We were still in Utah most of the month – read on to see how we spent our time.
The month kicked off with a slight dental emergency – one of Lucille’s crowns broke off so based on a recommendation, we made an appointment at the Tooth Ranch in nearby Bicknell. We lucked out in that we found someone locally instead of having to make the 65-mile drive to Richfield, and that the dentist was able to re-cement the crown, and there wasn’t too much pain to the pocketbook either.
Independence Day in Torrey is celebrated in a big way – it’s also Torrey Apple Days with all things apple going on during the day – apple races, apple pie eating contests, etc…We started off the day by supporting the local Boy Scouts’ fundraising breakfast. For $7 a person, you feasted on ham, eggs, pancakes, potatoes, fruit, and a beverage – wotta deal! After we walked around and looked at the arts and crafts for sale, we settled in for the parade. Torrey is a small town within a very small Wayne County but they put their all in the parade. In fact, you can watch it twice when it does a return trip. Along with the usual candy being tossed, apples from a local grocer were handed out as were small but tasty apple tartlets from Café Diablo. We learned afterwards they gave away 3,000 of these goodies.
The following day we were invited to Robbers Roost’s annual employee picnic. Our cost besides bringing a dish to pass was to play some music, a small price to pay for the spread they had – buffalo steaks, ribs and burgers, salads, and desserts.
Besides hiking several of the trails throughout Capitol Reef National Park, we also attended several ranger programs. Ranger Laura spoke about the voices heard in Capitol Reef – did you know crickets have hearing organs in their knees? Ranger Adam spoke about the park’s geology and taught us a helpful mnemonics to remember some of the rock layers we see in the park – “No one knows why cats meow.”
No one: Navajo sandstone
Knows: Kayenta formation
Why: Wingate sandstone
Cats: Chinle formation/shinarump member
Meow: Moenkopi formation
One evening, Ranger Corree talked about how nature adapts to the environment. Fairy shrimp have a short life - they mate and lay eggs when one of the rock tanks has water from a rain shower. When the water dries up, eggs have been known to lay dormant for 25 years – amazing.
The one-room Fruita Schoolhouse was manned by Ranger Corree the day we visited. (We teased Corree that she seemed to wear so many hats – we attended a couple of evening programs she conducted; we met her on a hike; she participated in the parade, dressed in period clothing; and she frequently manned the information desk at the visitor center. We know several rangers work at Capitol Reef but we seemed to see Corree the most often.)
Built in 1892, the log building served as a school until 1941 when it was discontinued for lack of students. In the beginning, although there were only eight families living in the area, they were large families. One teacher taught all eight grades of school. The blackboard was made out of canvas painted black because they couldn’t afford slate back then.
The Gifford House was part store (with scrumptious breads, scones, breads, jellies and cooking implements for sale) as well as part museum. Last owned by the Gifford family who resided there from 1928 to 1969, they raised dairy cows, hogs, sheep, chickens and ducks, and ran cattle in the South Desert. They were pretty much self-sufficient, eating what they raised, including produce from their garden. They were the last residents of Fruita, selling their home and land to the National Park Service in 1969. With their departure, Fruita as a farming community came to a close. Within the museum are a spinning wheel, a well-crafted homemade chair, bookcase, cook stove, and treadle sewing machine.
One of the women working at the store talked about how she was born and raised in the area and currently lives on a farm in nearby Notom. Farming was hard work but she said back then her parents made work fun, like being on the lookout to count sheep, etc…
A couple of memorable hikes:
Calf Creek Falls, about an hour south of Torrey on Scenic Byway 12. We started our hike around 9:30 am, getting back to the parking lot at 1 pm. It turned out to be almost seven miles round trip. Because of the heat (it was 95 when we finished), some of us were feeling pretty wilted by the time we got back. But it was worth it – the falls are gorgeous and the walk quite interesting. Along the way, we saw a granary and some petroglyphs.
One morning, Larry and Galen went on the Lower Spring Canyon hike – about 9 miles one way. They left at 7 am, parking our truck at the Chimney Rock trail head. The gals then picked it up and moved it to where the trail would end, leaving the truck there for when the guys finished the hike. Spring Canyon is deep and narrow with towering Wingate cliffs and Navajo domes, originating on the shoulder of Thousand Lakes Mountain and extending to the Fremont River.
Coincidentally, on the same day as this particular hike, one of Fruita’s orchards was open to the public. The gals stopped on their way back and picked a couple of pounds of peaches each. Payment is done by the honor system, with a scale and money box left at the entrance to the orchard. What is really cool about this fruit is that they are from heritage trees that have been around since 1880. The orchards are part of the park system and are preserved and protected as a Rural Historic Landscape. Amongst the twenty-two orchards, there are approximately 2,700 trees bearing cherries, apricots, peaches, pears, apples and some plum and nut trees.
Scenic drives we took:
Hell’s Backbone (off of Hwy 12), which loops from Escalante to Boulder. We drove about a 15-mile section from Boulder to the bridge - an engineering feat in itself. Amazingly, there are homes and ranches in one of the valleys we dipped down into.
