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May 3-4     Goblin Valley

It was a short drive from Capitol Reef to Goblin Valley. Highway 24 proceeds east to Hanksville, then takes a sharp turn to north. The San Rafael Swell appears, thrusting all kinds of colorful rock into the air at a strong westward tilt.

We knew we couldn’t camp at Goblin Valley State Park – no reservations available. Once again, we were examining BLM options. We dropped the Lazy Daze and went on a campsite search. One BLM dispersed site looked like a large parking lot and already had a lot of cars and rigs parked there. Also, a lot of ATV trailers, which didn’t please us. But we didn’t see any other great choices and headed back to pick up the rig and move there. We saw a small butte with a short, fairly steep road on the way back and investigated. It had one other rig up there but looked perfect to us, quiet and remote with a good view of the Swell. That’s where we spent Friday and Saturday nights.

Both of us were in the doldrums. It seems to be a part of each trip. We reach a point where we’re kind of tired and not excited about anything. As a result, neither of us was too excited about seeing Goblins State Park. We had been there before and it’s tough to photograph. But it was nearby and the clouds were interesting so we visited.

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As expected for a Sunday, it was loaded with people and kids. But we ambled around, snapping away. I can always Photoshop away anything I don’t want included in the image.

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Some of the formations seemed to take on the characteristics of cartoon characters.

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Some people were climbing very high into the hills.

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On the way back to our Rav, I saw this.

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May 5-7     Moab

It was another short drive to Moab. We called 5 different RV parks to find a space on a Monday. One returned the call. We managed to get into Moab Valley RV Park for one night. Price? $73. Unbelievable! As we drove down UT-191 towards Moab, the line of cars going the opposite direction was unending and slow. As we neared Moab, the line of cars in front of us was long and slow. It seemed like everybody was on the road. We later found out that was a normal exodus on Sunday afternoon. Braving a lot of traffic, we did our chores: bank, groceries, wine, soap dish, laundry, take on water and dump. It was hot and we were glad to have air conditioning.

The next morning, it was off to find a site for the next couple of days. We wanted to be on the Colorado River and there are many BLM sites there. One of the first ones we passed was Grandstaff Campground and Trailhead. Grandstaff? Didn’t that used to be Negro Bill Canyon? Apparently, Negro Bill was not acceptable. His last name was Grandstaff, so that’s what it is now. I’m not sure how to feel about that.

During the few times we had connectivity, I contacted a friend who lives in La Sal. We hadn’t seen Janet Curley for quite a few years and were anxious to catch up with her and meet her friend, David. We suggested a hike and she suggested the Dinosaur Trail, about 15 miles north of Moab. After reuniting at the Lions Park, we followed them up Mill Canyon Road. There is a short walk featuring fossilized dinosaur tracks. They are neat-looking but the way they are displayed doesn’t allow any perspective to show how large they are.

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Sego Lily, Utah’s State Flower

We wanted to walk some more and Dave used the AllTrails app to find the Mill Canyon Dinosaur Trail in a nice valley that featured dinosaur bones in situ.

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Janet and Dave

The bones differed in color and shape from the surrounding rock so they were pretty easy to pick out.  This was the vertebrae of a sauropod. Parts of four v-shaped bones remain as the only evidence of a vandalized tail.

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This is incomplete scapula and shoulder blade and several ribs of a sauropod.

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We passed the exhibits and continued up the valley. I saw lots of flowers I hadn’t seen before. I think this is some type of vetch.

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Hedgehog Cactus

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There was water in the wash. That was nice to see but the mosquitoes quickly became unbearable. It was the first serious bug attack we had during the trip. We turned back and decided to get a late lunch at the Moab Giants, a dinosaur museum.

After a huge hamburger with fries, I stumbled over to pay the entrance fee to the Moab Giants facility. $47 for two seniors. We first went to a small theater where the 3D film started at the beginning of time and progressed to the time of the dinosaurs, in about 20 minutes. From there, we headed over to a small aquarium. Aquarium in the desert? Yes. This is a 5D prehistoric aquarium. The huge creatures that inhabited the oceans in times past are recreated digitally with a grand finale of a Megalodon encounter. It was a well-done display and fun.

After that, we walked the outdoors dinosaur trail, featuring over 100 full-size replicas of the dinosaurs and the footprints they left behind. One interesting thing I learned today is that when dinosaur footprints are found, they are assigned the name of the person who discovered them. That is because it isn’t always easy or possible to figure out to what type of dinosaur the footprints belong.

