May 2012


Water in the Desert

 

 

In the arid Arizona Strip southwest of Kanab, Utah, Pipe Springs National Monument honors native and immigrant cultures that settled around a spring on the high desert. Rangers give guided tours every half-hour of the stone fortress known as Winsor Castle. The structure was built by Mormon pioneers protecting a year-round natural spring. A museum also features the culture of the Kaibab-Paiute tribe who have inhabited the region for centuries.

 

 

Our destination for the day was Page, Arizona and Lake Powell. Since we arrived boatless we choose the Canyon Adventure boat tour for a nearly three-hour lake experience. The waters of Lake Powell flow into dozen of desert canyons. On this tour we went up Navajo Canyon and the narrower Antelope Canyon to a spot where we could almost reach out and touch the walls. A watery day in the desert.

 

 

North Rim – Grand Canyon

This one has definitely been on my Bucket List. With a half-dozen trips to the South Rim I, like most Grand Canyon National Park visitors, had never been to the North Rim. We normally travel to the Canyon in late winter or early spring when the road into the north side is under several feet of snow. Visitor services at Grand Canyon Lodge are provided from mid-May to mid-October.

 

 

Many Canyon afficiandos profess a preference for the North Rim. First, the number of visitors is a small percentage of those at the South Rim creating a less hectic environment. The elevation on the north is more than 1000 feet higher than on the south and temperatures are generally more moderate.

 

Grand Canyon Lodge sits right on the rim, east and west terraces are ideal locations for photography, rest after a hike or just putting your feet up and watching the changing light.

 

Because our trip was planned at the last minute lodging in the park was not available , we made a day trip from Kanab, Utah – 80 miles one-way. In addition to gawking and taking lots of photos we walked out to Bright Angel Point, and made the 23-mile drive and 1-mile walk out to Cape Royal with a side trip to Imperial Point. After a light deli takeout dinner enjoyed on the terrace it was time to head back to Kanab. Check!

 

Note to self: Next time plan ahead and book two nights in one of the rim-side cabins to fully appreciate a North Rim experience.

Travel Rant

 

I’ve come to the end of another travel day and I can’t help it – I want to rant. Some days the people who cross your path are just too in la-la land I can’t imagine how they got this far.

 

#1 – My morning encounter was a lady in the breakfast room of the Wingate hotel in St. George. I spit a bagel and placed it in one of the toasters, the kind that you put on a wire rack on top and the toasted item comes out on the bottom . So my bagel is about to drop to the finished rack and  woman reaches in and takes the bagel. When I confront her I ask if she had sliced it and put it in the toaster. Her reply, “I thought it was automatic.” I guess she thinks everything is about her and when she enters the room it’s time for the toaster to get to work.

 

#2 – Memorial Day in Zion Canyon sees a steady stream of visitors and hikers in all the popular areas. A foot bridge crosses the Virgin River is wide enough to pass someone – unless, people decide to walk right down the center. We wait patiently while a steady stream comes towards us, sometimes in pairs, some stopping to take pictures,  until it is obvious we’ll have to be pushy to gain access in the opposite direction.

 

#3 – Driving towards Zion’s east entrance the road climbs with many switchback curves. On one curve there is a paved pull off on the inside of the curve. A car with a California license plate has stopped to take a photograph – not in the pull off but head on to  oncoming traffic. What are they thinking? Are they thinking?

 

#4 – As we’re checking into the Kanab Holiday Inn Express a couple is loading the only available luggage cart. Assuming (silly us) they will return it as soon as they unload we relax in the lobby with a warm fresh baked cookie. We finally decide to go ahead unload without a cart. We later meet them in the hall as they return the cart on their way to dinner – at their convenience. You can bet I had words for them.

 

Rarely does one day bring so many rude, thoughtless people. Thank heavens.

