May 3, 2014:
UTAH National Parks & More
Excited to begin our 12 day vacation in Utah to see “The Mighty Five”: the state’s 5 National Parks: Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon & Zion.
Smooth flights on Southwest & arrived, on time, at Salt Lake City Airport in the early afternoon. Picked up our rental car (Toyota Camry) at Enterprise & were on our way out of the city by 2:15 PM. Snow-capped mountains and it was 84 degrees… traffic heavy til we got past Provo (Saturday). Arrived in Moab a little after 6 PM & checked into the Inca Inn. This is an old-school motel… very basic but clean, very economical & just 4-5 miles from Arches National Park. The friendly front desk clerk loaned me a mini coffee maker AND fresh-ground Starbucks when I said we would be out the door too early in the mornings to take advantage of the free breakfast. Nice place!
After we unloaded the car (3 night stay) we drove into Arches N.P. as far as Balanced Rock & also stopped at Park Avenue area. Had a late dinner at The Moab Brewery & picked up breakfast & lunch stuff at City Market in town.
May 4 (Sunday):
Up bright & early (before 5 AM!) – we are still on East Coast time! After breakfast in the room, we are in Arches N.P. before 7 AM. It’s 70 degrees & partly sunny.
Drive to Windows Area & hike the 1 mile loop around North & South Windows Arches & Turret Arch & watch the sunrise light up the rocks. Gorgeous.
Several photographers are there but it’s not crowded or busy at all.
Next stop is at the end of the park’s scenic drive: Devil’s Garden Trail. We hike about 2 miles round-trip and see 4 arches: Landscape, Pine Tree, etc. Trail is not busy… it’s windy & 77 by the end of this hike.
Drove out to Delicate Arch viewpoint & share views with bus load of senior citizens. Checked out the 3 Gossips, Panorama Point views & visited Balanced Rock (again!).
As we leave Arches around 11 AM, there are 2 lines of cars to enter the park with each line being 10 cars deep. Stop at the Visitor Center & refill our water bottles & get some postcards.
Take Scenic Byway 313 – 30 miles from Arches – to Dead Horse Point State Park ($10 a car). There is ‘open range’ along the way with cattle grazing near the road. Drive the length of the park’s road & walk the canyon rim trail a bit & stop at various overlooks. Amazing views down into Canyon to Colorado River. Have picnic lunch at covered table. Nice Visitor Center.
Next door to Dead Horse is part of Canyonlands National Park called “Islands In The Sky”. Our first hike here is a short one to Mesa Arch: a low, broad arch that people can easily walk on top of… however, it sits on the brink of a deep canyon. I wasn’t happy to see a couple stand atop this arch with a BABY in arms!
Stopped at Green River Overlook and then drove to end point & hiked The Grand View Trail (2 miles roundtrip). It was quite windy but hike had amazing views.
Back to the Inca Inn & hubby takes a dip in the pool. Enjoyed a good dinner at Pasta Jay’s in downtown Moab – ate outside overlooking Main Street. Drove down Potash Road, along the Colorado river, looking for Indian markings on cliff walls. Never found them!
“The world is big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.” ~John Muir
May 5 (Monday):
Up early again (in spite of comfy bed & quiet night). Back in Arches N.P. early & hit the Delicate Arch Trail by 7 AM. The hike itself was unique to us & fun: 1.5 miles of steady uphill trail – first a gravel trail then solid rock with rock piles (cairns) marking the way across the slick rock. Trail returns to sand/stone trail & then to a stone ledge… you don’t see the iconic arch until the very last-minute of the hike when you round a cliff wall & BAM: there is Delicate Arch – a free-standing arch on edge of cliff. There were only a handful of people around & we sat & enjoyed the view. Nice couple traded picture-taking duties with us.
Across slick rock – rock cairns show the way.
The snow-topped La Sal Mountain range is in the distance behind the arch – such a stunning sight. We stopped at the Ute Indian carvings on rock & the Wolfe cabin (early Morman settlers) at the end of the hike.
Took short hike around Double O Arch, Park Avenue area & then relaxed at bit back at the motel. Had lunch next door at the Sweet Craving Bakery – yummy sandwiches.
