paved road goes to Vernal. Lone Writer turned off the pavement before getting there and used more scenic backcountry roads to reach Jensen. Both cities have gas and supplies, but Vernal has a much better selection.

When the outlaws passed through on their way to Brown's Hole, Vernal was a thriving community. The LDS Church had set it up as a town 15 years earlier. The outlaws may have witnessed some celebrations going on during their visit, because Vernal was actually becoming incorporated during that time.

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The lands now occupied by the city of Vernal were originally called the Bench. It is near the center of Ashley Valley and very near the north end of the Uintah Indian Reservation. During the fall of 1879, an Indian uprising occurred, beginning with the massacre of an Indian agent. Those who resided on homesteads scattered around the Bench were sure that they would be attacked by the renegades. In defense, a fort was quickly constructed by taking homesteaders cabins apart and moving the logs to the location of the fort.

The attack never came but most of the settlers remained in the fort for the winter. Lack of food, contaminated food, and a harsh winter took its toll on the group. When spring came, the group split up with many of them going back to their homesteads, but the fort remained in tact. During the following summer, a town built up around the fort and that town became known as Ashley Center.

As the community grew, the settlers decided to petition to get their own post office. The postal service would not use the name Ashley Center due to conflicts with other towns having a similar name, so the name Vernal was assigned to the post office, and eventually the entire community became known by that name. Nowadays, you will find everything you need in Vernal from supplies to Internet service.

No doubt the outlaws stopped long enough to shake off some of the dust from the four-day ride that brought them to that point, but the one thing still front and foremost on their minds was getting to Brown's Hole. They figured it was time for a whooping big party and that would not be possible until they had enough other outlaws around them to ensure the law would not move in.

From Vernal, the shortest way into Brown's Hole is by way of Crouse Canyon. It is the kind of canyon often used in movies for the entrance into an outlaw hideout. The walls are steep, the canyon is narrow, and a single gunman with a good rifle could hold off an entire posse from any number of vantage points.

The north end of Crouse Canyon opens up into the Valley known at that time as Brown's Hole. The name has since been changed to Brown's Park. The main road travels northeast and uses a swinging bridge to cross the Green River. Of course, the bridge was not there in 1897. The crossing most commonly used was the ferry at Jarvie's Outpost.

The road to Jarvie's Outpost is more primitive than the main road, but is still an easy drive. It hugs the wall of the mountains penetrated by Crouse Canyon for several miles before turning north on a direct course for Jarvie's. At the point where the road crosses the Green River, there is a campground with plenty of room to set up a tent on the river's edge.

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From I-70, take the Harley Dome Exit. Go north on the graded road toward the Book Cliffs. At the intersections, stay on the Middle Canyon Road to the top of the cliffs. This is the intersection for Divide Ridge Road.

Trip Meter / Latitude (N) / Longitude (W) / Comments

0.0 / N39 24.9662 / W109 23.9384 / Turn right (east) on Divide Ridge Road toward Seep Ridge. This is the top of the Book Cliffs.
8.8 / N39 27.1455 / W109 16.4736 / Turn left. This leaves the Divide Ridge Road.
29.7 / N39 42.0366 / W109 26.0149 / Turn right on County Road 4190. This is easy to miss.
29.8 / N39 0.9188 / W109 50.7186 / After the gate, take the right fork.

0.0 / N39 42.1807 / W109 26.1324 / Right turn. Reset meter.
4.1 / N39 43.8817 / W109 22.9477 / Right fork.
6.6 / N39 47.8192 / W109 17.7881 / Right fork.
23.7 / N39 55.7001 / W109 7.4675 / Left fork.
27.3 / N39 57.5231 / W109 9.7873 / Right turn onto paved highway.

4.3 / N40 11.9820 / W109 20.6687 / Just past the 21-mile post, watch for a faint trail going off on the right to oil wells. Easy to miss. Follow it across another paved road and past another intersection on a course for the floor of the canyon.

1.9 / N40 13.1834 / W109 19.8670 / Left turn, then curve right. This area is a maze of roads.
2.2 / N40 13.4252 / W109 19.9153 / Right, then left.
7.5 / N40 16.8336 / W109 23.3437 / Right onto paved road.
15.4 / N40 22.1694 / W109 19.8748 / Left onto Highway 40 then cross the bridge.
16.1 / N40 22.2230 / W109 20.6209 / This is the Jensen Welcome Center with a rest area. Turn right on the road just past the welcome center.

2.4 / N40 24.3665 / W109 20.5291 / Turn left on paved 3500 South.
6.9 / N40 26.6580 / W109 24.5945 / Turn right on County Road 1320.
10.7 / N40 29.6186 / W109 23.1432 / Turn right on 1430 gravel road.
18.7 / N40 30.5324 / W109 14.1800 / Left onto dirt road.

1.7 / N40 31.8958 / W109 14.4514 / Left fork.
3.1 / N40 32.8498 / W109 15.3311 / Right fork.
7.3 / N40 35.59.72 / W109 16.2056 / Left turn at top of ledge.

3.0 / N40 36.2274 / W109 18.5839 / Right turn on pavement.
0.0 / N40 36.2274 / W109 18.5839 / Right turn on pavement. This is the main road across Diamond Mountain. A left goes back to Vernal.
4.0 / N40 39.2478 / W109 17.3897 / Left toward Little Hole.
8.6 / N40 42.7055 / W109 19.7140 / Right turn.
11.7 / N40 2110 / W109 18.9370 / Right turn.
18.4 / N40 43.6382 / W109 11.7679 / Right turn.
19.1 / N40 43.0032 / W109 11.8892 / Left Turn.
21.0 / N40 42.7611 / W109 9.8580 / Left onto Grouse Canyon Road.
31.7 / N40 49.7995 / W109 4.8134 / Left turn. This goes to Jarvie's Outpost.

3.5 / N40 50.1781 / W109 7.7068 / Right fork.
10.3 / N40 54.0127 / W109 10.3318 / This is the bridge over the Green River. Campsites and picnic area are available. The Jarvie Historic site is a left turn after crossing the bridge.

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