Utah – Part 2 ‘The Red Rock State’ and Goodbye to Pete


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June 21st 2014
Published: June 21st 2014
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On our way to Glendale RV Park

We're up early for the drive to Glendale, our base for visiting Zion and Bryce Canyon NP's. We're greeted though by the sound of thunder, a few lightening streaks, hail and snow and rain, interspersed with a bit of sunshine. 4 seasons in one!

First we have to call Cruise America as the generator packed in last night (not one of Pete or C’s favourite machines because of the noise it made. But then again, needs must!) . After doing all the diagnostics they ask, they agree it's broken and we'll need to get to a service centre to get it repaired. None are on our route though, so we decide to revisit our plans so we always have electric hook ups at RV sites we stay at and then claim compensation for loss of amenity.

As we head back towards Jacob Lake we have lots of sleet and the higher ground has a good sprinkling of snow. Looks like a lousy start to Memorial Day Weekend for local folks – this is when summer officially starts in the US. Thankfully, we are heading to warmer climes; the forecast for Glendale is 32C. Nice. (Find out later I looked at the wrong Glendale – ours will actually be 19 -20 C but at least no snow).

Kanab

First stop en route is Kanab, which we visited on the way to GC. It's not so sunny today so we just visit Parry's Lodge for coffee; it has photos of all the famous Wild West film & TV actors on the walls and has featured in some films (see our Grand Canyon blog for more info).

Zion National Park

Then it's all the way to Zion NP on pretty good roads, passing some beautiful rock formations - much more curved like waves (this used to be an ocean!) with fabulous striations, and salmon pink in colour. At the entry point we flash our National Pass but have to pay $15 for two trips (once each way) through a narrow tunnel over a mile in length; there is no charge for cars or smaller vehicles but anything over 11ft high has to be paid for, and nothing over 13ft can go through. So be warned! They stack vehicles at each end of the tunnel and allow a convoy through single file - we have to make sure we go through in the centre of the tunnel so as not to scratch the roof or sides. Having seen some very high coaches go through we realise we have nothing to worry about. The tunnel has "windows" in the side periodically through which you can get some great views of the canyon. Looking at the engineering in the tunnel one can but marvel at the craftsmanship and hard work that made this possible.

East of the tunnel is mainly slip rock and the main event is the Checkerboard Mesa - named for the horizontal and vertical lines across the rock face. There are lots of pull outs along the park road but as Zion is fairly small, not many are suitable for RVs and you have to get there early to get a space. We'll return early we decide. Just before we get to the Visitor Centre we pass a Desert Bighorn Sheep on the side of the road. For a reportedly shy animal it seems unfazed by the folk taking it's photo.

Once out the other side it's a series of pretty tight switchbacks till you get to the really impressive Visitor Centre (under imposing red rock mountains) where you can get shuttle buses (no cars allowed) to travel to various photo or trail stops along the canyon. As we don't get here till after 1pm and want to get to our RV Park in Glendale before it gets too late, we take the shuttle for an orientation trip - though not all the way as it takes 80 minutes round trip, enjoying the views of the rocks towering above us; the tallest sandstone cliffs in the world we are told.

The bus has a commentary running which provides loads of interesting info.

Zion was originally the floor of a vast sea area the size of the Sahara Desert. Distant volcanos erupted leaving ash to form bright layers. Then there was the slow uplift of the Colorado plateau raising the region by thousands of feet. The Canyon was carved by the Virgin River rapidly flowing and occasionally flooding.

To give a sense of the power of the river, 1 million tons of sediment flows through the canyon each year of which 80% is shifted in just 20 days of rain.

Paiute Indians lived here and ancestral Puebloans before that. The Paiutes farmed the valleys and were still there when the white settlers arrived. The Mormons settled in the area in the late 1800s, as part of their shift south to escape persecution. Lots of the sites here have names that show a sense of the reverence experienced by early Mormon settlers. Hence:- Angels Landing, the Great White Throne, Altar of Sacrifice, West Temple and Three Patriarchs to name but a few. Not sure what became of the Indian names for the same features …. Or were they just forgotten like a lot of Native Indian History?! The Park was originally formally recognised as Munkutweap Park in 1909 - a Paiute name, but was then renamed by Congress as Zion NP in 1919. Tourism started in the early 1900's served by the railroads investing in the area, lodges were commissioned, roads built and now its one of the major attractions in the south west US.

