Prevailing Theme: Sunny and Cold

Trip Start Nov 20, 2003
Trip End Dec 06, 2003

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Where I stayed
Best Inn

Flag of United States  , Utah
Tuesday, December 9, 2003

After 2 long days of driving and a terrible snowstorm this was to be the day that our vacation really started. Instead we faced our worst crisis yet! Moab doesn't have a McDonald's restaurant! Succulent McBiscuit treats were already had in Battle Creek, Michigan and Ogallala, Nebraska but we (well, make that I) needed another dose of butter and grease for the long day of hiking.

Unfortunately we had to make due with granola bars we had packed. Not just granola bars but completely frozen granola bars. As the storm moved out of the region arctic air moved in behind it. It was about 12 degrees Celsius below average November temperatures. I believe it was on this night that my cell phone froze solid in the car thus rendering it inoperable ever again.

In the good news department the skies had not a cloud in them. It was a gorgeous day. When the sun hit your face you could almost believe that the snow might melt (it didn't). So we bundled up and headed into Arches National Park for the day.

Southern Utah is home to 5 outstanding National Parks. If you are planning a vacation to visit these parks I'd advise to purchase the National Parks Pass. It's only $50 US for you and your... ummmmmmm... ahhh... spouse (the park ranger's words not mine!) to share. It will get you into every American National Park for free for a year. The 6 parks we visited in the Four Corners area alone would have been $75 and we still get to use the pass for another 11 months.

Our first stop in the park was a short but spectacular hike called along a tall rock wall known as Park Avenue since the tall rocks resemble the skyscrapers in New York City. It's an easy hike down to the bottom of a large wash that ends at the foot of several awesome rock formations known as The Three Gossips, The Organ, and The Courthouse Towers. Early in the morning this hike is mainly in the shade which made it a bit cold but we were so excited to see blue sky and to be out of the car that we barely noticed the pain in our fingers as we fiddled with our respective cameras.

Once back in the car we follows the road along the Golden Wall where Nadia was intent on noting every rock formation that resembled a penis. One of her favourite phallic structures is Balanced Rock. You can walk all the way around this natural wonder. It's hard to believe that the slender sandstone column could support the large boulder above it.

As this point we started wondering where the heck all these arches were supposed to be? Turns out that just around the corner from Balanced Rock are a number of easily accessible arches. As we found out later The Windows can actually be seen from a distance on the road we drove near the Golden Wall (I guess we were too interested in the phallic formations at the time). At The Windows area you can also visit Turret Arch and the most impressive Double Arch. We spent the rest of the morning climbing about these rain & wind carved structures partly because we couldn't get enough of their beauty but also because it kept us warm.

After lunch we hiked up to Delicate Arch. Unfortunately we did not bring the digital camera along but if you take a look at the image I used for this travelogue's title page, that's it. Over the past couple years it has practically become the symbol for the state of Utah and is now featured on their car licence plates. The hike is pretty much uphill all the way to the arch. At this point in our trip we weren't used to exerting ourselves so much at such a high altitude so we were really sucking wind. Fortunately, the sun had really warmed all the slickrock we were traversing so it was our most pleasant experience of the day.

Those of you who are averse to heights might not enjoy the last quarter mile of the hike as you begin to walk along narrow cliff-edges with precipitous drops. The height itself might make you queasy but at this time of year the narrow path is covered in ice & snow. There was one particularly dicey section where you could clearly see that someone had fallen earlier in the day. Seriously. Fortunately, this portion was probably only 30 feet up but you could see a path cleared through the fresh-fallen snow of a person sliding down the steep incline below. Nobody along we met along the path knew or even asked what had happenned.

We nervously moved along prodded by those returning from the arch itself claiming that "it's right around the corner" and "you've already gone by the worst part" and "it's definitely worth the scare." That last quote was bang-on. It was worth it. A couple times along the path we considered turning around but once we got there we realized that we would have really regretted it. Delicate Arch itself is amazing but it's location is even more stupendous as is sits right on the edge of a high cliff. From the arch you have an incredible view in all directions.

