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URBAN COWBOYS HIT OUTLAW TRAIL

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The rock spires, red cliffs and stubby trees have always been a part of this area. So, too, is the artist's touch added over eons.

Few people, however, have seen this canyon from the inside looking up. Not because it was kept a secret. Locals were willing to give directions . . . it's just that no one ever asked.And, not because people wouldn't like it. This is a canyon of incredible beauty, surprising solitude and historical intrigue.

This was a trail Butch Cassidy rode often nearly a century ago. It's now recognized as part of the old Outlaw Trail. This is a trail Ruby Syrett, builder of Ruby's Inn on the border of Bryce back in 1920, used to tell friends about as being "one of the most beautiful around."

This is a trail locals often rode, but just never said much about.

Officially, the trail opened just this month.

Now there are signs and trails to follow, and a map to point out places and features.

For the past five years the U.S. Forest Service, along with some private owners, have been working to make the canyon more accessible.

Now that it's open, says Carlton Guillette, Powell District ranger, "we want people to use and enjoy it."

Some parts of the trail are open to ATVs. All of it, about 30 miles, is open to walking, riding a bike or from the back of a horse.

Most people are taking Butch's lead and are going on horseback. It adds a touch of realism to the old trail.

From the back of a horse it's easy to drift back and picture lawmen and Indians, and imagine that the scrape marks on the rocks could possibly have been from Butch's horse, or the horses of the posse following him.

Not much has changed since outlaws and lawmen rode here. Riders are looking at the same cliffs and rocks and trees, and riding the same trail.

Currently there are two outfitters in the area offering horses and guide service.

Clint Mecham, headquartered out of Ruby's Inn, has been guiding visitors to the rim of the canyon and surrounding spots since he was 12, or roughly 22 years. Now Mecham and his wife, Lori, own Scenic Rim Trail Ride.

The company corrals its horse at Ruby's, and guide dudes to a number of locations. But his newest trail ride, he feels, may turn out to be one of his best.

The trailhead is a few miles north of Scenic Highway 12, the same road about two million people follow annually to nearby Bryce Canyon. It's part of the Red Canyon Trail system, which features three separate trailheads - Casto Canyon, Losee Canyon and Red Canyon.

Time typically dictates which section of trail people can take. The old Cassidy Trail is 8.7 miles. It's a good six-hour ride by horseback, and a one or two day trip on foot. The Casto Canyon Trail is 5.3 miles, the Losee Canyon trail 3 miles and Buckhorn Trail is a mile.

Linked all together, says Mecham, "And you're looking at a good two-day trip by horseback."

In country, he adds, "That is probably some of the nicest we have in this area. What we have here is a little Bryce, but without all the people. There are no vehicles and very few people . . . And the scenery is just as spectacular."

Meaning, of course, the trademark red-rock formations found throughout the area. Here, winds and water carved the red, yellow, pink and orange limestone into a million different formations. Some resemble familiar objects, some don't. With a little imagination, however, they all do.

One unique feature, says Mecham, is that everything changes with the changing sunlight and direction of travel.

The ride itself is not difficult. For most of the way it follows a dry stream bed, starting down among the pinyon and pondersoa, and gently lead up in the spruce and bristle cone pine.

There is some wildlife, there, but is scarce - a few deer, rabbits, lizards and birds. This is, after all, badland country.

About half of those taking the ride so far, Mecham says, are from foreign countries. Most are from Germany, Switzerland and Italy. And about 60 percent of those putting a foot in a stirrup, are doing so for the very first time.

Many are, of course, looking for the old-west experience, "and what better place is there than on the old outlaw trail," he adds.

There are a number of rides available - half day, full day and overnight. Cost is $35 for the half day, $70 for the full day (lunch included), and $200 for the overnight (meals and cowboy camp included).