Category Archives: Southwest Utah

Love Your Neighbors: Adventures in Utah, 2014

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Alex and I are pretty lucky to have (mostly) great neighbors. Neighbor states, that is. After working for two summers in Yellowstone, I am certain I will have a lifelong love of our neighbor state of Wyoming, and I take any opportunity I can to share that with Alex. Kansas…welll…it’s flat, so we don’t find many recreating opportunities there. But I do have some family there, so that’s something to love about it! And plains’ sunsets are pretty alright too. New Mexico is a place we haven’t spent a lot of time, but it sure seems like it has a lot to offer and there are plenty of New Mexico spots on our ‘bucket list,’ like Taos, Truth and Consequences, the Balloon Festival, and Carlsbad Caverns. Plus, we just spent a few days visiting friends on the Jicarilla-Apache Reservation in Dulce, NM and that was a huge learning experience for us. And that brings us to our final neighbor: Utah. Our love for Utah has really grown over the last couple years. We especially love an April visit to Utah now that we live in Fraser. Utah in April can still be brisk and spring-like, but it’s unquestionably warmer than Fraser in April. Plus, an April visit to Utah really scratches our itch for summer backpacking season that starts to creep up in the spring.

This year, we spent one extremely windy day exploring the blobbish rock formations of Goblin Valley State Park. In the early evening, the winds picked up to about 50 mph and all the campers ran for their cars. After scooping up our wind-blown and broken tent, we spent the rest of our night in the car, drinking grown up apple juice drinks, eating a bag of chips for dinner, and just being silly weirdos.Despite the weather, or maybe because of it, it ended up being quite a fun night of (literally) car camping. After a delicious breakfast with a view of the Goblins the next day, we did an awesome hike in nearby Little Wild Horse Canyon before heading to Capitol Reef National Park for a couple days of backpacking!

In Capital Reef, we set our sights on the Spring Canyon area and camped in a side canyon for two nights. Although we didn’t mean to end up in a side canyon (it was truly a happily lost moment!) we were lucky to find a beautiful red-rock alcove to pitch our tent in. We didn’t see a fellow human at any point in our side canyon, which we named ‘Alex and Cece’s Spring Canyon.’ We spent a lot of time in our alcove home, cooking, eating, relaxing, and climbing about on rocks. During our one full day in the Spring Canyon area, we went on a long journey to refill our water bottles at the only spring in Spring Canyon.

Here’s a photo story of our adventure:

Zion National Park: Observation Point

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Observation Point offers views of the massive rock monoliths and the Virgin River of Zion Canyon.

The views of Zion Canyon from Observation Point.

On our third day in Zion, we were focused on seeing the canyon from above instead of from below. Angel’s Landing was on the original to-do list for this park. It is the talk of the town in Zion, with its amazing views and treacherous stretch of trail on which visitors ascend the narrow rock ridge while holding on to chains to avoid falling to their deaths, which has happened to a few hikers in the past. So Angel’s Landing definitely has the ‘wow’ factor in Zion. But our instinct told us that all this hubbub would mean a more crowded trail, so we chose, instead to hike to Observation Point.

The trail for observation points starts in the canyon at the Weeping Rock trailhead. It begins by sending you up a series of steep switchbacks until you reach Echo Canyon. The trail passes through this more narrow part of the canyon and leads you to a point where you can look down onto the fluted walls of the small slot canyon. Until you

The fluid-like walls of Echo Canyon.

Looking into the narrow, fluted walls of Echo Canyon. Seeing this definitely gave me the itch to explore Zion’s famed Narrows next time we visit.

reach the final destination, this is the most dramatic part of the trail. After passing Echo Canyon the trail keeps climbing; it winds around rock walls, takes you on long, straight stretches on the edge of canyon walls, and switchbacks a few more times here and there. Along the way, you get views of the Zion Canyon and also of the more rolling and lumpy rock formations outside of the main canyon walls. The last stretch of trail takes you along the edge of a canyon wall where you can see the final destination and then around a curve in the canyon through a low shrubby forest until you reach Observation Point.

From Observation Point you look down on Angel’s Landing, which doesn’t come as close to the top of the canyon as the Observation Point trail. You have a clear view of Zion Canyon: the massive monoliths of stone looming over the Virgin River. With just a handful of people in the wide-open space at the top, it’s easy to settle in and enjoy to views without feeling like you’re being crowded out so the next round of hikers can get a peek.

After we had thoroughly soaked in the views and the largeness of Zion, we went briskly down the trail so we could stop by the Human History Museum before it closed. After talking to our camping neighbor that night about the hordes of hikers at Angel’s Landing, we were definitely glad we chose to get our canyon views from the quieter Observation Point.