Late afternoon: drove out Route 128 – a very scenic drive along the Colorado River with red canyon walls on either side of the road & river. Stopped at the Red Cliffs Lodge complex & checked out their small, free movie museum that showcases a multitude of movies filmed in the area. In the same complex, we visited the Castle Creek Winery & enjoyed 3 free samples & got a bottle of Cab Sav. Continued down 128 past Fisher Towers, turned around & drove up a dirt road to Fisher Towers. Gorgeous area!
May 6 (Tuesday):
Had continental breakfast at The Inca Inn, packed up & hit the road just before 8 AM. On Route 70…a whole lot of nothing to see & then on to 24 SW. No services, no buildings… nothing but a few free-range cows, mesas & flat fields of sagebrush. After about 1.5 hours, arrive at Goblin Valley State Park & talked to the park ranger at the entrance about conditions at Little Wild Horse Canyon (LWHC). He also gave us a map of canyon & trail.
Drove another 5 miles to the trail head (paved all the way & there were restrooms there), hiked about a 1/2 mile, level trail to a short, rocky cliff area & then into beginning of canyon. This was a great hike! So unique… went through several narrow areas just a few feet wide. The stone walls of canyon were cool.. swirls of rock… who knew stone could be so pretty?! We only saw a few people while in canyon but met a large group as we were almost back to the parking lot. Once again, we beat ‘the rush’.
Close to noon – head back to Goblin Valley State Park. $8 per car. Sunny day, 73 and VERY windy. Drove to the end of the park’s road to “Valley of the Goblins”. Walked among hundreds of ‘goblins’, ‘mushrooms’, but sand was blowing into eyes, mouth… so cut the visit short & enjoyed a picnic lunch in the car overlooking the goblins, buttes, blue skies & The Henry Mountains in the distance.
Next stop: Capitol Reef National Park. Rte 24 runs through the park and we never had to show /use our parks pass. Stopped along the road to check out Indian etching on wall of canyon. Saw several mule deer, orchards (started by Morman settlers years ago) and a tiny one room school house, now deserted. Took the 10 mile scenic drive and then took dirt road at its end to the Capitol Gorge Trail & hiked 2 mile trail through broad canyon.
Stopped in the “Fruita” area of Capitol Reef and took pictures, walked around the Moulton Barn and bought a mini cherry pie at the Gifford House. Yes, a bakery in a national park: HEAVEN!
4:30 PM – Checked into the Best Western between the park & Torrey, Utah. Had a spacious room which was ground level at the front door but 2nd floor in the back where a balcony looked out over expansive red rocks/cliffs/mountains. Enjoyed drinks on the balcony and heard nothing but the ever-present breeze blowing through the sagebrush.
Dinner across the road from motel at the Rim Rock Restaurant – good meals with nice views. And a pretty sunset.
Weds., May 7:
Woke up to 40 degrees and a gorgeous sunrise making the red cliffs glow. Had breakfast in the room and headed back to Capitol Reef around 9 AM. Walked around viewpoints at Panorama Point, Sunset Point and Goosenecks Point (short trails).
Checked out the Visitor Center and continued back to the Gifford House Bakery. We split a scone and had some good coffee while soaking up the sun a a picnic table.
Walked out the Fremont Trail, following river by the same name, past campground, orchards, horse pasture. Interested in the irrigation system in the orchards – furrows/trenches in entire fields of fruit trees. This hike was cut short but abrupt change in weather & RAIN.
Headed back to the Best Western and decide it’s a good time to do a load of laundry (on site at motel).
After lunch, temperatures have dipped & it is sleeting/spitting snow! Can’t believe we were sitting in the sun a few hours earlier! Enjoy watching the storm move across the cliffs & mountains. Around 4 PM, we drive into Torrey to shop…but, really, there are NO ‘shops’ in Torrey! 🙂 Did find a funky bookstore/coffee shop where I bought “Dessert Solitaire” by Edward Abbey (recounting his time as ranger in Arches N.P.). Drove out as far as town of Loa & filled the gas tank (spouse tried to chat with stoic cowboy at the pumps).
