Hello again dear friends and family! We are currently in Durango, CO–but more about that later! I am still in catch-up mode and I am determined to get you out of Utah in this post! So here goes!
UTAH ROCKS! I saw that on a t-shirt in a souvenir shop somewhere in Utah and does that ring a bell! Rocks everywhere–if you can call huge, monumental, every color-of-the-rainbow, extreme shapes/formations/pinnacles/canyons/hoodoos (yes–hoodoos!), and just far-out landscapes a name as mundane as ROCKS! But you will understand when you see some of my pictures.
Dixie National Forest. After touring Zion National Park with Lisa and her family, I thought I had seen enough varieties of rocks to astonish anyone! But on July 24, we left Zion and headed down the road to Bryce Canyon National Park with a short stop in the Dixie National Forest. Now when I saw a sign that said “Dixie” you (of course) know what I thought–nice pine trees, red clay and GRITS! Georgia girl that I am, I was in for a surprise. Yes, they had lots of red–but it was not the red clay of Georgia. It was red fantastical formations, including huge boulders tottering atop pinnacles; red arches stretching across the road (that we had to ponder awhile and try to remember exactly how many inches our ACs added to the RV height before we tried driving our RV underneath–I think we had 3 inches to spare!); and red cliffs, canyons, and faces (the hikers who spent too much time exploring those cliffs and canyons). So red was definitely the color of the day.
But although I asked in every restaurant we walked into for miles around, there were no grits! I cannot begin to figure out how anyone gets away with calling themselves “Dixie” and they have no grits! I found out later that the forest was called Dixie by early settlers from the southern states who were sent to the desert to grow cotton and silk. That project must have not been too successful since I didn’t see any cotton fields or silk worms anywhere. Probably because they had no grits!
Since our first introduction to Dixie National Forest was the Red Canyon on Highway 12, we at first thought that Dixie (as the natives call the national forest) was going to be red desert rocks forever and ever–since we also discovered that Dixie covers two million acres and is 170 miles long. In actuality, Dixie begins with the Red Canyon’s arid desertscapes of sandstone hoodoos (pictures to follow) to a lush high altitude forest on Cedar Mountain.
And to think we didn’t even know Dixie National Forest even existed until we cut through there on our way to Bryce Canyon National Park! Sometimes it’s the surprises that are the most memorable. Not to mention the very nice folks who staffed the very nice Visitor Center as you enter the Red Canyon. They definitely had the real Southern hospitality charm right there in Southern Utah! And I loved the red Smokey the Bear cancellation stamps I was able to stamp into my National Parks Passport book. I have stamped my Passport Book with the stamp from every national park, forest, monument, seashore, etc. we have visited and this had to be the cutest one. Remind me to show it to you!
Bryce Canyon National Park. We finally passed “Go!” (we drove under the arches of Red Canyon in one piece!) and found our way into Bryce Canyon City. At first we thought we had entered a place called Ruby because everything in the little town of Bryce Canyon City was called Ruby Something–Ruby Inn, Ruby’s RV Park, Ruby’s Restaurant, Ruby’s Gas Station, Ruby’s Rodeo–it goes on and on. But everything was nicely done and only a half mile to Bryce Canyon Park–you can’t get too much more convenient than that! And it was Pioneer weekend so lots of fireworks and celebrating.
A part of the celebration was a Geology Tour of Bryce Canyon National Park the next day. We signed up and were treated to several hours of a highlights tour of the park accompanied by a very knowledgeable Park Ranger, with an emphasis on how the very special (understatement) rock formations occurred. Essentially, this is a land of hoodoos (no–I didn’t say voodoo–no witches involved), which were formed by water and erosion, creating a very unique rock formation. Hoodoos don’t grow like trees but are eroded out of the cliffs where rows of narrow walls form. These thin walls of rock are called fins. Frost wedges into enlarged cracks in the fins creating holes or windows. As windows grow, their tops eventually collapse, leaving a column of sandstone. Rain then does its work, further dissolving the sculptures into bulbous spires called hoodoos. Rain and snow continually develop new hoodoos while collapsing others into lumps of clay. Now imagine this process multiplied hundreds and thousands of times and situated in valleys and canyons as far as the eye can see. Add the fact that the area was once a vast lake (millions of years ago) and rivers deposited a variety of sediment into the lake which can be seen in the sedimentary layers throughout the area. As the Ranger said, “That’s like having a huge history book to read the Earth’s history–one layer at a time.” That’s Bryce Canyon! Needless to say, this is a hot spot for archeologists, anthropologists, geologists, etc.
