Nature is capable of putting on fantastic shows that can both awe and frighten. A thunder and lighting storm with its accompanying wind and rain is a prime example. Our grandson, Ethan, had spotted the towering clouds. They were looming over her and Clay’s home in northern Virginia. It’s also what I call our basecamp, a small attached apartment that we are using during breaks from wandering.
One look and I decided that the clouds were worthy of a post. (I admit my decision was aided by the fact that my Bryce Canyon post wasn’t ready.) Anyway, here is what we saw. Enjoy.
I was doing research for our road trip over Utah’s Scenic Highway 12 when I came across a rave review for the Burr Trail, a narrow road that branches off from 12 in the small town of Boulder. It looked exactly like the kind of backroad adventure we like. It could take us all the way to Glen Canyon or even up to Capitol Reef National Park. We opted to explore the first 15 or so miles. The route got its start in the late 1800s as a way John Burr found for for moving cattle back and forth between their summer pasture near Boulder and their winter pasture in Glen Canyon.
We were wowed by the first few miles of the road— and then we dropped into Long Canyon. It blew our minds! I’ll start today’s post with photos of the canyon and then double back to pick up the road in.
It is a lovely and terrible wilderness… harshly and beautifully colored, broken and worn until its bones are exposed… and in its corners and pockets under its cliffs, the sudden poetry of springs. –Wallace Stegner 1960
I am continuing our Southwest series today. Peggy and I are now back at our basecamp in Virginia and will continue to be through August. There are chores to do: Unpacking, making doctor and dentist appointments, getting our Virginia driver’s licenses, etc. We are even having our hearing tested. There’s a lot of “What did you say, Peggy?” And vice-versa. It’s part of the joy of being in our 70s.
Assuming all goes well, we should be back on the road come September for another multi-month trip, this time traveling through the northern tier of states, and into the Canadian Rockies— assuming that the weather cooperates.
Peggy and I have spent a lot of time on America and Canada’s backroads, plus Mexico’s Baja Peninsula— some quarter of a million miles worth. So we know a bit about byways and we know a bit about scenic. Twelve years ago, when we first travelled over Utah’s Highway 12, our initial thought was Wow! It hasn’t changed. What else would one expect of a road anchored on one end by Capitol Reef National Park and on the other by Bryce Canyon? The short, 123 mile drive can be done in three hours. Or three days if you want to linger and explore the incredible scenery, state parks and historical areas along the way.
In 2010, we started at the small town of Torrey just outside of Capitol Reef, and worked our way south. The winding route took us up and over the 9,000 foot Boulder Mountain Pass where we were impressed with the aspen groves. They are always a treat, moving from the bright green quaking leaves of summer, to the gloriously yellow leaves in the fall, to the stark white trunks and limbs of winter. From the pass, our road dropped into the Escalante National Monument with its staircase look and then ended with the bright red, orange, and yellow rock formations of Bryce.
This time we travelled in the opposite direction, beginning at Bryce and working our way northeast along Highway 12, stopping at the small town of Boulder some 90 miles into the journey. We wanted to explore the Burr Trail that begins there. The road is something of a scenic wonder itself and will get its own post.
Our journey to Boulder can easily be divided into two parts: the section between Tropic and Escalante where we were mainly looking up, and the section between Escalante and Boulder, where we were mainly looking down. I’ve combined our morning and afternoon photos for each section, which is why you will see the varying light. We will start by looking up. 🙂
I hope we have persuaded you to explore Highway 12 if you are in the area. Our next post will take you along the Burr Trail with its long, colorful canyon— including a slot canyon.
If you have been to Bryce Canyon, the odds are you have been to Red Canyon. You drive right through it on your way in if you come come into Bryce from the west on Highway 12. Very few people bother to stop, however. After all, it’s only a State Park, not a world renowned National Park.
