As we were buying gas in Loa we watched as massive thunder clouds began to build over the top of Boulder Mountain. An occasional lightning bolt added emphasis to the impending thunder storm.
As we drove past the small town of Grover a strong gust of wind tore through a large pine tree releasing a cloud of pollen so thick it looked like a yellow wall coming at us — toxic waste to us allergy sufferers.
Moments later we were caught in the thunderstorm. Massive drops of slush pelted the car — too warm for hail, too cold for rain. The truck slowed to a crawl as visibility dropped to only a few feet and the slush began to build up on the road. We crawled up the mountain, around the east side, and began our descent toward the town of Boulder. As we moved away from the mountain the sky cleared. Behind us the clouds swirled and the storm raged over Boulder Top.
In Boulder we turned onto the Burr Trail Road and drove toward Deer Creek and the Deer Creek Campground.
Early Saturday morning (May 28th) we parked at the staging area (where Highway 12 crosses the Escalante River between Boulder and Escalante) and donned our packs for the six mile hike down the Escalante to the mouth of Boulder Creek.
No clouds, bright sun, a little too warm, but a beautiful day for a hike to one of the most remote and rugged trout streams anywhere in the lower 48 states.
The hike in was uneventful. Nevertheless we were plenty tired by the time we left the Escalante and turned up Boulder Creek. The soft sand along the trail pulls at your feet, holding them down, making each step twice the work. Sore ankles or not, we were excited to be here.
Last time I was at Boulder Creek I had a group of Boy Scouts with me and consequently didn't have any time to explore or to do any serious fishing. This time would be different. This was a Utah High Adventure and these people were serious fishermen. The group included Bill Bower (Hyrum), Lowrence Sandoval (Salt Lake City), Kim & Justin Stevenson (Farmington), Nick Slater (Farmington), myself and my 14 year old son Bobby.
It only took us a few minutes to catch our breath before we grabbed our fishing rods and got down to business. Bobby caught two trout on a light brown woolybugger before I even got rigged up. It only took a few more casts before we realized we were in for some fine fishing. Bill summed it up best when he said, "the trout had gone stupid."
We caught fish on almost anything we put into the water. Gold or bronze colored spinners were the best choice though. The brown trout just couldn't resist them. The attraction was probably due to the abundance of golden colored sucker fry (flannelmouth) swimming almost everywhere.
The typical trout was between 10 and 14 inches long although it wasn't uncommon to catch a 15 or 16 inch fish. We caught several that were pushing 18 inches. All the fish were fat and healthy and in excellent condition.
Kim Stevenson, while bait fishing, caught from the same pool two brown trout (about 12 inches), two flannelmouth suckers (about 18 inches) and a channel catfish (about 24 inches — see the front cover of this magazine).
Apparently channel catfish have come up the Escalante River from Lake Powell and have established themselves in Boulder Creek. The flannelmouth suckers are native to the region and have been in the creek all along.
The brown trout were planted in Calf Creek and made their way down the Escalante to Boulder Creek.
The puzzle is the cutthroat trout. Near the mouth of Boulder Creek there are quite a few cutthroats (about half and half with brown trout). As we fished up stream the abundance of cutthroat trout declined and within a few miles upstream there were almost no cutthroat trout. Why are the cutthroat trout found only in the lower, warmer section of the stream? It seems that the cutthroats would do better in the upper sections of the stream where the water is cooler and less alkaline. Have the brown trout displaced the cutthroat and pushed them out of the upper sections? How can the cutthroat even survive in the lower portion of the Boulder Creek? Are these native Colorado cutthroat or are they Yellowstone cutthroat (or some other variety) planted in the stream some time in the past?
Lots of unanswered questions.
Boulder Creek is almost impossible to describe. It's an enigma, a willow-lined jewel cut deep into towering sandstone cliffs. Just a few feet away from the stream is a desert environment where the most prominent plant is the cactus. The stream itself is lined with a thick stand of willows. The willows keep the banks stabilized and provide shade for the fish. Without the willows trout probably would not be found in Boulder Creek.
The stream has perfect habitat for trout, deep runs, pools, undercut banks and riffles. We found one pool, about the size of a living room and about eight feet deep, that made the perfect swimming hole. The air temperature was in the low 90's and we couldn't resist going for a swim. It was great fun.
The only problem with swimming was that once when I jumped off an overhang into the pool, I forgot to close my mouth and took a big drink of creek water. I'll probably come down with giardia now and I'm not looking forward to that at all. Giardia is a protozoan that gets into your digestive tract and makes you good and sick. They (the survivors) tell me that a severe case makes you so sick you wish you were dead. However, giardia rarely kills anyone and it is treatable with prescription medication.
It's a whole lot better to never get giardia than to have to be treated for the disease. Don't drink the water in any of the streams or lakes in Utah unless it has been filtered, boiled or treated with iodine.
Some cautions and advice if you are planning a trip to Boulder Creek: July and August are extremely hot months in southern Utah. Expect the air temperature to reach the high 90's or low l00's in the Escalante Canyons area. If you plan to hike at this time, hike early in the morning and late in the evening. Do not plan a hike during the heat of the day!
Wear hiking shoes that can stand being wet and still give you the comfort and support you will need. You will have to cross the Escalante and Boulder Creek numerous times. Plan on getting wet and staying wet for most of your hike.
You will be hiking 6 or 7 miles with a full backpack. Make sure you are in excellent physical condition and can handle this long of a hike. Chances are you won't see anyone else in the canyon while you are there. Never hike alone and plan for real trouble if you get into an emergency situation.
Plan on seeing some snakes including a few rattlesnakes. Always watch where you are walking and putting your hands. If you camp in a sandy area keep an eye out for scorpions. They look for shady places during the day and warm places when things begin to cool down.
There are beaver all along Boulder Creek and they have a nasty habit of cutting off the willows right at ankle height. When walking through willows watch for these miniature spears or your ankles will be in bad shape after a mile or two.
Right now there is no trash or garbage along Boulder Creek (we picked it all up). Don't trash the place. Keep it clean. Don't build fire pits all over the place. Use existing pits or don't have a fire at all.
Keep a clean camp or you will be inviting all kinds of creatures to eat (and possibly sleep) with you. There are raccoons, skunks, ringtailed cats, weasels, pack rats, bobcats, cougars and probably a bear or two that could pay you a visit if you leave your food lying around.
Boulder Creek is a stream that has been largely ignored. Most people don't even know it exists. Those that do know about it generally don't know it contains trout. We met a party hiking down Boulder Creek and they couldn't believe their eyes when they saw our fishing rods. They had been hiking in the area for over 15 years and had no idea that there was good trout fishing in the stream.
If you plan on fishing or hiking along Boulder Creek treat it with the respect it deserves. This stream is absolutely unique and requires special care and protection. If we all work together we can provide that care and protection while still enjoying the area.
We write stories about places like Boulder Creek because we strongly believe that you should have the opportunity to visit and enjoy these wonderful places. However, with opportunity comes responsibility and it is the responsibility of each of us to make sure these wonderful and unique areas are preserved and protected. Let's each do our part.
Good Fishing, Sam Webb.