Kolob Canyon

Zion National Park

 

Motorist speeding down I-15 in southern Utah have no hint what’s in store if they take Exit 40. The spectacular Kolob Canyon in the northwest section of Zion National Park lies just minutes from the busy Interstate. After checking in at the Visitor Center (fee required) motorist follow a five-mile scenic drive ascending over 1000 feet in elevation to Timber Creek Overlook. Hikers find numerous trailheads for adventures into the narrow valleys of finger canyons.

 

 

Rounding a curve within the first mile the view of massive red Navajo Sandstone cliffs is simply a hint of things to come.

 

 

Frequent turnouts, many with interpretive signs, provide a place to ponder nature’s wonders or photograph the stunning scenery. Although the return is on the same road views appear different coming from the other direction.

 

 

Horse Ranch Mountain, the park’s highest peak, is found in this section of the park. Depending on the source Kolob Arch is either the longest or second longest freestanding arch in the world. Kolob Arch can be reached from the trailhead at Lee’s Pass (about 2/3 of the way up the scenic road). The hike is 7 miles, one-way, following LaVerkin Creek into the Kolob Wilderness.

 

 

 

Kolob comes from Mormon scripture meaning “residence closest to heaven”. Who would have guessed it was so close to I-15′s Exit 40?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is this an indictment on the trail ride?

A “sign” seen near the remote northwest portion of Zion National Park.

Rain, Snow, Wind

Happy Memorial Day Weekend

Guess what’s in that cloud! Yes, the date is May 26 but at Cedar Breaks National Monument near Cedar City, Utah the clouds rolling in brought snow and wind. The car thermometer went as low as 26 degrees and a ranger said the wind was gusting up to 60 mph, averaging 30-40 mph. Even with four layers – shirt, hoodie, fleece, coat – fleece headband and gloves I could only tolerate being outside for a few minutes at a time. Can’t image what the chill temp was – COLD.

 

We started the day with a light rain at Bryce Canyon National Park, and wind. All of southern Utah seems to be on high wind alert. After the rainy beginning we were happy to see increasingly bluer skies as we headed through Red Canyon and the Dixie National Forest on our way to Cedar Breaks. The monument’s visitor center just opened for the season yesterday. One of the rangers said, “I’ve been here five years and it seems to be a law that we have snow on opening weekend.” A toasty fire in the Visitors Center provided a warm up before heading back to the car. While the weather limited our activities the views are enticement to return on a better weather day.

 

Grosvenor Arch

 

I wouldn’t say Grosvenor Arch was on my bucket list but it’s certainly been on my Utah To Do list for many years. Photos of the double arch are frequently seen in articles, videos and guidebooks and it’s had a certain appeal for me. One reason probably is because it is in the backcountry, not near a highway viewpoint.

 

 

The arch stands 19 miles south of Cannonville, Utah, down Cottonwood Creek Road. The road is paved the first nine miles to Kodachrome Basin State Park, from there it’s 10 miles of rock and dirt. I enquired about road conditions at the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument Visitor Center and was given very actuate details. In fair weather a high-clearance,  two-wheel drive car would have no trouble. There is some washboard but not the entire length. The road dips in one location that usually holds standing water, with a choice of two crossings I was advised to take the one to the right which is less steep. One mile before the arch a forest service sign marks a left turn. At the  parking area we find an information sign, pit toliet and paved walkway making it wheelchair accessible.

 

 

We were the only visitors all of the time we scrambled around taking photos from different angles. Grosvenor Arch was named after a former president of the National Geographic Society, Gilbert Grosvenor. It stands 152 feet tall with a 92-foot span. The remote setting adds to the drama, I was not disappointed and thought the 40 mile round-trip worth it. Check!

Too Pooped To Pump

So says a sign hung on an old gas pump in Cannonville, Utah. It expresses my sentiments exactly after spending hours walking and taking pictures in 40+ mph winds at Bryce Canyon National Park. I may be too pooped to pump but not for a night of cowboying, off to a Western dinner and music show.

