The Jordan River in Utah meanders for more than 50 miles between Utah’s largest natural fresh-water lake (Utah Lake) and the famed Great Salt Lake. For many years a paved recreational trail has been constructed along the river. It is named: Jordan River Parkway Trail. As far as I can tell, no one has before attempted to run the trail end-to-end in one day. That was my quest for this urban adventure run.
When the pioneers came into the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, there were few trees, but they could clearly see trees along the banks of the main river artery through the valley. They named this river, “Western Jordan” because of the similarly with the Biblical river by the same name forming a “fresh water lake through fertile valleys to a dead sea.” In early years the river was used to float contraction materials for the Salt Lake Temple and the railroad. Over the years the river has been the main source for irrigation water as numerous canals were constructed to divert its water. In 1973, the Utah State Legislature passed funding for the Jordan River Parkway. Today, there are just three sections (about three miles) that are not complete, requiring detours.
I planned to run the Jordan River Parkway (JRP) from the south to the north. This direction would be good to take advantage of the mild south tailwind and also to keep the sun mostly at my back. Running in November did have one downside because most of the river parks along the way had already turned off their water for the winter. But I knew that if I was desperate, I could easily leave the trail and find water nearby from houses or businesses.
I started my adventure early at 3:40 a.m. by ceremonially dipping my toe into the fresh water of Utah Lake at Saratoga Springs. Hopefully I would end my adventure by dipping my toe into the alkaline water of the Great Salt Lake far to the north.
I started running at a “Mile 0” post right outside the Saratoga Springs development. The temperature was chilly, in the upper 30s. Within the first half mile, one of our dedicated policemen drove by and turned into Inlet Park, the first little park I would run through. I waved but just continued on. It was pretty early to be out running, but he didn’t try to stop me.
The early morning run was wonderful and my pace was good, between 9:00 and 10:00. I hoped to complete the entire adventure, including stops, averaging about a 12:00 pace. At mile 3.7, I reached my first obstacle. The tunnel under SR73 (Lehi Main Street) was flooded, an engineering blunder for this newer tunnel. I had to scale fences on both sides of the road to instead cross over the road. My first stop was at mile 6.7, a little park near Thanksgiving Point. The bathroom was open and the water turned on. I drank plenty and loaded up. Good thing I did because my next water source wouldn’t be for another 20 miles in Murray.
At about mile 10, in Bluffdale, if I continued, the trail would dead-end in a mile or so. The JRP map suggests a long detour that goes clear out onto Redwood Road, now a busy highway. Instead, I used my home-field advantage and headed toward the river, hopped on a hidden single-track trail that led me down to a little medal bridge over a canal. I now could run the canal road for a couple miles until it intersected with the JRP. The crescent moonlight above was bright enough that at times I could run without my headlamp on. Dark houses came into view and I soon joined up again with the JRP.
A couple of brightly-lit Frontrunner trains headed south along the nearby railroad, tooting their horns. When I reached rural sections of Bluffdale, cows mooed at me through the dark. Dawn arrived as I reached the underpass of Bangerter Highway, mile 15.1. Near many of the low-level underpasses by the river, there are “trail closed” signs because of high-water conditions from the Spring. But none of the closed signs I would see during the day were true, no sections of the trail was closed.
I now ran into some early-morning runners on the trail in Riverton. At mile 18.1, 3:13 into my run, I was fairly certain that I could obtain water at Rotary Park, on 126th South. But no go. The restrooms had signs on them that they had been winterized and were closed. I still had some so I didn’t worry and continued on. I would check a couple others parks in the next few miles but their restrooms were also closed with water off.
I enjoyed watching the people out on the trail in the morning — runners, fishermen, bikers (including one going VERY fast, heading to work). Moms would start appearing, pushing children in strollers, and then the retired seniors out for a stroll. Eventually I would observe others, who probably are unemployed, just wandering around, spending their time by the river.
The river in the morning hours was beautiful. Plenty of ducks and geese could be seeing floating by. My pace started to slow as I took more time to sightsee and take pictures.