Had an early dinner at Red Cliffs Restaurant in Torrey where we were both carded! Really?! Some crazy liquor law thing in Utah??
Thurs., May 8:
COLD morning with SNOW on mountains in the distance. Up early (again!) but enjoyed a gorgeous sunrise. Left motel around 8:30 AM(43*) and stopped in Torrey at the chuck Wagon General Store for sandwiches for later & hopped on scenic Route 12. Sunny morning.
Quickly climb Boulder Mountain and are surrounded by tons of tall Ponderosa pines and aspens that have yet to have leaves on them. There is a dusting of snow on the ground that increases to a couple inches as we climb the mountain.
As we drive down the other side of the mountain, the snow disappears and aspens have bright green leaves on them!
Around 10 AM, took a side road off Route 12 called The Burr Trail (paved). Go out several miles into Long Canyon where we found a short slot canyon, just off the road. The sky is bright blue, bright green leaves on little trees inside canyon & the sheer rock walls are so red. Love it!
Back on Route 12 and go over “The Hogback” – ridge of road with sweeping vistas.
Arrive at parking for Calf Creek Falls trailhead at 11:40 AM and nab the last empty parking space! Six mile (roundtrip) hike to Calf Creek Falls: the trail was a mix of loose sand (ugh), hard red dirt & stones. It wound through a canyon, along a creek some of the way & through trees at times. It had level stretches with a little up & down/rocky sections. There were interpretive signs along the way.
The trail ends at the high, thin waterfall where the temperature was significantly cooler. We ate our sandwiches, chatted with nice couple from Lansing, Michigan & took pictures.
3:30 PM – back at the car, I dump about a tablespoon of SAND from each shoe!
Stop at “Head of the Rocks” Overlook. What vistas – you can see miles and miles!
“May all your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome and dangerous, leading to the most amazing views…” ~ Edward Abbey
4:15 PM – arrive in Escalante, Utah, a very small town on Route 12. Overnight here at Canyons Bed & Breakfast. We have the “Cabana Room”, very nice with a table & chairs on a little porch overlooking a patio with pretty landscaping with a huge shade tree in the middle. Met the owner, Cate, who is originally from R.I.
Showered after our sandy hike and had drinks on our private porch. Dinner near by at Escalante Outfitters (restaurant/store/bakery) & had delicious artisan pizza. Talked quite a bit with couple at adjoining table who were also staying at the B&B. They were from Quebec, 9th visit to Utah & into serious canyoneering.
Friday, May 9:
Full breakfast at 8 AM and had lovely conversation with another couple from Portland, OR. Left B&B around 9:30 AM & continue on Rte 12 South heading to Bryce Canyon. Pretty morning, 55 degrees by 10 & driving through Dixie National Forest.
Stopped at Escalante Grand Staircase National Monument Visitor Center in Cannonville. Nice, mini-museum.
Entered Bryce Canyon National Park around 11:30 AM & drove to Sunset Point area… walk to the canyon’s rim at the main amphitheater: OH MY! Bryce Canyon is AMAZING! Hundreds of rock formations sculpted by time & weather into spires/shapes: ‘hoo doos’.
We hiked the Queen’s Garden Trail round-trip, DOWN into the canyon & back. At turn around point, there is a rock shaped like famous picture of Queen Victoria. Very steep hike back UP through rock ‘tunnels’ & switchbacks. Such a fantastic experience.
1 PM – picnic lunch in the park and an interesting bird visits our picnic table – black & white bird, nothing like we have in our neck of the woods. Check out the near by park general store. Around 2 pm, we head out for the park’s scenic drive. Drove its length (17 miles) to the end point where we walked the Bristlecone Loop Trail (1 mile), a mostly level path through pine woods with a few overlooks across the canyons. We were the only ones on the trail, can smell the pines & the air is SO clear (9,000+ elevation!). On drive back, we stop at several overlooks, Natural Bridge, Thor’s Hammer, etc. Spectacular vistas!
4;20 PM: Check into Bryce Canyon Lodge (inside park). Have spacious room with king bed, coffee maker, microwave & fridge & balcony (2nd floor) looking into the pines. Enjoyed drinks on the balcony before good dinners at lodge’s dining room (salmon, seafood risotto, good salads).
