Archive for the ‘travel’ category

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class="post-534 post type-post status-publish format-standard hentry category-hiking category-travel">

Capitol Reef National Park

May 6th, 2010

The last park that we visited on our trip to Utah was Capitol Reef National Park.  Neither Tom or I had heard of it before, so we did a bit of research before hand, and made sure to talk to the rangers when we arrived.  We stayed in the park for two nights, and really were able to get a feel for the place.  The park is known for to very different things. The first is that it is geogologically interesting.   The “reef” has nothing to do with oceans or fish, but is actually what is known as the “Waterpocket Fold”, which used to be part of the Colorado plateau. Some very difficult to understand things happened to do with faults and erosion, caused the Waterpocket Fold to be exposed after millions of years, and the result is a beautiful monocline which seems to jut out of the earth.  The entirety of the Waterpocket Fold has been protected in Capitol Reef National Park.  The creation of the fold is described in way more accurate detail on the Capitol Reef National Park website.

The park also exists to preserve the historical heritage of the area.  It was the original home of the Fremont Indians, who left petroglyphs in the sandstone cliffs.  Later it was settled by Morman pioneers, who created the town of Fruita.  They planted fruit orchards, thus giving the town it’s name.  The Fremont River flows through the valley that lies below the upthrust of rock, and this river is what allowed the settlers to survive in the otherwise arid surrounding dessert.  More details about the settlement of Fruita can be found here.    One of the homes of the settlers has been preserved as a museum dedicated to showing what pioneer life would have been like for the first settlers of Fruita.  Happily, the Gifford House museum also sells homemade pie and locally produced salsas and jams.  Yum!

We arrived in the park in the afternoon our first day, and spent some time setting up camp, and eating our first of several pies of the visit.  We checked out some of the historic buildings which have been preserved by the park service, including the one room school house.  As a teacher, I could not imagine having to teach 20 students of all ages in one room, and have all the respect and admiration in the word for those women who did.  ::shudder::

That evening, we watched the sunset paint the dessert red and orange.  I had lots of fun photographing this tree.  It was so photogenic!

On our second day in the park, we hiked the Rim Overlook Trail, which wound its way up to the top of the monocline feature.  We started early in the morning and had cool temperatures and beautiful light.   We passed through several different layers of rock as we climbed, even encountering large, black, pitted boulders which were deposited by an ancient volcanic eruption!

As the day progressed though, it got much hotter and the trail wants for shade.  It is almost completely exposed the entire way.  When we reached the top, we were rewarded with expansive views of the entire valley, the mountains beyond and the historic town of Fruita, with its orchards, a few thousand feet below.It probably didn’t get hotter than around 80 degrees F that day, but that’s quite warm for us Seattlelites who haven’t seen 80 degrees since last August!  We were hiding under every overhanging rock and scrubby tree we could find when we stopped for water on our way down.

Captiol Reef is a beautiful and interesting park, and I am suprised that it is not better known.  I would recommend it to anyone making a trip through Utah’s parks to check it out, it is definitely worth the trip!

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Canyonlands National Park

April 21st, 2010

Part two of our Spring Break adventure had us heading west from Arches to Canyonlands National Park.  We spent two days in this park in two if it’s three distinctly different areas.  We visited the Needles district first, which is in the south eastern area of the park.  The Needles is an interesting area, and I’m somewhat at a loss to describe the landscape there.  It’s almost as though the consistency of the rock was changed to hot wax, and then dribbled out to form columns, blobs and mushroom-like formations.  We even camped under our own large mushroom of a rock that night, which somewhat cut down on the wind (yes, there was MORE wind).

After we arrived at the park and set up camp, we decided to go for a hike.  We decided on the Chesler Park Trail, which twists and turns through towering spires of striped red, orange and cream colored rock.  We climbed over large rock blobs, down through slot canyons, and between towers of rocks much much taller than our house.  The trail leads to an awe inspiring amphitheater of rock towers all lined up in a row.  It looks like a fossilized cityscape dropped off in the desert.  Fascinating.   (yes, I know I’m going a bit overboard with the superlatives.  Deal.)

The next day, we left the Needles area, and headed up north to the Island in the Sky area.  I thought the NPS had gone a bit overboard with the name, until I saw the place.  This section of the park is located on the top of a giant mesa, and from the edge, you look out over the different levels of sub-mesa, all the way down to the valley floor where the Green River meets the Colorado, thousands of feet below.  The views were a bit ridiculous. We also visited Mesa Arch, which while interesting, was very crowded.  The arch has a killer view down into the valley and of the snow-capped peaks beyond, and the drop off is immediate.  There were many families with small children who were being not so attentive.  We got out of there quickly because I kept getting more and more scared for other people’s children!

