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Ash Creek

Posted in Ultimate Adventure on December 29, 2004
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Ash Creek beckons with a deceptively simple beginning, where the road first winds through it. Start here, and be ready for some serious rockcrawling.

4x4 truck owners are always looking for a new trail to challenge themselves and their rig. Everyone's heard of Moab in southeastern Utah, and the great trails there. In southwestern Utah, Cedar City, St. George, and Hurricane are gaining fame as hard-core rockcrawling-competition destinations, but few outside of the locals know that there are plenty of tough trails for the rockcrawling 4x4 truck owners there.

Ash Creek is one such trail. A local favorite for years (once trucks were built to the point that they could conquer it), it's now gaining attention from others who have heard of its toughness. That toughness ranges from difficult to almost impossible if water is running down it. Ash Creek is just that -- a creek. The creek was dammed when Interstate 15 was built, but water is released out of the catch basin behind the dam almost every winter, making Ash Creek a wet and slippery horror. The current drought has allowed rock-trail aficionados unlimited access for a couple of years. Even droughts are good for something, eh?

The wagon road between Cedar City and St. George was a nightmare in the 1800s and early 1900s as it wound down Black Ridge, a volcanic escarpment that loosely parallels the southern edge of the Great Basin in this area and continues down Ash Creek Canyon. A road was built on this wagon road in the early 1900s and was still a hair-raising drive for the larger trucks of the day. Another alignment was later built, which left Ash Creek and traversed the Black Ridge to the west. The '60s saw highway engineers scurrying up and down Black Ridge and Ash Creek as they planned Interstate 15, which now travels the ridge far above Ash Creek. It's amazing, though, how you seldom hear the traffic when down in the canyon. The old original road from the 1800s still travels in and out of Ash Creek, but most of it is now only wide enough for ATVs and motorcycles.

To get to Ash Creek, take I-15 to Exit 33 between St. George and Cedar City. To the east of the interstate, the dirt road heads north. Follow this through the rock quarry, and stay on the old road as it winds in and out of Ash Creek. You have some choices here. Most people wind through the creek bed a few times until the old road climbs onto the canyon wall and becomes too narrow and eroded for trucks. The Ash Creek trail officially starts here, but we found that by entering the creek bottom when the road first goes through it, you encounter plenty of hard-core rockcrawling before the start of the official trail. No matter how you enter it, Ash Creek is a toughie -- as hard as the trails in Johnson Valley, California, or anywhere else. There is one caveat, though. After a day of boulder bashing and rockcrawling, the trail climbs a dry waterfall and ends at I-15. You must then drive 1 mile down the interstate to the next exit. Rock buggies sometime travel the shoulder, but it does make for an interesting final challenge: freeway rockcrawling. For unlicensed vehicles, we suggest turning around at the top of the trail and heading back down the canyon, which presents you with a new set of obstacles. It took our group all day to get to the end of the trail at the interstate, but getting back down Ash Creek in the dark was more fun than most can handle.

These few photos give you an idea of what Ash Creek looks like. We'll return in an upcoming issue to give you GPS coordinates and a more detailed account of running one of southwestern Utah's premier rock trails, Ash Creek.

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