Monday, July 4, 2016

Red Butte Garden: Natural Areas (Blog Hike #579)

Trails: Seepy Hollow, Sidewinder, Bennett Vista, Zeke’s Mountain, and Creekside Trails
Hike Location: Red Butte Garden
Geographic Location: east side of Salt Lake City, UT
Length: 2 miles
Difficulty: 5/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: June 2016
Overview: A loop hike through the natural areas of a botanical garden with fantastic Salt Lake City views.
Garden Information:

Directions to the trailhead: On the east side of Salt Lake City, take SR 186 to Wakula Way.  This intersection is located 3 miles east of downtown Salt Lake City or 2.9 miles west of I-80, exit 129.  Go east on Wakula Way.  Drive Wakula Way uphill to its end at the Red Butte Garden parking lot.  Start at the Visitor Center, where you must pay a medium-sized entrance fee to enter the garden.

The hike: Owned and operated by the University of Utah, Red Butte Garden consists of 100 acres that are also known as Utah’s Botanical Garden and State Arboretum.  The garden opened in 1985, and 21 acres of the garden’s property have been developed into formal demonstration gardens.  The developed area features a stage that hosts an annual summer concert series, a large collection of daffodils, a collection of 450,000 springtime blooming bulbs, and award-winning horticulture-based education programs.
            The garden’s remaining 79 acres have been preserved in their natural state, and the 5 miles of trails winding through the natural areas make for excellent hiking.  The natural areas’ hillside location offers fantastic views of Salt Lake City.  Though many routes are possible, the route described here explores the natural areas’ ridges and valleys while passing some of the best view points without pegging the difficulty meter.  One word of warning: whenever you are hiking in the Rocky Mountains, be wary of the weather.  I started this hike under mostly sunny skies and finished it an hour later in a thunderstorm.
            From the patio behind the Visitor Center, choose the manicured trail that heads uphill along the right side of a mowed grass area.  Interpretive signs point out some of the plants on display in this part of the developed garden.  At the top of the hill, angle right to cross a dirt maintenance road and enter the natural area.  A sign with a trail map marks your entrance to the natural area.  Other than a few signs such as this one, none of the trails in the natural area are marked, so the Visitor Guide and Map you received at the Visitor Center comes in handy throughout the hike. 
Entering the natural area
            The initial segment in the natural area passes through Seepy Hollow, a small ravine with lots of shrubs and grasses.  Rectangular rock blocks act as stepping stones through wet areas.  At 0.15 miles, a short spur trail exits right to quickly end at a bench.  On the other hand, the main trail switchbacks to the left and climbs out of the hollow.  Continue straight when you meet another dirt maintenance road, which is actually an old access road for a closed quarry that sits just east of here.
            At the next trail intersection, turn right to begin climbing on an unmarked trail the trail map calls Sidewinder.  True to its name, Sidewinder climbs the hillside using 4 switchbacks.  Impressive rock walls border some of these switchbacks.  The low vegetation up here is more of the semi-desert variety including creosote, sagebrush, and grasses.  Although some Salt Lake City views start to appear, the views will get better as you climb higher.
Switchback on Sidewinder
            At 0.35 miles, you reach the top of the switchbacks, another bench, and another trail intersection.  Angle left to begin the Bennett Vista Trail.  The climb continues on a moderate grade past more benches.  Where other trails exit right to loop back downhill, keep left to stay on the higher ground.
View along Bennett Vista Trail
            0.6 miles into the hike, you reach the ridge crest at an elevation roughly 400 feet above the Visitor Center.  Angle left again to begin following the ridgecrest on a fairly level trail.  A metal fence to the right marks the garden’s eastern boundary, and deer stiles built into the fence allow animals free passage across the boundary.  I saw a lot of lizards but no large animals on my hike.
            At 0.75 miles, you reach the short spur trail to Canyon Overlook, the highest point on this hike.  This rocky west-facing overlook gives a fantastic view of Red Butte Canyon with its bare-looking walls directly below you, downtown Salt Lake City in the middleground, and the jagged Oquirrh Mountains in the background.  Sit at the bench for a few minutes and enjoy the view, which on my visit included a thunderstorm coming in from the west.
Canyon Overlook
            Past Canyon Overlook, the trail immediately begins a moderate descent into Red Butte Canyon.  This descent involves a large number of switchbacks, so the grade is not too steep.  The vegetation grows taller and denser as you descend.  Just shy of 1 mile, where another trail continues straight and levels out at a switchback, turn sharply right to continue descending on a trail the map calls Zeke’s Mountain Trail.
            1.2 miles into the hike, you reach the very wet and very green corridor along Red Butte Creek.  The trail curves left to begin a gradual descent along the creek, which lies usually out of sight to your right.  The rain started falling harder as I passed an outdoor classroom that sits right beside a small cascade in the creek.
Cascade in Red Butte Creek
            Now on what the garden map calls the Creekside Trail, you soon pass through a tunnel of oak trees and a small meadow as you approach the canyon’s mouth.  At 1.6 miles, the dirt natural areas trail ends at a paved trail at the edge of the developed garden.  The shortest route back to the Visitor Center turns left on the paved trail and goes gently uphill past the fragrance, medicinal, and herb gardens.  To see a little more of the developed garden, turn right on the paved trail to explore the water pavilion garden, the very popular Rose House, and the amphitheatre/stage area.  Whichever choice you make, be sure to check out the Orangerie and gift shop in the Visitor Center to close out your day at Red Butte Garden.

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