An almost-two month stay from January to March in Harlingen, Texas offered several opportunities for trips down to the Gulf of Mexico. The area lies at the southernmost tip of Texas. From our park, it was an hour drive. On our second trip in that direction, we headed to the nature preserve at Boca Chica Beach. You can’t go any further south in Texas, or the United States, on the Gulf than Boca Chica.
Rocket launch fans would know this area as the home of SpaceX. Indeed, as we headed down the road toward Boca Chica, we couldn’t miss seeing the rockets sitting in place. There are days that SpaceX closes the road for a launch or to move their rockets around. We didn’t know that we should have checked first to see if the road was open, so I guess we were lucky that we could pass through.
I took the picture on top from our truck as we were driving by.
Then, further down the road, another site:
The road ends at Boca Chica Beach. The beach itself is drivable. A right turn from the road’s end, and there you are. I was conflicted about SpaceX. On the one hand it is exciting and interesting to see. On the other hand, I didn’t like seeing it from an otherwise pristine beach that had been all natural until they arrived.
I turned my back to it and just enjoyed the beach. A great blue heron stood sentinel, as if to reassure me that all was still okay in his world.
There were long stretches of beach that were deserted except for the birds:
We talked to some park rangers who were congregated for a chat. They informed us that if we drove further down the beach we would see a lighthouse. Off we went, and thankfully left SpaceX in the distance behind us. It was about a mile or two down, and once we arrived, we found people again.
I must have missed something the rangers said (or they assumed we knew), because the lighthouse is in Mexico. And here is the mouth of the Rio Grande. It never ceases to amaze me how many times we cross paths with this river. The lighthouse is off in the distance, but you may be able to see it in this picture.
The Rio Grande makes its way west in the picture below. The river is very deep where it meets the ocean; the fishing must be good.
A pair of pelicans observed the action from the American side. The land right up to the river is still part of the Boca Chica Wildlife Refuge.
We had a picnic lunch on the beach before making our way out to further adventures. It had been a great beach morning at Boca Chica.
I was going to put all of our Boca Chica and South Padre adventures in one blog, but it would have proved to be very long. Our Boca Chica morning was part of a trip to South Padre Island. That will be for next time!
Our previous post, from Western Colorado, actually happened two months ago. What have we been doing since then? Getting ready for our 3 month trip to Europe!
Anyone who knows me well will not be surprised to hear of our plans. Thinking about it and saving for it kept me going through the last decade of work before retirement. In its original conception, the trip was going to be 9 months, plus Hawaii tacked on at the beginning. Why spend a lot of money flying back and forth over the ocean for a few weeks when you can see more in one trip for several months?
Then, grandchildren started arriving. COVID happened, and the purchase of our truck and 5th wheel. We had our trip to Hawaii earlier this year, so now it’s time for the other part of the plan. The trip duration has been reduced to only three months, but three months is still a blessing, and I’m glad we can go.
I started planning for the trip last fall. And then stopped for awhile. COVID variants arrived, waned, came back around again. Ukraine was invaded by Russia. Optimistically, I reserved AirBnbs and purchased plane tickets. Cal was worried about Covid resurgence. And it is resurging again. We have been vaccinated and boosted twice, and have our masks, but who knows? Neither of us could have foreseen the airport debacle that is going on right now in Europe and here in the States. But all plans are made, and we will hope for the best.
What about our truck and 5er? Our RV is going into storage on an air base. What could be more secure than that? We have a nephew in Albuquerque who is graciously letting us keep the truck in his driveway. I suspect he will be enjoying a few drives in it. When we return to the United States, we will be back to our RV’ing life the same as before.
Meanwhile, besides trip preparation, our time in Denver has been filled with the mundane stuff of everyday life. We have been happily enjoying the company of our grandchildren – and their mothers, of course!
Two days after we arrived, we had a late May snowstorm.
One place I enjoyed returning to this summer was Denver City Park. There were a couple of walks with friends. I wish I could have joined them more often. This is the kind of weather I prefer!
This year, for the first time, I had opportunity to be in the park twice in the evening for concerts by the Mile High Freedom Band:
In Ferril Lake, the fountain changes colors, and swan boats paddle around it.
As we rose north from Arizona and Utah so did the gas prices, and they peaked during our stay in Denver. We limited excursions to those around town. We were curious about a couple of brown signs we’ve seen on streets we travel often, so we followed those signs. The first was 8 miles out from our summer spot at Cherry Creek State Park to Aurora Reservoir. Despite the cool and overcast weather, people were out fishing and SUP’ing.
We discovered a great trail through the rolling prairie around the lake, and some blooms that looked a little like thistles.
Another brown sign we see on our way to City Park in Denver is for Four Mile Park. I was hoping for a hiking/biking trail until I did some research on it: it is a historical park.
Four Mile Historical Park is four miles from the heart of downtown Denver and was a last stop on the Cherokee Trail in the pioneer days. This house is the oldest house in Denver. A cabin was built to supply travelers, and then it became an inn and stage coach stop. Women slept in the parlor and the men upstairs, and the upstairs loft was also used for dances. It finally became a gentleman’s farm for a Denver lawyer and his family, and grew to 600 acres. Now there are only twelve acres and it is in the city with apartment buildings all around the outside.
