Zion to Bryce to Capital Reef – Phantasmagoric Utah

April 15 to May 25, 2017

What can I say about the state of Utah? Another gem in the priceless tiara that’s the landscape of the American southwest? More like the main attraction, the big kahuna, Shangri-La (except for the politics). In all honesty, if planning a road trip, you could not pick a more gorgeous, vast and empty, real yet totally unreal place.  Ever-changing around every bend you get the feeling you are missing something spectacular over every distant hill.  More for a return trip, but what you do get to see may wet your pants.

New snow on the Henrys

The last place in the American West to be fully mapped by the Geological Survey – The Henry Mountains. Somewhere on the south flank is a huge herd of wild buffalo!

 

I had been to Zion years ago with Ricky McMahan but that was in another lifetime and state of mind. I was now seeing the southwest corner of Utah with new eyes, like the river running by my truck, like a virgin. Probably good since now I was smack-dab in Mormon Country.  The white spires of the Temple greeted me as I drove past St George on the way to my RV park in Leeds. My two main objectives this week were to take a Chicago Tribune columnist who lives here to lunch and to visit Snow Canyon State Park. Both were accomplished along with some other fun.  The weather was stellar and if you are ever in the area, Snow Canyon (most likely named after John Snow the King of the North) is a “have-ta-see”. The pics tell the story….

I guess work got in the way and I didn’t have time to tour Zion NP from the Springdale entrance but my next RV “resort” provided another opportunity I may have otherwise missed. I was headed to Cedar City, just 90 minutes north and 15 degrees colder when I saw a small sign for Kolob Canyons, another, mostly overlooked section of the Park.   After freezing my ass off for the next three days (my waterline didn’t thaw until 10 am) I made the trip down the road to Kolobsky. It was well worth it.  I was wondering where the cover photo for my blog was taken???? Now I know. Great hike, few tourists and another must-see discovery. On my way back to camp I passed a sign telling me I was at the southern end of the Great Basin which used to be a huge lake before the dinosaurs drank it dry.

My rig is humming along with Big Mo in tow and we are headed to a park that’s been on my list for decades… Bryce Canyon. Hell, I’ve been handling images, writing catalog copy and press releases on it since I was a pilgrim fresh off the boat. So I thought I knew what to expect. Checked into Ruby’s Campground and RV Park (Ruby own’s the whole friggin’ park gateway town it seems) and I’m here to report it was one of the most spacious and best situated parks I’ve been at.  Only the wind was a bugger (more on that later).  A cool bike path led from the front drive right into and through the national park. Uphill all the way it seemed. But I humped it and had a very scenic ride.  I stocked up on beer at Ruby’s grocery because I had a two special guests coming… John Beers and lovey new wife Barbara (high school hoodlums we were) and my old Boulder buddy Tim Griffin.  Cooked the Beers a steak dinner and we drained three bottles of wine and told stories. They were on a crazy 100 parks in 50 days rampage but it was good to see them.

Tim and I had decided a year ago that he would hook up with me in Utah and damn if he didn’t keep his word. In a blur of barbecuing, beer and bourbon drinking, cigar smoking and other sundry sins, we attacked the park trails with a vengeance. First we biked then hiked the breathtaking Rim Trail from Fairyland Point to Inspiration (aka perspiration) Point. Wow. The next day we descended into its depths along the Queens Garden trail to the Navajo Loop past weird creatures and twisted spirits frozen in orange, yellow, brown and white stone. Hiking just doesn’t get any better than this. Bryce is a gift to the eyes.

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We had a day to kill before packing up and moving to Torrey, Utah and Capital Reef NP so I perused the detailed map I have (one of my favorite pastimes) and noticed a state park and some natural arches only 20 miles away so off we went.  Double wows… Kodachrome Basin Park was an unexpected marvel of huge monoliths, multi-colored rock, sheer cliffs and after a long dirt road drive – one incredible double arch (named Grosvenor – go ahead, try to find it on a map).  Made a mental note that the park campground would be a perfect place for a future stay.

Utah State Route 12 needs to be on everyone’s road trip dream list.  It’s a marvel from Bryce through the towns of Escalante, Boulder and finally Torrey.  Hard to stay between the lines but even harder for Timmy who was driving with a bashed in windshield compliments of a wind storm that blew Big Mo’s back awning off its track and into Tim’s SUV. We were able to fix it but it took a day drive to Richfield which revealed more unexpected scenic wonders of Fish Lake and the Fremont River on the way back.

Torrey is very cool with quite a few GREAT restaurants like the Rim Rock and Capital Reef Cafe (not to forget Slacker’s burger joint).  But we were in Torrey to explore and visit an old AWE! outfitter, not only pig out. Pat Kearney of Hondoo Rivers and Trails set us up with noble steeds and with her in the lead and two other guests from North Carolina, we headed into Pleasant Creek Canyon as it cut right through the rock bulge of Capital Reef. Not long after leaving the horse trailer I heard Tim yell, “Pat!!#%&”. Well his horse shook his cinch and Tim’s saddle went vertical, Tim went head over ass onto the ground.  Yeehaw!  We had a rodeo.  But that was all the excitement there was.  Tim kissed his horse, Pat re-secured the saddle and he remounted with no more incidents. We saw a rock panel with picto AND petro-glyphs along with settler graffiti and bullet holes. The scenery and silence was overwhelming.

Sent Tim on his way and I had another free day to explore so I checked out the map for the most remote corner of the park and saw a 50+ mile dirt road loop through Cathedral Valley. Triple wow. Had to ford the Fremont river to get to the road but once on it, it was nonstop visual orgasm. I bet fewer than 1,000 people see this hidden wonder every season. I considered myself lucky and fortunate. A fitting ending to a phantasmagoric month and a half in Utah.  Now it’s back to Colorado and old friends until I point my pony east to Michigan, Ohio, Long Island, Pennsylvania and Kentucky!

Some pics of Cathedral Valley….

3 thoughts on “Zion to Bryce to Capital Reef – Phantasmagoric Utah

  1. “real yet totally unreal place” sums it up! You were so close yet so far away Dave! Hope you and Big Mo make it to Salt Lake soon! In the meantime….safe travels and thanks for sharing! K~ Hello to Marion if you see her in CO!

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  2. Dave, you continue to amaze me with the photos, adventures and of course your story logs are so priceless. Love you man, Glad that Tim joined you on the road. Much love from the Barry’s

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  3. Visited the area a few years ago. Yes to beauty. I especially enjoyed the town of Escalante, gateway to the Grand Staircase-Escalante Natl Monument. Town had recently been “discovered” by visitors. lured by the proximity to the Monument, which I hope the current administration leaves alone. Also loved the Shooting Star’s vintage Airstreams and drive-in movie. You wouldn’t need it, bcs you are self-contained. http://travel-babel.com/2012/06/28/shooting-star-cool-lodging-in-hot-country/

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