Canyon Circuit

Trip Start Apr 28, 2009
Trip End Jul 03, 2009

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Flag of United States  , Utah
Friday, May 22, 2009

Tuesday night, May 19th
Up on a mesa at Horsethief Campground outside Canyonlands National Park, Utah

What a spectacular day.... after coffee at the Love Muffin (recommended by Tom) in Moab, we headed up into Arches National Park. Wonderful red rock formations, cliffs and of course, arches, which we learned all about (geologically) at the Visitor Center. It was pretty hot, and having the dogs with us (not allowed on trails) we weren't able to see some of the arches requiring longer hikes (we knew this would be the case, when we decided to bring Tilly and Belle with us....) but we did see quite a few that were a shorter walk from the truck. and they were all well worth it! One favorite was back in among some big "fins" of rock that you had to walk through to get to them. Another they showed a picture from 1940, when the arch had been less impressive, and then a huge other hunk came down dramatically all at once to make it the size it is now. We took about a million more pictures. It was pretty crowded up in there (there is a 22 mile long road with various access points along the way) - the ranger told us this is their peak season as it is too hot in the summer.

Just a few miles up the main road, another side road takes off to the northern part of Canyonlands National Park. What a difference in terms of crowds - hardly anyone there, and just beautiful. This canyon area is formed by the Colorado and Green Rivers, which join down in there. It is really impressive. There is a sort of platform about half way down that has a white rim from salt (and is called the White Rim) - there is a 100+ mile 4-wheel drive road that goes down in to and all along the White RIm, with backcountry campsites - not for me, you should see the precipice it goes down to get to the platform..... Weather had turned showery with grey skies, so we didn't get quite the color and light we had hoped for (late afternoon is usually the best....) but the sun did start to peak through and there were two pieces of a rainbow and sun on the far side of the canyon.

We had tried to get campground reservations in a few places to no avail, then discovered a no-reservation BLM (Bureau of Land Management) one just outside the park, with lots of space, for a grand total of $6 (John has a golden age passport, and believe me, it is well worth being 62 to get one!) - it is up on the mesa, with views in every direction, a very memorable mile or so walk with the dogs on a trail along a rocky ride, studded with pinion pine, juniper and wildflowers, topped by a brilliant sunset. Just what we had been dreaming about for camping! BLM also allows dispersed (free) camping on their lands (which are our lands) if you know where to go (which we don't, generally!) and can get there (we are a little limited in that regard - 4 wheel drive, but a heavy load.)

Tomorrow we are going down to the southern part of Canyonlands (after breakfast at the Love Muffin - Mexican breakfast burritos!) and see what that has to show us.

And so to bed.

Thursday night, May 21st
Torrey, Utah just outside Capital Reef National Park

We have had a couple of great days. Yesterday we went back down to Moab and had breakfast at the Love Muffin. Then drove into the southern end of Canyonlands National Park - less dramatic in that you are sort of in the tableland, looking back up at where we were the day before. The Needles - many spindles of red rock - were visible a ways away. But the long (maybe 20 miles) drive in through the Indian Creek canyon was beautiful. One of the biggest ranches in the area is in the valley - irrigated, green, lots of cattle. Big rock climbing area, and we stopped to watch some climbers. Hot and dusty.

Came back out and headed south through Monticello (gas, groceries) and Blandin (romp with the dogs in the park, with green grass and NO dust!) and then on down to Bluff - a town John had been to with his parents on a western trip when he was 14. At that time, it was at the end of a dirt road. Now it caters to tourists. Still pretty depressed. Ended up at a campground on the San Juan River called Sand Island - it was very simple, which was fine, camped under a cottonwood tree (green along the river) but SO dusty and windy. Red dust. We camped right by some petrographs - Native American wall writing - we had seen some earlier in the day at a place called Newspaper Rock - but these at Sand Island were MUCH better - herds of mountain goats. kokopelli characters, and a mountain goat kokopelli, which I later read is quite rare (and I bought a magnet of that one later in the day at a giftshop.)

Slept well, then this morning continued south a little to Medicine Hat (named after a mushroom butte just north of town that looks like a Mexican hat) then dipped down into Monument Valley, where we had been on our trip 24 years ago. Then took a harrowing ride zig zagging up a cliff (literally)..... to the top of the Cedar Mesa for the continuation on to Natural Bridges National Monument (we debated at some length about whether we should tackle this road up the cliff - and while we were debating, and had just decided NOT, a big water-tanker truck came down it, so we knew we were good - it was wide enough and not to scary, even if someone was coming the other way. LOOKED much scarier that it was!)

We really loved the Natural Bridges - difference between a bridge and an arch is that bridges are formed by flowing water beneath them - arches are just formed by geologic forces and erosion. Here the White Canyon with its river (only when it has rains a lot) formed three bridges over time, as the river had deep curves and then finally broke through to cut off a curve. We hiked a short ways down to one of them. The white, smooth rock reminds me of all the cowboy shows of my youth. Can't you just see the Lone Ranger striding over the rock? It was cloudy with occasional showers today - a relief from the hot and the dust.

Continued on our way, for miles along the White Canyon, and then into more red rock country again (as we went up) - miles and miles and miles of empty totally empty land, Came to the bridge over the very top of Lake Powell, once Glen Canyon. Once there was a ferry there, before Lake Powell. We read about it in an Edward Abbey anthology we picked up the other day (thanks for the suggestion Doug!) Met a wonderful Belgian family and chatted a long while at an overlook. Stefan and Isobel, and their two little girls. They have lived in the US (Boston then Portland, OR) for several years, and are about to move back to France. Lovely people!

After that, a long uphill out of the canyons and then through some barren grey stark landscape, which very gradually began to change, and into Capital Reef National Park, where Tom once worked - again beautiful rocks and colors and canyons. We will explore there tomorrow. We had made a reservation at an RV place after two days out in the boonies. Showers will be good! Nice folks from the Netherlands next to us, rented an RV, John is out chatting with them now, and I will too - we love this aspect of sharing our travels - quite unexpected, and great fun.

Just a wonderful time these last few days. SUCH spectacular and fairly remote places. We really liked the wilderness of the last day. Not too many people come out here....
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rorytira on

oh you ...
you love muffins...on the road again...

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