Among the members of our little family, there is a tug-of-war over what is the most satisfying kind of hike. Sprout prefers hikes that are mostly flat with lots of sticks and dirt to sift through and the occasional small rock to leap from. On the other hand, Aaron likes finding ways to the high country with Sprout on his back (which Sprout sometimes protests), even if it means challenging vertical terrain that beats his muscles to a pulp. And Jacqui likes hikes that are picturesque, that challenge her to grow as a photographer while also working her lungs and muscles. It’s a tough balance to strike, but we were hoping to find something for everyone in Smithfield Dry Canyon, where we had previously done some snowshoeing in the winter months.
A well-maintained dirt road through public land owned by the municipality leads directly to the Mt. Naomi wilderness area. There is a small parking area, and that’s where we began our hike. The first mile or so is shaded with a few stream crossings, but in mid-June, there was little water. These dry stream beds were the same streams that blocked our passage in February because they were brimming with melt runoff. The trees and other plants were thick and lush green, and the trail was a welcomed change from other nearby canyon trails that are more exposed. Some parts of the trail reminded us of our previous adventures in the Appalachians. Sprout was on the lookout for the family of mule deer who matted down the high grasses along the trail.
After passing some impressive rock formations, the trail slowly climbs into an area with scrubbier vegetation and high canyon walls. The low traffic on the trail allows for secluded enjoyment of the scenic beauty, but it also allows the vegetation to engulf the trail in places. In fact, on several occasions, we stubbed our toes on unseen rocks beneath the grasses. We were also hesitant to let Sprout walk, even though the trail was relatively flat, because we didn’t want her battle bushes higher than she is. We stopped for some snacks, sitting on a fallen tree in the shade of some tall pine growing near the stream bed, and she was mostly okay with riding on Papa (provided he galloped like a horse).
After two miles, the trail narrows considerably as it maneuvers back and forth over the dry stream bed onto higher terrain. The undergrowth is very thick on long sections of the trail, and there were few trees to block the strong mid-morning sun, making for exerting hiking. However, Sprout was entertained by the plentiful wildflowers and butterflies here, and the occasional views of the valley below are quite stunning. While the trail climbs gently over the first three miles of the hike, here, it steepens sharply just as the brush thins out. Also in this area, the trial passes through the middle of a grove of aspen that Sprout enjoyed gazing at.
The rest of the trail is quite steep with several switchbacks through an open area of wildflowers. After fighting with the bushes, we welcomed the clear trail, even if we were winded as we climbed. It was well past lunch time at this point, so we stopped on top of a flat, rocky area that overlooks the canyon and the valley beyond. Large pine fed by a nearby spring provided a cool lunch spot, and later Sprout explored an old juniper tree clinging to the edge of the rocks. From this spot at 8000′, the trail continues through open, alpine terrain for another mile before reaching the saddle along the ridge, where you can connect to the Naomi Peak trail. We, however, decided to turn back.
Sprout fell asleep quickly on our way down, but was woken by the thick brush tickling her legs. After waking, Sprout wanted to get down and hike, but couldn’t due to the brush, which resulted in some whining. This is the major drawback of this trail. The tactile experience of hiking through high grasses might be fun for kids, but also makes for some challenges. As we neared the trailhead, Sprout was finally able to hike on her own feet and excitedly explored the massive dandelions along the trail.