We really lucked out with getting on the geology tour since it was interesting to hear how all the hoodoos came to be as well as the millions of years Mother Nature diligently worked to make Bryce Canyon what it is today. We could actually envision the process of how this special place evolved by standing at the rim of this giant canyon and having the different features pointed out to us by the Ranger. I wish I had visited here when I took geology in college–I could have earned a few brownie points!
We drove back up into the park to see some of the views we missed on the Geology tour–with only 18 miles of scenic drive and 14 viewpoints, you would think it would be a quick in and out–but each viewpoint is captivating. And you tend to want to go back to certain places at certain times of day, since the views change with the rising and setting sun. And, of course, there are hikes galore, including one that takes you just under the rim of the canyon–as short or as far as you want to go. Bryce Canyon–an interesting, visually startling place that could easily become a favorite.
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The next morning we reluctantly left Bryce Canyon behind, and turned eastwards on Rt. 12. In retrospect, this was a crazy thing to do, but I had asked a Park Ranger in one of the Visitor Centers if continuing eastward on Route 12 was OK for our RV and she assured me it was fine. She must have been thinking about a mini RV — maybe two feet long. Needless to say, by the time we realized we were in the wrong place with the wrong RV, it was too late to back out. Even though I was not driving, my knees had a serious case of the shakes by the time we got through that part of the drive. And since we had no inkling of the type of drive it would be, we didn’t even have time to unhook the car from the RV. But Bob kept his cool and got us through the most precarious drive I think I’ve ever been on, but we were not happy campers! And I was shaking in my flip-flops! This is how it went.
Route 12 takes you through some beautiful and interesting landscapes between Bryce Canyon and Escalante–all part of the Grand Staircase -Escalante National Monument. This area extends across 1.9 million acres and is divided into three regions: the Grand Staircase, the Kaiparowits Plateau and the Canyons of the Escalante. The way I think about the Grand Staircase is imagining I am on the Space Shuttle looking down at earth. Imagine this Monument as a series of grand geological steps moving across this giant portion of the earth (extends even to the Grand Canyon!), in Chocolate, Vermilion, White, Gray, and Pink colored cliffs. From the parts of it that I saw, it is truly amazing and interconnected in so many different ways while at the same time very different.
But even while admiring the sheer immensity of this wilderness area, if you are not prepared for the reality of this astounding area, it can be very intimidating.
But after leaving Escalante, things started getting a little wild–hairy-scary-crazy. It started out sane enough, but then the road morphs into a ride that cannot even be envisioned by the most adventurous amusement park. Highest peaks, twists and turns with tiny spaces to maneuver in, severe drop-offs into areas that look like outer space below (it’s so far before you reach the ground!), landscapes that defy description ( I later learned that much of this area is designated wilderness and carries names like Box-Death Hollow Wilderness, Hell’s Backbone–you get the picture) and appear even more foreign when you are hanging on to whatever is closest–as if that would do any good! And Bob is driving poor 42-foot Baby and pulling the Jeep. Special kudos to him and Baby–they got us through the most hair-raising thrill ride I never, ever want to see again! And that’s a lot for me to say, since I always have something good to say about every park I’ve been to so far. I usually want to stop and take pictures — but that didn’t even occur to me during that ride–although I was snapping some as I went along from inside the RV. From the pictures below you may only get a glimpse of what was so frightening about this ride, but don’t ever try it in a 42-foot RV. I repeat–NEVER!! I think my hair turned completely white on this one!
