Breadcrumbs

Exploring Pleasant Creek

By Sam Webb

It doesn't look like much, just a series of seeps and springs coming together to form a rivulet. Still, this tiny stream makes quite a journey and has quite a story to tell.

Its headwaters reach almost to Boulder Top, above 10,500 feet in elevation and there is only one place for the water to go – down. And, that's exactly what it does. It flows off of the northeastern side of Boulder Mountain in almost a straight line. No meandering for this little stream. It leaves the mountain as fast as it can.

Pleasant Creek's drainage basin is so small that it never reaches any size. Even at its widest there are plenty of places where it can be crossed without any danger of getting wet.

It's waters aren't big or deep enough to support large fish, a monster would be nine or 10 inches. And, on its lower end its waters warm until it can't support fish at all.

So, why am I writing a story about this little stream? Simple really, because it flows through some ot the most amazing real estate on the planet. And, it provides us with an excuse to go and explore the area.

If you are coming to the area from the south, point your SUV toward the town of Escalante and then keep on going. From the North take State Highway 24 and then turn onto Highway 12 just past the town of Torrey.

If you want to check out the upper portion of the creek, make camp at the Pleasant Creek Campground. A forest road and trail follow the creek upstream. eventually connecting with forest road 177 near the headwaters of the stream.

The stream, in the immediate area of the campground, is planted with catchable rainbows and is generally good fishing (especially right after the hatchery truck pulls away). Further upstream the creek is populated mostly with wild brook trout.

Downstream from the campground the creek plunges into a steep-walled canyon and the only way to explore it is to put on the hiking boots and do some serious bushwhacking. It's about 10 miles before the stream and the road meet up again (forest road 168).

An alternative is to make camp either at Pleasant Creek Campground (if you like picnic tables, drinking water and pit toilets) or to make a primitive camp near Lower Bowns Reservoir (if you don't like or need any of the above). See the map on page 29 for details.

If you choose to camp near Lower Bowns, be sure and bring the fishing rods and float tubes. This is a great float tube lake, full of nice sized (up to a couple pounds) rainbow trout.

Now either break out the mountain bikes or the SUV. A high clearance vehicle is recommended but four wheel drive isn't necessary unless the road is wet. If the road is wet, don't go.

Get ready for a fantastic ride from almost 9,000 feet elevation (if you start your ride on Highway 12) all the way down to about 5,300 feet elevation when you cross Pleasant Creek for the last time in Capitol Reef National Park. That's just about a 3,700 foot drop in elevation.

OK, let's get started. Just south the turn-off for the Pleasant Creek Campground turn onto forest road 181. There is a sign at the junction indicating that this is the way to Lower Bowns Reservoir.

The upper portion of this road winds through giant ponderosa pines and is an easy ride. Later on we'll run into a few rocky areas and some sand but none of the ride is very technical.

As the road descends, the pines give way to more open country dominated by pinion pine, sage brush and juniper. Continue down forest road 181 until it crosses the dam holding back the waters of Lower Bowns Reservoir (It dead-ends there).

Take a few minutes to examine the steep, narrow canyon the water exiting the dam flows through. This small stream joins Oak Creek a couple of miles to the south. There ought to be some very nice rainbows in the section immediately below the dam but I haven't taken the time to check it out.

Just before forest road 168 turns away from the stream, Pleasant Creek tumbles over a series of small water falls. Just below the falls the stream changes and is no longer able to support fish.

Just upstream from the falls is a great area, under giant pine trees, for a picnic or for camping.

Now backtrack until you see the sign indicating forest road 168 (heading off to the north-east). Continue down forest road 168. About 11 miles into your ride forest road 168 makes a broad turn (you have been traveling northeast) and heads off to the southeast. Just at the start of this turn a small road comes off to the left (north) and almost immediately begins a steep descent into the canyon holding Pleasant Creek. If you are brave, drive down this road until you cross the creek. The road deadends at a wonderful camping area near the creek. This road is washed out in a couple of places and gets pretty scary. If you don't dare drive down it, park at the top and hike down to the creek. You will be glad you did.

This is the last section of stream that holds trout. So, if you want to fish, fish from the waterfalls upstream. Within a couple hundred yards below the last waterfall the stream completely changes nature. The streamside vegetation gives way and the stream bed widens. There are no holding structures for fish, no deep pools and no shade.

Explore the waterfalls and hike up the creek to explore the cliffs a quarter mile or so upstream. This is a beautiful area with big ponderosa pines, slickrock sandstone and, of course, Pleasant Creek.

If you like hiking, head downstream and follow the creek into Miners Mountain. The creek has cut a narrow passage right through the mountain.

When you have finished exploring Pleasant Creek make your way back to forest road 168 and continue your ride.

After the big bend the road heads out onto Tantalus Flat. You'll know you are going the right way because in just a couple of miles the road winds down into a gully and crosses Tantalus Creek. We found a spring bubbling up right at the side of the road in the bottom of the gully (this may only occur during the spring but check it out if you see it). After several more miles the road takes another big turn and heads northward, up South Draw, and right into the heart of Capitol Reef. Continue on down the road until it dead-ends into the Scenic Drive.

The last half of your ride is through Capitol Reef National Park, This portion of the park is off the beaten path and you will be riding through country most people don't get to see.

It's not quite 40 miles from Highway 12 on Boulder Mountain to the Visitor's Center in Capitol Reef (Restrooms, water, books, maps, etc.). If you are riding mountain bikes have your support vehicles pick you up at the Visitor's Center or for a shorter ride (about 25 miles) meet the support vehicles at the Sleeping Rainbow Ranch (Immediately north of the last crossing of Pleasant Creek and about three miles before joining the Scenic Road).