June 2009


After having been in Torrey and near Capitol Reef National Park for over a month, we are still enjoying seeing the multi-colored rocks all around us and learning more about the geology of the area.   

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Capitol Reef features multiple layers of, primarily, sandstone.  Iron gives the sandstone its distinctive red color although all layers absorb the iron at the same rate.  These photos taken along Sulphur Creek show some of the older layers of sandstone and the "painted on" effect of the iron.

Fifteen different layers of rocks and formations tell the story of the area, from the Permian to the Cretaceous periods, going back over 275 million years. The terrain went from flat to mountainous to being covered by oceans to sand dunes to ocean.  During a talk on the park’s geology and thanks to Photoshop technology, Ranger Corree showed us what the park brochures may have looked like for these periods – Capitol Reef National Seashore, Capitol Reef National Dunes, Capitol Reef National Forest.

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Layers where the sandstone is rippled hint at a long ago riverbed.

We also learned that iron, nature’s paintbrush, is the most common coloring agent found in Capitol Reef’s rocks.  All around us are rocks in a rainbow of colors – yellow to orange to rusty brown, light blue, greenish gray, off-white, dark gray, brownish gray, dark green, red to reddish-brown to purple, even bright white.   We’ve seen rippled rocks that used to be river bed silt, and sandstone domes that were Sahara-like dunes about 180 million years ago that became rock and are now becoming sand grains again.  Pretty amazing stuff.

But did you know Capitol Reef Country was the former outlaw hideaway for Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch?  The outlaws had a series of strongholds along a route that included tough and difficult stretches of terrain.  The outlaws would rest up in these strongholds after “The Big Job”.  Here in Wayne County, Robbers Roost hosted such notorious visitors as Butch, Kid Curry and other banditos.  They were able to move through the area undetected and go to ground when the law closed in.

Last month we wrote that in all of Wayne County, there are no traffic lights.  There is also just one liquor store in the entire county and it has limited hours.  Folks around here must spend more time hiking and ATVing trails than having happy hours! 

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The Hickman Bridge shows the erosion caused by winds and water.

Some of the trails we did during June, either jointly or just the guys if the gals thought they were too strenuous: 

Hickman Natural Bridge Trail:   The trail starts with rock steps along the Fremont River ending at the natural bridge with overlooks of the Fruita area below.   Natural Bridge sneaks up on you when you turn one of the last corners – amazing sight. 

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Between the rocks and altitude, riding in a wagon along here could not have been comfortable.

Old Wagon Trail:  This trail climbs part of Miner’s Mountain, with a magnificent panorama of the Waterpocket Fold.  It must have been a bumpy ride for the old wagons with all the rocks found on the trail.

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Cassidy Arch required a 4 mile hike and a serious climb.

Cassidy Arch:  Possibly named with the thought that Butch Cassidy may have climbed up to the arch while he was hiding out nearby.  A steep climb up natural stone steps leads eventually up to the arch with scenery abounding.

Chimney Rock:  A steep climb brings you to the high rim above Chimney Rock, rewarding you with spectacular views of Chimney Rock itself and the Goosenecks across the highway.  Petrified wood can be found on part of the trail.

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Climbing the Chimney Rock trail takes your breath away in more ways than one.

Sulphur Creek:  This five-mile one-way hike starts at the Chimney Rock parking lot, follows the creek down to the Visitor Center.  From the creek bed, you can look up and see the Goosenecks overlook – folks up there waved as the guys went by.  Three waterfalls have to be navigated around and at one point, you have no choice but to get your feet wet.  This was Larry’s favorite hike, so far.

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Sulphur Creek narrowed to the point where you had to get your feet wet.

Capitol Gorge:  The ride out to Scenic Drive to the trail head is beautiful even if you don’t get out of your vehicle.  Along the trail, the desert varnish found on the sheer walls made a perfect slate for early autographs.  We saw petroglyphs, signatures from an early survey crew, and finally Pioneer Register, where early travelers etched their names, the earliest date 1871.  This particular gorge trail was the main automobile route from east to west until 1962 when Highway 24 replaced it.  Flash floods are common in this area – that must have added to the adventure driving through there back then.  One sign states that an inch of rain on Miner’s Mountain is all that it takes to cause a flash flood at Capitol Gorge.

