Monday, September 16, 2019

Capitol Reef Part Two and Grand Staircase-Escalante - Las Vegas and Utah - May 2019

Las Vegas/Utah Trip Overview
Bryce Canyon
Zion National Park

Glamping would have been more fun if the temperatures were higher than 38 degrees when waking up.  We experienced this kind of camping in Africa, but we expected it to be cold during that trip - not cold in late May in southern Utah.  The bathroom facilities worked well with a nice hotel hot shower.   We had a quick granola/protein bar breakfast in the car as we made the short drive back to Capitol Reef National Park.   Our main activity for the morning was to hike to Hickman Bridge  - a 2 mile round trip.   Again, here we are in the middle of nowhere at 7am walking around a bunch of rocks.  This was not our typical vacation.

The trail had a few patches of sketchy rock but overall it was pretty smooth sailing with light slopes and well defined trails.   We had great views of the Capitol Dome and other great scenery along the way.   It's hard to believe this area was all underwater at one point, but the coral-like rocks help to reinforce that fact.


We are not sure why the bridge was named for Hickman.   It was pretty nice though and nice to finally be at a cool formation without people getting in the way for the photos.   Downside - dreary morning with no sun.

When we finished our hike we stopped at the old timey general store for coffee and some old fashion honey candy that Holly loved.  As we mentioned in the last post a lot of this park was focused on the early settlers and how they lived so a few buildings on site were setup to function as part of a village.   We followed the road south a few miles for the scenic drive and to see the canyon original settlers brought their wagons through to get to the site.  We could have taken our car through the canyon pass but decided there were too many wet spots to bother.

Our next portion of the morning would be spent driving scenic Byway 12 towards Bryce Canyon through the Grand Staircase-Escalante.   Before researching this trip we had never heard of this site, Canyonlands, or Capitol Reef.   These are incredible locations worthy of Grand Canyon/Monument Valley levels of notoriety.   Route 12 was a windy road that took us up to almost 10,000 ft of elevation and views of snow capped forests.  Thirty minutes later we'd be looking at dusty desert scenes stretching for miles.   The road could have used a few more guard rails.   

By the time we reached civilization (the town of Escalante) we were starving. Car snacks weren’t cutting it and Dave developed a new Pavlovian behavior we called “baby bird”.  Whenever Holly grabbed for a snack his palm went up immediately for a handout.   

We picked the Circle D Eatery because it was the last restaurant on the main drag.  Lucky for us it was awesome with Utah beers and delicious burgers.  This was pure gourmet compared to the food served up in Bryce City, our next destination.   

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Canyonlands and Part One of Capitol Reef - Las Vegas and Utah - May 2019

Las Vegas/Utah Trip Overview

Another early morning.  We grabbed a few quick snacks from our limited continental buffet at the Moab Valley Inn, but saved the real breakfast for McDonald's.   We don't eat anything from McDonald's except for a very rare ice cream cone.   There wasn't a Starbucks option so this would do.   At least the coffee was not from concentrate.

This morning we were leaving Moab and heading west.  Our itinerary for the day was to visit Canyonlands National Park for as long as that would take, then head to Capitol Reef National Park for a little more touring before ending up in Torrey, UT for our night of glamping.  We didn't know these parks existed until we started doing research for this trip.  Both parks had some unique aspects making the visit worth it.

Canyonlands is divided into two sections that are not connected by roads.   To see The Needles section you need to go south through Moab.   We skipped that section and went to the Island in the Sky section.  It took us under an hour to get here through some fog and light rain.

All Canyonlands National Park

Island in the Sky portion

Our budget of a 1/2 day here was perfect.   We arrived at the Visitor Center before it opened which gave us a chance to check out the Shafer Overview. People actually take their cars down there and camp.

