Moonrise over our campsite near the Harris Wash trailhead,
Grand Staircase-Escalante Nat'l. Monument
This year's vacation would have to be different — tired of getting caught in snowstorms in a two-wheel-drive rental car with 2" of ground clearance, I craftily scheduled my week "off" to be one week later than last year, which would wrap it around the full moon and hopefully be one week closer to warmer weather. However, two tiny details escaped my pre-trip planning — I failed to notice that it was the Easter weekend and, even worse, there was to be the annual Jeep Jamboree in Moab. Oh well, there are plenty of places in Utah to hide from the tourists, the weather was perfect, and I was taking Shelley along to see all of the cool places I had been pontificating about ever since my first train trip from Salt Lake to Grand Junction many years ago.
Gorge in the Calf Creek Recreation Area, northeast of Escalante
Since we had an early flight to San Francisco, we stayed at the Super 8 motel in Redding on Monday night, watching the endless lineup of worthless programs on TV with rapt attention. Just before retiring we re-sorted any potentially "dangerous" items from our carry-on bags to our checked bags, thereby preventing anyone on the plane from being overpowered by the small compressed-air squirter I carried to blow dust out of my camera body when changing film.
The next morning, though arriving much earlier than I would have been comfortable with, dawned into a beautiful day just as we left the ground at 6:45 am. Random thoughts that occurred during the short flight to San Francisco were that next time I might try to get a seat next to an emergency exit so I could have more legroom in the small shuttle aircraft and, if seated on the east side, I should keep my sunglasses handy, as the rising sun was blinding. After a brief slumber we landed at 7:50 am, and made our way over to the main terminal for our connecting flight to Las Vegas.
Wishing I had sorted more of our "stuff" into the checked bags rather than the carry-ons, there was still plenty of time to take in the sights of the perennially-under-construction terminal before our flight at 9:25 am. After taking off my shoes, downing a complimentary beverage and getting more-or-less comfortable, I dozed until we landed in Vegas at 10:25 am.
Off the plane and onto a shuttle tram, we were whisked away to the baggage claim area, re-united with our luggage, and trammed again over to the Dollar Rent-a-Car facility. Grabbing a brand new Dodge Stratus, we merged seemlessly into the maddening crowds zipping around Vegas and headed north into the desert at 11:45 am. Our first stop was Zion National Park, where we took the loop road north through the main canyon. Naturally it was very scenic but the zillions of tourists were too much to take, so off we drove to Kanab, Utah, where the Parry Lodge awaited us. The weather was great — clear, calm, and warm.
After setting up camp in a great room, we had one of the best dinners I can remember just two blocks away at the Rocking V Cafe. Getting back to our room I had a difficult time getting to sleep because it was too quiet!
Little Wild Horse Slot Canyon, Goblin Valley State Park
After waking up several times during the night because I couldn't tell if my brain was still "on" due to the almost complete lack of any noise, I sensed an overpowering need for coffee, and I remembered just the place to go from my stay at the Parry Lodge last year — the Vermillion Espresso Bar & Café.
After some killer pastries and a gallon of great coffee, I fired up the trusty rental car and we left Kanab at 10:30 am and drove up to Mt. Carmel Junction, where I stayed at the Golden Hills Motel two years ago after my first trip through Zion. Continuing north up to Hwy 12, we turned east and drove past Bryce, stopping at the usual turnouts for the views but didn't "see" anything until Escalante, where we drove down the Hole-in-the-Rock road for about 15 miles and camped near the Harris Wash trailhead. After setting up the tent we wandered around in the afternoon looking at cool rocks and shell fossils, then watched the almost-full moon come up above our campsite.
Courthouse Towers and the Three Gossips, Arches Nat'l. Park
After a delicious sleep, we woke up (relatively) early and drove back up to Escalante for coffee and groceries, then continued east on Hwy 12 past Calf Creek to Boulder, Torrey, and Hanksville, where we turned north on Hwy 24 and drove over to Goblin Valley State Park and hiked up Little Wild Horse Slot Canyon. The canyon was very cool but two groups of tourists we passed in the narrow canyon had yodeling kids and yapping dogs, which didn't help to instill a feeling of "wilderness". Later in the afternoon we drove up to Green River and stayed at the Motel 6, which turned out to be the low point of the trip as far as accommodations went.