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Dave tickling a dinosaur

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Tyrannosaurus Rex, rampaging through the Tamarisk

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Unfortunately, the wind was fierce by this time and flying grit was stinging my legs. At one point Janet’s Dave had a tumbleweed crash into him with enough force to leave a bunch of stickers attached to his jeans. We joked around and did silly things and took silly pictures.

Finally, we went into the small museum. They had many interesting exhibits and some fun ones for kids. We said goodbye to Janet and Dave and got home fairly quickly. I was totally exhausted and took a quick nap before making dinner.

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April 30     To Capitol Reef National Park

Our big treat on Tuesday morning was breakfast out. Our RV park was next door to a place serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. We headed out to go 100 feet for our breakfast. Dave noticed the restaurant’s chile roaster was going. Maybe Huevos Rancheros, I thought. But no. There were workers in the restaurant and the door opened but they were closed. They clean on Tuesdays.

Disappointed, we asked where we could go for breakfast. Go to Outfitters, they said. “Oh good”, I thought. We could eat breakfast and then I could buy wine there too. Well, they were open and they did serve some things for breakfast. The menu showed breakfast burritos. “Nope”, the perky barrista said. They were out. Bacon and egg bagel? Nope. Spinach quiche? All gone. Dave and I finally snagged the last two pieces of a bacon quiche. She said on Tuesdays, they were the only game in town. She said there was another café, but they were closed for “recuperation”. (Huh?) I guess we should have arrived earlier.

It was supposed to be clear and windy on Tuesday so we thought driving over Boulder Mountain to Capitol Reef should be relatively uneventful. Knowing that the road over the mountain rises to 9,600 feet, I wore a warm turtleneck. As we retraced part of our drive from yesterday, the fluffy clouds coalesced into a fairly solid mass of gray. When we stopped to photograph the naked aspens and great views at 8,000+ feet, it was freezing outside.

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Capitol Reef in the foreground and the Henry Mountains in the background.

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We knew we weren’t getting into Capitol Reef’s campground. Reservations for that popular place get booked solid months ahead of time. We were going to check out a couple of BLM dispersed camping sites a few miles from the park. We ended up at Bea’s Lewis Flats, with a nice view of Boulder Mountain. It began to sprinkle lightly as we settled in. It was a good day to be inside.

After dinner, as dusk descended, we just watched clouds go by, changing shape and tone. It was wonderful.

May 1   Capitol Gorge, Capitol Reef National Park

We weren’t terribly energetic on Wednesday so we decided to drive through Capitol Reef, drive down the short Capitol Gorge road and take a walk in the Gorge. The familiar line of very high cliffs paraded down the road, but we stopped for the flowers.

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Penstemon

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Claret Cup Cactus

After turning east on the gravel road into Capitol Gorge, the walls started closing in. We had to stop and capture the rich, warm colors.

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Once we started walking further into the gorge, the Pioneer Register appeared. People had to graffiti the walls, even in the late 1800’s.

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Pioneer Register

The real attraction for me was “The Tanks”, a series of catchbasins that are found after a short, steep climb above the gorge floor. There were lots of people up there, but then they wander about so it’s not all crowded in one place.

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The tanks weren’t outstanding but the surrounding area was.

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The variety of rock here is astounding.

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Right before the steep descent, we rediscovered a really colorful rock area.

Once back in the gorge, we retraced our steps, noting the changes in light on the walls.

May 2     The Chimney Rock Trail in Capitol Reef

The Chimney Rock Trail was a 3.5-mile loop with a 700 foot rise in elevation. It only took about 15 minutes to reach the parking area off UT-24. It was full of cars. I resigned myself to seeing and hearing a lot of hikers.

Most of the elevation gain is right at the beginning. It involves some switchbacks but they are not terribly steep. It’s just a big trudge. The first formations I saw primarily were deep red-orange with some interesting gray mud hills. Nice.

570View0374ChimneyRockCapitolReefAs we rose, we got a good view of Chimney Rock, then rose above it and it dropped out of sight.

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There was an expansive view of Boulder Mountain and the Henry Mountains when we reached the top of the butte.

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After traversing the top of the butte, we began to descend into another canyon.

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Penstemon

Soon, some good-looking aqua/turquoise-colored mud hills appeared below the red rock.

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I tried to capture the subtle varieties of green that the hills revealed, but it’s hard to get the image to show what I remember.

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Heliotrope

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We made another left turn into Spring Canyon and the view of the multi-colored hills was wonderful. I didn’t remember this from this hike in 2012.

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It seemed a long way to the end of the loop but the canyon was quite nice. We only passed 3 hikers on the entire loop. We finally reached the end of the loop and began the descent. The afternoon light was good and a few formations stood out.

