Kodachrome to Capital Reef via the craziest road

Trip Start Jun 01, 2011
Trip End Jul 31, 2011

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Where I stayed
Fruita Campground
What I did
Drive U-12 down the Hogs back

Flag of United States  , Utah
Friday, July 8, 2011

I wanted to get to Capital Reef as early as possible since I did not have camping reservations. The campground there is first come, first serve. And since I have a 5th wheel RV, I needed a bigger site. The one thing I hate about these no reservation places is the fact that the tent campers will take the largest site that should be for RVs. So time to leave early.

We busted out around 9:30 – I was hoping for 9. Most of today's drive took us up Utah State Road 12 through some of the wildest landscape I’ve ever seen or driven through. This would have been very fun in a car, but with an RV attached, it was both hands firmly on the steering wheel. The first 30 miles between Cannonville and Escalante was not too bad. Mostly straight to slightly curving road through a canyon with green fields and ranchland on both sides. As the ranchland and fields give away, you know you’re either going uphill or downhill fast. This first portion was an uphill that was not so bad and then a downhill into Escalante. So far, so good. The crazy road, however, was the next 30 miles between Escalante and Boulder. At first we went downhill on a curvy road. Why not put it in natural and just coast downhill? Well, the RV weighs in at 12,000 lbs and it had a lot of momentum when you’re going down an 8% grade. Plus, on this road, there were no guardrails. So one little slip and you’re at the bottom of the cliff. So the key is to slow down to 25 mph. BEFORE you get to the downhill and snap the gear down to 4th. That way, half of your resistance comes from the gears and not the breaks. A second thing you have is the trailer breaks for the RV. This way when you break, you’re not only using the truck breaks but the RV breaks as well. If you just relied on the truck breaks they’d burn out. That last thing you need on this road is no breaks. So, we have miles and miles of curvy downhill and uphill. At one of the last uphill’s was a place called the "hogback." Now all this up and downhill I’ve done before back home in Georgia and around the country – it’s hard but doable. The hogback was something very scary. For a few miles you’re on the top of this curvy ridge with no guardrails and a drop off of over 1,000 feet on BOTH SIDES OF THE ROAD!! This was a scary road.  I’m sure there were squeeze prints on my steering wheel after those few miles. After this was an easy curvy downhill road for the next 10 miles to Boulder. So I can say in all my drives around the US, that part of Utah SR 12 between Escalante and Boulder is the hardest.

After Boulder we still had another 35 miles of this road before the cutoff to Capital Reef. And looking at the mountains ahead it was another major uphill on the way. However, this was much easier as the climb was long and not as steep; as was the decline on the other side. This part of the road was through a forest and not slick rock like the hogs back. I really felt like we were in Switzerland during this part of the journey – there were even cows around the road. One cow just stopped in the middle of the road and I had to wait on it – it just looked at me as why I was invading his space. Around the top of the mountain it started to rain. At least it did not rain on that crazy part of the road. The rain was just light and not too hard – good enough to give our truck and RV a little wash. Around noon we reached the small town of Torrey which is 10 miles from Capitol Reef National Park. Finally we are off that crazy SR 12 and now on a little tamer SR 24. For the 10 miles we went downhill. I just hope there is space at the campground or we’ll have to come back up this hill.

After 10 miles we turned into the Capitol Reef Visitors Center to see if there was any space. Lucky for us there was and they told me loop C had the larger spots. So we went a mile down the road to the campground. The road took us through the old pioneer settlement of Fruita. With a name like that you’d figure they’d have some fruit trees around the place. Indeed they did. Since one river, the Freemont, and several creeks bisected this place, it is one big fruit orchard. In fact, where we set up our RV is just across from an apricot orchard which was in season. The rule is you have to pay if you pluck the fruit from the trees but if you pick it off the ground it is free. So after we set up we had a little snack of a few apricots off the ground – washed of course.

The Fruita Campground is one of the best of the trip. Besides sitting next to the orchard, there are huge trees that shade the entire place. It sits in-between some of the largest red rock mountains I have ever seen. Just a few feet away is the Freemont River and its trail. All this for $10 a night. Yes, there are no hook-ups but we can deal with that for a few days. The first thing we had to do at the campground was fill the tank up with water and there was only one water spigot in the whole place. As we were filling up it started to rain hard. As goes the “monsoon” weather in this part of Utah – during July and August it rains almost every afternoon. For electricity I could only run the gen from 8-10 in the morning and 6-8 in the evening.

After a little lunch we hung out in the RV to wait out the afternoon rain. Then around 5 we took off in the truck to check out the VC for a bit and to do a trail. We had to drive about 3 miles back up the hill on SR 24 to get to the trailhead. We took the Chimney Rock Trail which was a 3.5 mile hike up on top of a mesa and around. Chimney Rock was like a large hoodoo that jutted out from this mesa. The trail was quite muddy due to today’s rains. The weather still looked ominous – many storm clouds were in the area. But we are only here a few days and the guidebook says this is one of the best in the area. So here we are, hiking up switchbacks to the top of this mesa. After hiking almost every day for over a month, the trail was not so bad. I think by now we have some good trail legs. Wish I did not have to lose them when I get back home but we don’t have the trails like we do here in the Southwest. The views were spectacular – a sea of red rocks, red mountains, and red soil for miles and miles with a think ribbon of road winding along the way. Light rain would come and go like a typical day in Wales. After our nice 2 hour walk with killer views we headed into Torrey which was 7 miles away. I was trying to find this Capital Reef Inn Restaurant that had great reviews in several books. First we found this General Store in town that stuffed a ton of stuff into one small space. The cool thing was the food was just a tad more expensive than a Wal-Mart, not the 50% mark-up I had expected. So we brought a few things and found out where our restaurant was. The town of Torrey only had a few hundred people in it but it was one of my favorite small towns on this trip. It did cater to tourists but in a good way with none of the chain places you expect – save a Subway which is OK by me.

Our dinner was at the Capitol Reef Inn and Restaurant. Just walking in the place gave you a good vibe. Outside was a garden with flagstone paths. Inside was a small gift store with hardwood floors. The restaurant was like a little dinner and we sat by the window in a soft cushion booth. One wall was painted with a petroglyphs type view of the area. Other walls had area artifacts on them. The food was outstanding just as the guidebooks said. For an appetizer I had a 10 veggie salad. For main meals, Pooh had a veggie stir fry with what she called “spices of the earth” and I had the best nachos ever with three different cheeses and more veggies on top. Overall one of the best places we have eaten at on this trip. A must visit if you’re ever in the nice town of Torrey.

After dinner we drive back to the RV. I took Quique with me to the night program at the amphitheater which was about astronomy.  Great program, but too bad it was overcast outside to check out any of the stars we learned about. Back at the RV it was chill time until bed.
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