If you do stop, however, you may find yourself wondering why it wasn’t included in the National Park. I did. It certainly qualifies. But then I thought to myself, “Whoa, Curt.” Peggy and I were wandering around in a beautiful area in the middle of rock formations dripping with attitude. And we were by ourselves. Changing its status to be part of Bryce Canyon National Park would be like unloading a mega-cruise ship on its doorstep every day. The trails would be packed. Thousands of people would add it to their bucket list.
Join Peggy and me as we explore what makes Red Canyon special. I’ll start with Hoodoos, tall spires of rock formed by erosion, sometimes in fantastical shapes. I mentioned before that one theory about the derivative of the word Hoodoo was a similar Native American word meaning scary. And I used the hoodoo dogs of Red Canyon as an example. There are other theories as well. One suggests a voodoo connection. Here’s what the Canadian Encyclopedia has to say about it: “The word hoodoo probably derives from voodoo, a West African-based religion in which magical powers can be associated with natural features. Hoodoos conjure up images of strange events.” Okayyy…
While the hoodoos of Red Rock Canyon State Park are fun to photograph and play around with, there are numerous other beautiful and interesting rock structures in the park to admire. Following are some of Peggy and my favorites. The photographs are from both of us.
I start our Bryce Canyon National Park series today. Like we did with Zion National Park, Peggy and I explored other parts of the Park and the surrounding area as well as the four miles of Bryce Canyon that most tourists visit. I am starting today with Kodachrome Basin State Park. From here, I will move on to Red Canyon, Mossy Cave, Highway 12, and Escalante National Monument. I’ll finish with two posts on Bryce Canyon. The message is the same as it was with Zion: There are several other areas outside of the main tourist area that are equally beautiful and worthy of a visit while being far less crowded.
Peggy and I stayed at a campground in the small town of Cannonville, Utah on Highway 12 for our exploration of the Bryce Canyon area— miles away from the crowds of the National Park. Kodachrome Basin State Park was just down the road from us. It received its name in 1948 when a National Geographic team explored the area and decided the basin reminded them of Kodachrome film. If you are old enough to remember when photography meant film instead of digital images, you may remember that Kodachrome was a special film designed by Kodak to bring out the red in photos. There are a lot of red rocks in the area— thus the name.
Actually, we saw much more than red rocks and giant apes in the Park.
Next Friday I will feature Red Canyon, which in some ways matches Bruce Canon for sheer beauty and fantastic hoodoos. You won’t want to miss it.
Meanwhile, we wrapped up our Rhine River cruise. Here’s another teaser. We were wandering through Germany’s Black Forest when we came across this donkey at a historic farm museum.
I’ve saved the best for last in my Zion National Park series, and I’ve done it for two reasons. First and foremost, I wanted to emphasize that there are other areas in Zion that deserve your attention, areas of incredible beauty and interest like Kolob Terrace, Kolob Canyon, East Zion, and the petroglyph hike Peggy and I took you on. Second, I wanted to suggest areas that lack the crowds you will face in Zion Canyon. We didn’t see anyone on our petroglyphs hike.
None of this is meant to detract from the beauty and grandeur of the Canyon. There are reasons why millions of people visit it every year. It is one of the great natural wonders of the world. I wouldn’t think of going to Zion National Park without visiting, and I’ve been doing so for 50 years. My first trip there was in 1973. I put on my backpack and hiked up and over the 2000 feet canyon walls to a lovely oasis known by the unglamorous name of Potato Hollow. Nobody was there, either. Grin. I remember the aspens carved with names of early Basque sheep herders and a cool stream. I’m a bit ashamed to mention that I remember the hike down even more. It was 105° F. I finally arrived back at my car with hot, blistered feet where I had an iced cold beer waiting. Something like a Bud. It may have been the best beer I have ever downed. It was so good, I immediately drank a second.
Peggy and I took a shuttle from our campground in the small town of Virgin into Springdale and grabbed a Park shuttle out to the end of the road. It was 7 AM and cold. We then jumped off and on shuttles, stopping at major sites and working our way back to the beginning of the park. We took 200 photos which I then worked down to a hundred and finally the 22 shown below. I’ll skip the commentary today on most of the photos. They speak for themselves. They are split between photos Peggy took and photos I took.