It’s a good intro and we look forward to our return in a couple of days’ time.

Glendale

Then it's on to Glendale, back through the tunnel. The journey should take about 3/4 of an hour but takes longer due to the wait for the tunnel. We chose Glendale, a very small town, as its half way between Zion and Bryce Canyon and will mean we don't have to race between them to get camping spaces at the Park sites which are first come first served only. (The NPS (National Park Service) needs to improve its approach to these matters we feel. In our travels we have found their policies inconsistent and quite unhelpful at times. The same can be said about the facilities, information and standards of accommodation. It’s almost as if you are supposed to accept lower standards because it’s a NP).

Bauers Canyon Ranch RV Park is a good find - a nice site, quite small and very friendly and helpful. While checking in, C spots a freezer stacked with Bauers beef (their own cattle) for sale at great prices - only $9-50 a lb - great value. M & P are easily persuaded that it's a no brainer so we buy some T-bone steak and Rib steak for future dinners.

We go for dinner at Buffalo Bistro, 5 mins walk away (recommended by the Bauers) - a great quirky place with fun owners and good but simple menu - pasta with everything - we go for Elk burgers and Boar ribs, salad and toasted bread followed by an awesome freshly made, Pear cobbler with ice cream. They serve draft local Wasatch Amber ale too so we take a pitcher. The music is 60s to 80s country, blues and rock from a programmed TV screen but quite enjoyable.

An odd thing about Utah's licencing laws is you can't have more than one glass per person at a time, so when we order an extra pint (it was good and at $4 per pint good value), one of us (C volunteers) has to neck their existing drink before they can serve us!

Aside from all sorts of quirky signs etc the bar also has lots of bird feeders out (filled with sugar water) which attract Hummingbirds and Ron, the owner tells C to hold the edge of the feeder and if you hold still they come very close and you can feel the power of their wings. It's awesome. Very full we return to the RV for a good night’s sleep.

Next morning M has a Face Time with Sarah about her exciting future plans about moving to Winchester, and then it's off to Bryce Canyon for half a day. The road goes past many ranches, a lovely valley with rivers running through, and a few small settlements. It feels very much like ‘Little America’ and is very attractive. Then after about 30 mins we turn onto Scenic Byway 12 which takes you through picturesque Red Canyon, which has very red rocks with pinnacles, and the road goes through arches cut in the rock, through Dixie National Forest, past Bryce Canyon airfield – tiny (one tin shed with a sign on it)! And finally……..

Bryce Canyon National Park

In the park we get very useful information at the Visitor Centre, see a good intro film about the formation and history of the Canyon for about 15 mins till it breaks, and then take the shuttle bus to Bryce Point at the far end of the shuttle service. On the way back we get off at Sunset Point and do the 0.5 mile rim walk between there and Sunrise Point which gives some awesome views of the amphitheatre - windows, hoodoos - as the pinnacles are called (formed by the effect of freezing water in the sandstone causing cracks and holes to form in the sandstone walls and then rain erosion), rock pillars, standing spires, and canyon walls or fins. The colours are amazing and enhance the effect with pinks, reds and pale cream. We just about have enough time as its dark clouds rolling in and looks like rain's on its way. We're coming back on Monday when the weather is forecast to be better but we still take lots of pics as the clouds look quite good covering the canyon.

Originally the canyon was an inland sea that divided the continent east to west. Tectonic plate movement 20 million years ago pushed up the crust 2 miles to form the Colorado Plateau of which this is part, carved out of the eastern edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. About 180 days of the year temperatures go from warm afternoons to freezing nights - they had 3 inches of snow a couple of days before we got there.

It's a place where you can see lots of wildlife too – we see Pronghorn deer which has reddish stripes on its neck and is apparently the fastest animal on earth after the cheetah, chipmunks, ground squirrels, Stellers Jays - a brilliant blue, and a Clarks Nutcracker - a tiny and fearless bird that looks for food bits around your feet. We don't get to see any Mountain Lion though - which is probably not a bad thing.

