Settle in with a cup of coffee, a glass of vino or a cerveza ’cause I got lots to tell about traveling through southern Utah!
Zion National Park & Dixie National Forest
Once you finally leave the traffic jerks of Las Vegas heading north, the canyonlands of a slice of Arizona then Utah reveal themselves. its a pretty drive through Red Rock Canyon, Saint George and into Cedar City, where I base camped for three nights to checkout Zion, Cedar Breaks and some of the Dixie National Forest.
Zion rocks. It just does. A beautiful slot canyon with stunning cliffs, fun roads (including a partially washed-out highway and a tunnel too narrow & low for my fiver) and plenty of picture and hiking opps entice. The Zion Canyon Brewing Company at the National Park visitor center is a nice complement, too! I had visited Zion a couple times before so I moved on, up Highways 9 and 89 through Long Valley Junction and across the Dixie National Forest toward Cedar Breaks National Monument.
Unfortunately, Cedar Breaks was still in the throes of winter and the roads into the Park had not been cleared yet so I missed that geo-feature. Rats. The Monument also was not reachable from the north side near sleepy Brian Head, where it seems they could be skiing for another month. The surrounding mountains are spectacular. Three nights in Cedar City were just about right for what was accessible. I was ready to move on to Bryce Canyon!
Having traveled state highway 14 through Dixie National Forest the day before, I decided to not repeat that route with the trailer in-tow. The road has some significant grades and curves and isn’t recommended for large rigs, so I headed north on I-15 to state 20 where I headed east toward Bryce Valley. Nice drive, including through two arch tunnels that left just 6 inches to spare between my rooftop air units and the harder rock. Whew! A quick two hours later I was setup at snow-covered Ruby’s RV Park, just outside the National Park entrance.
Once again, I was a few weeks early in the season as the trails below the canyon rim were still closed due to snow & ice. But I’d hiked them years before on a day that was perhaps the best day hike of my life. I still remember how cool that hike through Fantasyland and Queens Garden was that October day, with snow flurries capping the hoodoos. I was actually okay with not hiking below the rim this trip as I wouldn’t want to dilute my memories of that special hike.
So I enjoyed the Bryce Canyon amphitheater from the rim viewpoints. Such stunning vistas! This truly is a special place on the planet. Hiking (well, more like walking) between Sunset and Sunrise points, I ducked into the iconic Bryce Canyon Lodge for a bison burger and Squatters Full Suspension Pale Ale. Ryan, the kid who waited on me was an awesome server. Very friendly, interested in my travels, excited to be working at the Lodge. Nice to meet solid young people when there’s so much negativity surrounding the millennial generation.
After lunch I headed downhill to Mossy Cave trail, a short hike up a canyon that terminates in a waterfall and cave full of icicles. Although short, the trail grabs the oxygen outta your lungs as it traverses the steep canyon. Felt good.
Back at camp, I wrestled with getting online streaming to work so I could watch the Final Four. When CBS All Access failed me (“we’re not able to steam live TV in your area”) I was able to get coverage through the ESPN app, which uses the CBS video feed. Go figure. I fired CBS. Was fun to watch Texas Tech make it to the championship game and, as I now write, I’ll be watching the game tonight on digital TV over-the-air in Torrey, UT. No more sport cussin’ trying to get streaming to work!
Grand Staircase Escalante
Utah State Highway 12, also known as Scenic Byway 12 and Highway 12 — A Journey Through Time Scenic Byway is an All American Road. Rightly so. What an incredible, wonderful road! The byway winds through slick rock canyons and cliffs, across a narrow ridge line, and through beautifully colored canyons and hills. If you’ve followed along the past year you know I’ve seen some pretty sights and navigated some awesome roads. This is yet another special route I’ve been blessed to enjoy! If not for fear of driving off the ridge into the canyons on both sides of the road, I would’ve had a really hard time keeping my eyes and mind on the driving task. Nevertheless, I was able to pull off a few times to get pictures of this stunning drive.
A National Park volunteer I’d chatted with at Sunset Volcano near Flagstaff had recommended the Hell’s Backbone Grill in Boulder Town. This very cool joint serves up fantastic food with super-friendly service. I had the patty melt with Guyere cheese and housemade potato salad complemented with a Porcupine Pilsner from Moab Brewery. Thanks, Eric, for the restaurant tip! If you’re ever in Boulder Town don’t miss this eatery. They’re only open March to November.