Tim, the assistant site manager, walked us through the house. We could see its transformation over the years. The first room is the old cabin, then there is a walk through the parlor, and finally into the very genteel turn-of-the century home.
The interesting thing is that the dining room and kitchen are in the basement. It’s cool down there, perfect for hot days when the wood burning stove is always lit. The stove also warms the space in winter.
Outside, there are both replica and and original buildings, barns with animals, and a boardwalk for children to sweep when they are visiting.
One thing I like about Denver is that, even when just going about running errands, I can look up and see the mountains when driving westward.
Of course, the best thing of all is the time spent with our grandchildren. Merely gazing at that perfection of a truck is happiness in spades for our grandson.
As with our trip to Hawaii, I don’t know how often I will be blogging while in Europe. We do have some places that we will be settling in for over a week, so maybe I’ll be catching up then.
Do you follow Facebook? If so, Twosna Travels is there, and a search on the name will find me. I may be more likely to post random photos there.
First stop – Belfast, Ireland. Until then: goodbye, slán, tschüss, arrivederci, antio sas!
Imagine listening to the sounds here: nothing but the birds singing. The lake below is sparkling and blue. Through a gap in the foothills behind the lake you can see the beautiful green and snow-capped mountain peaks beyond. This splendid vision is called Rifle Gap State Park and it lies in western Colorado.
We had come from Moab, one of the best places in the United States for ATV’ing and off-roading in all of its many forms. Our large RV park was crowded and there was a gathering spot by the entrance for any off-road excursions. Any other park in town was full because of an off-roading event.
In true Utah form, our park was also “landscaped” with lots of rocks, gravel, dust and dirt. The park owners made an effort by watering our little patch of iris, but nothing could take away the road noise. It was handy for seeing the national parks, because we didn’t have to drive into Moab, but I was happy to see that our reserved site at Rifle Gap was open one night earlier.
There’s not a lot going on at Rifle Gap and that was fine with us. The water level in the small lake is low. There is boating, but mainly for fishing. Campground loops line the edges of lake like pearls on a necklace. Our loop rose up from the lake in a zig zag fashion, and our site was at the top of a hill. We decided that our site, and the one next to us, were the best and most private in the park.
Rifle Falls State Park is not far from Rifle Gap, and driving there, you pass through a pretty little mountain valley dotted with picturesque farms, a winding creek, and improbably, an old golf course. It is another small park, but we hear it is impossibly crowded on the weekends. No wonder, because it is a lovely spot to visit. We were glad we were there on a weekday.
I had not expected something so breathtakingly beautiful.
You can walk behind the falls—
—and along the cliff walls on either side of the waterfall, there are small caves you could wander in and out of. As you can imagine, I really enjoyed this part.
Up on top of the falls, there is a walkway.
Up here, there are “wooden diversion structures”. There was a hydroelectric plant here in the first half of the 1900’s, and these housed the pipes that carried water down to the powerhouse. Around the turn of the century, there was also a resort hotel near here, and the owner charged folks a quarter (about $5.00 today) to visit the falls. Now that it is a state park, we were able to visit without charge because we have an annual Colorado state parks pass.
Not far from Rifle Falls State Park is the Rifle Falls Fish Hatchery, which supplies trout not only for the creek here and in Rifle Gap State Park, but in many other lakes, streams, ponds, and reservoirs. In some remote areas, they drop the fish by helicopter or small airplane. What a shock for a fish!
We always enjoy walking around the ponds in a hatchery to look at fish in their various stages of development. This hatchery has capacity to produce five million fish per year, but is only producing less than half of that currently. Whirling disease is currently a problem with cold water fish, such as trout. The hatchery is only utilizing spring water (versus surface water) to reduce contamination, which lowers their capacity. I also learned that they stock fish for kid’s fishing derbies. That’s great! It gives the kids more of a chance to catch a fish.
There was actually one other state park in this area, Harvey Gap, but all it contained was a large boat launch area. The lake looked similar to Rifle Gap, although it didn’t seem as shallow.
This was a relaxing interlude between our Utah travels and our arrival in Denver for part of the summer. We were treated to more mountain views along the drive to Denver, and I’ll leave you for now with this view of the Rockies from Breckenridge.
How would you like to live in a house carved out of rock? Someone we had met somewhere on the road had told us that the Hole N’ The Rock house was one of his favorite things to do in Moab, Utah. That idea sounded interesting to me, so we decided to give it a visit.
If you’re one of my regular readers, you know that Twosna Travelers doesn’t usually visit places that are dubbed “Tourist Attractions”, otherwise known as “Tourist Traps”. As we arrived, everything screamed Tourist Attraction, especially the sign. I would not have stopped if we had just driven by without knowing what it was all about.