Bryce Canyon is named after Ebenezer Bryce, a Mormon settler originally from Scotland, who set up a lumber trading post in the Canyon. He moved on but the name stayed.

On the way back we stop in Bryce Canyon City (!!) at Ruby's Inn to make a quick call. C had a brainwave (M is still recovering); instead of driving all the way back to Glendale after our visit to Bryce on Monday, we should change our plans and go on to Torrey near Capitol Reef, where we are booked for the Tuesday night. It will save us over 100 miles, a couple of hours of driving, and mean we have more time to enjoy Capitol Reef. They have space so good call C.

Back at the Ranch we start getting organised for the end of the RV adventure - re-packing bags and trying to rationalise things to take to Salt Lake City and on to our camping trip, before a BBQ supper.

Zion NP – part 2

Next morning is a bright sunny day - nice & warm, for our 2nd trip to Zion NP.

As we get to the tunnel queue we notice a herd of Desert Bighorn Sheep on the hillside above the tunnel so we get out for pics- even the Ranger is taking photo’s, which helps to pass the time while we wait for our turn to go through.

We get the shuttle bus and first stop is Sinawava Temple for the Riverside walk which ends at the entry to the Narrows - a canyon walk through water and over rocks; it’s packed with folk with waterproof shoes and big sticks heading for The Narrows. Many of the folks are Indian (of the sub-continent); it’s like a day or weekend out from a local University or Call Centre team on a junket!

The Sinawava Temple is a rock pillar that looks great from the right angle and with good sunlight so we hunt around for some pics to show it at its best. Photographing the canyon is a nightmare; trying to get a good shot of vertical cliffs that shows the scale and colour is virtually impossible.

Next we go to Big Bend which we’ve been told is good for photos. It’s okay though not the most amazing. We do get to see a peregrine's nest viewed through a Wardens telescope, and rock climbers clinging limpet style to the steepest of cliffs. (why???). There’s also Angels Landing, a steep and narrow ridge walk overlooking Big Bend. The commentary on the bus is definitely enough to put you off trying this (i.e. folk die!)

Next stop is The Patriarchs - Abraham, Isaac & Jacob - behind the Human History Museum, the most photographed image of Zion we are informed. We have to wait for the sun to get good pics and are amused while doing so by the antics of a pocket gopher which lives in a burrow in the ground, which pops out, grabs a weed and then drags it into its hole to eat. They apparently cover their holes to avoid predators.

For lunch we head into Springdale on the shuttle (also free). There’s lots of parking in Springdale which helps to minimise the number of cars going to the NP which has a limited number of parking spaces. We go to Oscars for lunch - recommended by the shuttle driver. It’s a bit pricey but they do huge portions so M&C share a quesadilla which turns out more like a pizza but very nice, and P has a pulled pork sandwich.

Springdale is the place we first had a blueberry pie, when we were here 10 years ago, and so we decide to try and hunt one down. No-one has them so instead we go to Bumbleberry cafe to get a Bumbleberry pie for pudding, which comes with a little tale about Bumbleberries! (Actually a mix of blueberries, raspberries and blackberries but we like the humour of it; it tastes good too we find out later).

Lots of folks are out on Harley's enjoying the warm weather (though we do get a rain shower as we are leaving Zion). Interestingly, we hardly see any black folk visiting (in contrast to busloads of Japanese) - something we've noted at all the parks we've been to.

Back in the NP we take the shuttle to Zion Lodge and join the hordes walking up to the Emerald Pools. Waste of time really. Not sure at what time of year the pool is emerald but today it's a murky brown! Lots of canyon tree frogs croaking and some mini waterfalls so has it has the potential to be nice but doesn't do it for us so we head back to try to leave before the mass exit and head to Buffalo Bistro for a pint of Amber to finish the day.

Supper is a lovely BBQ of Bauers T. Bone steak; awesome says Pete!

Bryce Canyon NP – Part 2

After loading up another blog (slowly catching up) we head off to Bryce Canyon for the day before going on to Torrey near Capitol Reef NP where we will spend tomorrow - our final Park for this part of our road trip.