Capitol Reef National Park. Finally arriving in Boulder, UT we stopped at the Anasazi State Park Visitor Center, basically to just get my knees to stop shaking and feel solid ground for a few minutes. Anasazi is a way of referring to village-dwelling farmers who existed in the southern Colorado plateau region (which includes southern Utah, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and southern Nevada) from A.D. 1 to 1300. The museum had interactive exhibits of what life was like in those times. It was all very interesting but I was still re-playing our MOUNTAIN EXPERIENCE in my mind. I talked to a fellow who was driving his family in the direction we had just come from (in a RV) and he told me we had a mountain coming up shortly after we leave Boulder. Since Boulder sits in a very remote location on a plateau, I knew we had to go one way or the other and his mountain couldn’t be any worse than the one we had just left. So I wished him good luck and we headed on down the now-infamous (to me) Rt. 12.
The mountain, part of the Dixie National Forest (I told you it was BIG!), turned out to be a pleasant walk in the park compared to what we had just endured.
Heavily forested with wide easy curves and glimpses of canyons in the distance, I did not make any more toe prints in the front dashboard like I had earlier. Poor Baby–she had to make that awful climb while my toes were digging into her neck! Floating down off the mountain, we reached Torrey, Utah; making a right turn on HWY 24 we shortly thereafter entered Capitol Reef National Park.
Capitol Reef NP was pleasantly astounding–red rock cliffs and mountains that talk to you as you drive by–(they say things like “come explore me–we’ll have a good time!”), making it a very pleasant place to drive through.
The Capitol Reef Visitor Center was beautiful–I could have stayed in there and floated around looking at the exhibits and reading through the books for a very long time (and they made delicious-looking apple pies all day and sold them!)–but Bob and Baby were illegally parked while I ran in to get my Passport stamped, so I did my run-through as quickly as possible. One of the Rangers was heading toward Bob as I came out of the building, so I rescued him by telling her it was me holding things up and that we were leaving immediately. By this time I was hobbling around on Bob’s hiking stick (I’ll explain that later) so she seemed to be OK with my explanation. The Rangers are SO nice usually and are always so helpful–well, maybe I know one who wasn’t so helpful but since we are still alive I’ll try to forget about her!
After that brief stop we were on our way with quite a few miles to go before our destination in Moab, Utah. But we were able to see some very interesting Anasazi pictographs on a wall before leaving the Park. Capitol Reef was another of those places I could really just settle into and explore given the time to do so. Bucket list–again!
Arches National Park via No Man’s Land. Coming from the south on Hwy 24, we entered an area that in all honesty I will have to call No Man’s Land, since I can’t find a name for it. It passes by Goblin Valley State Park, a strange and colorful valley filled with goblins. Well, actually they are sandstone rock formations but the geology is often compared to Mars–and the rock formations do look like goblins. In fact, the entire 65 miles between Capitol Reef and I-70 on HWY 24 is the eeriest, most other-worldly, totally and wildly fascinating stretch of land I will ever see on earth. I have pictures–but until you drive through what Bob refers to as “this godforsaken land”, you can’t understand what it’s like. Certainly memorable in the oddities–sand dune type formations; weirdly sculpted mountains; sudden, inexplicable ridges rising out of nothing; domes by the hundreds in all shapes and sizes; grandiose, castle-like rock formations that incite the imagination–it’s a place I would like to know more about as long as I don’t have to stay too long to find out. OK, I’m out of words–that last sentence was not very nice. I just can’t describe it.
We passed through only one “town” on this stretch of road–Hanksville–and it must have been abandoned since we did not see one soul–not even a jackrabbit. I began to think we had wandered into some abandoned nuclear test field–but occasionally we would see another vehicle rush by us–in as big a hurry as we were to get out of there before dark. The only street we saw intersecting HWY 24 that was on the map was the one going to Goblin Valley State Park, where camping was allowed. But no campers in sight. Perhaps they were as freaked out by this eerily abandoned part of the desert as we were.