On our way back down the trail we began to realize that the sun was falling and we frantically drove around trying to find the perfect sunset shots. We managed to find the right spot only as the sun disappeared behind the far side of the mountainous ridge west of Moab. Those of you heading to Arches would be wise to stake out a spot near The Windows or a place called The Garden of Eden or even Delicate Arch itself for a great sunset shot.

Heading back into town we decided that we weren't about to spend another evening with Jim Bob again and luckily we found the Best Inn. For only $30 US we got a great room with a king-size bed and mini-fridge. The rooms were large and the bathroom was great (it even had a filtered-water tap for drinking). It was the best place we stayed in all trip.

We picked up some beers and brought the camp stove into the bathroom to make dinner. Here's an indoor gas stove tip: Turn on the bathroom fan to eliminate any smoke or odours before the proprietors can discover you.

The next morning I got up early to take some sunrise photos and Nadia lazily stayed behind in bed. While we dozed and watched Maury Povich I froze. The sky was completely clear once again though so I was happy. When I returned we headed to the Moab Diner for some breakfast grub. I highly recommned the Breakfast Burrito which comes smothered in green chili. Also, the Moab Diner is the first establishment I've ever been to that featured the bottomless cup of hot chocolate!

We decided to skip Canyonlands National Park as we hoped that moving westward and down a bit in altitude might get us away from the bitter cold and snow. I made sure our route went through Green River. During a couple of car trips to Las Vegas in 1997 and 1998 I had stumbled across a friendly little diner known as Twisters in this sleepy town. After 5 years of waiting I'd finally return to have a nice banana milkshake (made with real fruit). I was devastated to find that Twisters no longer exists. I even asked about it at the gas station. Apparently it went out of business a couple of years ago but the guy who owned it was working hard to bring it back.

From Green River we headed south along Utah State Road 24 which runs pretty much in a beeline through the San Rafael Desert towards Hanksville. While the surrounding landscape certainly suggested a warm desert climate, each time we jumped out of the car for some photos we froze. At least the snow was gone. Once you get to Hanksville (home of the Hollow Mountain Gas Station, check it out) the road goes due west along the Fremont River. Here the wind died and we actually took off our winter jackets. We followed the river into Capitol Reef National Park.

Although seemingly named after a formation you'd find in the sea the locals who named this geological phenomenon were using the older meaning of the word which basically meant "impassable barrier." In the park you can visit the former site of the town of Fruita which was community based on the orchards that thrived in the river valley. The historic Fruita school house still stands at the base of the huge cliffs that are part of a 100-mile long wrinkle in the Earth known as the Waterpocket Fold. We didn't do any hiking here but the two most spectacular activities are ones you can do in your car.

From the visitor center along Road 24 you can take a scenic drive southwards. From this road there are two rough gravel roads built along washes that lead into stunning canyons. You'll be amazed at just how high and how narrow these places become. The roads are rough but if we can do them in my little Mongoose then any car can handle them. You are warned however not to attempt these roads if the weather calls for rain as these washes fill up with water and mud in a hurry.

We left the park in the late afternoon and watched the sun set as we drove high up into Dixie National Forest and Escalante National Monument as we headed to Bryce Canyon National Park. While our information told us that there would be plenty of restaurants and motels in Tropic, we didn't count on the fact that most of them would be closed in winter. Fortunately, Doug's Motel was open. This little place is not only a motel but also houses a grocery store and surprisingly good restaurant. Nadia heartily recommends the Munchburger. We couldn't believe our ears that the only motel in town was only $30 a night.

Tropic is only 8 miles from the entrance to Bryce Canyon. At the entrance there is also Ruby's Inn which is open year-round but it is significantly more expensive. The only problem with Doug's Motel was that there didn't seem to be any doors leading into the motel portion of the building. We drove around the place twice until we discovered a hidden alcove that had a door. During our search we became certain that in this part of the world everyone just used the windows instead.

We bedded down with thoughts of Bryce Canyon dancing in our heads and Munchburgers swimming in our stomachs.
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