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We drove the short way back to camp, cleaned up and went to the Diablo Café to celebrate my birthday. We shared a smoked salmon “Mingle” with arugula, cous cous, and other stuff drizzled with an avocado cream. Oh, that was wonderful! I followed that up with a huge lamb shank served with hominy. We split a lemon tart for dessert. It was all great.

 

 

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April 26-28    Changing Plans

It was only 17 miles from Bryce to the small town of Cannonville, Utah. I made the unfortunate decision of staying at a KOA. $62 per night! Never again if there is any other choice.  I chose Cannonville because it is at the north end of Cottonwood Canyon Road. We wanted to do the Yellow Rocks hike again. Alas, it was not meant to be. The chance of rain showers shut us down. When that mud road gets wet, it is totally impassable. Our Photographing Southern Utah guide suggested a closer alternative: Willis Creek Narrows. It was fairly close, it was a pretty short hike and we might not slide into a ditch if the road got wet.

It was an easy drive there and we set off following Willis Creek into the first narrows. Because wading might be involved, I carried along some sandals but never needed them. With the aid of my hiking poles, there was always a dry spot I could hop over to. The beginning of the narrows wasn’t too impressive but I can always find something to photograph.

We had passed a few horseback riders on the road and now they passed us in the narrow stream. I wonder if some horses are claustrophobic. These didn’t seem to be.

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The colors of the rock in the narrows wasn’t that interesting, but the patterns on the rocks were fun to play with.

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A couple of times the canyon walls opened up and then they would close again. It being a Saturday, quite a few people were traversing Willows Creek. Footwear varied from hiking boots to tennies to galoshes to flip flops. Everyone was having a good time.

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After lunch, I went a little farther, then decided to retrace my steps. Dave went on another half-mile or so. It was a nice outing.

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Fringed Gromwell

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We had thought we might try to catch a couple of nights at Kodachrome Basin State Park, a very pretty place with some nice hikes. But the weather wasn’t getting any better and we’d have to drive out to Kodachrome and see if there were any campsites available. Instead, we decided to move another 30 miles east to Escalante. I could get some groceries there and perhaps we could go down the Hole-in-the-Rock mud road and visit some sites there.

We stayed at the Canyons of the Escalante RV Park, formerly the Broken Bow. A visit to the BLM office put the kibosh on the Hole-in-the-Rock road. Big chance of showers. Too bad.  I couldn’t even go grocery shopping- the one large grocery store in town is closed on Sunday.

April 29     Escalante Canyon

If you can’t drive unpaved roads, drive paved roads. Highway 12 east of Escalante is one of my favorite drives in the U.S.  At the top of the canyon, at Boynton Overlook, the light was mostly dreary and intermittent showers kept happening.

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Highway 12, the road that descends down the hill, is impressive. When you’re driving a rig and towing, it is a little frightening the first time you do it.

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Dave noticed that the new (to us) sidewalk has faint patterns in it. It probably was taken from local rock.

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We started down the switchbacks and pulled over to explore a few times.

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The second stop was the key. I explored one side of the road, Dave explored the other.

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Yucca bud

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Indian Paintbrush

When I returned to the car, he motioned me over to an absolutely wonderful area where a series of potholes had been created by the intermittent streams that occur with rainfall. The colors were very subtle, in shades of creams, grays and beiges and the shapes were subtle as well. No hard edges here.

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We were only halfway down the canyon when we stopped to eat lunch. The Escalante River Trail is at the bottom of the canyon, as is Calf Creek, a hike we have done a few times. From the bottom, the road then rises and rises higher to a mesa that narrows and narrows until it reaches “The Neck”, a section only wide enough to accommodate the paved road itself. The dropoffs on both sides of the road are stupendous.

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After that, the mesa opens up again and you begin the descent into Boulder Valley. At the decrepit little grocery store/gas station, we verified that the three primitive RV sites had expanded to five. Then we drove the Burr Trail into Long Canyon, a long red canyon. All this time, the weather had not improved. I only got out of the car to photograph one rock formation, smell a yellow-flowered bush to see if it was cliff rose (it wasn’t) and to photograph the venerable cottonwood tree in front a short, narrow canyon carved out of the rock face.

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After we returned home, I grocery shopped. The grocery store hasn’t changed since we came here about 40 years ago. The selection is poor and the prices fairly high. I had to ask where the state-run liquor store is – it is contained in one of the tour outfitters businesses. It was not open on Sunday or Monday; by law it must be closed two days per week and on holidays.

That night, a big thunderstorm hit. At one point, we turned out the lights and watched nature’s light and sound show. Exciting.