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Capitol Gorge trail was an easy hike where signs from early pioneers were preserved in the rock.

Fremont River:   The first half mile is on level ground, following the Fremont River, then the climb starts up, and up, and up again on a steep narrow foot path until you reach a wide spot on the top with 360-degree views of Miner’s Mountain, the Fremont River gorge and Fruita.

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Near the top of the Fremont River trail, the Waterpocket Fold stands out. 

East Pleasant Creek:   Thousand Lakes RV Park host Clay told us about petroglyphs found within a half mile hike from the trailhead but we managed to miss the turn but enjoyed the mile-plus walk we did on an off-road vehicle path – we managed to cross the creek without getting wet!  While the guys went on to find the petroglyphs, the gals found a shady spot at the old Sleeping Rainbow Ranch at the trailhead.

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Native American petroglyphs overlaid by graffiti were seen along the Pleasant Creek trail.  The right photo shows where a target was carved into the rock for target practice. 

When we did joint hikes, we managed to time them so we enjoyed picnic lunches somewhere in the park, with stops first at the Gifford House for fresh pies or scones – pretty smart on our part, don’t you think?  Some of our lunchtime companions – mule deer and yellow-bellied marmot.

One afternoon we got an email from a couple named Jerry and Shirley who had questions about working with Habitat for Humanity.  Jerry emailed that they were staying here in Thousand Lakes RV Park, so we were scratching our heads trying to figure out how he got our email.  Mystery solved when we realized that we are all members of the Escapees RV Club.  Our membership number is hanging on the RV ladder, so Jerry went online to the directory for our contact info.  When we met them at their site, we found out they are also musicians – Shirley plays both the mountain dulcimer as well as the autoharp and Jerry not only plays a guitar, but he is a singer and songwriter.  We managed to get in a jam session one afternoon before they left the area. 

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This yellow warbler has been pecking at the windows of the truck and RV since we arrived.  I wonder if it tastes like chicken?

Another ‘friend’ who visits us often in the campground – a yellow warbler.  He sees his reflection in our RV windows and flies from one window to another, peeking in.  Of course, he’s not too much of a friend after the deposits he leaves on our truck.

There are loads of geocaches in this area.  We managed to bag about a dozen of them here, one of which led to an incredible valley of some neat looking rocks and formations, similar to Goblin Valley but a deep red in color. 

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It was a dark and stormy day... and the pelicans kept flying away, hence the grainy photo.

On a shopping expedition to Richfield, the nearest large town, we went via Fish Lake, a national forest and recreation area.  The scenery to and from there was impressive, but most memorable are the white pelicans that make their home their year round.  Who’da thunk you’d find pelicans out here in the desert?  Fish Lake owes its existence to geological forces deep within the earth – is Utah a geologist’s dream or what???  The lake’s basin, surrounded by steep-sided mountains, was formed when a section of land lying between fault lines dropped (this drop is called a graben.)  The graben was the result of movement along both faults over a period of many millions of years.  Water trapped on the graben’s surface became Fish Lake.

Towering, cathedral-like monoliths give Cathedral Valley its name.  More pictures can be seen here.

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Getting ready to cross the Fremont river into Cathedral Valley, part of Capitol Reef National Park.

Our most memorable outing was driving through Cathedral Valley, also part of Capitol Reef National Park.  We rented one of the RV park’s four-wheel drive Kias and headed out first thing one morning.  One entry to the valley is by fording the Fremont River.  That was a little wild (water depth was about 10”) but the rangers’ directions on how to get across helped.  The entire route is 58 miles and took us six hours, with frequent photo stops and driving down several of the scenic spurs.  We saw very little traffic the entire time - two cars heading the opposite direction the first ten miles and later a man on a dirt bike came up behind us, asking for directions.  About halfway we stopped at the six-site primitive campground and had lunch.  Immediately afterwards were the steep switchbacks back down to the valley.  The last time Karen and Galen were here, they had to drive the truck back and forth to negotiate one of the curves. 