This wraps up our visit to Zion National Park. Peggy and I hope you have had as much fun with the posts as we had putting them together. Next up is Bryce National Park. Once again we will focus on the surrounding area as well as the four miles of Bryce Canyon most people visit. I’m estimating that there will be seven posts altogether. As you read this we will have finished our trip up the Rhine River and returned to our base camp near Waterford, Virginia. Starting in September, we will be on the road again, this time for five or six months.
Note: As you read this, Peggy and I are in Amsterdam at the beginning of a Rhine River cruise between Amsterdam and Basel. I’ve been scheduling posts ahead of time so I can maintain a more regular presence on WordPress than I have been able to for the past several months. My goal for now is once a week on Fridays. At this rate, I already have enough material on the Southwest national parks we visited in April and May to keep going for three months. LOL. I may never catch up.
Rudyard Kipling said it:” East is East and West Is West, and never the twain shall meet.” That’s not true of Zion National Park, of course, but the eastern section of the Park will provide you with a significantly different experience than you have down in the Canyon or the western sections of Zion. Checkerboard Mesa shown above is the primary example. We can thank ancient sand dunes laid down in an early-Jurassic-era, Sahara-size desert that covered significant portions of what is now Nevada, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado 190 million years ago. The horizontal lines are caused by what is known as cross-bedding of the dunes. The vertical lines are caused by breaks in the cross bedding caused by freezing and thawing. It was thought that the results resembled a checker board, thus the name. Peggy and I found the mesa a fun subject for photography.
If you have been in Zion and either entered or left by the east entrance/exit, you know there is much more to East Zion National Park than Checkerboard Mesa. One thing that fascinated Peggy was the alcoves that may eventually lead to towering arches such as those found in Arches National Park.
While Peggy was busy photographing wannabe arches, I was concentrating on other landmarks of East Zion National Park.
I quickly learned when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa that my reality was substantially different from that of the tribal students I was teaching. It was a lesson that has served me all of my life. The human mind is incredibly flexible and our reality, to a large extent, depends upon what we are taught. Given my 1965-67 experience in Liberia, I can’t even start to imagine what people believed 7,000 years ago.
That’s when humans first started wandering the area now known as Zion National Park. They started with Archaic peoples, moved on to the Anasazi and Fremont cultural groups, and, in turn, were followed by the ancestors of modern day Native American Paiutes. Any or all of these groups may have left petroglyphs in the slot canyon Peggy and I explored in the eastern section of the Park. And all of them reflect thinking that we can only guess at.
Peggy and I are fascinated by petroglyphs, both from the connection it gives us to people from hundreds or even thousands of years ago, and from the unique look of rock art. We have visited sites throughout the Southwest. There is a certain commonality to the rock art depending on the culture represented. We have also found a similarity to sites selected by the ancients to leave their messages. Not surprisingly, they tend to be near water, which is where the people lived. But there was also an inclination to select locations that stood out from the surroundings. Possibly it gave a sense of sacredness to the area.
The site we visited was an excellent example of this, as our photos show. The strangeness, however, started with the directions to find the site. As I remember them: “Go down into the canyon and find a sand wash. Follow the wash up the canyon until it comes to the tunnel under the road. Go through the tunnel and follow the wash until you come to a trail to your left.” There was as much room for interpretation in following the directions as there was for interpreting what the petroglyphs meant!
Our photos start with the tunnel.
There were many other petroglyphs. At the end of the panels, Peggy and I found steps carved into the canyon wall leading up to a ledge.
Wandering up the trail in search of more petroglyphs, we found a dead big horn sheep that may have slipped while climbing the walls. Or been taken out by a cougar.