Renting one of the campgrounds 4 wheel-drive Kias, we headed off for Boulder and the Burr Trail. When we stopped to search for a geocache just north of Boulder, we noticed a smell coming from the left rear wheel and hub. After then stopping at Boulder Mesa Restaurant on Burr Trail for cokes and a potty break, the wheel was particularly hot. Galen called Delynn, the campground manager, who brought a replacement Kia.
Back on the road….the first thirty miles are paved and the scenery beautiful. We stopped for lunch at the top, near the first set of switchbacks that were paved. We eventually ended up on a gravel road, very washboard-y and had thrills negotiating another set of switchbacks, six of them going down and down and down again - unbelievable. Looking back up, you can barely see the road. Coming from the other direction, you’d wonder how you’d even get through this pass.
Seeing the Waterpocket Fold from this direction showed us yet another side of the geology within the Capitol Reef area.
After two months in Torrey, we said our goodbyes to the many friends we made there and headed for Moab. Think hot! The average temperature while we were there was low 100s – thank goodness the air conditioners worked.
There is a lot to see and do in Moab – two national parks – Arches and Canyonlands; Dead Horse Point State Park; a scenic drive; a kitschy tourist attraction south of town; and lots of opportunities to do some whitewater rafting in the Colorado River and four-wheeling on the forested and hills in the area. But the absolute highlight of our stop there was the flight seeing tour we took one morning. Both Redtail Aviation and Slickrock Air Guides offer tours. We chose Redtail because they were able to take just the two of us while Slickrock had a minimum of four passengers. The reason Redtail can offer a two-person minimum over Slickrock is that they use smaller airplanes when needed.
We met our pilot, Tim Martin, at the Moab airport at 8 am that day and were in the air twenty minutes later in a four-seater Cessna plane with high wings, allowing for great viewing. Tim showed us how to slowly open the windows out if we wanted to get some really good photos with the camera. Larry sat up front and Lucille had the best seat in the house, having the entire back seat to herself and able to look out either window.
Our flight was awesome, especially seeing the geology we’ve seen for the last several months from the air and how different but still beautiful it looks. The Maze part of Canyonlands is something to see, as are the Goosenecks from the air. And Monument Valley, and Valley of the Gods, and the rest of Canyonlands, and some other canyons outside the park limits. Tim told us there are more arches in Capitol Reef than in Arches but because Arches was named a park first, it got the name. Even Canyonlands has more arches than Arches – pretty neat.
The weather was ideal and we’re so glad, as was Tim, that we went early. When we took off, it was probably 76 or so and about 20 degrees warmer when we landed a little over two hours later. We highly recommend taking a flight seeing tour and if you’re lucky, you’ll have Tim as your pilot. What we found out afterwards is that Tim is known as Arch Enemy #1 – up until the 1980s and the park system deciding it wasn’t such a good idea, he used to fly through several of the arches in the area and under bridges – yow! Check out the youtube clip!
Anyway, back to the national parks. First, Arches - formed by water, ice, extreme temperatures and underground salt movement - spanning 100 million years of erosion. Over 2,000 cataloged arches, ranging in size from a three-foot opening to 306 feet base to base, are scattered across the national park.
Over several visits, we saw The Windows, three massive arches comprised of North and South Windows and Turret Arch; Delicate Arch (Larry hiked up to walk underneath it); Balanced Rock, following the 360 loop around it, marveling at how different it looked from various angles; Skyline Arch, noticeably missing a chunk that fell out in 1940; and Landscape Arch, with a span greater than a football field in length. Landscape Arch lost a 60 foot long, 11 foot wide, four foot thick chunk in 1991. Miraculously, the hikers sitting underneath heard cracking and felt small rocks falling so they scooted out of the way just in time. Someone caught this chunk falling on video – amazing!
Larry signed up for the ranger-led Fiery Furnace walk, “winding through terrain that occasionally requires the use of your hands and feet to scramble up and through narrow cracks and along narrow ledges” – sounds exciting and it was.
Canyonlands National Park is comprised of three sections – Island in the Sky, the Needles, and the Maze. The first two are accessible by any type of vehicle but the Maze is accessed either by four-wheel drive vehicle, on foot, or horseback. We lucked out and saw both Needles and the Maze when we took our flight seeing tour. We spent most of one day exploring Island in the Sky, located about 30 miles from Moab. After a quick stop at the Visitor Center, we drove the scenic loop, stopping to hike up to Upheaval Dome (we saw this from the air earlier.) We then drove out to Mesa Arch, with a bonus peek at Washer Woman Arch, seen through Mesa Arch.
No one is quite sure how Upheaval Dome came to be. One theory is it was formed as a result of a meteor impact; the other a salt dome. A thick layer of salt underlies much of southeast Utah. When under pressure from thousands of feet of overlying rock, the salt can flow like ice moving at the bottom of a glacier. Because it is less dense than sandstone, over millions of years it can rise up through and deform surrounding rock layers to create a dome or ‘salt bubble’. Whatever its origin, it is a unique geologic formation and visible even from space.