 

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April 22-23    Getting stuff done

We returned to Kanab for one more day to upload the blogs and replenish our supplies. We stayed at the RV Corral Park, another place with tight little spaces and our space was right next to highway which meant highway noise. We went to Kanab’s one hardware store and Dave found the right size machine screws and washers to fix my hiking pole. The small town of Kanab is going to be the biggest town available until we reach Moab.

On Tuesday, we took off for Bryce, hoping to score a campsite in the park. The options are limited because only one campground is open right now. Heavy snow has limited both camping and hiking options. We arrived at the North Campground in Bryce around noon. At the entrance station, we told that we were lucky – there were still some campsites available. The first loop we checked had one lousy space (too tight and not level) so we unhooked the LD and went into Loop B. Score! A small loop off B had several spaces available. We took the largest one. Site 51 is right near a bathroom and is sunny. We could put our chairs out and look at the trees without looking directly at other vehicles or the road. We decided to go for 3 days, $45 with the Senior Pass. A great deal!

We didn’t know how lucky we were. Every time we reentered our camp for the next couple of days, it was full. We kept watching people troll the loops, searching, searching and not finding. We didn’t drive anywhere in Bryce the first afternoon and evening, just enjoyed our campsite.

April 24    The Fairyland Trail

On Wednesday, we got up early and were on the trail about 8:30. Dave and I had negotiated a complex agreement. The full Fairyland loop is 8.5 miles long. Dave wanted to do the entire loop. I didn’t. So we took off from the Fairyland Viewpoint, where the Bryce shuttle buses don’t go. We would hike together until we reached Sunrise Point where I could catch a shuttle back to our campground. Dave would continue hiking back to the car. Good man!

Glowing formations

We didn’t catch sunrise on the formations but the sun was low enough where the glow was wonderful here and there. There were a few other groups that left when we did, but as usual, they soon outdistanced us. We are not speed hikers.

Easter Island statue?

The dried mud trail was quiet and peaceful for an hour or so. Then the planes started flying overhead and Bryce helicopter tours began buzzing like nasty mosquitoes. Oh well, there was a nice breeze and wonderful views.

A fairyland castle

It is fun to get up close and personal with the formations.

The total trail elevation change is 1,300 feet but I don’t think that covers all the ups and downs of the trail. We descended onto the forested canyon floor before beginning to rise again.  The trail had more than visual delights. I sniffed the bark of a Ponderosa Pine and got that faint whiff of vanilla.

Looks like a glowing pumpkin

The nice breeze became a stiff wind as we rose out of the canyon but it was sunny and we never got too hot. One thing I had forgotten about Bryce is that it contains a long series of discrete amphitheaters. You hike out of one and a new one appears. I have no idea how the trail-makers decided where to build the trail but I appreciate the results.

One of the keynote formations on this trail is Tower Bridge.

The wonderful formations in Bryce come in so many varieties of color: white, cream, apricot, orange, pink, russet. The shapes include round, conical, columnar. The mud can be eroded into discrete forms or still run in long walls. It can make for wonderful abstracts.

As the day progressed, we passed and were passed by more and more people. Two young women were hiking in open-toed sandals of the type not meant for hiking. I assume they were doing at least the full 5.5-mile portion of the trail. We passed a couple of couples lugging their babies in a backpack.

The final ascent up to Sunrise Point seemed long, but I was still in pretty good shape. I think the key factor in making a hike miserable is unrelenting heat and the breeze kept me fairly cool. Patches of snow began to appear near the trail. It’s hard to believe it can survive warm weather on orange-colored slopes.

From Sunrise Point

The trail split just below Sunrise Point. I kissed Dave goodbye and went to catch the shuttle. I was back at the Lazy Daze in a half hour and started the coffee and the water heater. The day’s take? 171 images. The selection process begins.

April 25    The Bryce Rim Drive

It was a lazy morning after the Fairyland hike. We always seem to carbo-load after our hikes, so the breakfast menu was French Toast. The weather report was a chance of showers in the afternoon. That could make for interesting light.

We took off around 1:30, not knowing if we would be out for long. The Bryce Canyon rim drive goes 18 miles along the top of the mesa, but only 12 miles were open. The other six went as high as 9,000 feet and it was still very snowy so we were told it was closed. The first stops were Sunrise and Sunset Points, thinking there were only a few stops after that before we’d have to turn around.

View from Sunrise Point

There were hordes of hikers and riders on the trails.


Virga not quite hitting the ground

At Sunset Point, a ranger was hanging out, answering the many questions by various people. I started talking with him about the wonderful petroglyphs we had seen on the Mansard Trail at Kanab and he began to tell me “secret” places where we could see petroglyphs. I had seen several of the places he spoke of so they weren’t all that secret, but it was nice of him to tell.