 

 

Scenery All the Way

Torrey to Escalante

 

Utah’s route 12 makes a swooping arc through the south central portion of the state. The scenic highway crosses Bryce Canyon National Park, miles of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument and is anchored on near the northern terminus by Capital Reef National Park. The National Scenic Byways Program named State Route 12 Utah’s first All-American Road.

 

Today we traveled from the small town of Torrey, west of Capital Reef NP, to Escalante. Just 65 miles but an ever changing array of scenery and lots of opportunities for activities. After days of barren canyons the forested slopes of Boulder Mountain refresh as we climb the mountain’s eastern shoulder. Aspen leaves shimmer in their spring greenery.

 

Note to Self: This would be a stunning autumn drive when the massive aspen groves turn the mountain to gold.

 

We stopped at Anasazi State Park in Boulder for a peak at the Fremont and Ancestral Puebloan cultures that called this home from 700 to 1300 A.D. Excavated remains demonstrate their evolution from pit houses to stone walled structures.

 

Lunch at Boulder Mesa Restaurant was served by a friendly owner with discussion of recipes for the excellent pasta salad and refreshing cajun blueberry pie.

 

From Boulder we enter the Canyons of the Escalante portion of the 1.7 million acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Popular hikes follow Cave Creek into the canyons to the oasis of either Lower or Upper Cave Creek Falls.

 

 

 

To grasp the extensive options found in the national monument we make the GSENM Visitor Center in Escalante a last stop for the day before checking into the Escalante B&B and salad and pizza at Escalante Outfitters.

 

To Parts Unknown – Cathedral Valley

Capital Reef National Park

 

Today Bob wanted to go to Cathedral  Valley in the far north section of Capital Reef National Park. The park service suggests one of two dirt/sandy roads in from the east. One is listed as a high-center, 4-wheel drive and the other as high-center 2-wheel – for either road they suggest you plan on four hours each way. An eight hour trek? Is it worth it?

 

After consulting our multitude of maps it looks to us that we can go in from the west side with only about half the distance on dirt road. Utah 24 takes us from Torrey through irrigated had fields and ranges to Loa where we turn onto Utah 72. A Fishlake National Forest sign marks an easterly turn – Cathedral Valley 13 m. The first 6+ miles are paved, ascending into an aspen and pine forest. As much as we admire the canyon country forest green is a lovely respite.

 

A grassy glen dotted with bright dandelions and shaded by tall aspen at Riley Springs Trailhead looks like a perfect picnic spot. After days of feeling near heat stroke from record setting high temps the need for a light jacket is welcome. Even after the pavement ends the road isn’t especially rough until  we enter the west side of the Capital Reef National Park. Almost immediately there’s a couple of extremely rocky sections before the road starts a steep decent into the valley floor. Gearing down saves any brake issues. Although there are places where the road becomes too narrow to pass they are few and traffic is not an issue. We meet only two cars in ten miles.

 

Vast Cathedral Valley spreads below with sandstone monoliths standing tall and imperial bathed in sunlight. At some point along our journey across the valley we decide to take the 2-wheel, high clearance road out instead of retracing our route. Near Gypsum Sinkhole we pause to contemplate the black "filling" between layers of red up-thrush dikes, learning later the black is obsidian cutting through red sedimentary strata.

 

While the geography is constantly changing the road is a continual series of curves, lurchy sandy bottoms and small wash crossings. Stretches of washboard feels like we driving on corrugated steel – truly teeth rattling, nerve shattering. Even at low, low speeds the vibration is almost uncontrollable. The roadbed is a continuous kaleidoscope of colors – grey, green, vermillion, white, red, rust, smoke. Wind accompanies us for miles, stirring up as much dust in front as behind. The last of the 24 miles seem endless even though it’s taken less than two hours. Finally we intersect with the highway.

 

Are we glad we made the trip? Yes. Do we need to do it again? Not soon. Been there, done that, have the photos, memories and a car that desperately needs a car wash.

 

 

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