A short detour on the way back from Island in the Sky is Dead Horse Point State Park. Legend has it that cowboys used this area to catch wild horses. Sheer cliffs on all sides made a perfect horse trap. Supposedly, a band of horses, left corralled on the waterless point, died of thirst, sadly within view of the Colorado River 2,000 feet below. Dead Horse Point is a great place to view goosenecks – channels of water that flow around huge rock formations, meandering around S-shaped canyons. One way to think of it is that the river may cover a mile as the crow flies but with the goosenecks, it may be eleven miles of meandering river to cover that distance.
From one of the overlooks, you can see the containment ponds for potash. This potassium-rich brine originates from underground geologic deposits, pumped to the surface, and is then placed in lined ponds for solar evaporation before the extraction process is completed and final products (fertilizer and potassium salts) make it to the end user.
The campground manager recommended driving the La Sal Mountains Loop Road so off we went early one day. We opted to go north to south, following the Colorado River for the first 20 miles. The scenic drive through the national forest is about a 65-mile loop, taking us about two hours. The roads were all paved but some sections were quite narrow, especially at the switch backs. We were glad we didn’t encounter anyone else coming from the other direction at some of those curves. One of the overlooks looks down into Castle Valley, with a view of Round Mountain, a hardened plug of igneous rock that pierced upward through layers of sedimentary rock. Erosion stripped away the soft surrounding rocks, leaving Round Mountain sticking out like a sore thumb.
Near the end of our drive, we found a national forest picnic area – our only neighbor was a mule deer that kept on foraging while we enjoyed our own lunch.
On the way back, we stopped at Hole N” The Rock, a kitschy tourist attraction just south of Moab. Albert and Gladys Christensen built a 5,000 square foot home, carved into the Navajo sandstone rock on their property. They started off first with just a diner and gift shop, eventually expanding back into the rock to create their living quarters. The kitchen ceiling, which is sandstone, is painted mint green because food for the diner was prepared here and surfaces had to be able to be washed.
Art Christensen was quite busy over his short 53-year lifespan. Besides building this home, using pickaxe, chisel and dynamite, he also painted, sculpted out of stone, and was a taxidermist. Several of his completed projects are on display, including the mule that helped haul the many thousands of tons of rocks for him. Because someone years ago took pictures of the interior and published them on the web with misinformation, you can no longer take photographs of anything inside.
Our next destination was Blanding, about 90 miles north of Moab. We quickly got settled into Blue Mountain RV Park. We highly recommend this park, not only because the sites are spacious with beautiful views of the mountains to the west but the owners and their family are some of the friendliest folks we’ve met.
Craig, one of their sons, gave us plenty of tips on what to see while in the area, including the Sand Island petroglyphs just south of Bluff. There are hundreds of petroglyphs on the varnish on the bluff, just below the main highway. How many folks drive by every day not knowing of the history a few feet below their wheels!
We stopped for lunch at Twin Rocks Café in Bluff, based on Karen and Galen’s recommendation. They are known for their fry bread and deservedly so – both our meals were scrumptious.
While in the Blanding area, we visited both Hovenweep National Monument and Natural Bridges National Monument. Hovenweep (a Ute/Paiute word that means deserted valley) consists of sites in both Utah and neighboring Colorado. We visited the Utah side only, walking the Little Ruin Canyon trail, where the ruins of several ancestral Puebloan ceremonial towers (kivas), pithouses and pueblos are visible. Seven hundred years ago, this area was home to a thriving community. It’s amazing to see the quality of workmanship still visible after all this time.
Three impressive natural bridges can be seen, either from overlooks, or up close and personal if you hike down to them, at Natural Bridges National Monument. The bridges were formed by erosive action of moving water, whereas the arches we’ve seen elsewhere are formed by other erosional forces, mainly frost action and seeping moisture.
The first bridge seen from overlooks on Bridge View Drive is Sipapu (place of emergence), the highest and greatest in span. Because its abutments stand far from the stream, it is not as affected by stream erosion as is Kachina (named for symbols found on it), still considered a young bridge. Last seen on the drive is Owachomo (rock mound), the oldest of the three. Streams no longer erode this bridge but frost and seeping moisture may eventually have a fatal crack, or not…We hiked down to Owachomo and stood underneath it – we were dwarfed under its 106 foot height.
Natural Bridges is reached by scenic Highway 95. One day we set off to bag as many geocaches as we could find in or near that road. We were introduced to Butler Wash Ruins, Mule Canyon Ruins, and Salvation Knoll (so named because exploring Mormons felt they found salvation when they reached this summit). Finding caches at these locations was not only fun but educational.
Time to hit the road for Cortez, Colorado – we’ll fill you in on those adventures with next month’s update.
Coming up: Visiting Cortez for a week; heading south to Chama, New Mexico for a few days; spending time around Santa Fe; a quick visit to Capulin Volcano National Monument; and then back to Colorado where we’ll spend a week at the military campground at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. No set plans after that other than visiting Kansas and Oklahoma before ending up at Mountain View, Arkansas mid-September.