Dark clouds over Sunset Point

Crew repairing the trail

We decided to drive up as far as we could and then work our way back. As we drove, I noticed quite a few cars returning. I supposed they were all going as far as they could before turning around. But when we reached Natural Bridge, the supposed “end of the road”, it was open! There was quite a lot of snow on the sides of the road and it kept getting higher as we rose beyond 8,000 feet.

Ponderosa Point

Curious, we wanted to see if we could reach Yovimpa Point, the end of the road, at 9,115 feet. We did. The parking lot was crowded with cars. Lots of kids were playing in the snow. One couple had a red-tick hound. “Bark” the man said when we asked him what type of hound his beautiful dog was, and the creature bayed on demand.

View from Yovimpa Point

It started to rain. The wind was blowing hard. Not expecting to reach that point, we had only brought long sleeve shirts and light rain jackets. No mittens. But the views with the rain clouds and virga were spectacular. We stayed there for a half hour, getting water spots on our lenses.

We worked our way back down, running the car heater at full blast when we weren’t popping out at the various points.

From Black Birch Point

Natural Bridge

Aspen trunks

Each point looked into a different amphitheater or two different sides of the same amphitheater. There was some snow visible at each stop, something I don’t remember ever seeing at Bryce before.

Fairview Point

We never made it to Inspiration Point at all. By the time we were back under 8,000 feet, we were tired and had been out more than 3 hours. We returned home to a toasty motorhome and got back into shorts.

 

 

 

 

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April 18-19          Kanab

We woke up Thursday morning to plaintive “MOOOOO”. Peeking out the window we saw a cow with a very full udder. Apparently, she wanted us to milk her. Not possessing a lick of lactation-extraction expertise, we left her to her own devices.

We went to the large town of St. George, Utah to restock groceries. That place was busy and it was stressful maneuvering the Lazy Daze into crowded supermarket parking lots. We also had to find a state-run liquor store in order to stock up on wine. One bright note on our way to Kanab: we found a gas station with gas for $2.80 per gallon. Score!

Since we were closing in on Easter weekend, I called ahead to make sure the Hitch-N-Post had a space for one night. They did. While in conversation with the RV park manager, I mentioned that we planned to drive through Zion National Park to get to Kanab. “Oh, you can’t do that! The road through the park is closed near the tunnel; they had a rock avalanche early this year.” Lucky to find out when we did. Otherwise, we would have entered the west side of Zion and had to turn around and backtrack. Instead, we turned off at Hurricane and headed east on a different road.

We’ve been to Kanab, Utah many times. It’s a well-situated little town for us to supply up so that we can stay at the remote areas we love. I remember one trip in the 80’s when we came to buy groceries in Kanab and I found artichokes in the store. Loving artichokes, I added them to my cart. When I checked out, the young cashier looked at them doubtfully.

“How do you eat these?”

“Why, you just slice off the tops to get rid of the stickers, steam the bottoms until they’re tender, pull off the leaves and dip them in butter or mayonnaise.”

“Oh yeah, I’m sure.” she replied, disbelieving my cooking scheme.

The Hitch-N-Post, a small, rustic place, is handily next to a laundromat and grocery store. While doing the laundry, I got into conversation with two others, one a girl covered in tattoos and a man who looked to be in his late-20s or early 30s. It turned out they were both full-timers. The girl said that she and her boyfriend were tattoo artists and when they needed a little money, they could always find a tattoo parlor to work at for a while. The man said he full-timed with his wife and 3 kids, self-schooling them. “A lot of Millennials like this lifestyle a lot.” he said.

We caught up on chores and blog stuff and began to discuss what we wanted to do in-and-around Kanab and where we would go for Easter weekend. There were BLM dispersed sites a few miles north of Kanab and I thought they would be good.  I also thought there would be a lot of them. I was wrong.

Friday morning we took our time taking off, drove about seven miles north of Kanab on US-89 and looked for a campsite on Hancock Road, the way to reach Coral Pink Sand Dunes. Note the word “sand”. There were few dispersed BLM sites than I expected and ones we looked at involved deep sand. Not good. We drove further up the US-89 and pulled into a large area where a few rigs were parked but it really looked like an unloading site for ATV’s, aka sand buggies. Uh-uh, no peace and quiet there.

