This place deserves an entire post to itself because it combines many of our favorite things: weird history, nature, wildlife, free camping, and water access. Did I mention before we love public lands?
So, we stumbled upon this place somewhat coincidentally. We were visiting the 'Big 5' National Parks in Utah, and becoming less and less enamored with the crowds inside the parks. We got into a little bit of a groove where we found a camping spot in adjacent public lands, worked from the van, and made sure to at least do a scenic drive through the parks before we left (we got the NP annual pass, so gotta take advantage of it).
There is always some element if coincidence in our camping spot selection in that we're never really sure about a place until we arrive. Will there be open spots? Will it be private enough? Will there be enough cell service to work from the van? These are all questions that will never be 100% answered before we arrive.
This spot was extra coincidental, though. I started running out of my thyroid medication on the road (Hashimoto's be damned!) and had to find a Walgreens pharmacy somewhere close to our route. We were planning on visiting the Zion area within the next week so I had it filled in Hurricane, UT, which seemed like the closest city. As we got nearer to the area, it became clear that we would actually not be passing through Hurricane on our way from Zion to the Grand Canyon, so I might need to send the prescription further along our route (sigh). This problem stressed me out so I put it off for the next day.
This same day, we stopped at a German bakery for bread in between Bryce and Zion, and there was a family eating lunch on the patio. As you can see from my first photo, we were traveling with a 70's Italian moped that we picked up in Jersey. The apparent patriarch of the family immediately declared that he loved the moped and asked if we would sell it. My husband answered that everything is for sale for the right price. Long story short, he put a small deposit down and we planned to meet him near St. George where they were staying with family. Luckily, Hurricane is on the way to St. George, so now I didn't have to re-route my medication! yay!
I checked on Campendium and iOverlander for camping spots and found Hurricane Cliffs, which was free, had service, and looked gorgeous. We headed there and when we arrived drove a little ways down the dirt road and found a great spot. We ate a late lunch and relaxed for a little bit before going on a hike. The Virgin River passed close by and we wanted to find a way to hike down to the water. It was a pretty quick but strenuous hike down into the gorge and we almost immediately started noticing some weird artifacts...
There were several wrecked cars in the trenches as well as home appliances. Who drives out to the desert to discard these things? We kept walking.
A little while later, after a steep downward hike into a rocky gorge, we found the river.
It was a great spot for Samus to cool off, with multiple waterfalls and shade from the red rock canyon, but we still found some elements of the setting strange... for instance, there was a lowered dry reservoir-type area with giant steel structures right near the water. We pondered on what they could have been used for.
After playing on the rocks for a while, we hiked up onto the cliffs where we found the most unique feature yet:
what was basically a massive stone aqueduct built into the side of the cliffs. We followed this for a while and speculated on what it could have been intended for. My favorite option was that it was an abandoned water park. We could tell that the structure was quite old, but still very sturdy. There were steps carved into the mountainside with dilapidated hand rails as well.
The sun began to set and we quickly noticed we would need to start the strenuous uphill hike back up to camp if we wanted to avoid walking in the dark. We made it out of the main gorge area without issue but then a little ways later encountered our FIRST RATTLESNAKE of the trip. My heart was in my throat for a good fifteen minutes worrying about the possibility of the dogs being bitten and having to carry them the rest of the way to our van. The encroaching darkness did not help my nerves for the remainder of the hike. Thankfully, that didn't happen and the snake just warned us with its tail and we were able to move along.
When we arrived back to our site, I began researching what the aqueducts and machinery could possibly be, and fairly quickly arrived at the answer. The Hurricane Canal was registered on the National Registry of Historic places in 1977.
It was a massive pioneer feat that was begun in the 1890's and completed in the early 1900's. It's the Utah desert, so the canal was constructed to transport water to adjacent areas, allowing the settlers to expand their community. What's really amazing is that the over 7 miles of 8 ft wide man-made canal was all built by hand by members of the community. There were no roads down into the gorge to transport machinery and materials, so everything was brought in and built by hand.
Much of the structure is now accessible to hikers and 11 of the 12 original tunnels are still open to be explored.
It was like a dangerous adult amusement park tucked away into the cliffs just for us!