Southwestern Utah rocks

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August 25th 2013
Published: August 29th 2013
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From Salt Lake City we headed southwest with plans to visit three Utah national parks: Capitol Reef, Bryce and Zion. They are all about rocks in different shapes, sizes and colors. Southwestern Utah has the nickname Color Country, and that is not in vain. Already before reaching the first national Park, Capitol Reef, we started seeing orange and red rocky hills coloring the scenery.

Our first stop, Capitol Reef National Park, was the most peaceful of the three. We set up our camp again at the bargain price of 10 dollars a night for a tent site, then set off to see what the park had to offer. The park has several orchards where visitors can freely pick fruit to eat. Being hungry, we started by sampling peaches, apples and pears. The fruit were not really ripe enough, though, so we continued with real lunch. With full stomachs we headed for a hike to see those huge, colorful rocks more closely. The hiking trail ran in the middle of the rocks; one felt quite small looking up to the rocks reaching the height of a 5 story apartment block building. The colors were in every shade of orange to pink to black and blue. Probably the best scenery of Capitol Reef was anyhow along the Water Pocket area scenic road. We started driving the road at around 6 pm in full daylight. Like several times in Yellowstone, we underestimated distances and time again: we did have enough time to see the views from the top of the route at dusk, but the latter half of the supposedly scenic road we drove in total darkness. Great sightseeing. We did see few deer and several cows on the dark roads - good thing we didn't hit them. Well, it wasn't all because of our misjudgment; the road was just much poorer than we expected; we can be glad our rental car survived it without any visible damage.

Next morning we managed to drive through another scenic drive in daylight, catching views of orange rocks of all shapes and sizes. After completing the drive and taking enough photos we left Capitol Reef behind and started driving towards Bryce National Park. The drive was relaxing, through rolling hills and rural Utah countryside. We were on especially good traveling spirits, having no care in the world. In Bryce National Park camping prices were up, a tent site now costing a whopping 15 dollars a night. After setting up our mobile home once again, we headed to get some lunch. It was immediately obvious that Bryce was more popular and crowded than Capitol Reef. That seemed to be for a reason, though, as driving through a scenic drive later that day, we saw a cool rock formation after another. Those rocks were much more striking in shape than the ones in Capitol Reef. Especially the view over the whole Bryce canyon was beyond words. And the colors - even deeper and brighter shades of orange than we had seen before. In Leo's exact words: "what were we doing in Capitol Reef?”. It's not that Capitol Reef wouldn't have been impressive and worth seeing, it's just the effect that when you see one cool place after another, you will need more and more unusual stuff to feel truly impressed. Or in this case - after seeing stranger and stranger looking rocks, the more standard looking rocks just won't seem so cool!

We were supposed to start the "ultimate hike" of Bryce Canyon as soon as we got up the next morning. But, thunder storm had started already the night before. We had stood at a viewing point looking at lightning. In the morning the weather was still grey and rainy. Luckily, skies cleared up by 1 pm and we set off. Wow - the hike was amazing. It was one of those places where you could take a picture at every nook and turn, but still feel you didn't really capture the beauty or bizarreness of the place. And a place where you wonder how it is possible that you have never before heard of its existence. It was actually quite much like the valleys in Göreme, Turkey, which we visited in 2012: a big canyon full of weirdly shaped and colored rock formations as far as the eye can see - freaky. We could have just stood there staring at the view and gone on and on about how unbelievable the place was.

After the strenuous hike we decided to leave Bryce and drive to the last Utah national park, Zion. We didn't arrive until early evening, which meant that all the campgrounds inside the park were full and we had to settle for a more expensive one outside the park. Next morning we moved to the park campsite, though. While setting up our tent once again, we saw a huge butterfly, and I mean huge - it had probably 15 cm between its wings. I spotted the monstrous creature approaching me when I was digging the back of our car and freaked. I really don't like large insects. I don't have that much against small or medium sized ones, but the huge ones - they are just creepy. Of course Leo seemed just excited to see the thing, and was very sorry for not having his camera on hand to capture the creature in photos. I think I will need to get used to nastier and nastier insects as our trip proceeds further south...

Rock spotting continued in Zion with few shorter hikes. For some reason we both found ourselves not-that-impressed. Maybe we were tired of rocks, or maybe the images from Bryce kept sticking to our minds making us feel all the time like "nah, Bryce was cooler than this". Actually the Zion canyon is quite impressive, and had we seen that first, it probably would have seemed amazing to us. Probably part of the problem was also that Zion was rather crowded and clearly more touristic than Bryce, not to mention Capitol Reef. We did make plans to conquer one of the high cliffs the next day to reach Angel's landing, which is a popular hike. However, the weather had turned grayish and we felt more like it was time to move on. So, we packed our tent up and hit the road again. On our way out of the park, we realized that the coolest views of the park were actually right next to the entrance. We had seen them when we entered the park, but did not find matchingly special views anymore in the actual park area.

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