“Let’s go further up the road to the next BLM site.” We left the LD and drove another 5 miles up US-89 and took a turnoff just south of the turnoff to go to Zion NP. The road was gravel, flat and easy to traverse. A muddy fork of the Virgin River ran alongside the road. There were ATVs roaring up and down the road, but we found a large flat space right by the water. Figuring this was as good as it was going to get, I settled down in my camp chair with water and my iPhone to hold the site while Dave drove back at retrieved the RV. We were settled for the weekend.

April 20    The Mansard Trail

Sifting through all the hiking possibilities, we selected the Mansard Trail hike. In 4 miles or so, it climbed 900 feet to an alcove with petroglyphs. We figured it would be a good introductory hike in canyon country. Also, it was only 6 miles outside of downtown Kanab, so not much driving was required. And I guessed it was not the type of trail that tourists would flock to.

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The Mansard Trail

As soon as we got on the trail, the wildflowers began to appear. All kinds I have never seen before. I knew I would be spending more time with my flower identification book in later days.

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Milkvetch

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Fresh Linanthus

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Not so fresh Linanthus

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Penstemon

After a gentle rise for a while, the trail began to ascend in a series of switchbacks (26 of them). But they weren’t severe and I only got out-of-breath once. Plus, photographing the flowers slowed us down. The views were wonderful – we were back in canyon country, with mesas, buttes and domes.

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Rough staircase

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Yellow Cryptantha

We took a break at a bench that provided a view of two canyons. It also provided a refreshing breeze.

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Our destination

The trail flattened out as it traversed the mesa-top we were on. We were heading towards some nice rock formations.

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Locoweed

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We suddenly turned onto a sandy road with tire tracks on it. What? People drive up here? The road ended in about 100 yards and the rock face I was looking at was spectacular. Usually, desert varnish drips down the rock face, depositing dark stains. This was not desert varnish. It was stains in shades of mocha and brown on white rock with bands of yellow through it. It was beautiful.

The path alongside the cliff was sketchy and the fall was steep if you lost your balance. Both of us were entranced and spent about 20 minutes with our noses and cameras pressed near the rock.

Finally, I suggested that we find the petroglyphs before other people showed up. The alcove containing them was only a short way down the trail. The unusual thing about these petroglyphs was that they were pecked into the sloping floor of the alcove. The first one I noticed was an archer. The neat thing was the artist had added three T-shapes, possibly picturing the progress of the flying arrow.

I am always amazed at the variety of images that are included in petroglyphs. We moved across the expanse, marveling at the work. Soon, a group of four kids and a woman showed up. I was happy to hear her forcefully tell them that they couldn’t touch anything. They soon left and we ate a quiet lunch at the site.

Looking out from the alcove

Afterwards, we worked our way slowly back across the rock face. We heard some engine noise coming from the road and found a couple of ATVs there. The people didn’t look like they were even going to attempt the trail over to the petroglyphs.

The afternoon winds picked up and blasted me to point where I had to remove one of my contacts. I had brought my hiking poles but hadn’t used them on the way up because the path was easy to navigate. But they really help on the way down 900 feet, when I’m tired. So I pulled them out and one of the pressure clips that hold the segments in place, fell off. The bolt had fallen out somewhere. So I hiked down with one pole and hope we can fix it.

 

April 21      The East Side of Zion National Park

As mentioned earlier, the tunnel connecting the west side of Zion with the east side was closed. It would take a one-way trip of about 60 miles or more to get from the west side to east side. So we figured Easter Sunday was the perfect day to visit the east side, only a few miles from our camp.

We had a relaxed Easter breakfast an omelet with bacon and cheesy-bread toast. Later we took off for Zion. On the way in, a dead deer on the side of the road reminded me to drive more slowly. It’s a terrible feeling to kill an animal accidentally.

We would have entered Zion for free with our senior pass but it was a free day anyway. Whether because it was Easter Sunday or because the tunnel was closed, free is nice. Especially because the entrance fee is $35. Wow!

The first formal “sight” in East Zion is Checkerboard Mesa, that is fractured in an unusual fashion.

There are only a few formal pullouts along the road but many pulloffs that we used extensively.

The tints on many of the formations are very delicate and subtle.

There are a lot of beehive formations here. And the huge, cumulous clouds make a great backdrop.

I was driving, toodling along watching the road, when Dave yelled “Stop!” I stopped. “Pull over right there!” I pulled over, next to a young couple staring intently down. There was a large herd of Mountain Sheep grazing a little below the level of the road. They noticed us but that didn’t scare them off.

The collared sheep seems to be the male, keeping an eye on his harem.

Getting a little RAM-bunctious

Suddenly, the herd decided that the grazing was better across the road. Luckily, there was little traffic as they all crossed single file.

Then, one after another, they made incredible leaps onto the steep cliffs above.