For $6.00, you get a 12 minute tour of the house. Yep, that’s right…12 minutes. And, pictures are not allowed inside. I purchased a little brochure of the house for $2.00 in order to have the inside pictures that I am posting here. There is also a petting zoo where you could feed the animals, a collection of Lyle Nichols metal art sculptures, mining equipment and other vintage items and memorabilia to look at outside, souvenir shops, and ice cream. To me, all of that was extraneous stuff. I wanted to see the house.
While we were waiting for the tour, though, I did stop to admire their collection of antique gas pumps and license plates:
So…the backstory. Albert Christiansen and his brother Leo were part of a family that settled the land that the house is on. An enterprising sort, they cleared a cave on the property for cowboys passing through the area on cattle drives to stay in. In 1940 Albert decided it might be a pretty nice house, so over a period of 12 years he hand drilled and blasted and moved 50,000 cubic feet of rock, finally readying it for he and his wife Gladys to move into in 1952. He died only five years later. For ten years, until his death, he and Leo also operated a diner in part of the house.
The first room on the tour is the kitchen. The 1950’s decor is interesting. There is also a deep fat fryer, not seen in this picture, set into a pot-sized hole in the rock.
The craftsmanship in the fireplace was amazing. The chimney is 65 feet tall, drilled down through solid sandstone from above, but Albert could not get it to vent properly. An outside patio on the rock ledge above the house was in the works at the time of his death, so perhaps he was hoping to finish this off then.
The house is 5,000 square feet and has fourteen rooms around large rock pillars.
Their bedroom can be seen behind the lamp above, and is also shown below.
Albert was also an artist and taxidermist, and his studio was farther back behind the bedroom. He greatly admired Theodore Roosevelt and sculpted a likeness of his face on the rock cliff outside the house, seen in my “Hole N The Rock” photo and in more detail below.
Gladys was no slouch, either. After Albert’s death, she continued developing the home according to what he had dreamed and wished for. She worked with Leo to construct a bathtub in the bathroom.
When Albert died, she moved her bedroom to a different room in the house. She collected dolls, and the ones in this picture were hers. All of the furnishings in the home are still original to what Gladys and Albert had.
Gladys and Albert had no children together, but she came into the marriage with a son, Hub Davis. When Albert passed, she was the one who had the big white sign painted on the cliff. She polished rocks and sold them in her gift shop, and and her collection of them is inside the house. She also gave tours of the house. Hub kept the enterprise going after her death in 1974, and then it was sold and passed out of the family. That is when all the other attractions, including the petting zoo, were added.
There are those people in life who use their creativity, talent and passion to do amazing things in their corner of the world. These people bless us with the fruits of their genius that they leave behind. Albert and Gladys were two such people and I’m glad I was able to see their home – even though I would have liked more than 12 minutes inside! They are buried out back in a little nook in the rock on their property.
We left after the tour and did not pay to see the zoo. The ice cream shop hadn’t yet opened for the day. For some reason, we were really hungry after our visit and had a huge Italian lunch at Pasta Jay’s in Moab. We followed up that decadence with – you guessed it – an ice cream cone!
Feeling like someone whose family vacation slides have gone on too long, I’m wrapping up our travels through Utah mostly in one blog. Suffice to say that we loved seeing all five of the Utah national parks, three state parks, national forests and one national monument that we visited. The rock formations were amazing, and all different. We tried not to pick favorites, because every park had a flavor all its own. The highlights:
GOBLIN VALLEY STATE PARK
Goblins, mushrooms, hobbit houses? In a place you can explore and not have to stay on a trail? Sign me up, please! Nature is at her playful best here.
As the name implies, these magical rock formations sit in a valley and the area where anyone is free to explore (after paying the $20.00 park pass) covers about 3 square miles. There are other trails in this park but we found that by the time we were done wandering about, it was time for our picnic lunch in a shelter overlooking the valley. There is something about Goblins that makes you feel like you are twelve years old again.
The area that is now Goblin Valley was once a muddy tidal flat on an inland sea, back in the Jurassic period. Waves deposited sand and silt. Erosion, wind and rain over millennia hardened the shapes into Entrada sandstone, as we have seen in other parks, and the goblins. They are ever-changing.
Further back in the valley, the cliffs were full of small caves and little nooks and crannies.
Impossibly, wildflowers grow here, too:
Canyonlands National Park
Our last stay was in Moab, where we visited these final parks. Canyonlands didn’t take much time. Our usual drive-through, stopping at places of interest and doing minimal walking to them, took only a couple of hours. It looked like a miniature Grand Canyon. In the heart of the Colorado Plateau, the Green and Colorado rivers carved the canyons.
There are four districts to Canyonlands, and although they all have desert landscape, they are all different from each other. The rivers divide the districts and there are no roads that connect them. We visited the Island in the Sky District, which is closest to Moab.
It seemed like every park we had been to had their trophy arch or natural bridge, and Canyonlands was no exception:
The picture below is of Upheaval Dome, which is a scientific mystery. It is a circular depression about two miles wide. Was it a violent meteor impact that cracked the rock and formed the crater, or was it the effect of time, cracking and splitting the rock that was originally a salt dome? I love a good mystery, and I hope they can find something conclusive. Right now they are leaning toward the meteor theory. When I peered down into the crater, I decided that there a lot of interesting things going on here, geologically.
