Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Grand Wash


Well I wish I could say I got to take a nice long hot shower, but no such luck and its been a few days, since I have, but who's counting? No after two nights camping in Bryce Canyon, I got up early (thanks to the loud people around me and the non-stop crying toddler nearby both days) and headed for Arches NP, but a funny thing happend on the way. I keep joking that they should just call Utah "Utah National Park" instead of having all these different ones. Every drive is an adventure and constant change of dramatic scenery. I took the well regarded scenic route 12 and it was no disappointment. The scenery was unbelievable on the way. Canyon butrised farms and ranches, molded and weathered limestone and sandstone mounds, buttes, canyons, monuments, ridges-you name it. Breathtaking the further along you got away from Bryce and ever changing. Escalante was especially nice and then over the spine to Boulder, which as a cute, but very remote town in a hole between ranges of limestone or sandstone domes and ridges. I saw the Calf Creek, which I hope to return to someday. It was not a place I was aware of but did have a campsite, coffee shop overlooking the valley and some intersting sounding hiking trails. There is a 5.5 mi trail along the creek that carves into the surrounding rocks and is lined with trees, leading to a 120 ft waterfall at the end and a turquoise plunge pool. It was very cold, rainy and windy in that area today, but surely unusual. I will someday return here to do that hike and take in the otherworldly landscape.
Passing there it seemed like I was finally heading to the desert areas like I had expected in Arches and for a while it was a little desert like, with the occassional contrast of green pastures enveloped in brown sandstone canyon walls, with houses perched on the upper ridges of these 15-50 footish mesas. The climate turned sunny and warm too. A microclimate. That didn't last long, as I entered the Dixie National Forest it began to cool down and rain. The forest was something I have never seen before. It was exclusively tall white Aspen trees, well spaced out and green leaved. IT was a beautiful magical looking forest unlike any I had seen. I stopped to take in a panorama as I got up to 9600 feet and it was very windy, raining slightly and the wind chill must have been 30F. The parkland was dotted with campsites that made me once again envy Utah residents multitude of naturistic escapes. Accross the way was again, green strips of land surrounded by desert walls dotted with pines and sagebrush and behind that a 10,000ft+ range of the Henry mountains as a backdrop that was obviously getting rain as well. It was a small range though 3-4 peaks, but jutting up from the floor pretty abrubtly. After the steep descent though and out of the forest there were some other trees mingled with the Aspen and the rain ceased and again warmed up as I got into lower altitudes.
Not long after the climate and landscape changed yet again. Still cloudy and cool, but dryer and less windy. I stopped for a coffee and Mint truffle, instead of lunch (I couldn't bear Subway again and they charged $9 for a footlong in Bryce, so I thought it might be the same). The coffee was a pick me up, but the truffle wasn't up to my expectations. I think they used peppermint, which just didn't seem to gel with the chocolate flavor, but otherwise ok. I then entered the towering and eroding red canyon bluffs and the chimney rock at the entrance to Capitol Reef NP. I planned to see what it was like, but had low expectations, besides the fact that it was narrow from West to East and long from North to South. The scenry was breathtaking though and the weather warm. There were orchards within the warm confines of the canyon floor, deer walking about the picnic area, ancient wide oak trees, towering monuments and cliffs of various colors and a campsite among these treasures of a desert oasis like I had never seen. My curiosity was piqued. I went in the visitor center and got some info, but just then another damn tour bus of old people was unloading into the small, spartan visitor center (way smaller than any of the NP's I have been to). The movie was a 10 min wait so I figured I would drive into the park a few miles and see what it was all about. A picture of some people in a dried out canyon called The Great Wash caught my attention, so I decided to investigate, since I had wanted to hike a "narrows like" trail that I missed at Zion. This wasn't so narrow but huge in scale. The drive in was awe inspiring. I figured I could do a short hike and catch the movie and drive on to Arches, since I was making good time. Was I ever wrong on that plan.
It was about a mile + drive down a gravel riverbed road shouldered by towering weathered cliffs. I started to wonder if this was a trail or a road. Finally a parking lot. The hike was amazing. The canyon was about 40-100 foot wide as it meandered and winded through the steep, torn rock walls. There were holes and crevices everywhere and overwhelming evidence of erosion on a massive scale. The possibilities for exploration of the side canyons and bluffs was endless. Relatively easy climbs up rubble and carved slopes made it possible to make climbs to the upper reaches of the canyon, but I was just here for a short walk right? I thought this was a 1.3 mile trail, but I just kept walking and taking photos and taking in the amazing scenery. After what felt like a few miles and more than an hour I encountered some women walking the other way. The informed me I was just 5 min from the end of the trail that came back out on route 24 which is the road I came in on. After a few min more the walls got shorter, so I turned around rather than take the longer circuitous and unknown route back along the highway. Going the opposite direction also provided a new perspective of what I just saw. It was a realy neat experience to see this. Legend has it Butch Cassidy and his gang used this area as a hideout and you could just imagine them riding horses into this remote and safe place. You got the feeling you could realy hide out here for a long time without being located (for better or worse). I felt as far away from civilization as I have ever felt. With a little more time, I could definitely enjoy climbing some of the side routes and exploring the hidden canyons and slots along the main valley. Luckily it wasn't sunny and hot, as I imagine it normally is and you could really bake in this place on a hot day. The sun did come out for a while as I neared the parking lot on the way back and was a welcome sign. I drove down to the far end of the main road to another canyon, but it was closed for flash flood possibilities. The erosion and deposits of rock, sand, mud along the way was like mass destruction on an epic scale. I went back, got a campsite, set up camp and caught the short film. Then had a picnic in the beautiful orchard surrounded picnic area, where a deer walked right by and grazed with me as I ate my soup and had a long awaited cold beer. I later noticed her doe and another adult wandering around the field and are obviously quite used to humans. They say Capitol Reef is among the least visited National Parks, and after having visited, I have to wonder why. What a beautiful Oasis (literally). It is what they call a waterpocket fold. Surrounded by desert on all sides with the Virgin river running through it. This weekend is Free entrance to all national parks, so the full campground and surprisingly many cars may be unusual. I get the impression its usually a little less crowded. I think it is a well kept secret treasure and the surprise of my trip thus far. OF course, like clockwork I am getting rained on as I speak and have obnoxiously loud foreginers with screaming kids and loud music accross the street. The rain and annoying people keep following me. Tomorrow on to Arches?

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