Once we were safely ensconced on I-70 eastbound (thankfully), we were soon exiting at the Moab cutoff for Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. We headed for our Moab campground and was pleasantly surprised at its resort appeal–Portals RV Resort–aaaahhhh—a breath of fresh air after our harrowing day. Our campsite faced a red cliff with a canyon breaking through the cliff exposing all kinds of interesting rock formations beyond.
A beautiful site with a nice pool across the way–it was a place we could have enjoyed for a while but our time was short if we wanted to stay on our schedule. My enjoyment of this exciting place was a little marred because I was still having pain in my knee, and had been hobbling around on Bob’s hiking stick. The old knee wasn’t any better that night, so after dinner we popped by the Moab Hospital–very nice and efficient emergency room and staff. (So unlike my SE Asia hospital visits earlier this year!) Preliminary tests showed I needed more tests when I get home, but I left with bona fide crutches to take the pressure off my knee and drugs to make me feel better on the way home. How cool is that? Just what the doctor ordered–literally!
The next morning we headed for Arches National Park, just a short way down the road from our campground. Moab is comprised of one red cliff after another leading the way into the flourishing little town. Those red cliffs begin to tell the story of Moab and is a surefire way of beginning to understand what Moab is all about–and that is wilderness exploration: by jeep, ATV, mountain bike, hiking, rafting, climbing–name your poison (or elixir if that’s your calling!). The Moab area must be heaven for devotees of any of those sports–and the more extreme the better. Well, I was down to another extreme kind of sport–sitting on my fanny in the car while Bob drove us from one view after another. I tried getting out and walking some to get a better picture, but I was still in pain so had to limit my venturing to a few steps from the Jeep.
This was my third trip to Moab, and I remain totally fascinated by Arches NP. It’s a fairy land of rock formations taken to the wildest extremes in a Disney/Cinderella/Star Wars kind of way.
Your imagination can go wild–and whoever named the major attractions must have really let go, because the names are usually right on target. Of course, if I had been able to walk we could have seen the most amazing views close up, which makes it even more astounding. Standing under an impossibly delicate ribbon of rock as it extends way beyond what gravity should dictate is mind-blowing. And discovering your own view, your own perspective, your own little twist and turn in the path–that is what hikers strive for and get at Arches. But the drive was amazing in itself–and reinforced in my mind why I had wanted to come back again–it is a sensational place. No wonder so many movies have used this place as a backdrop. You could not imagine and recreate such a fantastical place.
Canyonlands National Park. Leaving Arches NP behind, we had a quick lunch and then headed for Canyonlands National Park in the afternoon. Although only about 35 miles away, we had never visited Canyonlands before now. And it defied my expectations, once again proving I should never try to predict Mother Nature. There are three sections to Canyonlands, each of which have to be accessed from different directions. Those parts are Island in the Sky, The Maze, and The Needles. Canyonlands National Park preserves a wilderness of rock in the heart of the Colorado Plateau. Water and gravity do their work here–and have carved flat layers of sedimentary rock into hundreds of canyons, mesas, fins, arches, and spires. Cutting through this primitive land are the Green and Colorado Rivers which have carved massive canyons through the rockscape. Each of the three regions are vast, and The Needles and The Maze demand extreme survival skills and knowledge of the area to survive in the demanding environment. Being on the short end of survivor wilderness skills, we chose to explore the Island in the Sky, the portion of Canyonlands that is easily accessible by car. Island in the Sky is literally an island in the sky, situated on top of a broad mesa wedged between the Green and Colorado Rivers. From canyon to canyon you can see 100 miles, all the way to Colorado’s mountain ranges. Standing at the edge of one of the overlooks, it is hard to wrap your mind around what you are looking at.
Thousands of feet into the canyons, three separate mountain ranges, thunder and lightning storms in the distance miles away–there is so much to look at I found it difficult to absorb it all. A professional photographer walked up while we were gazing out on this scene. We had been watching lightning in the distance and he asked how long it had been since the last strike–he intended to photograph the lightning. That could be a dangerous proposition since if the storm moves your way quickly it is not safe to be exposed on a cliff. Our tour guides always tell us the most gruesome stories–precautionary I’m sure–but gruesome all the same!