The lamb hasn’t grown his horns much

Several sheep approach from the other direction

A lamb kneels down to nurse

74 mountain sheep pictures later (for me), we moved on. It was so wonderful to see the healthy-looking creatures acting naturally in the wild. (Well, sort of wild, with a road running through it.)

We stopped a few more times before we called it quits and went back to camp.

Indian Paintbrush

 

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April 16       Valley of Fire State Park

Tuesday was supposed to be windy and cloudy with possible rain showers. It was all of that. Good. It made for an interesting sky. This is our third or fourth trip to Valley of Fire. We knew what we wanted to do there. Walk the White Dome Trail and wander around the side of the road, looking for rainbow-colored rock formations.

We reached the park around 9 a.m. After a few introductory shots of the wonderful views, we drove out to the end of the road, the White Dome Trail parking. The trail is short, only 1.2 miles, but it is full of wonderful rocks and this spring, wildflowers.

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View of Valley of Fire State Park

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Brittlebush

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Primrose

It wasn’t too busy when we started hiking. The narrow trail descends gradually between two high fins. Stone stairs make the descent easier.

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Orange Globe Mallow

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Scarlet Gaura

At the bottom of the descent, there is one adobe wall, a remnant of an old movie set. Many lousy movies have been filmed here.

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View of the White Dome Trail

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Movie set ruins

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The trail makes a right turn into a very short slot canyon.

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There is a stunning display of color in the rocks on the other side of the slot. As we worked it, people started showing up behind us. It was going to be a busy trail.

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The trail opens up after this and starts providing wonderful views. The weather was great – warm with a breeze.

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I love the red, swirly patterns in the alcoves.

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We got back to the parking lot around lunch time and found a quiet place, away from the crowded picnic benches, to eat our sandwiches.

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The park has tightened up parking restrictions on White Dome Road over the years. There are only 3 large parking areas now. We selected the middle one to try because there were fewer cars parked there.  The area close to the road wasn’t too interesting. But as we circled around rocks and followed washes and gullies, the color on the rocks got fantastic.

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Finally, I reached a place with wild patterns and colors.

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Then I found a formation that looked like a slab of bacon. Yummy!

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Next, the softest transition from sand to sandstone that I’ve ever seen.

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We found another wonderful rock view as we started heading back to the road.

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While we were carousing in the rocks, the wind had really picked up. We finally got back in the car and started looking for a coffee spot. We drove up a short road to the Silica Dome Vista Point. I nearly was blasted off my feet when I left the car. I didn’t take too many shots here; it was time to sip the java and watch other people brave the blasts.

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Figuring we were well done for the day, I turned the car around the loop and on the other side of the road, saw the most mystifying vision. The flat plain spread out below was clearly defined by the light. But the plateau beyond, with the sun focused on it, sparkled and glowed like a magical ocean. It actually was a long plateau out there. The images don’t quite capture the look, but it amazed me. I feel so privileged to be in this part of the country.

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As we drove out of the Valley of Fire, it started to sprinkle. That, plus the high winds that rocked the rig, made me glad not to be a tent camper.

April 17      St. Thomas

Wednesday was supposed to be warmer and sunnier than Tuesday, so we planned to get out early to see the ruins of St. Thomas.

St. Thomas was a thriving town that served as a stopping place on US-91, the Arrowhead Trail, that ran between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles. When Hoover Dam began operations and Lake Mead started to fill, St. Thomas was doomed. Some people moved their houses away to higher ground. Others just left. However, nobody counted on drought and overpumping to drain Lake Mead back down so far. Eventually, St. Thomas reappeared.

We drove 4 miles towards dry lake bed before reaching a parking area. From there, we descended a small bluff and hiked a mile across fairly green (mostly Tamarisk) flatlands to the town.  At first, the showers that had wet us down yesterday left the plant life sparkling.

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Anything wooden is long gone from St. Thomas, but there are several cement foundations and the grocery store-gas station still had a few walls remaining. There are still some people living who were residents of the town and they have reunions every now and then. The last mayor had buried his hat next to his house before he left and many years later, dug up his hat and slapped it on his head.

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The schoolhouse stairs

We were the only ones wandering around and it was terrifically quiet. We spotted a very large flock of large birds that looked like they were trying to create a flying “V” but weren’t quite getting it. They came closer and closer and eventually were flying directly overhead. They were white pelicans with black wing tips. They weren’t making any noise themselves. What was utterly amazing was that we could hear the noise their wings made as they circled overhead. We’ve had that experience with Snow Geese but this sound was more than a whoosh. It included sort of a faint thrumming. Maybe from their feet? I don’t know but it blew me away. I love that I just never know what is going to happen when we are outside.