Dead Horse State Park
Dead Horse completes time spent at Canyonlands. They are right next door to each other, and complement each other well. At Dead Horse, you pay the $20 park fee for a view, but it’s a pretty awesome view:
The Colorado has done its work here, and given us a view much like Horseshoe Bend in Arizona. Here, there is a grand view of the canyon to go with it.
The East Rim Trail was a pleasant stroll for looking down into the canyon.
When scrolling through my phone, I found a list of the “Top Things to See in Moab”. Included in this list were the Solar Evaporation Ponds at Intrepid Potash mine. The ponds can be viewed in or out of Deadhorse. Salts are part of the rock formations, and water is pumped into the mine to dissolve the salt. The salt water is then pumped sent into the ponds for evaporation, and a blue dye is added to speed the process. At certain times of the year, the blue shows up more brilliantly. From Dead Horse you can just barely see the ponds, and I zoomed in as far as I could to catch this picture.
As I was gazing out, trying to decide what I thought about the ponds, a woman standing next to me commented: “Spoils the view, doesn’t it?” I guess it all depends on what you have come to see. I would tend to agree with her though. What is the salt in the end of the process used for? Fertilizer.
Arches National Park
Arches didn’t make the top 10 of most visited parks for 2021, but the numbers are growing. It was the only Utah park for which we had to make reservations to get in. I chose the 6 to 7 AM timeframe. The park is actually open 24 hours a day, and before 6 AM you don’t need a reservation. We were glad that we came as early as we did.
There are some interesting rock formations here. This one was in the Courthouse Towers area, and looked to me like a small group of people on the lookout:
There is Balanced Rock, made more famous by Edward Abbey in his book “Desert Solitaire”:
But the star of the show, to me, was the Arches. We spent a lot of time at the Windows section where we could see Double Arch, North and South Window Arches, and Turret Arch. Cal enjoyed the trails going up to these arches, and I enjoyed doing my best to climb right up under them. Our time in the Windows was actually timeless. We were out of the truck and walking, had no thought to what we were going to do next, and were awed by the Arches, the sun coming up, and the beauty of the day. Best of all, and especially at first, we were just a teeny bit ahead of the crowd.
Everyone politely waits for their turn at getting a photo snapped of themselves under the Arch. There are always willing folks to take our picture, because of course we will then take theirs. We stayed at South Window for a bit, absorbing the view, and we were actually photographed several times.
All you had to do from the Windows Arches was to turn around, and there was Turret Arch.
We had criss-crossed paths a couple of times with three Hispanic folks from Florida, originally Colombia. I practiced my Spanish, even though two of them spoke pretty good English. One of them was having too much fun with her camera, and took several pictures of us as well. This one was her idea:
We coincidentally ran into these folks again at another trail in Arches, and then again the next day at Dead Horse, although the woman didn’t offer to snap any more pictures of us. Maybe her excitement had worn off by then.
My favorite here was Double Arch, which is what we were looking at at the time. I tried to get underneath it, but the rock in the final ascent was just too tricky. Double Arch is massive and absolutely breathtaking, and the view changes with every step closer that you take.
The bonus to getting up early to visit Arches in May, if you like flowers, is being able to see the evening primrose still in bloom. When the sun starts to burn brightly, the flowers close and the blooms are pink.
We also visited Sand Dunes Arch. It was a short walk, and half the fun was trying to get anywhere in the soft sand:
The last arch for the day: Landscape Arch, which looks like an elephant with its trunk stretched out.
A bit of trivia: so far, over 2,000 arches have been counted in Arches National Park.
On our very last day in the Moab area, we used our second early-morning Arches reservation to visit Delicate Arch, the iconic Utah arch that you see in the top photo. The trail is about 1.5 miles one-way to the arch, and ascends almost from the beginning. It was probably about 6:15 AM when we arrived, and we passed plenty of people who were already returning from their ascent.
We passed Wolfe Ranch, a remote settlement that was farmed for about a decade during the turn of the century:
Just past the Wolfe Ranch was Ute rock art, dating from between 1650-1850. John Wolfe may have enjoyed showing this to any visitors that came by:
Part of our hike was on slickrock. Cal is shown here descending the rock, after we had visited the arch:
Finally, a very narrow path to the top with no fence to keep you from tumbling off the cliff! Again, this view is actually taken from the descent perspective.
A turn in our narrow pathway, and the stunning Delicate Arch came into view:
Perfection! An absolutely grand finish to our journey through Utah!
Finally, I have to give a shout out to these fine books, which I purchased from Barnes and Noble just before we hit the road:
They don’t include information that changes often, like hours of operation, shuttle times or advance reservation requirements, so the books should be relevant for a long time. The National Parks book was invaluable for guiding us through the parks and telling us which stops were worthwhile and which not, some hikes that were good, and other things to do. We used it exclusively to guide us on our drive through a couple of the Utah parks. It has information in it that the parks brochures do not. The State Parks book only has a few of the best parks in each state. Dead Horse and Goblin, as well as Kodachrome which I blogged earlier, are in here. I have not used the Secrets book much. It seems like some of that information requires drives on rugged roads or hikes that are a bit longer than we usually take.
