Sunday, June 9, 2013

Across Southern Utah

In the last installment I'd just crossed into Utah following the Great Western Trail, which placed me on US-89 just east of Kanab. My goal for the day was to drive to Bryce Canyon National Park in time to get a campsite at this very popular destination. Lots of folks told me I should have gone to Zion National Park, but I decided to save that for another trip.

Driving north from Kanab the highway winds through and up an interesting canyon with large, vertical rock slabs as its sides. These red rocks look like they've been scoured by a giant grinder, but I supposed it was only the wind. I don't have photos, perhaps because I didn't see a good place to pull off the highway, or perhaps I was too focused on getting up the highway. It has been difficult for me to judge drive times in these areas that I've never visited before.

Bryce Canyon is really a plateau into which a number of canyons have cut. These canyons are filled with the park's iconic Hoodoos. I took nearly 400 digital photos of Bryce which I've yet to process. I'll save those for a later photo gallery post. In the meantime I'll include the requisite campsite shot and a photo of an interesting tree.

There are excellent sites for small campers in the tent area of the campground.

Along the Queen's Garden trail.
Bryce was gorgeous and amazing; a place everyone should visit. The plateau is at 6000 to 8000 feet in elevation, so is much cooler than the other Utah parks, such as Canyonlands and Arches. I had the added benefit of personally knowing one of the interpretive Rangers and we had a great hike the next morning between Bryce Point and Inspiration Point. Gorgeous! I stayed two nights in the park.

From Bryce Canyon I drove east on Highway 12, which is part of the state recognized scenic loop highway. It was interesting and I hadn't realized how much agriculture there is in southern Utah. I stopped at the Federal Interagency Information Station in Escalante to pick up maps and brochures for a future trip - a nice facility with helpful people. I picked up info on the Dixie National Forest and Escalante-Grand Staircase National Monument.

Continuing east from Escalante the scenery at first seemed rather plain, then you drop off the edge!

Looking back west from whence I came. Can you follow the highway all the way to the top?

Soon  you come to the canyon containing the Escalante River.

Highway 12 overlook above the Escalante River.

From there you wind up a canyon and the next thing you know you're on a "hogback" with a steep drop-offs on either side. By the time I found a place to pull off the narrow highway for a photo it wasn't quite as spectacular.

Looking south along a hogback on Highway 12.
Soon thereafter the highway turns and starts heading up into the mountains. There are large stands of Aspen. It is distressing, however, to see many colonies totally dead. My first in person experience with Sudden Aspen Decline. See also this short Smithsonian article: What's Killing the Aspen?

The highway climbs quite high up and around Bluebell Knoll, which is actually a very large mountain, and it got very chilly! Lots of recreation opportunities up here, but quite far from most places, and no specific, spectacular attractions as one comes to expect in this region.

The highway drops thousands of feet within a few miles on the north side and soon you find yourself back in the desert. Here Highway 12 goes north and joins Hwy 24. I turned southeast.

It was hot and very windy as I entered Capitol Reef National Park where I had intended to camp. Unfortunately, even though I got there around noon, hundreds of other folks got there sooner and all the spots in the lovely campground were full to overflowing. The campground doesn't take reservations, but people must have headed out early for Memorial Day.

Looks like an interesting place to return. The campground and valley are noted for the historical orchard and community of Fruita.

I didn't stop for photos, but keep going down the road past more intriguing rock formations, which I also didn't stop to photograph.

I finally stopped for a late lunch in Hanksville near the junction with Hwy 95 where I'd turn south. I stopped at a cafe that was part of an RV park not expecting too much with the name of Duke's Slickrock Grill, but needed a break from driving. Turned out it was a very nice stop, clean and cool inside, with good food - I had a full meal with vegetables, salad, and everything. They also had wireless Internet and was able to check my email after my meal.

Heading down 95 was a long, boring stretch which got slightly more interesting as the highway started down into this branch of Glenn Canyon, but it was still hot and windy.

No sign of a lake at the crossing, only a trickle of river, and I didn't bother taking the turn-off to Hite.

I did stop at Natural Bridges National Monument, the first national park in Utah, created by Teddy Roosevelt. It was getting on toward 4pm and I didn't expect to camp at the small campground here. The ranger gave me half a sheet of paper they'd prepared to assist folks in finding a nearby dispersed camp on BLM land.

I drove the loop road, stopping at each of the three overlooks. To get a good look at the rock bridges would actually take a little time to walk down the steep trail to the canyon bottom, which I elected to do on another occasion.




I did find a good camp spot on Deer Flat Road with a large juniper to help shield me from the winds.

Campsite along the road, sheltered by the junipers.

After I setup I watched the full moon rise over the red hills.

Moonrise over my campsite.

