Capitol Reef National Park: Cathedral Valley

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Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! Today is the National Park Service’s 102nd birthday…happy birthday NPS!! Exactly 102 years ago, President Woodrow Wilson signed the National Park Service Act. This year’s theme is ‘Something New for 102’, so get out today and see a new park or see an old favorite from a different perspective.

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With only one day to see Capitol Reef National Park, we started out before dawn with a sunrise tour of Cathedral Valley.  Our guide Jen from Red Rock Adventure Guides picked us up at our hotel at 5:20 AM. For real.

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Jen suggested that the best use of our time would be to go directly to the formations called Temple of the Sun and Moon for the sunrise (rather than drive the entire Cathedral Valley Loop,) then leave the park to go to Goblin Valley state park. We figured she’d know best and she was right.

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For about 90 minutes after picking us up in Torrey, Jen drove her Xterra in the dark over unpaved, unmarked roads deep into the park while making pleasant conversation (she did give us the option to sleep while she drove, but we were awake, our bodies still on East Coast time.)  We never would have found this without her, or felt safe doing so…miles in the middle of nowhere with no cell service and few people. Jen has a satellite beacon in her car for emergencies.

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We arrived at the temples as the sky was just beginning to lighten, but the moon was still up. The temples are monolithic stone formations which seem to ‘worship’ the sun and the moon. I was able to catch the moon in the elbow of the Temple of the Moon.

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Sunrise was absolutely beautiful. The sun lit up the temples as it rose in glorious pink and purple hues.

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After we’d taken about a thousand photos of the sunrise, Jen took us to a few other awesome locations that we wouldn’t have known about otherwise. There was a good balance of drive time and walking around time. Jen is a good conversationalist, so the time we did spend in the car passed by pleasantly and we learned a lot more about the area than if we’d just explored on our own. Before she dropped us off around noon, we visited three more sites.

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We could see the distinctive Factory Butte while driving on Route 24 to Capitol Reef. We pulled out on a dirt road leading to it and explored the Nielson Wash…this is a conduit for water during flash floods and heavy rains, so don’t approach if those conditions exist. When dry, it’s an otherworldly canyon with little alcoves carved out along the way. We walked through the canyon a little ways and then returned to the car.

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Our last sightseeing stop on the tour was the Fremont Petroglyphs inside Capitol Reef. We got out here briefly to see the ancient petroglyphs on the cliff wall. They are viewed from quite a distance…they are pretty high up…so we didn’t realize until reading the informational displays that the figures are huge…around 6 feet tall. Something definitely worth the 10 minute stop to read the signs and take a picture.

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Location: Wayne, Utah

Designation: National Park

Date designation declared: 12/18/1971

Date of my visit: 4/13/2017

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Glen Canyon National Recreation Area: Lone Rock Beach

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After spending the morning touring Lower Antelope Canyon, we needed a respite from the heat. We’d originally planned to go to Horseshoe Bend right after Antelope, but switched up the itinerary and drove to Lone Rock Beach on the Utah side of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. What a spectacular setting in which to cool off!
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This beautiful soft sand beach on Lake Powell is maintained by the National Park Service and the view is dominated by the monolithic Lone Rock. It’s about 12 miles north of Page. We paid a $15 entrance fee. There is limited hard-surfaced road, with the majority of access to Lake Powell on sandy roads or beach. We were driving a rental sedan and were warned we could get stuck driving down to the beach so we parked in the lot (which has a restroom) and walked to the water. It’s a long walk, but we’re used to long walks in hot sand to get to the water back home at the Jersey shore.

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The water is warm and a beautiful turquoise color. The beach was not crowded at all, even though there were a lot of RVs in the main area (this is a popular camping site in the Park as you can pull your RV right up to the water’s edge.) We set up our mat a little ways down from them and had that section all to ourselves. This was the perfect way to spend a hot afternoon.DSC06545

 

Lake Powell is actually a man-made reservoir created by the Glen Canyon Dam. It was surprising to see all the motor boats and jet skis speeding around the lake, considering that people have to drink this water. Just sayin…

While Lake Mead (formed by the Hoover Dam) was larger than Lake Powell when they were both created, Lake Powell is now larger by volume due to a more intense drought/ falling water levels at the Nevada end of the Colorado River.

Location: Lone Rock RoadBig Water, UT 84741

Designation: National Recreation Area

Date designation declared: 10/27/1972

Date of my visit: 8/17/2014

You can see my previous post on Glen Canyon NRA : Horseshoe Bend here.