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Bentonite Hills provide a colorful view but don't get stuck out here when it's wet!

At about the 8.5 mile marker, we drove through and among the Bentonite Hills, rocks composed of bentonite clay from altered volcanic ash.  You don’t want to drive on bentonite when wet – it becomes very slick and sticky, making travel almost impossible.  The hills are easy to spot – they are multi-colored round mounds.

We stopped at the Gypsum Sinkhole – a huge pit formed by the dissolving and draining away of a large gypsum deposit – 200 feet deep and 50 feet across! 

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A mound of selenite crystals with the Temple of the Moon in the background.

Glass Mountain is but 15’ tall but is impressive with all the gypsum that has turned in to selenite crystals.  Nearby Temples of the Sun and Moon, sculpted from Entrada sandstone, rise 400 feet from the valley floor.

The last ten miles were pretty rugged so it felt good to get back on pavement, heading home after a long but very scenic outing. 

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With no shoulders and drop-offs on either side of the road, the Hogsback is a driving adventure.

Another picturesque outing was a drive down Utah’s Scenic Highway 12, designated both a National Scenic Highway and an All-American Road by the Federal Highway Administration.  All-American Roads have one-of-a-kind features so exceptional that they qualify as a destination “unto themselves.”  Highway 12 spans more than 124 miles – from Torrey to Panguitch.  We drove the leg from Torrey to Escalante and back – there are several overlooks with beautiful views of the Waterpocket Fold, the Henry Mountains, and everything in between.  One particularly scenic (but hair-raising if you’re driving a large RV) is the 29-mile section called the Hogsback.  Completed in 1946 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, it connected Escalante and Boulder.  This particular two-lane section, with narrow shoulders, is bordered by drops on both sides and no guard rails – not for the faint of heart if you’re towing.  The stretch we drove that day has some 8%, 10% and even 14% grades. 

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Portions of Scenic Highway 12 will test your driving skills and with steep grades, your brakes.

Our plan that day was to head south on Hwy 12 to Escalante, then drive Hell’s Backbone, a scenic backway, from Escalante to Boulder.  After checking in with the Escalante Visitor Center, we learned that part of the Backbone was slick and a little treacherous after heavy rains the day before.  One of the rangers suggested an alternate outing – driving down Hole-in-the-Rock road as far as Devil’s Garden, part of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  (The monument extends from Escalante to Bryce Canyon to the Grand Canyon - 1.9 million acres of a series of sandstone canyons, plateaus, cliffs and unique rock formations.) Off we went, bouncing along a washboard road about fifteen miles before getting to Devil’s Garden, where we stopped to enjoy our picnic lunches and to wander around the Garden, comprised of sandstone hoodoos that we could walk in, under, on top of, and around.  Pretty cool place.

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We enjoyed lunch at the Devil's Garden after enduring a 15-mile washboard gravel road. 

During our entire stay here in Torrey, we have seen at least a hundred, possibly more, rental RVs.  This is a popular destination for Europeans traveling to the US.  This must be the year for them to visit Utah and its parks.  Among the most popular rental companies we’ve seen are: Road Bear RV, Cruise America, El Monte RV, and Camping World RV Rentals.  The RV sales market may be down because of the economy but these rental companies must be having a record year.

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Shelley seems to enjoy the red rock area although it is getting warm.  She sleeps when she can to keep from getting overheated

Coming up the rest of the summer:  We leave Torrey mid-July to spend a week in Moab, visiting both Arches and Canyonlands National Parks; south to Bluff, Utah, for a few days, visiting Monument Valley and other neat places there; Cortez, Colorado – Mesa Verde National Park and other sites; and a short stop in Chama, New Mexico, to visit NOMADS friends we met in McCamey, Texas.  We’ll visit Santa Fe, New Mexico; Colorado Springs, Colorado; and will cover new territory for us as we head east through Kansas and Oklahoma.

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