Sunday, June 19, 2016

Rare Squirrels and a Deadman's Grave.

After the snow had melted in the lower elevations of the Abajo Mountains, and the dirt trials were drier, it was time to go adventuring in the Manti-LaSal Forest.  The initial destination was the road going past the Devil's Canyon National Forest Campground.  For those who don't know where that is; from the southern end of Monticello (the Hwy 191/Hideout Golf Course split), it is 11.5 miles to the entrance to San Juan County Road 198/Forest Road 085.

The pavement ends at 6/10s of a mile; at 1.2 miles there is a cattleguard and you officially enter the Manti-LaSal Forest.  There are ATV trails marked along this dirt (4 wheel drive recommended) road; primitive camping areas are designated by a stone fire ring.  At 2.7 miles we stopped at a wide open area; that's when we got our first sighting of the rare, and elusive, Abert's Squirrel.

ATV Trails are marked.
We're constantly being asked about this squirrel, no, not details about the creature itself, but where to exactly find, and see, it.  News Flash: this is a wild animal, it is wherever it wants to be; there is no sign saying, "Look here!"  It doesn't sit on the side of the trails waiting for you to stop, sign autographs, or take photo ops.  In seven years we had not seen one of them, and on this little jaunt, we saw three in one hour...go figure.

The Abert's Squirrel aka Tassel-Eared Squirrel has tufted ears and white on the underside of a broad tail; new ear tufts are grown in October.  It loves to munch on Ponderosa Pine and Mexican Pinyon seeds and cones; it can be mistaken for a rabbit when sitting upright; it can leap broad distances, making it appear to "fly".  If you want to learn more about this little creature, the National Forest Service has a fact sheet here:

We did pass over a canyon area with a creek running through it; it was very quiet, except for the bubbling of the water over rocks and fallen logs.

Here's a video of the creek.

At 6 miles there is the junction of three trails: Wagonwheel, Camp Jackson/Shay Ridge Trail System, SJC 110/FR084.  This was back in May, so we had been told that snow still covered sections of the first two trails in more shaded areas, or at switchbacks; so we took the lesser of the evils...SJC110/FR084.  There are also primitive camping spots at this junction, as well as restrooms.

Primitive Camping

SJC 110/FR 084

Resetting the odometer to zero, we were
immediately hit with fantastic views of the South Peak and rock ledges at 3/10s of a mile; 5/10ths brought us to a pond.

At 7/10s of a mile, we got a real surprise...Harry Hopkins Grave.  So, who was Harry Hopkins, how did he die, and why is he buried off this forest trail?  Here is what I found out about the man, and his short history in San Juan County.

Harry Hopkins Grave
GPS: 37.7830009,-109.436798
Birth:  Unknown
Death:  1887
San Juan County
Utah, USA
Lacy (or LC Ranch) Cattle Company - this was another cattle company, along with the Carlisle Cattle Company, which was ranching cattle from Colorado and Texas.  Of course, they were eventually driven out by the Mormon settlers, who gladly took over the land, and the ranch; the cattle herds went with the Cattle Company men to other locations.

"History of San Juan County" by Albert R. Lyman
1887 - Page 62
"In the late spring or early summer, while the new settlers were farming at
South Montezuma, and making such preparations as they could to move to
Monticello the next spring, the Ute known as Wash came in reporting a dead
white man somewhere up the creek. Parley Butt went with him and found the
body of a man named Hopkins. He had been cooking for the L. C. outfit and
someone had apparently shot him from ambush while he waited on a log
fence for the outfit to return. He had crawled a short distance from the fence
before he died."
1887 - Page 63
"A lone track was found not far from the place, and it may have been the Utes
who did the killing, though they protested strongly against the charge. The
blame, however, seems to be laid on the Navajos, with whom Hopkins had
been in an unpleasant mixup sometime before.

The body was too badly decomposed to be moved, and was rolled into a hole
made nearby for the purpose. At the head of Devil Canyon near the wagon
road, a stone may be seen in the scrubby oak brush. That marks the place
where the unfortunate cowboy found rest.

Though the Utes are generally exonerated from the blame of this killing, they
are reported to have been more or less hostile during that summer, and a
company of soldiers came in answer to someones call and camped at a
certain spring west of Monticello. The place is still known as Soldier Spring."

Now as much as the Mormon settlers blamed this and that on the Native Americans, they certainly didn't get along well with the cowboys of either the Carlisle or L-C ranches.  Here's a quote from "Utah History to Go" ( that makes me wonder who really murdered poor Harry Hopkins; the Natives, or the Mormons?

 "By the first part of July 1887 the men had their tasks well under way and had joined in a conflict with the cowboys of the Carlisle outfit that would continue for approximately the next eight years. Warning shots, heated disputes, and legal wrangling were all part of this tension as each group tried to control access to the area's water. Homesites established at Verdure, on the South Fork of Montezuma Creek, were not free of conflict either, with cowboys as well as Ute Indians adding to the stress."

Since all the people from that era are long dead and buried, and history is usually written by the victors, we'll probably not find out the true story, unless someone finds a written confession from dear old great grandpa.  By the way, there is an information sheet, behind plastic, on the board marking Harry's grave, but it is extremely faded; a shame no one sees fit to keep it legible.

Nearby camping area.

Hiking/Horseback Riding Trail.

At the one mile mark we found some fencing; that's only 3/10s of a mile from Harry's grave, so could this have been the fence he was sitting on when he was shot??? Could he have crawled from this fencing to the place where his body lay???

1.9 miles we walked out to get a better view of the peaks, one being Abajo Peak, the highest in these mountains.  We heard people talking, machinery working; down below were buildings of the Blue Mountain Dude Ranch.

South Peak
Abajo Peak

At 2.8 miles we came upon the road to the Ranch area; there are private homes along the road, so stay on the main trail.  We met a lovely couple, from Blanding, who were caretakers; they told us the LDS Church ran the entire recreational facility.  There are cabins, pavilions, barbecue areas, creek; anyone can rent out for family trips or events.  There is a closed off section reserved for Monticello LDS only.  I had to laugh for one of my coworkers went here for an event once and told me, "It's a secret place and I can't tell you where it is at all.  Anyone who is not LDS can't know about this place."  Surprise!  We found it, and it's not that secret, simply fenced off, well the Monticello section only, from the rest of the facility.  So much for a stealth mission through the forest.

At 3.6 miles we officially left the Manti-LaSal Forest; 5 mile mark and there we were back on Highway 191; turning north, we headed on home to Monticello which was only 8.5 miles away.

Oh, how could I leave this post without giving you a little peek at some plant life???

Long Leaved Phlox (Phlox family)

Yellow Salsify (Aster family)

This was a most enjoyable, informative and pleasure filled drive through the forest; you really should try it sometime.

Mary Cokenour

1 comment:

  1. Awesome!! My friends and I used to ride our horses on that ranch. That pond [picture 18] may in fact be the same one my bullheaded horse (Elmer) decided to take a swim in one particularly hot day - all saddlery and rider (me) included. We used to log in the H.H. grave area - Quaking Aspen that we sold to toothpick and match factories.