As we drive through small communities we notice lots of flags out along roadside for Memorial Day – this remembers US troops killed in conflict. Hatch - a small place we pass through catches our eye – it has lots of funky looking motels, a shiny diner and a second hand shop all red, white and blue called Mugwumps.

Pete is driving and on a mission to get to Bryce ASAP before it gets too packed but we persuade him to stop in Red Canyon along the way for a few pics. It’s really awesome and not somewhere we’d heard about or we might have allowed more time to explore a little.

At Bryce, it’s an amazing day with clear blue skies and great views. We start with the 20 mile drive down to Rainbow Point which has great views of the panorama - lots of hoodoo's and sandstone going through red to pink to white, then stop in 4 places along the way back - Black Birch Canyon (okay but not one of the featured stops), Agua Canyon with a standalone hoodoo, Natural Bridge - though it's actually an Arch as formed by wind erosion, and Swamp canyon - no idea why it's named this but it's also a great view.

We finish the drive at Bryce Point and leave the car there while M&C take the bus to Sunrise Point and do the 1.8 mile "easy" trail to Queens Gardens. Not so easy! It’s very steep in places but well worth it as it takes you down, in and amongst all the hoodoos and fins and spires so you can get up close and personal for great pictures. The colours on the dune ridges go through all the hues of red to white – they look like one of the coloured sand filled glass ornaments you can get in Egypt or other parts of the Middle East.

P opts to take the bus to Inspiration Point which he says was well worth it; he got some good pics.

After a picnic lunch in the car park!! We start our journey to Torrey via Scenic Byway 12. The road passes through Tropic, Escalante and Boulder and through National & State Parks:- Kodachrome Basin, Escalante Petrified Forest, and Anasazi Village but we haven’t time to stop as we need to get to our campsite. Some areas along the way have interesting rocks but are grey and desert like so quite boring. Other parts have the same rock formations but in pink and cream, intermingled with slip rock, so look fabulous.

Then we start to climb, first into a forested area that looks like Wales! We climb to over 9600 FT and then reach grassland, twisted trees, pines, aspens etc. and views onto red and white sandstone plateaus and escarpments below, and snow-capped mountain peaks in the distance. There are lots of windy bits and it’s up and down all the way so not a fast road.

As we drive along the road we suddenly see a red thing dart across. Not a pronghorn or similar; it's an ATV - quickly followed by 3 others. ATVs & jeeps are hugely popular here - many of them towed behind a huge RV. Without doubt they'll be in the Grand Canyon before long…….. God forbid!

Torrey

Just at the end of the SR12, Torrey is a small place with a scattering of shops and eateries including Shakers Burger bar which has a queue 10 deep outside, in contrast to the burger joint opposite which is empty! Thousand Lakes RV park is just outside the main drag and quite a large place with a pool & hair salon (both of which M & C make use of), a grill restaurant which we don't use as it seems a bit pricey (also we have all we need to eat) plus a pretty large gift store.

The site has great views of red sandstone canyon walls with hoodoos in the making and they look great at sunset. M sets up a BBQ in the fire pit - chicken for supper, and then to bed.

Capitol Reef National Park

Next morning M&C get haircuts - not bad for $20 each, do some blog stuff & then we head off to Capitol Reef National Park.

Capitol Reef was formed by a giant buckle in the earth’s crust called the Waterpocket Fold. Layers formed from sediments deposited over 100's of millions of years in seas, deserts and tidal flats.

First stop, the Visitor Centre for info and Ranger recommended walks and a drive. In the hope of getting a space for the RV before it gets busy, we head 2 miles down the road to Hickman Bridge - a natural bridge you get to via a 1 mile hike that's quite strenuous in places. Not that many tourists are here which is good so we can get some nice pics. It's a bridge you can go right under and is set amongst sandstone hills and trees. P goes most of the way & takes a rest while M & C go on to the bridge.