Bryce Canyon National Park

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Before we ever set foot in Utah, I realized that Bryce Canyon National Park , famous for its rock formations called hoodoos, deserved far more time than we’d alotted on our initial plans. But how to fit in everything and still be back in the Northeast for Greek Easter (lest we incur the wrath of Yia-yia?) I inquired on switching our last Zion Lodge night to Bryce Lodge, but alas, they were already booked up. So we made the most of it and spent an action packed day traveling from Zion to Capitol Reef. Here are the stops we were able to make inside Bryce NP in about 4 hours:
Bryce Canyon Visitors Center
A typical NPS visitors center with restrooms, gift shop and interprative displays. We dashed inside to check maps, get the pin I insist on collecting from every park we visit, fill our water bottle and peruse a display of Native American history and hoodoo ghost stories.
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Canyon Trail Rides: 2 hour trail ride

Since we knew we had limited time to explore Bryce, we had booked in advance the two hour AM horse-back ride into the canyon.
None of us were experienced riders and were feeling some trepidation…how do I get up in the saddle, how do I steer, what if I drive my horse off the cliff?? We needn’t have worried. The horses (and some mules) know the route and the staff helped us the whole way. My horse was Peanut and he was sweet and surefooted.
It was a little scary when we first came over the ridge and looked down into the canyon. But the scenery was so beautiful and the horses so calm, that our fears quickly evaporated.
The guide kept us entertained with information about the canyon and cheesy cowboy humor.
You can’t bring a backpack or anything except a small camera (which I recommend you hang around your neck ) but they have a small shed for people to leave their belongings.

Bryce Canyon Lodge Dining Room

We had lunch in the lodge dining room after taking the morning trail ride into the canyon. The place is pretty laid back and casual…no one seemed to mind that we were dusty from riding horses..but with the classic elegance of a historic park lodge.
I had the elk chili (just the right amount of heat, very tasty) and we also had the chicken noodle soup (fresh, nice big pieces of chicken) and the bison burger.
Waitress was cheerful, service was efficient and we were on our way to our next adventure in good time.

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Sunset Point

The view from the point is stunning, but my husband didn’t get to see it because he let us out to go see it and then circled the lot for a long time, hoping in vain for a parking spot to open up.

My daughter and I walked along the rim trail and took some photos. There is a trail down into the canyon there too. You’d need to get there early in the morning to beat the crowds, I guess. We were there too early in the season for the shuttle bus…it wasn’t running yet.  That would be a much less stressful way to get around the park.

Bryce Point

A short hike out onto an observation platform and you can pretty much see 360 degree views of the whole park.
It’s difficult to find parking in the small lot at the trailhead and rangers were ticketing improperly parked vehicles, so we did have to wait a bit before a spot opened up. But it wasn’t as bad as the lot at Sunset Point, and we did eventually get a spot so we could all enjoy the awesome scenery.

Location: Bryce Canyon National Park, UT-63, Bryce, UT 84764

Designation: National Park

Date NPS designation declared: 2/25/1928

Date of my visit: 4/12/2017

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Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

IMG_8676Location: 745 US-89, Kanab, UT 84741

Designation: National Monument

Date NPS designation declared: 9/18/1996

Date of my visit: 4/12/2017

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At the time of our visit, this monument covered a vast 1.8 million acres of the geological ‘staircase’ which has its bottom step in the Grand Canyon in Arizona and its top step in Bryce Canyon, Utah. In December 2017, Trump reduced the size of this monument by 47%. The Sierra Club and other conservation organizations have filed a lawsuit challenging the president’s authority to undo monuments declared by other presidents under the antiquities act.

Aside from its size, this National Monument also differes from most of the others in that it is managed by the Bureau of Land Management. What we saw of this park was from our drive on Route 12, a Scenic Byway, and various roadside stops between Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef.

IMG_8572Red Canyon Tunnels: We actually stopped for this Scenic Byway 12 placard and photo opp just before entering Bryce Canyon. These tunnels were carved through the red rock to create the road to the new ‘Utah National Park’, Later named Bryce Canyon. They were referred to as the Gateway to Fairyland.

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Powell Point: Upon leaving Bryce Canyon, we stopped at the Grand Escalante visitor center in Cannonville, but it was not yet open for the season. So we continued along Route 12 until we found a promising rest stop, which turned out to be Powell Point. In 1871 this was the last uncharted land in the continental US and the second Powell Expedition set out to put it on the map. From this point, you can see the topmost layer of the Colorado Plateau, the pink cliffs.

 

 

Escalante Petrified Forest: It was getting to be late in the afternoon when we reached the town of Escalante, so we could choose to go to the visitor center and get my pin or opt outdoors. We chose the Escalante Petrified Forest. It was $8 for the car load (part of Utah’s great State Park system.) We hiked a short, but very steep trail to the top of a butte or mesa. At the top, there were pieces of petrified wood scattered throughout and nice views of a lake or reservoir nearby. We hadn’t taken the time to read the explanation of how the trees turned to stone before going up because we really needed to stretch our legs. My daughter was fascinated by it, so we had to stop by the displays on

 

IMG_8671the way back down to read all about it. A nice one hour edutainment stop! Tip: Bring lots of water…it was only April, but this may have been the hottest hike we took in Utah.