It did not look very happy. Peggy wondered why I wanted to photograph it and decided it was a sign that we should turn around. Admittedly, it did look a bit Satanic…
I couldn’t help but think of William Least Heat-Moon’s book, Blue Highways, this morning. If you have read his classic travel adventure, you will remember that he would go out of his way to find small towns with unusual names, like Dime Box, Texas. We are in Accident, Maryland today and I’m pretty sure it meets Heat-Moon’s classification of an unusual name. I was also amused to learn that people from the town are called Accidentals. I feel a connection. My parents always told me that I was an accident.
This is the last stop on the first segment of our full time travels. Tomorrow we will arrive at our daughter Tasha, her husband Clay and our grandsons Ethan and Cody’s home in Waterford, Virginia outside of Washington DC. They have an attached efficiency apartment that they are insisting that we use as our base. It’s Tasha’s way of assuring that we will be around on occasion. It will take a few weeks to set up the apartment, but first we will be dashing off on our Rhine River Cruise.
In the meantime, I will keep the posts from our national park and monument visits in the Southwest rolling out. After Zion there is Bryce, Escalante, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and Mesa Verde plus our other adventures along the way. I have enough to produce posts until we are once again on the road. More than enough! On the small chance I run out, there is the Rhine River Cruise. 🙂
Zion National Park promotes Kolob Canyons as its best kept secret. Other web sites follow a similar theme. It’s not surprising considering that the canyons are located in the remote northwestern section of the Park, 45 miles away from Zion’s main attraction.
Given the distance, many people ask is whether it’s worth taking half a day to visit. (This assumes they are even aware that this section of the Park exists.) Peggy and I would like to answer with a resounding yes! It meets our three criteria: It’s unique, beautiful, and not crowded. There are also a number of hikes visitors can take that we couldn’t squeeze in. A fairly challenging one provides hikers with a view of the world’s second longest arch. Next time.
The curvy five-mile drive climbs a thousand feet. It can be accomplished in a relatively short amount of time, but— if you are like us— you will want to linger and admire the fantastic views of towering Navajo Sandstone cliffs and deep finger canyons created by runoff from the plateau above. There are a number of pullouts along the way. Each one provides a different view or perspective and each is worth a stop. The following photos reflect what Peggy and I saw.
Some other views of the Kolob Canyons from our visit:
The thunder rolled in with an unending rumble and the wind shook our trailer until I thought it might tip us over. We are in Kansas and I couldn’t help but think of Dorothy and her faithful dog, Toto. I half expected to hear the tornado sirens go off or see a wicked witch fly by on her broom. It was not conducive to sleep. Instead, I watched the lightning dance across our skylight while Peggy slept soundly. Maybe she thought I could worry enough for both of us. “Oh, was the wind blowing last night?” she asked me the next morning.
We’ve now left the backroads, mountains and mesas of the Southwest behind. It will be mainly freeway from here on out as we dash across the country to catch our Icelandic Air trip to Amsterdam— except it isn’t that much of a dash. We’ve simply eliminated our 5-7 day layovers between travel days. We still only plan to travel around 200 miles a day with every other day a layover. I’ve never had a sense of humor about driving 4-5 hundred miles straight. And it certainly hasn’t improved with age.
I may change my mind if this weather continues, however. We are under severe thunderstorm watch again tonight. We could be at our daughter’s in Virginia in four days instead of the two weeks I am planning. I have even less tolerance for tornados and golfball size hail than I do driving long distances. Tempting…
Meanwhile, my blog is still in Zion. I have at least three more posts on it, maybe more! 🙂 And then there is Bryce and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and Mesa Verde, and the Rockies, and dinosaur tracks, desert wildflowers and petroglyphs. Will it ever end? 🙂 Peggy and I have taken at least a thousand photos. I’m afraid to count them. But don’t worry, we won’t subject you to all of them.
Today, my focus continues to be on the Kolob Terrace section of Zion National Park. After some very winding roads we made it to the top of the Terrace. The views continued to be spectacular.
Following are several more photos of the scenery that Peggy and I saw up on Kolob Terrace and on our drive back down.