Utah’s Tropical Getaway

by Hartt Wixom

For years I was intrigued by the name of Tropic Reservoir in Garfield County. How did it get the name of a South Sea isle? According to Utah Place Names by John Van Cott, Tropic was settled by people from Panguitch who found it had a milder climate at a little less than the latter’s 6,600 feet elevation. A native of this community verified for me that the name came from “feeling like that we were in the Tropics,” in comparison, when moving so much lower.

Tropic Reservoir provides stunning scenery any time of the year.
Tropic Reservoir provides stunning scenery any time of the year.
Scenery at the reservoir is superb, especially in the autumn for golden aspen and oakbrush crimson. Deer hunters know this country west of Bryce Canyon National Park as renowned for trophy muleys. In fact, years ago I accompanied a friend into this domain when he was scouting for big bucks. After dark we saw seven of them along the road with respectable antlers. My friend went back a week later and connected with a nice four-pointer.

Tropic terrain is also just north of the community of Alton which could be called the “Deer Hunting Capitol” of Utah. If there is anyone there who has not hunted mule deer, they can at least come up with a video of someone who has. I looked at one entitled “Awesome Bucks” and they were, indeed, awesome. Alton is on the edge of the Paunsaugunt trophy deer unit requiring luck of the draw to hunt. It costs much more than the regular deer license but many are willing to pay it. A hunter I know bagged a regal rack not far from Alton. “It is rugged country with rolling, massive juniper canyons. But if you have three-four days to work it thoroughly, you might find your dream buck.”

This region within the Dixie National Forest has some strange names, along with “Tropic” itself. One: “Podunk Creek.” Van Cott says it was named, and I quote, “After Po Dunk, a Piute Indian, who was lost for a period of time in this heavily timbered country.” It is, indeed, heavily timbered; but this appellation seems a little out of line for native Americans during the 1800s. Most were better known for names like “Grey Bull” or “Running Deer.” But Po Dunk it is.

Another strange area name: “Blubber Creek, with three forks.” Van Cott says “visible gases emerge from swamp grass” on the stream. All three forks? “Blue Fly Creek, two forks: no mention from Van Cott. And Skunk Creek. We can guess on this one, along with Badger Creek. (As for Blubber and Podunk, they are not exactly tourist names provided by the local chamber of commerce.)

Kings Creek just west of Tropic Reservoir has everything: dump station, trash containers, fire pits, tables, the works. I wish the forest service would establish more camps within sight of the main reason for going there (lakes and streams) but apparently an effort is made to avoid congestion near water. That is a policy is not likely to soon change; but you can also find parking room along the creek above the lake.

Anyone heading along Utah 12 will catch glimpses of Bryce Canyon’s glory well before reaching the national park itself. Suddenly, after turning east off U.S. 89, you drive into Red Canyon and, indeed, see “red” for a dozen miles. Not far away are the contrasting green villages of Tropic, Cannonville and Henrieville. They can be accessed from county roads out of Johnson Canyon 10 miles east of Kanab; but do it on a cloudless day with four-wheel drive. One sign says “impassable when wet.” Note: you can find Dixie forest maps in the USFS Pine Valley office on Tabernacle Street in St. George for accessing all of the above locations.

If you decide to travel farther east toward Escalante and Boulder, the scenery continues to glorify with every mile. You can drive off U.S. 12 toward Barker Reservoir and find more color in the hills. I found the elevation above 9,000 feet awash in gold during the first week of October. There is fishing in the entire region but seeking cool in summer or color in autumn, it is all worth the trip.

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