 

Zion National Park: Emerald Pools and Riverside Walk

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On our second day in Zion, the rain and clouds blew away and we were left with prime hiking conditions. We got a slow start in the morning and set out for a leisurely day of easy hikes. Private vehicles are not allowed on the canyon road at Zion-unless you are staying at the lodge- so we walked to the visitor’s center to catch the shuttle up the canyon. With the sun growing warmer and warmer by the minute, we debated leaving leisure behind and trekking up to the much-talked about Angel’s Landing. But with a couple days left in Zion, we decided to start off slow after all.

The trail at Lower Emerald Pool in Zion passes behind the the thin waterfalls.

From behind the waterfalls at Lower Emerald Pool in Zion.

We got off the shuttle at the Zion Lodge and crossed the street to the Emerald Pools trailhead. The first mile was an easy and paved ascent to the lower Emerald Pool. This first stop is the most popular destination on the trail. The trail passes behind three thin, wispy waterfalls cascading over the jutting rock above. The pools from the waterfalls are said to be an oasis in the desert canyon, and are bordered by green-moss-covered boulders. We lingered for a moment and kept on moving to the middle pool, which is on top of the rock that the lower waterfalls pour over. It’s slightly embarrassing to admit-and we’d laugh at ourselves later- but at the middle pool, we missed a very obvious turnoff on the trail to go to the upper pool. Following the stream up the hillside, we were completely misguided for about an hour as we scrambled over rocky side trails searching for the upper pool in all the wrong nooks. A few times, we came across stagnant green pools backed by small hanging gardens and wondered if we had reached the destination. Finally, we became convinced that we missed something somewhere. From our vantage point high on the hillside, we saw people below and started in their direction. After following a couple more side trails- let’s say it just purposeful exploration now- we stumbled on to the more worn main trail and were on our way to the upper pool. Once we spotted the small crowd and the tall waterfall raining gently down into the pool, we knew we were on the right track this time. This final waterfall is so slender and slow that the slightest breeze can blow the lower half of the falls every which way. The thin stream trickles over the tall, red canyon wall and blows and dances its way down to the large pool. Delicate as it is, it’s a beautiful waterfall in the corner of the canyon.

After eating lunch on a rock with views we headed back down the trail. Instead

A thin stream of water slices between the red rock canyon walls at the Upper Emerald Pool in Zion

The thin waterfall at Upper Emerald Pool.

of going back to the Lodge, we connected with the Grotto trail, which follows a ridge with views of the Virgin River and Lower Canyon. We then took the shuttle to the end of the canyon and strolled down the Riverside walk trail. This trail had good views of the canyon walls, but was jam-packed with both ground squirrel enthusiasts and wiley children trying to kick ground squirrels. In fact, at one point we got stuck in a squirrel jam: a mass of people taking pictures of a ‘posing squirrel.’ It was horrible. At the end of the Riverside Walk hikers can start into the famed Narrows of Zion Canyon by hiking up the river. This was one we thought about doing, but had not done enough advanced planning to get dry suits and start early. Maybe next time! We didn’t linger long, but instead turned promptly around in order to avoid the mass crowds that would soon be heading back down the Riverside Walk.

On the Riverside Walk, Alex, my future husband, just as I want to remember him when we're old and gray.

On the Riverside Walk, Alex, my future husband, just as I want to remember him when we’re old and gray.

Still holding on to my hope that this would be a hot, shorts-weather vacation, we stopped at the Zion Lodge to get an ice cream cone, and sat outside determinedly eating it in the wind.

 

Zion National Park: A lesson in how you look at things

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Thin clouds hugging the tops of Zion's rock monoliths.

A mystical afternoon in Zion when the clouds hugged the rocks after a rainstorm.

We left Bryce Canyon in a rain/hail/snow storm and headed on to Zion. And we found almost unrelenting rain in Zion. We found a site in the South Campground, set up the tent, and started lunch before the downpour was upon us again. We went to the visitor’s center to mill around and inquire about backpacking. We went into the town of Springdale to buy a few things at the outrageously-priced supermarket. We went in search of firewood in case things cleared up. We found a cute coffee shop and got a treat. Then, the clouds broke again and we decided to go hiking. By the time we got to the visitor’s center to catch the shuttle to the trailhead, it was pouring rain harder than before. Then we sat in the car, trying to decide what to do. Then we drove back to the campground where I sat in the car, writing, and Alex rigged up two tarps over our tent to try and create a cooking space.

I must admit, on one hand I felt extremely wimpy and lame being deterred from a short hike because of a non-threatening rainstorm. But, on the other hand the thought of going out to knowingly get drenched and cold and then come back to sleep in a tent when it’s in the 20’s at night sounded…well, not like vacation at all.

