The following originally appeared in the June 18, 2009 edition of the Tooele Transcript Bulletin.
by Clint Thomsen
We called it Coney Island. Where we got that name, I’m not sure, because at around 7 years old, my cousins and I weren’t exactly fluent in east coast geography. It was a little rocky island in the middle of a little rocky river. But we had discovered it, named it, and claimed it as ours.
Summer after summer, Coney Island was our headquarters. If you were to come looking for us during our annual family reunion, you’d likely find us there or at nearby “Waikiki Beach” fishing for albino trout with our hands.
We must have forded that portion of the Upper Provo River in the Uintas hundreds of times. A pair of double-knotted sneakers was all it took. We took great pride in our fording skills, often using them to impress groups of young women from the various girls’ camps along the river. The stream could be crossed at any point, we argued. It was just a matter of finding the right method. To Matt, Adam and me, nothing was more thrilling.
It’s been several years since I last set foot in the icy waters of the Provo, but I was reminded of those times last weekend during a hike in Ophir Canyon. My sons Bridger, 7, and Weston, 6, were there with me and the Transcript Bulletin’s editor, Jeff Barrus, and his 7 year old son Real. The little trail at the upper end of the canyon is a favorite of Jeff and Real’s, and the two would be our official guides for this hike.
Somehow we had chosen the only non-rainy afternoon so far this month for our hike. The flora in the canyon was vibrant and eager to soak in as much moisture as Mother Nature would send it before the inevitable summer famine.
“There’s really no good way to keep your feet dry,” Jeff told me as I paused to calculate the driest bank-to-bank route at the first stream crossing along the trail. Apparently, the passing of a decade or two had eroded my enthusiasm for getting my feet wet.
Bridger and Weston were less wary of getting wet than they were of stepping onto slippery rocks under moving water. They’ve forded a few creeks in their days, but they seem to approach the first crossing of each season with a bit of hesitance. It didn’t take me long to shed my reserve and I walked in to help them across. Real found a nice walking stick and used it to steady his way over some exposed rocks.
The small single track interweaves with the creek, crossing it many times as it climbs the Ophir Canyon drainage. The trail also crosses several vegetation zones before reaching the back of the canyon at the Lowe Peak/Rocky Peak cirque. Both peaks are accessible from the trail.
We had no specific destination in mind this hike. We decided to let the kids set the pace and lead the way. It was their hike. Frequent stops to analyze spiders and caterpillars were expected and enjoyed.
A small snake sunned itself near one of the crossings. “Pick it up, Dad!” Bridger said, subtly mocking my ophidiophobia. “Come on, it’s obviously not a rattlesnake.”
“Yeah, but what about his mom?” I asked. “She’s got to be close, doesn’t she?” I have no idea whether mother snakes defend their young like bears do, but the fact that Jeff echoed the idea when he and Real arrived made it all the more credible.
What fear Bridger lacks for carnivorous reptiles—he’ll grab any lizard or snake without a second thought—he more than makes up for in his morbid fear of ants. Specifically African driver ants (thanks, Discovery Channel). In Bridger’s mind, every ant is potentially an African driver ant. After seeing a few ants on rotting logs, Bridger became our official driver ant spotter.
When it came to fording the creek, I took the straight through approach—not out of laziness but because I love to feel the current. Jeff and Real stopped at each crossing to strategize. Using a combination of exposed rocks and downed timber, they sought the driest, neatest route possible. Bridger and Weston followed suit, but with less care toward staying dry.
Not that anybody really stayed dry. There’s no feasible way to follow the trail and avoid fully stepping in the creek at some point. That may pose a problem during the cold months. But for us, on that one non-rainy summer afternoon beneath a light, green canopy, the stream was the perfect trail complement.
We passed Picnic Canyon and stopped in a thick aspen forest above Powder Gulch. Hundreds of names were carved into the aspens along the trail, some of them quite old and scarred over beyond readability. Real grabbed his pocket knife and carved his, Bridger’s, and Weston’s initials into white bark before it was time to return.
The boys grew more proficient with each stream crossing, often branching out to brave a stronger current or deeper pool. That’s when I noticed the same gleam in their eyes that was in mine when I discovered the joy of rushing water when I was their age. Had we the time, they would have spent hours wading and exploring. The Upper Provo may be bigger than Ophir Creek, but the gleam was the same.
The small snake greeted us again as we passed his grassy peninsula on the way out. I was tempted to prove that I really wasn’t afraid of snakes, until Weston repeated my warning about his undoubtedly vengeful mother. I’m sticking with that excuse until Discovery Channel proves me wrong.
The Ophir Canyon trail is a primitive single track trail on public land that begins just outside the small town of Ophir. To get there, drive through Ophir and continue up the dirt road for approximately 1.5 miles to a small parking area. The dirt road is rocky and 4WD or high clearance vehicle is recommended, as it crosses the stream several times.