The first time I heard of Fruita was when I was looking for sites for our RV. Capitol Reef’s little historic village has a campground, and you can see a little corner of it next to the horse pasture. There are orchards with 2,000 apple, peach, pear, apricot, cherrry and plum trees all over Fruita, and in the summer, anyone is free to pick the fruit. Now that sounds like fun!
Of course, it wasn’t summer yet and the trees didn’t even begin to have fruit on them. The campground doesn’t have any hookups. We drove through it. The sites were wide but right next to each other, and seemed a little more crowded even than ours at Wonderland. I liked that the campground was in the trees, with one of the orchards right next door. It would be fun to stay for a couple of days in the summer and just go over and pick the fruit.
The Mormons settled Fruita in the 1880’s. The fields were already there, abandoned by the Fremont Indians 700 years ago. The Mormons built irrigation systems to bring water from the Fremont River and Sulphur Creek, and they’re still used today to water the pastures and orchards. In its heyday, in the early 1900’s, there were as many as 10 families here. The town still had residents as recently as the 1960’s, but by then most of the Mormons had moved on.
The Gifford house, which you can see behind the horse above, is the last one remaining in Fruita. The Gifford farm lies in the heart of the Fruita valley, a desert oasis described by Wallace Stegner (a Western novelist) as “…a sudden, intensely green little valley among the cliffs of the Waterpocket Fold, opulent with cherries, peaches, and apples in season, inhabited by a few families who were about equally good Mormons and good frontiersmen and good farmers.” The home was originally built in 1908 by Calvin Pendleton, a polygamist with two wives. The Gifford family purchased the home in 1928 and lived and farmed there as recently as 1969.
Today the Gifford House has a bakery and small gift shop with locally produced items, and only one small room has a tiny museum about the family who lived there. These are the things I like to look at from families long gone: the mundane stuff of daily life, and the family photos.
In the shop, there are cinnamon rolls every morning, which were gone by the time we were there, close to noon. They also sell fresh pies, which are conveniently sized for 2 or 3 people to feast on. We were able to purchase a couple of those, one of which we devoured with our picnic lunch. We also loaded up on specialty food items, which are great for gifts and to have in our pantry: jars of cherry salsa, jam, soup, and pancake syrup.
Capitol Reef’s visitor center lies at the entrance to Fruita. There is also a blacksmith shop that can be seen. We made a stop at the village schoolhouse, which sits on Route 24. A typical class would have been around 8 to 26 students, and the classes grew smaller as the years went on. The children were needed for the farm, so school was in session only from November to April.
A small orchard sits next to the schoolhouse.
Not in Fruita, but on the far eastern side of Capitol Reef as you enter the park, lies the Behunin Cabin. In my previous post, I noted how Elijah Behunin had led a team of men to clear the boulders in Capitol Gorge. Same busy guy. He tried to start a farm next to the Fremont River, and built this cabin for his family in the early 1800’s…with no less than 11 of his 13 children. It was only big enough for he, his wife, Tabitha Jane, and the two youngest to sleep in. The boys slept in an alcove in the rocks above the cabin, and the girls slept in the wagon bed. What did they do when it got really cold? I’d like to know what Tabitha thought about this cabin.
Unfortunately, the close proximity to the river caused the crops to flood. After only a year, the family moved to Fruita and became one of the first settlers to live there. I hope he built Tabitha a bigger house.
There is certainly more to Capitol Reef than I had originally thought, and what Fruita had to offer made for an interesting – and delicious! – diversion from the gorgeous scenery all around.
Route 24 crosses Capitol Reef from east to west and covers the heart of the park in only 20 miles or so. This is what travelers see if they are just passing through. The park is long and narrow, so most of the rest is back country. We talked to some people who didn’t even stop in the park because they were on their way to other places, and vacation days are short. Here’s a little secret, if you’re still paying at the gate to get into a National Park: there is no gate at this one. At the visitor’s center, they don’t even care if you pay.
How did Capitol Reef get its name? It all started with a wrinkle in the Earth…sounds like the stuff of science fiction, doesn’t it? The land that is now called Capitol Reef changed over the millennia from oceans to desert and swamps to riverbeds, laying down a thick layer of sedimentary rock. Around 50 to 70 million years ago, an ancient fault lifted the rock and rather than cracking, the rock layers folded over the fault. As with all the rock we have seen, erosion sculpted these rock layers with the forces of rain, flash flooding, and freeze-thaw cycles, to create the one-sided Waterpocket Fold.
Coming from the East, as early explorers and settlers did, the line of cliffs of the Fold looks like a difficult barrier to pass through, like a barrier reef in an ocean. It stretches north to south for a hundred miles. The pioneers thought the rock monolith in my picture below looked like the dome at the nation’s capitol building. The name “Capitol Reef” was born.
There’s a dichotomy to writing about this park, because not only is there the natural beauty of the Waterpocket Fold, but there is also the history of the people who settled here – the Mormons – who called their village Fruta. Before them were the ancestors of modern day Zuni, Hopi, and Paiute tribes. In this blog I will write about our exploration of the park, and then will cover Fruita in the next.