Next it's the scenic drive, 18 miles along a Tarmac road, passing historic Fruita Schoolhouse (a wooden hut!), Canyons, mesas, buttes and Petroglyphs on the rocks. Then another 3 miles along a maintained dirt trail (aka a potholed river bed) past Gifford Farmhouse a homestead that was established by a Mormon who came in 1880s, The Castle, Chimney Rock, & Egyptian Temple (as the local rock formations are named). The Ranger said this was a must see……

The road takes you through deep river cut canyons (the Fremont River) with rocks with a variety of colours and sections where they are very strangely moulded and eroded. We get some nice pics but are not convinced it's the most scenic place we've seen. At the end of the dirt trail is a parking area where we have a picnic lunch before the bone rattling journey back.

Back at the campsite M&C go for a dip as it’s pretty warm, in the pool before M knocks up an awesome Steak BBQ - rib beef from Bauers which tastes great. This is our last meal in the RV as we have to clean up tomorrow at Salt Lake City ready to hand it back in the following morning. Its large measures of Jim Beam all around to celebrate!!

We leave Torrey at 8am for the near 4 hour drive to Salt Lake City (SLC) the first half on good local highways, then onto the I-15. The first hour is through rolling green hills (and therefore rolling roads) with lots of sheep and cattle ranches, and small settlements that have a nice gentle look about them. Then we enter rainbow land again as the hills have hues of grey, green, blue, pink and white. Nearby hills still have snow on them but the forecast for SLC is 90 degrees!!

Salt Lake City (SLC) – Mormon City

We go through some fairly large towns (& Peak City) just outside SLC, with lots of malls that seem then to merge into SLC. We are staying at the KOA campsite about 3 miles from downtown but can get in and out easily on the Trax – an electric rail/tram service that runs right outside the site going between the airport and downtown.

We get to the RV Park by lunchtime and the priorities are to clean the RV for hand back tomorrow morning and to pack up all our stuff – which means for Pete cramming the things we’ve bought that we want him to take home into his bag!! (A little more than we realised it would seem!). We also want to get the tent up as we don’t really know what condition it’s in since it was last used. (The answer is muddy and musty but a good mopping and airing in the high wind which blows through it sorts it out).

We’ve decided to eat out so we hop on the Trax ($5 each return) and get off at Gallivan Plaza, just by downtown. M has read about a good brewery/gastropub called Squatters and we head there. The beer we go for is an amber we had in Moab and the food is pretty good too – M has an awesome Ahi burger and C & P go for local meatloaf but done slightly jazzed up; good but not quite Flagstaff standard. SLC itself seems to have quite a walkable downtown area and quite an easy feel. Maybe we’ve been out in the sticks too long but we think we’ll enjoy our 3 days here.

We celebrate our last night with Pete who treats us to dinner again, and in the RV with probably slightly larger measures of JB than we should! It’s been fun and we’ve seen and been to some amazing places. We’ve also tried each other’s patience on occasion but it’s been a great adventure.

Next morning we’re up and ready early for P’s departure. As the Trax is so handy and cheap, P has agreed to go on that to get to the airport instead of us driving, as recommended by the RV Park reception staff. (He later tells us it was a good decision; the traffic he passed was bad and the train took him right in next to check in, in just 8 mins). After hugs goodbye, and waving him off, we set back to finish off (topping up propane and clearing waste, water tanks etc.) then drive over to the hostel we are booked into, Camelot, to drop off most of our stuff. Happily, the check in woman tells us our room is available and we can go to it early (we’ve paid for storage and taking the room early is the same cost so it’s a no brainer). The self-check in process is not something we’ve come across before and takes a bit of assistance from another guest (the staff don’t seem too interested in offering any advice) but we get there and soon are the proud occupants of the smallest room in a hostel anywhere we’ve come across. Fortunately we’ve gone for a private bathroom which doubles as our store! The location and cost though are good for us.

Then it’s off to the Cruise America depot to check out – and see what we can sort out in compensation for all the issues we had. The guy at the depot is very helpful and (to our great satisfaction and surprise) agrees to refund us over $800 for the issues we had plus a couple of deposits we paid. There are still a couple of issues C will chase up with CA separately (they could do with improving their Customer Service call handling facility – no one seemed to be able to access notes or messages from previous calls – pretty inefficient and annoying when you have to repeat the conversation again & again) but we head off happily to catch the 22 bus straight back into town for the next part of our adventure….. see you in the Salt Lake City, Jackson Hole and Grand Teton Blog!


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