Tower of Babel, Arches Nat'l. Park
Hitting the road early for no other reason than to distance ourselves from the demon motel, we went east on Interstate 70 to the turnoff for Cisco, which allowed us to head down to Moab on Hwy 128, paralleling the Colorado River. As luck (at least mine) would have it, there was an "event" in town this weekend — this time it was a Jeep Jamboree. Sheesh, what next? The thought of hundreds of jeeps trashing the beautiful countryside was too much to comprehend at the moment, so we did what "had to be done" — hit the State Liquor Store in town for beverages and headed over to Arches National Park.
The long wait at the entrance station was mollified only by the righteous air conditioner in the rental car, but it [the wait] was worth it — the park was as cool as I remembered it, only now with twice as many tourists, most of whom were driving jeeps. We stopped at all of the scenic spots I saw on my last visit here and some I missed, then took off and headed south on Hwy 191 to Blanding, where we spent the night at the Super 8.
Parade of Elephants, Arches Nat'l. Park
Fueled by a few meager cups of motel coffee, we headed west on Hwy 95 through hilly, pine-covered country that eventually followed the incredibly beautiful White Canyon down to the Lake Powell crossing at Hite. This area was really cool as far as scenery goes, but might not be so "cool" in July or August. We continued north on Hwy 95 up to Hanksville, then turned back west on Hwy 12 to Capitol Reef National Park, where we got a nice campsite for the night.
Capitol Reef has always seemed like a "friendly" park — quite different from the other tourist spots I've visited in Utah. In comparison, Zion has a lot of scenery "up high", that you can look at from a distance but can't really experience up close without a lot of effort. Bryce has a lot of scenery "down low", but again, it's most easily viewed from a distance, and any involvement with the canyons and spires comes with a feeling of being spied on by the hordes above. Arches has an almost overpowering feeling of "look, but don't touch". Enough said. Capitol Reef, on the other hand, seems like a much more "hands-on" kind of a place — almost like a museum where you are encouraged to run around and pick up the exhibits and toss them back and forth between you and your friends.
Grand Wash, Capitol Reef Nat'l. Park
With our roots firmly entrenched in campsite #14, we stocked the camera with film and the daypack with wine and drove down the 10-mile Scenic Drive to the trailhead for Grand Wash, which was as far as the waning sunlight would allow. The feeling of actually being allowed to touch something and climb on something was great! I tried to hurry up the narrowing canyon because of the lateness of the day but I just couldn't move — everywhere, whether it was up or down, was something to check out and groove on.
The farther (further?) we went, the narrower and higher the canyon got, and a very strange feeling came over me. Suddenly there were no more yodeling kids or barking dogs — the few people we met were so polite as to the point of almost whispering their "hello's" when we passed. Shelley and I had to sit for a moment to take it all in — here was the coolest canyon hike we've ever done and the other folks we met were almost apologetic when they accidentally disturbed our reverie... Arches this was not!
Anyway, we ended up hiking a little too far up-canyon and had to rely on skylight and eventually flashlight to get back to the car and the campground, but we had a great sleep in the tent until approximately 6:30 am when the neighboring campers started their "day"...
Grand Wash, Capitol Reef Nat'l. Park
After lying in my sleeping back as long as I possibly could while listening to some nearby mother coo to her kid for the zillionth time asking whether or not the little monster wanted "eggies" for breakfast, I emerged from our nylon domicile into the world of "those-who-camp-with-their-kids". And dogs. Camping to me has always been a sort of escape — a chance to get away from the minions found everywhere I look, but this morning there must have been more people in the campground than in the whole town where I live! And why not? It was, in fact, Easter Sunday, and that must surely mean that one should sally forth and try to annoy as many complete strangers as one possibly could. There were adults talking way too loud, kids talking way too loud, dogs... just being "dogs", and one guy who fired up his motorcycle at 7:15 am on a Sunday morning and then, without going anywhere, shut it off 3 minutes later! Ah, wilderness!