Passing through Fruita and only stopping at the Visitor’s Center at the beginning, we drove the 16-mile round-trip Scenic Drive. On our left was the face of the Fold; on our right was desert scrub. The picture at the top of the blog shows the abrupt change in the landscape.
The Scenic Drive was once a wagonway called the “Blue Dugway” and was used by natives and outlaws alike. Later it became a pioneer throughway.
At the end of the scenic road was fun time for Cal: a two mile spur road that was once the main road through the reef before 1962, when Route 24 was completed. It passes through Capitol Gorge, and is all dirt and gravel.
The towering walls of the gorge pressed in closely through here. My active imagination saw Indians at the top of the cliffs lying in wait for us, like an old Western movie.
On the signboard at the end of the road through the gorge was this picture of cars making their way through, back in the day:
Before cars were in existence, way back in 1883, a man named Elijah C. Behunin led a group of men to clear boulders for this passageway so that wagons could come through. It took them eight days. Remember his name, you’ll see it again in my next blog!
Finally, even this road petered out, and so we hiked the Canyon Gorge trail a mile further in. We saw pioneer registers carved into the cliffs here. There are Indian petroglyphs, too, but we didn’t see them.
It is easy to see the effect that water has on the rocks; this gorge is prone to flash flooding.
After some debate, we veered off to explore the Tanks trail. But we couldn’t find the tanks, which are pockets of fresh water, because the trail wasn’t marked well. From there, though, there was a nice view of the Gorge.
Back to Route 24, on another day, we explored some turn-offs that looked interesting. One of them was Hickman Bridge, which is a 133-foot natural bridge.
Hiking to Hickman Bridge, we passed this set of two miniature natural bridges.
And, let’s throw in a couple of hoodoos, just for fun:
The hoodoos were located near the Fruita Historic District.
Mother Nature did a fine job of sculpting this park, and there were so many things we didn’t see: Chimney Rock and the Goosenecks Trail, a drive down the Grand Wash Road with a view of Cassidy Arch, and a short trail from a Route 24 turnoff to see some petroglyphs. I don’t know if we’ll ever return, but the pies at the Gifford House would be enough to lure us back! I’ll explain about that…next time!
Next time – Fruita Historical Village in Capitol Reef NP
The road reaches every place; the shortcut, only one.
“Should we do it or not?”
That was the question of the week while we were staying in the Bryce area. Route 12 was the most direct way to our next location in Torrey, Utah. It is has been designated as an “All American Road” as one of the most beautiful scenic drives in the United States. It is 124 miles long. It is also a narrow two lane road with many curves, hairpin turns, and steep grades – a challenge when pulling a 5th wheel. I combed our RVin’g Facebook groups for other travelers’ input. One RVer’s advice: “just stay between the lines and you’ll be fine.” Well…okay! But in reality, I left this decision up to Cal, since he’s the driver, and he decided he could give it a go.
The western side of Route 12 starts at Panguitch and proceeds through the tunnels at Red Canyon that I blogged about earlier. It passes the turnoff to Bryce NP, and then the road to Kodachrome SP. All of that just in the first 25 miles! Heading east past Kodachrome, we were on new territory.
With Sam in tow behind Frodo, we don’t usually make stops on travel day. We were told, however, that Kiva Coffeehouse is a great stop for blackberry muffins. They have a large circular lot for RV’s, so we gave it a try. The rumors were true. The muffins were great, and so was the view.
At Yonder Escalante, you could stay in a little cabin, in one of ten Airstream trailers, or park your own RV, all in the middle of a gorgeous landscape. We passed this cute resort on the grounds of an old drive-in theatre and thought it might be a fun place for an overnight or two, while taking in some of the sights that we missed on Route 12. There was Escalante Petrified State Park, Escalante Canyons, and the highly rated Anasazi Park Museum, not to mention some beautiful overlooks. In the Dixie National Forest, there is an overlook at the road’s summit of 9,000 feet, with contrasting stands of fir and aspen.
Route 12 ends in Torrey and right there at the end, where it intersects with Route 24, was our RV park for the next few days.
I booked Wonderland RV reluctantly. It was the best park with hookups in this area that we could find, and was recommended to us. The national park and a state park not too far away only had basic sites, no hookups. There is a lot of free national land (BLM) that one could park on. I wish we could do this, but for a stay of more than 2 or 3 nights it just doesn’t work. So Cal and I conferred, and found a site that was not right on the busy road or already occupied. But when we arrived, at first, I was so disappointed. It was a very narrow site! I always wish the people who build RV parks could just give us a little more space.
Wonderland is a fairly new park. It’s situated on the back end of a family ranch and is owned by the same family. The small park was thoughtfully designed, albeit with the narrow sites, and it filled up every night. We saw them spending time on maintenance and making sure the grass was watered in between our sites and around the park, which was something we appreciated in this land of rock and dirt. We thought this was probably a gold mine for them; what a way to use the “back forty” of the ranch land!