Hell’s Backbone Grill: I’d reserved us a table by e-mail long before we left for this trip and boy was I glad I did. We got there right as the restaurant opened and there was already a line of people waiting to see if they could get in without reservations. This was the best dining experience of our entire Utah trip. We made reservations and stopped here for dinner on our way from Bryce Canyon to Capitol Reef. We got there right when they opened for dinner and we were glad we had reservations because there was a line of people waiting to get in.
The two ladies who own this cafe are wonderful. Both of them stopped by during the course of our meal to see how we were doing…we just really got a great vibe being in this cheery, fun atmosphere.
The food is locally sourced, organic and prepared to perfection. We had a steak, spicy mac and cheese (pure comfort) and lamb meatballs. We should have shared a dessert because the three of us could not finish two we ordered: lemon poppyseed bread pudding and a sinful pot of chocolate. YUM

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Zion National Park

IMG_8147Location: Springdale, Utah

Designation: National Park

Date NPS designation declared: 11/19/1919

Date of my visit: April 2017

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After visiting the Northern section of Zion called Kolob Canyons (separate post here) we drove to the Southern entrance to Zion Lodge to explore the main part of the park.

We spent 3 nights in Zion Lodge and so were able to experience a lot here. Staying inside the park meant we were able to get most places quickly via the shuttle system or on foot. We had motel rooms in the Watchman building. The rooms were very comfortable with king size bed, TV and quiet ac unit. We had a private balcony with red rock views and rocking chairs. Vanity separate from the bathroom. There is a common area with a fireplace and board games where families can spend time together.
Everything was clean and in good condition. It’s no luxury resort but the convenience of being right in the park can’t be beat. There are long lines of cars during the day waiting to get into the park because the NPS hasn’t figured out how to make one lane for people who already have the park pass and another for those who need to purchase one. And this park is becoming increasingly popular…it just isn’t equipped for the droves of visitors flocking to the famous hiking trails and beautiful canyon.

IMG_8163Lower Emerald Pool Hike

We hiked to lower emerald pool our first evening in the park. The trail is paved and easy and leads to a trickle of a waterfall (which you can walk under) spilling into a bright green pool. Because it’s across from the lodge, everyone takes this trail. It was difficult to enjoy nature with hordes of rowdy, obnoxious tourists.

Zion Adventure Company

IMG_0046We headed into Springdale early morning on our second day to try out canyoneering. We opted for the half day family Canyoneering trip. Because there were only three of us, they asked if we could pair up with a mother-daughter team which worked out great since they were similar in age and ability to me and my daughter. Our guide, Chad, drove us through some undeveloped areas of Zion to a slot canyon just outside park boundaries (rope work is not allowed within the confines of the park.) Chad was excellent and so patient, helping us rappel, climb and squeeze through the canyon.
Most of us were not in top physical condition, but Chad made it easy for us to accomplish what we’d thought was impossible going in. He took pics throughout and sent us the jpegs in email soon after our tour finished.
This was a great bonding experience for us.

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We asked Chad to suggest a good afternoon activity in the park that wasn’t as crowded as the Emerald Pools. He suggested the Hidden Canyon Trail hike.
This hike starts at the trailhead to the more ambitious Observation Point, but then splits off to the right. It is fairly strenuous going up, with switchbacks, so just take it slow and enjoy the view. It’s not a very long trail, maybe a mile each way. Near the top, it becomes a rocky path with chains bolted into the cliff for climbers to hold onto. My teen and I stopped at this point, while my husband continued on to the end and Hidden Canyon. He says this part is not as daunting as it seems because the walk is banked in towards the cliff wall and the chains…not as scary or as crowded as Angel’s landing.

IMG_8419Scout Lookout/Angel’s Landing

We started the hike to Angel’s Landing at 8 AM on our third day in the park. After a brief pleasant flat stretch along the river, we began to ascend. For those of us not in great shape, we had to take frequent breaks to catch our breath. The higher up we got, the more beautiful the view.
When we got up through the tight switchbacks called Walters Wiggles, we came to an IMG_8445open area called Scout Lookout with gorgeous views and plenty of places to rest. Only my husband made it the final half mile to Angel’s Landing. This stretch is a steep scramble over rocks and a narrow ridge with chains set in the ground to hold onto. My teen attempted it, but quickly turned around when she realized that everyone had to use the same chain…going up or down. With so many people on the trail, it was more than a little chaotic and scary. It took my husband over an hour to come back because of having to wait for people to come up before going down. Several people have died falling off the ridge, the most recent is a 13-year-old girl a few months ago. I’m really glad my daughter stayed with me and took photos from the safety of Scout Lookout.
The views from Scout’s Lookout were stunning, so I didn’t regret not finishing the hike.