A more compelling reason for going on a hike — any hike — was never found. We piled into the car and drove the 11 miles west to Torrey, where we had a great breakfast at the Capitol Reef Inn & Café, and I can recommend them highly for not only their breakfasts and dinners but also for a very comfortable room we enjoyed that night, fearing that another night in the campground would be counter-productive to the whole premise of a relaxing vacation.
Capitol Gorge, Capitol Reef Nat'l. Park
Feeling much better, we drove back to the Park and continued down the 10-mile Scenic Drive to the trailhead at Capitol Gorge. The air in this part of the country defies description — a "blue sky" seen with the naked eye looks like one had on polarizing glasses — we're talking blue blue blue here! The canyon is a pleasant walk — not quite as narrow and winding as Grand Wash but with more "reachable" alternatives in the form of side canyons. There are ancient Petroglyphs and several places where Pioneers have written their names on the rock walls from as far back as 1877, but these didn't interest me as much as the ordinary rocks found on the canyon floor. Everywhere I looked I saw only a few types of rocks making up the huge walls surrounding me, but the ground was littered with a zillion kinds of rocks — fossils, petrified dinosaur bones, geodes... all kinds of shit! Where did they come from?
After hiking all over creation throughout these canyons we decided that we didn't want to wake up to any more kids and/or motorcycles, so we packed up our tent and settled in at the Capitol Reef Inn for the night.
Capitol Gorge, Capitol Reef Nat'l. Park
Reluctant to leave such a groovy area, we piled into the car and headed back west on Hwy 12. Over Boulder Mtn. (9400') to Boulder, then past Calf Creek to Escalante, we more-or-less had to stop at the State Liquor Store for "supplies" before the next leg of our journey — the Cottonwood Canyon Road. After leaving Cannonville and driving south a little ways on a paved road, everything turns to dirt for 39 miles down to Hwy 89. This sounded like our kind of a drive.
After some initial bouts with sand and stretches of washboard, the road turned into a dream — put-putting along in the middle of what-seemed-like nowhere with nowhere to go and no particular time to get there. This is surely a place, like White Canyon, where I'd like to come back to and spend more time, but this trip was to be a Grand Tour and we had to keep moving, albeit slowly. A shady spot was found next to a section of creekbed that actually had water on the surface so we stopped and took a break from the rigors of driving this road (I think we saw 4 or 5 vehicles on the entire stretch).
The lower end of the road widened out and soon we were up on the paved Hwy 89, headed west back to Kanab, a nice dinner, a comfortable motel room, and great coffee to get us revved up for Vegas and our flight home.
Cottonwood Canyon Road, Grand Staircase-Escalante Nat'l. Monument
Waking from a dream about steep, narrow canyons, I milked the 11:00 am checkout time for all it was worth. We then re-coffeed, re-"supplied", gassed up, and hit the road for the sleepy hamlet of Freedonia, AZ, where we turned west on Hwy 59 toward Hurricane and I-15. Now pretty much wiped from traveling, whatever scenic features that we might have encountered went unnoticed. Our destiny was to join Humanity once again and there are few better places than Vegas to accomplish that endeavor.
With the 75 mph speed limit it was difficult to re-enter Vegas slowly but, since our return flight wasn't until 7:30 pm, we had a lot of time on our hands, so we took the plunge and checked out the Strip. An hour later and $20 poorer we met at a restaurant and had a nice breakfast of eggs and coffee. Dropping off the rental car was not unlike an Astronaut coming back to Earth after a period of weightlessness in Space — our luggage (now full of rocks collected from our journeys) that had been dormant in the trunk of the car for a week had suddenly made schlepping them seem like gravity had tripled and we/they weighed hundreds of pounds!
Once we made it to the baggage check-in we were almost home free, but total freedom was not to be as the storage lockers where we had hoped to stash our carry-on bags were "out of order" since the events of Sept. 11, and, like ants dragging around much larger insect prey, we were forced to stagger through the terminal, from one food kiosk to the next, until fatigue overcame us and we settled in for our flight to board.