We decided to do a short backpack that night, since the campground was full, and we wanted a bit more solitute.  Since this national park is not heavily visited, there aren’t really backpacker campsites exactly, they have “backpacking zones”.  There was a one party limit in our zone, so we were it.  Sweet.  We hiked out onto a slender finger of mesa poking out into the void and really felt the immensity of all. that. space.  It was quite humbling really.  We had our dinner on an outcropping of rock near the brim while we watched the sun go down and make the desert landscape burn even more orange.  We also packed the kindle in, so that we could read to each other.  You may laugh, but we’ve often been known to bring books or games when we backpack.  Tom even carried the hardback version of the sixth Harry Potter on a three day trip on Lake Chelan a few summers ago.  Trust me, the kindle is an improvement.

Now, I am somewhat paranoid, especially when we’re backpacking out in the middle of nowhere; I’m conviced every rustle of a branch is a cougar coming to eat us, or that scorpions and rattlesnakes are going to take up residence in my boots and backpack.  This trip was no exception.  Luckily the night wasn’t too windy (!), so I made it through alright, and even slept pretty well.

The next morning, we did a few short walks around the park to see some of the different areas and vistas we hadn’t seen yet.  We did a two mile trip out to a different finger of mesa where we got a rare great shot of the two of us together!  The thing that surprised me most about trails in this park was the total lack of railings.  Now, I’m not a huge proponent of making things feel safer than they actually are and giving people a false sense of security, but we’re talking about drops of thousands of feet here!  While it was fascinating seeing that kind of exposure, it was a bit heady for me. I’m pretty sure my dad would have either passed out or refused to get out of the car.  The views were totally worth it though.

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Arches National Park

April 18th, 2010

Last week was my Spring Break.  WHEE!!  Spring Break is such a magical time.  This year, Tom and I decided to head wherever was cheapest, and fun…est.  We also wanted to try to include some National Parks, as we are still on our quest to visit all of the NPs in the country.  We ended up deciding on Utah, and specifically visiting Arches, Canyonlands and Capitol Reef National Parks.  We started off in Arches, which is just outside Moab, Utah.  We arrived late on Sunday night and camped at a DNR campground just outside the park, next to the Colorado River.  The forecast called for a cold, windy night, but it was windy beyond belief.  Like, I thought the tent might collapse kind of windy.  Sweet.

So after not too much sleep, we headed into the park the next morning. Many areas of middle to southern Utah are made up of these gorgeous red-rock mesas, gorges, and arches, and this park is no different.  Soaring walls of stark reddish orange towered over us as we snaked through the park to arrive at Balanced Rock. Basically, the “rock” is there because it is made up of a more durable (less susceptible to erosion) type of rock, while the rock underneath is much softer, making it erode more quickly, giving it the “balancing” look.  Eventually the base will wear away completely, and the “Balanced Rock” will collapse to the ground.  The light was a bit tricky early in the day, so our photos here aren’t super fabulous, but the feature was really interesting.

Next we traveled deeper into the park to an area called Devil’s Garden.  By this point, it was afternoon, and we still hadn’t seen any of the park’s namesakes!  I wanted to see some arches!  We found them here though. The first one we visited was Landscape Arch, a delicate, impressive span that looks almost impossibly long.  We were unable to venture under it, as I believe the park service is worried about parts breaking off and landing on tourists!

After that we ventured up the “primitive trail” to Partition Arch, which is visible in some of our photos of Landscape Arch.  Up here the wind started kicking up, as in gusting probably 30ish mph.  With sand.  Right.  Partition Arch was amazing, as it overlooked the entire valley; we could see for probably a hundred miles. Amazing.

Leaving this area of Devil’s Garden, the wind started blowing in earnest.  We kept having to stop and turn our backs to the gusts and hide our eyes.  The sand stung our skin and was burning our faces.  This was when I realized I am not really cut out for desert travel.  Clearly something I needed to learn the hard way.  We did stop by Pine Tree Arch and Tunnel Arch on the way out, but spent very little time there due to sandblasting.

We decided to risk one other area of the park to visit Double Arch, which, as the name implies, is where to arches were formed from the same part of rock, but span in two different directions.  Yay erosion!  I have a feeling the wind had something to do with this as well.  After taking about a gazillion more photos, we retreated back to the car.  It took very little work to “convince”  Tom that we needed to spend the night in a hotel that night rather than camping in the 40+ mph winds again.  And there was a shower. Whee!  The Super 8 cost 55.00 with our AAA membership, which meant we got a room and a tub.  No closet or, strangely, trash can, but hey, I wasn’t complaining.  There was no wind.

The next morning, before we headed over to Canyonlands, we went back into the park to check out Delicate Arch.  This is THE arch.  Like, the one Utah deemed worthy of putting on it’s license plate.  In the morning light with some spectacular clouds, the scene was striking indeed.  It was quite cold, and guess what, windy!  The arch was exquisite though, and quite fun to photograph.   Arches was a wonderful way to start out our trip to this very unique part of the country.