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Castlegate - The Getaway

Book Cliffs
Larry E. Heck | Writer
Posted February 1, 2011

Part IV: Long Ride To Brown's Hole

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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