The park’s main lodge houses restaurant, gift shop but no guest rooms. There are 2 motel-type buildings (were we are) and cabins. All are just a few minutes’ walk to main canyon area. After dinner, we strolled up and down the “Rim Trail”, a paved walkway along the canyon’s rim. Pleasant evening , very little wind.
“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” ~ Robert Louis Stevenson
Another quiet night. Up EARLY for sunrise over the canyon… as soon as the sun rose & hit the canyon walls, rocks & hoodoos… BAM! The canyon lit up in technicolor red and orange. Just awe-struck with this park’s beauty!
Again, photos can’t capture the glory. Folks were crowded at Sunrise Point but we sat on a bench a bit beyond, right on the rim and it was quiet. Only around 40 degrees at 6:30 AM but NO wind. We were layered up and pretty comfortable. As the sun rose, I sang, “Morning Has Broken”… my husband was not impressed. Back to our room for breakfast.
Another SUNNY day! 🙂
Checked out at the main lodge and drove to a couple overlooks we missed the previous day and stopped at the Visitor Center on our way out of the park. Bought a few things, walked through small museum-type room.
9:30 AM: Bye to Bryce Canyon N.P. Unbelievable place!
Stop at Dixie National Forest’s Red Canyon Visitor Center – nice place! Took short trail/loop “Pink Ledges” and had it all to ourselves.
10:40 AM: End of Rte.12 and there was a sudden change in topography as we left Red Canyon. The terrain opens up with fields of sagebrush. 89S toward Zion… pass ‘Checkerboard Mesa’ and terrain changes again with dramatic steep descent into canyon with switchbacks and the TALLEST canyon walls we’ve ever seen!
Go through a mile-long stone tunnel. Sadly, the Canyon Overlook trail head parking lot is full (noon on a Saturday) so we skipped that hike.
Arrive at Cable Mountain Lodge at 12:30 PM and got a parking tag for our car. Had a picnic lunch on the lodge’s grounds beside the Virgin River. Then walked next door to Zion National Park. Hopped on the mandatory shuttle bus (no cars in park unless staying at the lodge). Bus was quite crowded but we enjoyed the recorded narrative telling about the park’s history & geography. we rode to the end point, bus’s last stop, at the Riverside Walk – a paved walkway in a canyon along the Virgin River with cliffs rising up on either side of the river (2 miles round-trip). At the end of this walk, you can enter the “Narrows” a world famous walk in the river as canyon narrows. We passed on this – not too keen on slippery conditions of wet rocks in river. This was our most populated walk of the trip – crowded!
Pretty afternoon, low 70s & sun. Return to Cable Mountain Lodge & check in just after 4 PM. We have a large, 2nd floor suite with big living room with a balcony, bedroom, kitchen & dining area, 2 TVs, very nice. Walked next door to the Zion Brew Pub for dinner, right next to the park entrance. Ate outside with view of “The Watchman” (mountain/cliff) and enjoyed live entertainment – singer with guitar.
Decided on an early evening walk from the pub on the Pa’rus Trail, just inside the park. This was an ill-fated jaunt… just before we got to the trail, hubby stepped off a curb & fell on rough pavement skinning both palms of his hands, elbows and legs! We returned to the lodge for first aid.
Later that evening, the power goes out at 9:30 (no storm) so we just go to bed. Lights came back on around midnight.
Sunday, May 11:
Breakfast in suite then walked over to park and walked about a mile up Pa’rus trail but turned around when it started to rain lightly. Saw heart-shaped loop of rope along the path… leading to a wedding in the park.
Stopped & toured through the Visitor Center. Drizzle continued so we drove through Springdale to Rockville & found our way, over Virgin River, to Ghost Town of Grafton.
The handful of abandoned 1800s buildings are the remains of a settlement of Mormans. Indian raids caused the settlers to desert the town. Visited small cemetary nearby as well. This was all down a narrow dirt road in the middle of nowhere.
Back to Springdale and stopped at a grocery for some food. Had lunch in suite and, a little after 1 pm, head back into Zion. Took the shuttle to the Zion History Museum – watched a 20 minute movie on geologic & human history of the park.