“This feels like a waste of a day,” I told Alex as we sat in the car eating copious amounts of jellybeans.

In the early evening it stopped raining. We went for a drive.

The clouds were low over Zion’s red and black monoliths. A mist dropped into crevices in the rock and rain drops lingered on the plants. As we took in Zion after the rains, I could feel my attitude changing. Something in us made us look at the park in a reminiscent light: it felt like East Africa and a Costa Rican jungle cloud forest all at once. I have no idea why, and as all the good feelings of those places jostled around in me, I didn’t care to figure it out. We couldn’t stop looking up as the clouds shifted, hugging the rocks even tighter. The park was quiet and big and mysterious in its cloud cloak.

With the rock faces as backdrops we started taking silly pictures, just passing OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAthe time with no schedule or obligations to stick to. It was, in the end, probably my favorite day in Zion, beautiful and simple like a new place should be.

 

 

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Bryce Canyon National Park: I Hiked the Hoodoos but DID NOT drink a margarita afterwards

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The orange spires of the main Bryce Amphitheater

Our first view of the main Bryce Amphitheater from the Bryce Point overlooks

After lunch and pie in Capitol Reef we headed on down Highway 12 to Bryce Canyon National Park. It took us about three hours on this scenic, windy, roller coaster of a road. We passed through the Grand Staircase Escalante-National Monument. It was pretty magnificent: a deep canyon with cottonwoods at the bottom. It seemed to go on forever, rolling rock formations and cut canyons. We stopped briefly in the town of Escalante, where we looked at pictures of the pioneers coming down into the area with covered wagons…yikes! We then traversed the town center multiple times in search of whiskey. Alex said that Utah state regulations don’t allow the advertisement of liquor stores, so we had to consult our smartphones on this. Whiskey was found and on we went!

As we drove into Bryce, we got a taste of the hoodoos we were getting into. The road cut through an area of brilliantly orange rock spires, and we were immediately in disbelief at their otherworldliness. It was the first of many times in Bryce that I would ask, “What planet are we on!?”

After securing a campsite at the North Campground, we went for an evening drive along the park road and got our first views of the Bryce Amphitheater at Bryce Point. We could see trails winding through the tall Douglas Fir and around the spires on the canyon floor. Looking down in there, at this orange and white mystical canyon, we knew we had to explore it.

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The winding trail through the dramatic orange and white hoodoos at Bryce Canyon National Park.

The trail along the bottom of Bryce Canyon felt like a trail over the surface of Mars!

The next day, we put our original plans to backpack aside (because none of the sites were close to the dramatic main amphitheater) and started down into the canyon. From the North Campground, we got on the Rim Trail and connected with the Queens Garden trail after about a quarter of a mile.  The trail descends into the canyon pretty gently, winding its way through the hoodoos and spires and passing through tunnels in the rock. In awe at the first close-ups with these strange formations, we lollygagged along taking pictures like good ole’ tourists. I marveled at the mystical feeling of the canyon, with the green Manzanita and tall Douglas Fir standing in contrast to the bright orange limestone. After the first half of the Queens Garden Loop we came to the junction with the Navajo Loop and Peekaboo Loop. We started on toward the Peekaboo Loop and soon turned up a draw off-trail. Around a couple bends we found the solitude that we didn’t get on the Queen’s Garden Loop. We sat down for lunch and soaked in the views and the quietness in our own little patch of the park. At the start of the 3 mile Peekaboo Loop we stuck to the right. We noticed right away that this was a quieter, less popular loop than Queen’s Garden and that it was a more dramatic section of the Bryce Amphitheater. Here, we really started to feel like we were exploring the surface of Mars. The trail took us up, down, around, and through the orange and white canyon. We were even closer to the formations than on the Queen’s Garden Loop, and could see that they were a bit more lumpy and crumbly than what we thought when we looked from above. We passed the Wall of Windows, white sandstone formations that have ‘windows’ through their middles that were caused by the premier shaping force of Bryce Canyon: erosion by wind and water. We also passed orange and white striped scree piles. At the end of the Peekaboo Loop we went up the other side of the Queen’s Garden Loop, making a kind of figure 8 through the Hoodoos. This last stretch of the trail passed Two Bridges, 2 arches between rock walls. After these we ascended a series of switchbacks through a towering, barren section of the Canyon and we finally reached the top.

This was one of those places so unlike home that you start to feel like you are IMG_0342eons away from home. The vastly different surroundings propel you into a mental state where hours start to feel like days in terms of the new things you’ve experienced.