The drive across another mountain ridge to Torrey, near Capitol Reef National Park, passed through snow-covered mountains then dropped into a picturesque valley where I unhitched at the small yet very friendly Sand Creek RV Park for a couple nights to take in my next National Park. Torrey is designated as an International Dark Sky Community, one of only 18 communities in the world to enjoy the distinction. And it is so cool! Standing outside at night the stars seem to reach down to earth. It’s amazing. So grateful for a clear night to enjoy the beauty of the universe!
I have no words.
Ok… I have some words to describe Capitol Reef National Park. But I’m going to start by borrowing a few from Maltbie D. Babcock in 1915: “This is my Father’s world: I rest me in the thought, Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas; His hand the wonders wrought.”
That beautiful phrase ran through my mind all day as I marveled at the raw beauty of the landscape. I’m not ashamed to say the splendor of creation brought a tear to my eye.
The park features “Scenic Drive” that more than lives up to its name. You could also call it Splendid, Stunning, Superior, Stupendous, or several other synonyms. I drove it’s ten miles, slowly, to its end in Capitol Gorge where a mile-long trail leads through a narrow canyon with a steep, knee wrecking climb to a few tanks—natural collectors of water in this desert. Great hike on a beautiful day in the mid 70s.
As I was hiking and driving through the park, I was thinking about how visitors centers at National Parks all give such comprehensive coverage to the eons of time and science of geology, but never much is attributed to the undeniable beauty wrought by the Creator. And I’ve read books about old earth vs young earth theories, about 24 hour creation days vs. creation era/days in God’s timing—and I could likely debate myself into either corner and never be fully convinced. In the end, that’s a good thing. Who wants a God they fully understand and completely comprehend? He has given us enough to know Who He Is, and His Son gave himself for me. That’s it. That’s enough.
So it was a great day, hiking and hanging out with my God!
Arches National Park
The 2-3 hour drive from Torrey to Moab was uneventful, across high desert and a short section of I-70. I motored through the town of Moab and settled into a good KOA on the south end of town. Dinner was at Moab Brewery with a good chicken sandwich and a Moab Pale Ale and a FMU IPA. Good food, too!The next day I headed into the Park…
Raw. That’s what the landscape is and that’s what the day was. I got a mid-morning start and after visiting the visitor center (and snagging a pretty cool T-shirt) I headed into the park. There are tons of viewpoints, interesting rock formations, colors & feels. Arches is a very cool place.
It was especially cool this day, as blowing snow followed me much of the morning and early afternoon. It was pretty in its own way but did hamper some of the long-range views and definitely got under my thin hoodie’s collar a few times. I wasn’t expecting snowy weather—and I shudda brought a hat!
Several short hikes, a bunch of pictures and frozen ears & hands later, I headed back down the park road, wrapping up my visit to Arches and headed across the valley to Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park
The drive up onto the ridge of the Canyonlands Island in the Sky district took me back into the blowing snow. It’s a pretty drive although, again, the weather really limited visibility. There are lots of hiking opps here but given that the day was running late and I was still shivering away, I opted for stopping at the main viewpoint pullouts.
Was kinda a joke, as the views mainly were of blowing snow. Oh well, I got a few decent pics of Upheaval Dome and an appreciation for the immenseness of the Canyonlands. I was hoping that tomorrow’s visit to the Needles district of this immense National Park would provide better views after the storm blew through.
The next day did not disappoint! As the bottomlands of the Needles district is primarily 4WD roads and crowds were minimal and roads were muddy from the recent rain & snow and I was traveling solo, I opted for viewing the canyons from above, from the Needles Overlook. Discretion, dontcha know…
The overwhelming vistas were on full display! As grand as the Grand Canyon is, I feel like Canyonlands is its big brother, an opinion shared by another camper back at the KOA. The pictures fail to communicate just how awesome this country is. Visiting the five (I tried to get to Cedar Breaks, after all) was a lifetime experience. Such phenomenal beauty, power, serene places. I truly appreciate the opportunity to have visited here but it’s time to move on, slowly headed back home for a few weeks starting with Easter.