Tiny specks of wildlife far below turned out to be bighorn sheep. A random car (what is it doing down there????) traversing the floor of the canyon—is the size of a gnat (maybe) from our viewpoint. In addition to these major dramatic viewpoints, there are unusual rock formations along the way, a collapsed dome with some exciting history, hikes leading to more secluded views, and a plethora of view points that take in smaller canyons and interesting sights. Another place to really dig into and try to understand in a more personal way, the Island in the Sky is a place of unimaginable beauty, which provides you, from a relatively safe distance, a hint of the mysteries, dangers, and unique experiences to be discovered throughout Canyonlands. But the relative safety is entirely up to each individual–we saw a young couple sitting on the edge of a cliff, legs dangling over the side with the first solid ground thousands of feet below. It had just rained so the boulders were slippery; our multiple tour guides’ warnings floated across my mind with their gruesome warnings of all the people who fall off cliffs, tumble into waterfalls, get in the way of angry bears–national parks are not the most innocuous places to spend your time. But just a little safety-consciousness goes a long way.
Leaving Utah. As we began our trip to Colorado, we saw a few interesting things to put on our bucket list. First we saw this huge sign, Hole in the Rock. We didn’t stop but I looked it up later and sure enough the hole leads to a tiny path through the rock which Mormon settlers used as a shortcut to a new settlement. They chopped away at it so that it was just big enough to get an ox cart and oxen down this extremely narrow steep path. I will stop there next time just to see that!
We also saw a huge arch and wondered if there was a story behind it too. Reminiscent of the arches at Arches National Park, this arch was on the side of the highway and was the only formation like this nearby. Just curious on that one!
And then, almost as a special goodbye from Utah, a train passed us on the highway! I know that is hard to believe, but it did happen! See for yourself!
We continued down the road, headed for Durango, CO, but not without a lingering memory–a highly unusual one for us– of southern Utah.
We have been visiting Lisa and family in Utah for 16 years and I don’t remember ever seeing thunder and lightning accompanied by a heavy torrential rainfall. But there’s always a first time!
Within a few miles of reaching the Colorado border, we were engulfed in a torrential downpour of tropical proportions that quickly turned into a raging torrent of water, flooding the sides of the road and pushing into the road in many places. Rivers of water were pouring down every surface, rolling alongside our path, reminding me of the torrential downpours you see in Georgia and Florida. But this was happening in a dry, desert climate which had not seen rain in a long time, so the rain could not soak into the parched earth but just rolled in waves that quickly built in intensity and volume, sweeping across the road’s surface. Cars were stopping in the middle of the road, not knowing how to go on since they could no longer see the road. They probably had never seen this kind of rain in this intensity. We eased around them and inched along until the downpour began to lessen.
As we crossed the border into Colorado, brilliant, beautiful rays of sunshine broke through the clouds and welcomed us with open arms.
Unbelievably, we had experienced the extremes of Utah in just one day–the rocks of the dry desert, as well as the rolling waves of water that had indeed shaped those rocks! It was hard to imagine when you are in a place that has had several years of drought that the mega-sized rock formations you are looking at were shaped by water. But we saw the proof that, yes–they get water–lots of water–and, yes, water does have the force and power to change those incredible, longstanding monoliths we found throughout southern Utah into unrecognizable shapes. Utah — a land that ROCKS and ROLLS! Thanks, Utah, for the reminder and the memories! But thank goodness we are out of that drenching downpour in one piece!
Colorado. So we are in Colorado now and doing a darn good job of checking out Durango and environs. But that’s another story that I’ll share with you on the next post! Apologies for this extra long posting, but I had a lot to share. Hope I didn’t put you to sleep!
Until then, happy trails to all of you! We miss you and think of you often! Hugs to everyone!