Now, for the second part of this story:

After a short sit in the campground, we walked back to the lodge to procure margaritas, which is my drink of choice after long, dusty hikes. The lodge was fairly quiet in these early evening hours, and we were afraid of getting Mars-dust on the white tablecloths as we sat down in our dirty hiking clothes. The waitress arrived and kindly listed off her expensive specials for the night.

I told her I thought we both just wanted a drink. Two margaritas, please. She told me there were no margaritas. Utah is very strict about their liquor. We could have beer or wine, she said, and would also be required to have food on the ticket because that’s the law. Nevermind then I told her, sheepishly. And before we could leave she was yelling across the dining room, asking the other waitress where we could get margs and summoning up bothered looks from the elderly patrons trying to enjoy 4:30 dinner.

The moral of the story is if you’re going to Utah, hike the hoodoos and BYOB.

Capitol Reef National Park: Scenic Drive, Frying Pan, and pie

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The views of sandstone domes and iron-rich spires in Capitol Reef National Park.

Enjoying the views as we walked around our backcountry campsite in Capitol Reef. Photo credit to Alex Romanyshyn at alrophoto.com

Our short tour of southwest Utah began in Capitol Reef National Park, a quiet and less-talked-about park between Moab and Bryce. We spent the early afternoon on the Scenic Drive, which starts at the visitor’s center. At the end of the paved 10 mile road, we continued for a couple miles on a dirt road that got us up close and personal with the canyon walls.

Capitol Reef is varied in its geology: towering canyon walls, white sandstone domes, potholes (solution cavities) carved into the sides of rocks, hoodoos, and red spires. It may not be as dramatic as Utah’s other national parks, but it seems to have a little bit of everything.

After the Scenic Drive, we got our free overnight backpacking permit and headed to the Hickman Bridge trailhead. The first backpacking trip of the season is always interesting; every single year, I tend to feel like I’m new to backpacking as I try to remember what to pack and how it all fits just right. I guess feeling like a bumbling novice at least once a season is part of what keeps the hobby fresh!

From the Hickman Bridge Trailhead we headed up the Cohab Canyon trail until we reached a junction where we could either head through Cohab Canyon and end at the campground or head up the Frying Pan trail. Because this trail links to the campground, we encountered a fair amount of big groups of hikers (including one with a diapered toddler that was crawling over rocks) within the first mile or so. But we didn’t see many other people after we were about a mile up the Frying Pan trail.

Backpacking in Capitol Reef is all dispersed camping, which means that you can pitch your tent in non-designated campsites as long as you are out of sight of the trail. We soon left the trail and tromped around, careful to scamper from rock to rock and avoid stepping on the living soil, which is made up of lichens, mosses, bacteria, green algae, microfungi, and cyanobacteria and accounts for 70-80 percent of the living ground cover. We climbed up, around, and through various small rock faces with no success in finding a suitable site. We endured a blowing drizzle, during which I started thinking about flash floods, which is my number one biggest hiker’s fear even if I am high up on top of a plateau. Soon, we were in a sunny sprinkle and watched the storm move over the tops of the Henry Mountains, the the Southeast of us.

After about an hour, we found a spot to camp on the west side of the trail. From here, we had almost a 360 degree view. We can see the Cohab Canyon to the north of us, the rounded slot canyons striped red and white like candy and backed by the tall sides of plateaus. West of us are rich, rust-colored spires, slowly separating from the plateau walls as wind and water grinds them. To the south we see tall Navajo Sandstone formations, Fern’s Nipple, and surrounding red and white hoodoos, with the Henry Mountains as a backdrop. And to the east are more rolling domes of Navajo Sandstone.

We set up camp and go exploring. Climbing among the rocks, with no trail to follow, we are reminiscent of the freedoms and mischief and simplistic adventures of childhood. We marvel at the various rock formations we come across and try to guess at the science behind them. In the morning it is especially still and quiet as the mustard-yellow sun rises over the white rock. As it gets higher and hotter in the sky, we pack up and set out on our short journey back. Before we head on to Bryce Canyon National Park, we stop at the historic Gifford House to share a delicious mini-pie, something we’ve never had the chance to do in a national park before. The park’s history has shaped it in a unique way.

Sharing a mini-pie at the historic Gifford House in Capitol Reef.

Sharing a mixed berry mini-pie at the historic Gifford House in Capitol Reef.

Native Americans in the area left their mark in petroglyphs carved into the rock walls and the later Mormon settlers planted orchards that are still present throughout the park. Fruit products from the orchards are sold in the visitor’s center and the historic Gifford House. The heart of the park has a lazy spring day feel about it: the groomed and wide-open picnic area, the picturesque country horse barn, and the blooming apricot trees. Situated between Utah’s more dramatic parks this one is easily passed by, a well-kept secret worth the short detour.