I reached 90th South in South Jordan (mile 24) at the 4:17 mark. I stopped along a green of the River Oaks Golf course to take off my jacket, warm hat, and gloves. It was going to be a pleasant day with temperatures in the upper 60s. I now hit the second detour and had to do a half-mile of running along an industrial area on 700W. But soon I was back on the JRP along the river greeting many friendly people walking on the path.
At mile 27, at the 5:00 mark, I entered the city of Murray and thankfully found a park with the water still turned on. I had run out of water so I had started to consider leaving the trail to go find it. I drank up and filled up. I noticed that of all of the sections of the trail, the city of Murray has done the finest job keeping it up and developing nice parks along the way. The trail certainly gets a lot of use in this city. I saw many mothers taking their kids out for walks.
This section also has very nice equestrian sections that are not torn up by the horses. For a couple miles I diverted off the paved pathway to run on the horse trails.
At about the 50K mark (mile 31.4), at about the 6:00 mark, I reached 48th South in Taylorsville. There was a Maverick store right next to the trail. I paused to buy some breakfast and chug down some orange juice. From there my pace slowed until the food settled. l had never run on this northern section of the JRP, so I stopped many times to look at things and check my map. At times I would take a wrong route because there would be a trail on both sides of the river. Usually one side dead-ends. But I did pretty well and did not too much extra running.
At about the 7:00 mark, in South Salt Lake, I reached the 36-mile mark at about 25th South. I paused to take video of a passing Trax train and the ducks and geese in the water.
I reached Salt Lake City and ran through a combination of industrial areas and older urban neighborhoods. I had been trying to count the number of times I ran over bridges (pretty nerdy), but eventually lost track. The total came to about 30.
After I crossed under I-80, the trail again stopped for the third time and I had to run around a city block to get to North Temple. I had reached my goal to get to this main cross-street through the city by noon. I made a quick stop at a McDonalds, at the 41.5 mile mark, and ate an entire yummy chicken sandwich. That gave me some much-needed energy.
Next, I ran by the Utah Fair grounds. I stopped to take a picture of it with the Utah Capitol building in the background.
The trail through Salt Lake City also included nice trail signs on the pavement reminding me of the Olympics held here in 2002. The afternoon run was great. I had run over 40 miles today but was still feeling fantastic. This was going to be great training for my next race, Across the Years 48-hour run at the end of next month.
The end of the JRP was coming close. I came upon at new rock sign, marking the last mile, not far from the oil refinery to the east.
I left Salt Lake County and entered Davis county. Wow, I had indeed come a long way.
At the 9:29 mark, at mile 47.5, I reached the northern end of the Jordan River Parkway where it connects to the new Legacy Parkway Trail. I did it! I ran the JRP end-to-end, probably the first person to do it.
But, my adventure wasn’t finished. I still had plenty more miles to run. I wanted to run clear to the Great Salt Lake. From this point the Jordan River disperses as it flows into the massive lake. I wanted to run north for six miles and then head west closer to the lake. The six miles along the Legacy Parkway was a total bore. Running along a freeway is stupid. I did stop at a park and asked a kind couple there to fill my water bottle. This was at the 50-mile mark. I reached there in ten hours. Not bad for a leisurely training run. At mile 53.2, at the Millcreek Trailhead, I called my wife to have her start heading north to pick me up.
But I still had time for more miles, so I crossed under the Legacy Parkway, ran near the Bountiful Pools and made my way into the Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area.
This is a fascinating place out on the Great Salt Lake, protected by a tons of dikes. Indeed there were numerous ducks and geese all over the place.
The views looking back toward Bountiful across the bay pools were amazing. I soon discovered other hidden surprises. Hunters were hidden in the reeds with some decoys floating in the water nearby. I’m sure I disturbed them, but I also flushed out some prey because each time I ran by a set of hunters, their guns would start going off, thankfully not it my direction, but to birds flying overhead.
I took a wrong turn, and didn’t get out to the end of a dike I planned to go to, but I was indeed in the boundaries of the Great Salt Lake. There was plenty of salt evidence on the dike I was running on.
At the 58-mile mark, I took my last video. As the sun was going down, running through the bugs, and among the hunters, I made my way back to the Legacy Parkway where my wife greeted me.
I had run 63 miles today in 13 hours. It had been an epic urban adventure run – Utah Lake to the Great Salt Lake.