From there we made our way to Mesa Arch.  This landmark seems to make its way into screen savers and wallpaper packs in Microsoft Windows.   Our timing was perfect for lighting on the valley in the background and to get some lens flare above the arch.  Of course this is another place where dumb people don't follow rules and climb on things they shouldn't climb on.

Our next stop was Upheaval Dome.  This wound up being our most difficult hike of the day, especially since we missed a trail marker and took some stupid way.   Luckily we had a fifteen year old boy with his mom willing to blaze the trail.    We got over the difficult section and found out from another couple we all were way off course.    We looked down into the distance at where we were supposed to be and decided the view from this point was good enough,   Upheaval is a strange formation that they can’t really explain what happened.  A meteor impact site is one version and the other has something to do with earth science.  

The show-stopper of Canyonlands was next: Grand View Point Overlook.  The views here rivaled (or surpassed) those at The Grand Canyon.  Plateaus and mesas for miles.  There was a couple mile round trip trail that offered some spectacular photo opps.

Time to go.  We were able to see most of the sites in this section in about 5 hours.  In between Canyonlands and Capitol Reef on Rt. 24 was.... nothing.  Actually there were a few state parks and the small town of Hanskville with its strange gas station built into the rocks.  There was some striking formations along the way.

It was raining by the time we reached Capitol Reef.  While we stopped to look at the park map we got a dinner tip from another park guest.  More on that later.  At least the rain had stopped and we had some sunlight for our first viewing area of the petroglyphs.  

A lot of the focus of Capitol Reef was on the early settlers.  Some historic buildings and orchards help to demonstrate how horrible life was back in the olden days.  We skipped most of this stuff in favor of Goosenecks Overlook and Panorama Point.  Halfway into our hike the lightning started.   Time to go....

Not too far from the west park entrance was the town of Torrey.  Our hotel was on the outskirts:  The Capital Reef Resort.   We were expecting this to be the highlight of our lodging experience because we were glamping in a conestoga wagon!

We found a picture on a travel website of a wagon hotel about a year before the trip and were happy to find we had a chance to stay in one.   The resort also had a regular hotel, cabins, and tee-pees.    Our wagon was nice and included a king bed, a heater, and 4 bunk beds - perfect for a family or a bro trip....  Each wagon had a private hotel style bathroom in a nearby building.   

After dropping off our stuff we headed to town for a drink (the resort didn't have a bar).   We found one place attached to a hotel with a bar, but to have a drink we needed to order food (stupid Utah).   We picked at some nachos while enjoying local beers.  On the way back we stopped for dinner at the restaurant the other travelers suggested we go to: La Cueva.  It's a Mexican restaurant attached to a gas station/C-store.  No beer listed on the menu, but the manager was happy to come over and give us a rundown (he is not originally from UT and hated the laws as much as we did).   The food was decent, definitely authentic.  

Back at the hotel we sat in the Adirondack chairs by the fire.   The fire was just not for atmosphere - it was freaking cold.  Usually the tee-pees and wagons aren't open during these temps.   Great.   The heater in the wagon could not keep up.  Great.

A couple ladies joined us by the fire - they just met on a group bicycle trip through the parks and acted like BFFs.  Later a family with two teen daughters arrived.  The parents joined us while the girls stayed in the wagon.  Unfortunately for us we only brought one bottle of wine (purchased in Vegas) and there was no bar at the hotel.   We went back to the wagon, plugged in the electric blanket, and slept with our knit caps on like wagon-folk would have.  Holly had to leave the wagon in the middle of the night for the bathroom - at least she was rewarded with a no-light pollution star-filled sky.   She told Dave about it and he wasn't having any of it.  Too cold to get out of bed and be tempted to mess around with the tripod.  We also didn't mention the man on the ATV drives by the wagons at night to turn off the fires.   Pretty darn loud....

The glamping experience would have been a blast in average weather conditions.  The cold (38 degrees when we woke up) really took the wind out of those sails.   Still a worthwhile experience and maybe we'd go back to the area and stay in the tee-pees.