Took bus further up canyon and took short, steep trail to “Weeping Rock”: rock overhang with dripping water & plants growing vertically out of rock.
Took the shuttle back to the Visitor Center area and walk the short Archeology Trail which has nice view looking up the canyon.
4 PM: back to lodge and do a load of laundry while sitting by the pool, reading, with red cliffs of The Watchman looming overhead.
Drove a short ways into Springdale and had good dinners at Oscar’s Cafe (had fish tacos which restaurant named “phish” tacos!). Drove up toward tunnel (but not thru) at Eastern around 8 PM and enjoy that stunning scenery again with those dramatic, high cliffcliffs.
May 12, Monday:
Our last full ‘park day’ and the sun is back – gorgeous weather. It was chilly to start (40!) butup into the 70s by afternoon. Love this lodge, just a few minutes walk to the park entrance. Left around 9 AM and took shuttle bus to the “Grotto” Stop. We took the Keyenta Trail (1 mile), a trail of dirt/stone with pretty views up the canyon.
Then, on our way to Emerald Pools, we must have taken a wrong turn and went about a half mile in the wrong direction, up a steep, narrow wash, before realizing our mistake. Turned around & found the correct (and easier!) trail. Then, the trail to Upper Emerald Pool became steep & rocky. Turn around after a rest and hiked down to Lower Emerald Pools – sprays of water cascaded over rock ledges… very unique and pretty. Yesterday’s rain probably helped this happen!
We then took an easy, paved path from Lower Pool to Zion Lodge. Had cheese & crackers sitting on a bench in the lodge’s expansive front lawn enjoying Zion’s mountain views. Enjoyed some soft serve ice cream cones at the lodge.
Took the shuttle back as far as ‘Canyon Junction’ stop, got off and walked the Pa’rus Trail (1.7 miles) back to the Visitor Center. This is a wide, paved trail along the Virgin River that is also a bike pathway. fantastic views along the way!
2 PM: Back at the lodge and spouse uses the pool (brrr!) I sat on lounger and read book, comfy in the sun.
Early dinner at The Bit & Spur Restaurant in Springdale. Ate on back proch, enjoyed watching hummingbrods and other interesting birds & had great Mexican dinners (butternut squash in burrito -yum!).
May 13, Tuesday:
9 AM: Checked out from Cable Mountain Lodge. Another sunny day. Head north for Salt Lake City, stop in La Verkin for gas ($3.79) and more coffee. Get on Rte 15 North. 80 mph speed limit!
Short stop (Exit 40) and took scenic drove in Kolob Canyons section of Zion N.P. Entered the little Visitor Center & its restrooms. Drove the 10 mile (round-trip) scenic drive. There were patches of SNOW by the road… it was closed 2 days ago when it rained in Springdale it had snow here. Beautiful canyon but chilly – we did no hiking.
10:40 AM: Back on Rte. 15N. Snow-capped mountains in view. Elevation sign said 6,000 and we are in a valley. We climb and see patches of snow by the road. Only 50 degrees when close to noon.
12:30 PM: Stop in Fillmore for fast food lunch at Burger King and take rental car through a car wash.
3:30 PM: Arrive at Temple Square in Salt Lake City. Walked around the area, the Temple, Tabernacle, gorgeous flowers and grounds.
MANY buildings, statues, fountains, very high skyscraper building is Morman offices. National headquarters for the religion, very opulent.
Just 10 minutes down the road to Best Western Airport Inn which was very nice. Tired! Ate left overs in our room for dinner.
May 14, Weds.:
Up around 5 AM, drove minutes to airport and a smooth hand off of rental car at Enterprise. Toyota Camry served us well: over 1,500 miles and 3-4 dirt roads!
Smooth trip home. Daughter & granddaughter pick us up at airport.
FANTASTIC trip… each of Utah’s 5 national parks were unique with stunning scenery and great hikes. AND some other great hikes were NOT in parks but on public lands: Little Wild Horse Canyon & Calf Creek Falls. The geography, plant life, terrain… all so different and beautiful.