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So after about 40 pelican pictures, we started the walk back to the car. The only other wildlife we saw was a group of men and boys hiking towards the town. I didn’t even notice but Dave saw that one of the men had a shotgun.

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Desert Trumpet

 

 

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April 12        White Owl Canyon hike at Lake Mead

I was ready for a desert hike. It had been a long time since we had done one. Friday was supposed to be a nice day – not too hot and not too windy. We drove about 15 miles or so to a lookout point and headed down a steep hill. Dave had downloaded the 3.7-mile White Owl Canyon Trail on his AllTrails app onto his iPhone. It’s lucky he did because the trail was not marked at all after we left the viewpoint.

We quickly walked into a slot canyon. It was mostly brown mud walls but had some interesting wildflowers here and there.

Rock Nettle

Tree Tobacco

After a while, we came upon a pile of twigs lying on the ground. Looking up, we saw a very large bird nest on a high ledge. Not sure what nested there but it sure needed a big nest.

As we walked among small rock piles on the warm day, I had just begun to say to Dave “We have to start looking out for snakes” when Dave noticed a small snake right in front of us. Not a rattlesnake, and it lay still so we could photograph it.

After a while longer, we came to large metal culverts that passed under the road high above. From the size of them, huge amounts of water must be generated during monsoon season. As usual, we did silly things in them. We are easily amused

Once through the culverts, we had to scramble back up to road level. Then we traversed a tiny part of the 34-mile bicycle/hiking trail that circles part of Lake Mead. The part we were on was built over an old highway and half of it was a white smooth surface that made bicycling easy and quiet. The big yellow Brittlebush plants thrived along both sides of this track.

Eventually, we went back down into another slot canyon and ate lunch while watching a bright green and orange caterpillar speeding down the wash. This guy was booking! On the other hand, another caterpillar near me was either resting or dead.

We eventually exited the canyon and began skirting around rolling hills. Most of the trail had once been underwater in Lake Mead and there were thousands and thousands of small white clam shells strewn about everywhere. Occasional detritus appeared that told the lake’s story – a boat ladder, a boat bumper and pieces of clothing.

At one point on the trail, we saw a fairly large number of white birds at the marshy edge of Lake Mead. Examining them with binoculars, Dave guessed they were pelicans. Pelicans in Vegas – who knew?

Just short of getting back to the car, we stopped at a high point and ate lunch, enjoying the views and the quiet. It was a good hike.

After dinner that night, we drove a few miles to Sunset Point and caught the last of the sunlight on the lake and the hills.

April 13-15    Not doing much

Signs had warned us that a race might disrupt local traffic on Saturday morning. So we didn’t drive out of the pleasant campground until the afternoon. We were going to explore the area of Lake Mead near Las Vegas. The lake has receded so far that there are only a few “ports” on the lake. You have to drive 4 or 5 miles now to reach the water and put-in points for boats. Callville Bay had a fairly large marina but not much to interest me.

I did take a few shots of Dodder, a parasitic plant that grows under, up, around and over other plants. Healthy Dodder feels like rubbery strings. It’s sort of gross but sure stands out with its bright orange color.

Dodder

The remainder of the day was spent back at camp. It was quite pleasant. We packed up and moved on what I thought was Easter Sunday. (Don’t look at my iPhone calendar much!) It’s a fairly short 50 miles to get to Echo Bay, another marina that’s close to the Valley of Fire State Park, our real destination. Valley of Fire’s two campgrounds are about 6 miles into the park and we didn’t want to deal with the hassle of possibly not getting into one of them. Plus, it was fairly warm and Echo Bay had hookups

The wind was very strong and it was nice to run the air conditioner during the afternoon. But we turned it off for dinner, opened all the windows and vents, and just lived with the heat the rest of the night. The wind was ferocious but it blew warm air into the rig that was better than no air movement. We left all the windows and vents open the entire night and just slept with a thin sheet. It worked fine.

We called Dave’s mom on Monday and found out it wasn’t Easter on Sunday. That means we have to figure out where to stay next weekend. Oh well.

The drive to Valley of Fire was short and at the entrance, a sign stated that the campground was full. Thank you for letting us know here and not having to drive six miles to find out we couldn’t camp there. We turned right around and headed for Poverty Flats, a BLM dispersed camping area. We dispersed ourselves into a free campsite and once again, invited the wind into the RV to cool us down. The wind never let up all day.

Dave took a few pictures but I couldn’t be bothered. With high clouds, the light is lousy and the view is not that great.

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