The view out our bedroom window is what saved the stay. There were horses, cattle, and a bison in the field. If we had parked just three or four sites down, we would have had a scenic view of the shower house. We mostly had full sightseeing days while we were here so we weren’t at home too much.
Appropriately, on Mother’s Day one of the cows gave birth through the night. Two other cows had already had their calves. They, the bison, and the mother huddled around the new baby anxiously, but it hadn’t yet stood up. Both the bison and the mother licked the calf continuously until the mother got fed up and shooed the bison away. We, and many other park residents, watched and chatted at the fence, but I eventually went on to do other things. We were at home on this day, and Cal reported that the calf finally stood up around noon. He spoke with the owner later, and found out that all of the cows plus the bison had been impregnated by the same bull. The bison still had a couple of weeks to go before her birth.
We also had evening visitors at our site.
Wonderland had some creative places to stay. How would you like to spend the night in this little wagon?
Bryce! There are not enough adjectives to describe this park. It’s truly amazing. If by chance you are planning a trip to Utah and don’t know which national parks to visit, Bryce should not be the one that gets cut from the list, in my humble opinion.
Our visit to Cedar Breaks was shorter than we had anticipated because of the cold. The weather had warmed up when we arrived home and a beautiful afternoon was before us, so we hopped on the park shuttle for our first visit to Bryce. Stopping at the visitor center, a park ranger told us that for some great views, Bryce Point was the place to start. We followed her instructions and got off the shuttle there, walking the rim trail down to Inspiration Point before getting back on the shuttle. The first glimpses were astounding.
This formation of hoodoos looked just like a castle fortress.
Where our home was sitting for these few days, we joined in a happy hour with our neighbors, and they outlined the perfect Bryce hike that they had been on. Start at Sunset Point, go down the Wall Street portion of the Navajo Loop, into the Queen’s garden trail, back at Sunrise Point, and hike on the rim back to Sunset.
Temperatures were in the 30’s on the morning of our planned Bryce hike day. I procrastinated, wishing desperately that it were warmer. Cal was running circles around me getting ready for our day. If we set a depart time, he doesn’t waver from it. I layered up, we hit the trail, and I was glad we stuck to the plan. This was the sight that greeted us when we set out:
Our neighbors thought it would be better to hike down to Wall Street rather than going up at the end, as they had. It is switch-back after switch-back from the canyon rim all the way down to the bottom:
The next two pictures are inside Wall Street:
Looking for information about one national park or another, I came across a blogger (I don’t know who, so if it was you, please let me know and I’ll give credit!) who stated:
“In the Grand Canyon you are looking down at the rocks,
In Zion you are looking up at the rocks,
In Bryce you are in the rocks.”
So true, but in Bryce, only if you take a hike!
After awhile I finally warmed up and we found a log off the path to sit and strip layers down. Cal was zipping off the bottom portion of his pants when a couple came along and asked, “Would you like us to take your picture?” I looked around, not thinking it was a particularly photogenic spot, but said “Sure!” And we liked the one they took. They even graciously took it from Cal’s knees up, so you can’t see that he still has one pant leg only partially off.
The couple was from Arkansas and later we met another from Switzerland. We crossed paths frequently with both couples and found many things in common as we hiked. Finding people to walk with always makes a hike more fun.
Queen’s Garden has a lot of hoodoos, but this one has been famous for decades because it resembles a statue of Queen Victoria in London. The sun was in the wrong place for a photo, but it is below, and I think it looks like she is sitting backwards on a resting camel.
The hoodoos on the rest of the hike were simply stunning. All one has to do is turn a bit, or take another step, and there is a totally different view.
As the morning went on, the crowds picked up. Climbing back up to the rim, we decided our neighbors’ advice was very, very good.
The National Park Service calls this park “poetry in stone”. Some excerpts from the brochure: “Stand at the rim in early morning and experience the chilly dawn, crystalline blue sky, and rocks ablaze with the ruddy light of sunrise.. the sun arcing across the sky casts a kaleidocope of slowly altered hues and shifting shadows over the land… At Bryce Canyon the forces of weathering and erosion never rest, not even for a day.”
Bryce is a collection of giant natural amphitheaters. It contains the largest number of hoodoos in the world. Because of its remote location, it doesn’t receive as many visitors as Zion or Grand Canyon. It didn’t seem remote to me, but then, it was pretty much on our route going east.
The shuttle at Bryce goes as far as Bryce Point. Like Zion, it doesn’t require reservations. Unlike Zion, the road continues past the last stop for another 17 miles. We drove out to the end, which is at Rainbow Point. On the way, we passed miles of devastation from a recent fire. I’ve seen this before in the West, and it always leaves me feeling sad. It takes decades for a forest to recover from a fire.
On the way to Rainbow Point, the cars thinned out and so did the air. The elevation here is 9,100 feet. It wasn’t as high as Cedar Breaks, so we weren’t in as much snow, but high enough to feel as if we were on top of the world. The air was quiet and all we could hear was the cries of a hawk circling above us. It was so good to just stand there, look out, and contemplate the view, which was well worth the drive.