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We were exhausted from that strenuous hike to Angel’s Landing, so after lunch, we rode the shuttle to the visitors center and picked up the Pa’Rus trail there. It winds through campgrounds at first and then by the Virgin River. There are several river access points along the way if you want to get right down by the river. The water was really high and fast during our visit, which caused the NPS to shut down the park’s other epic hike, The Narrows (part of which must be hiked IN the river.)
As you near the end of this trail, you need to look downstream for the iconic view of the Watchman towering over the river. The trail ends close to another shuttle stop, which we hopped on back to the lodge.
For being an easy trail, I was surprised by how peaceful it was. We only encountered a few cyclists and pedestrians along the way.

Restaurants:

Red Rock Grill: We ate here twice during our stay at the Zion Lodge. With days chock full of physical activity, we simply could not muster the energy to drive into town for dinner.
The ambience here is not as stuffy as some of the other Nps historic lodges. We went in our hiking clothes, no problem.
The food is ‘clean’ and is ok. Nothing spectacular, but nice. We had the pork chop, bison meatloaf, sirloin and bison burger. All well prepared and prices what you would expect inside a national park.
They have a nice seating area outside too.

Castle Dome Cafe: We came down from the Angel’s Landing hike hungry. We just beat bus loads of people arriving at the cafe so we didn’t have to wait too long. Burgers were ok, fries were decent and we had some mango smoothies from the ice cream stand. Sat at a table on the patio under the red rocks

Spotted Dog Cafe: Nice local restaurant, we reserved via open table. Lovely server. Red Rock views. Nice decor. We were grubby from hiking in the park, but it didn’t matter. It says casual dining right on the door.
I had pasta purses filled with pear and ricotta in a butter sage sauce…heavenly! We also had the NY strip with parmesan fries. Those fries were very tasty. The Panna Cotta with strawberries and balsamic glaze for dessert…delicious. Prices were fair for the experience we had.

Cafe Soleil: Stopped at this cute little cafe for lunch after a morning of canyoneering. We were starving and Cafe Soleil did not disappoint. They have a vast selection of tea which I appreciated.
We had the chicken pesto Panini, California blt, and chicken pepperoni panini. All served with a nice bag of chips, a slice of melon, and a smile. We were in and out of there pretty quick so we could get on with our day.

 

Zion National Park: Kolob Canyons Section

IMG_8002Location: 3752 E Kolob Canyon Rd, New Harmony, UT

Designation: National Park

Date NPS designation declared: 11/19/1919

Date of my visit: April 2017

I decided to do a separate post for this section of Zion National Park because it has a separate entrance, about an hour’s drive away, from the main section of the park (which is accessed from Springdale.) It feels like a completely different park and has its own page on the nps site

Due to its more remote location and higher altitude, it is less crowded and cooler. For us this was a great place to start our exploration of Zion NP. First we stopped at the visitor’s center to get the pass for our vehicle. This pass was good for all sections of the park for the duration of our stay.

IMG_8020Next we took the 5 mile scenic drive. Since this part of Zion is quieter than the main part of the park, we were able to enjoy this beautiful drive without the traffic that you usually find in some other parks’ drives. There are numerous places to pull over and take photos of the view.

We parked at the lot at the end of the drive to hike to the top on Timber Creek Overlook Trail. This is a fairly easy and short hike to spectacular views.

This was a good choice for our introductory hike to Zion National Park . We really enjoyed it, especially after being cooped up in the car for the drive from Vegas. I would call it a moderate hike…it’s a half mile out to the top with an elevation gain of about 300 feet. We were already starting off at a pretty high elevation, so I was huffing and puffing quite a bit…this was easily remedied by pausing to photograph the beautiful views that just got better the higher we climbed. It was amazing to see the red rock formations from one side of the trail and snow-covered mountain peaks from the other. Though there were some people sharing this trail with us, it wasn’t so crowded that we couldn’t relax and enjoy nature. It’s not a loop…you hike back down the same half mile that you walked up.

IMG_8027There are other, more strenuous hikes available on this side of the park (like the one to Kolob Arch), but for those you’d really need to dedicate a full day, which we didn’t have on this whirlwind Utah trip.

Staying on this side of the park could also be a good jumping off point to visit Cedar Breaks National Monument. I estimate it would have been about a two-hour drive. But at the time of our visit in mid-April, that park was still closed due to snow.

We covered a lot of ground during our 2017 Utah trip, but there is still so much more to see. We will have to return someday.