The next morning I returned to the highway and soon thereafter turned south on Utah 291. I had been wanting to visit Muley Point for some years since seeing a wonderful photograph of Monument Valley viewed from there. I had originally planned to camp along the canyon edge, but it had been just too windy for such an exposed location the night before and this morning I felt like there were just too many places to go in my journey to pause there for a whole day.

On my way down 291 I stopped at the BLM Kane Gulch Ranger Station to learn what I could about the area. Turns out this particular patch is fairly interesting. The nearby finger canyon coming up from Glenn Canyon is called Grand Gulch. There are a number of hiking trails and archeological sites to explore. Site visitation requires a permit as the number of visitors is limited each day to mitigate the impact of visitation on these fragile sites. Permits are required for all hiking here, so plan to stop at the station. Another area for a return visit, perhaps in early spring or late fall.

Muley Point lived up to my expectations. You turn west just where the pavement ends (or begins depending upon which direction you're driving) and take a very good dirt road to the point. All except the last 50 yards is suitable for a 2WD sedan. I didn't actually follow the road all the way to the official point as the initial overlook is so spectacular. I'm looking forward to a return visit with camping. I'm sure the dusk and dawn looking over the canyon is inspiring. My photos don't really give you even a hit at how amazing the canyon view is from here; you'll have to see it for yourself.

A gigantic rock perched at the canyon edge.

Monument Valley in the distance.

The drive down Moki Dugway was super scenic and fun. The road is dug into the cliff as it drops hundreds of feet just about straight down.

View from partway down Moki Dugway.
I didn't know what exactly to expect from Utah's Valley of the Gods. People said it was worth a visit; said it was like a miniature Monument Valley; but frankly it didn't look like much when I made the turn onto the unmarked road near the bottom of Moki Dugway.

A short ways in there was an informational board from the BLM to reassure me I was in the right place. The first part of the drive was fun, the road looks wicked, but is actually pretty tame, though I did drag my steps in a couple of places. I was thinking it was a charming area and pulled off in one of the dispersed camping spots for a spot of lunch with a view.

Having lunch at a turn-out along the Valley of the Gods road.

A little farther on the road and the scenery took a turn for the more spectacular. No, not as grand as Monument Valley, but wonderful nonetheless and there are lots and lots of free dispersed camping spots with fabulous views of the rock formations. This will be a great place to come back on a moonless night to try star trail photography with the interesting rock formations creating a foreground to contrast against the sky... though not when the wind is strong, as you are totally in the open.

Valley of the Gods, BLM, Utah
A fellow voyager from Albuquerque, who I meet at Muley Point, recommended a coffee house just as you arrive at the town of Bluff. I forgot the name (Bluebird Cafe?), but it is on the north side of Main Street, US 191. I had a non-coffee, iced drink with an unpronounceable name. It had chocolate, mint, and creme and was super delicious! They serve hot breakfasts in the morning and sandwiches for lunch.

I didn't know if I should bail on my trip and head for home or what. My preconceived schedule had been shot and I had planned to head home from here, but by not stopping at Capitol Reef I was a day ahead of my plans. I decided to instead head north from Bluff. I saw on the map that there was a national forest just west of Monticello, UT, then the next morning I thought I'd poke my head into Colorado with my "extra" day, maybe head toward Telluride.

I stopped for directions at the Forest Service office in Monticello. There's only one road out of town west toward the mountain, but it is not well marked. Lots of dispersed camping spots, mostly taken by folks with trailers or tent colonies and ATVs. I found an isolated spot and crossed my fingers.

My verdant campsite. A closeup of the mountain and valley in the following photo.

The La Sal Mountains east of Moab and Canyonlands as seen from my campsite.

Turns out I was't bothered by ATVs and the lovely little meadow had a great view of the La Sal Mountains to the northeast with interesting canyon formations in the middle distance. It got cold that night.

The next morning fortunately I was up early enough that I wasn't awakened by baying hounds. Apparently this area is a popular spot for running hunting hounds. The three trucks driven by rustic Americans had special kennels in back and were driven around with the hounds perched on top of the kennels, baying at the wind. I packed up and hit the road eastward.

My next, much shorter post will cover my brief trip into Colorado.

Thanks for visiting!

5 comments:

  1. Nice to see that area again through your eyes with pictures and story. Thank you. Your Muley Point photo did capture a lot.

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  2. Moki Dugway looks like a fun drive. Love the photos of Valley of the Gods and the La Sal Mountains. Beautiful.

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  3. Thanks for your comments Ski3pin and 4buckeye. I'm falling behind on my posts and just returned yesterday from 6 days at high elevation in SE Colorado.

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  4. I just ran across your great blog of trip reports.

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    1. And I just ran across your comment (almost a year late… oops.) Thanks for visiting.

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