On the way back, a sign pointed to a view point for Natural Bridge, and we were glad we made this stop:
Underneath the bridge, could it be…Yoda?
“Did you see Bryce?” If the answer is “Yes!”, everyone just smiles. The park and all its wonders was unforgettable, and I continue to love the surprises, and the natural beauty, of our national parks.
Cedar Breaks is a natural amphitheater which looks a bit like the Grand Canyon with some hoodoos thrown in. It sits at 10,000 feet above sea level, a fact we may not have thought enough about when planning to visit. It was early May and the road to Cedar Breaks had only recently been open for the summer. It is covered in snow and impassable through the winter. We chose the coldest day of our Bryce area stay for a visit to this park, reasoning that if it was too cold we’d just enjoy the drive in the truck. It was 55 miles from where we were staying.
As we climbed, the temperature dipped down into the upper 20’s. We stopped at the first viewpoint, and the cold hit us with a frigid blast as we stepped out of the truck. Brrrr! There was ice on the walkway to the overlook.
Aside from a family with a snowsuit-clad toddler, there was no one out here but us. Unless, of course, you count this little marmot, who looked as cold as we were.
It seemed we were visiting in a period between ski season and hiking season.
We looked for the visitor center and finally decided it was a boarded-up log building. The signs hadn’t even been put up for the summer! The views from the overlooks were outstanding, though, and that made the drive up here worthwhile.
Outside the park, I saw piles of volcanic rock as we drove by, which reminded me of Big Island of Hawaii. It looked like the volcano had just happened.
We had packed a picnic lunch but it was too cold outside for a picnic. We lunched in the truck with a fine view of Lake Panguitch.
Kodachrome Basin State Park
I had Paul Simon songs running through my head while we were in this area. It started with the hoodoos. “Now who do… Whoooooo do you think you’re fooling?” (She loves me like a rock!) When Cal and I would start talking about Kodachrome Basin State Park, I would be singing “Kodachrome, they give us those nice bright colors” in my head for days.
I tried to secure a spot for our RV in this park, so we were talking about it early on. There aren’t very many sites here that have the full hookups that we need, though, and of course they were already gone when I tried to reserve a spot the very first day that I could. This park wasn’t far from where we ended up staying. We took a hike on the Angel’s Palace Trail, and on the Nature Trail across the road from that.
The sandstone chimneys in this park change in color with the day’s light and shadow. Together with the blues in the sky and the green of the trees, the color and contrast led the National Geographic Society to name this park Kodachrome in 1949. Of course, they secured permission from Kodak Film first. I would venture to say that as time goes on, no one will know what Kodachrome is unless they Google it first.
Cal is posing in this photo to show you how tall this “sedimentary pipe” is. The geology of the Utah rock layers is pretty fascinating stuff to me. There was an inland sea here 180 million years ago which deposited solid layers of white gypsum. Layered on top of it is the Entrada Formation, fine grained sandstone laid down during the Jurassic Period of time. The formation Cal is standing next to, as with so many that we saw throughout Utah and this park, is Entrada Formation Rock. This era in time is also responsible for the formation of “slickrock”, seen in the lower right corner of the middle picture above.
I chose the trail because it was not too long (1.5 miles one way), and had little side trails for observation and exploration. A small downside was that, because of the side trails, we kept losing the main trail. The signage was not great. Add to that the wind, and I mean knock-your-socks-off, sudden-gusty kind of wind. Cal led the way on this precarious overlook. You can see the trail jutting out from the right. He had just started venturing out when the wind almost knocked off his hat and he grabbed it just in time. I’m an adventurous sort, but I really didn’t want to get blown off that trail when there was no where to go but down. A long way down.
Exploring little caves and nooks farther down in the canyon is more my style.
As we traveled through Utah, we came across expansive green valleys with pretty rivers flowing in and and out. This is the country the Mormons settled long ago. It was easy to picture them coming through in their wagon trains, settling the fertile valleys with cattle ranches, farms and orchards. Descendants of those first families still live here. Sometimes I would find traces of those pioneers, as in the description of this plant:
It is called “Mormon Tea”. The leaves and stems were used by native Americans and Mormons as a medicinal brew for all sorts of ailments, and also a substitute for coffee and tea.
We often saw old cabins here and there, and I would always wonder about the people who had built them and the families that may have lived there. This one was on the road just outside of Kodachrome.
Due to the wind, we ate yet another picnic lunch in the truck, but we had this gorgeous view to go with our tuna salad and crackers:
Getting to Grosvenor Arch involves driving 10 miles down red-dirt Cotton Canyon Road. We debated doing this as we were munching our lunch, because the road begins directly to the right of the Kodachrome sign up above. Cal decided to go for it. The road turned out to be not nearly as bad as some other dirt (rock) roads we have been on, and was very scenic. Then up a hill, and around a bend, and the arch was a very welcome sight to see.
Grosvenor is actually a double arch. You can see the smaller one to the left of the larger one. Both sit 150 feet up off the ground.
It’s hard to figure how many days to stay in one area. We allowed five nights for this corner of Utah, and were glad that we did.
“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.“
Rachel Carson, conservationist and marine biologist