Wednesday, October 15, 2014


Our foray into Arches came at the tail end of our trip – because that’s when I could get two nights in Devil’s Garden Campground, campsite # 52.
Why site 52, you may ask? Because Sunset Magazine was right – this was a beautiful location with a level of privacy not found in many other sites. To be honest, pretty much any site along the east (or left as you come down through the campground) that is not near a restroom would be spectacular. The restrooms are extremely well lit all night long which means if you like to stargaze -take my advice - and pick a site not next door to the facilities.

I planned the whole trip around the dates for this campground – they are not easy to obtain. It was the first couple days of October and the weather can be a bit unpredictable. I’m not just talking about some showers, no – I’m talking major electrical storms with gusty winds. That sky was rumbling - not the smartest time to take a short hike...

Anyway. Arches…
Any vision you might have from Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire will have to be left behind when visiting this national park during the regular tourist season . This is one busy park. Busloads of tourists block off most of the parking lots and if you are not at the trailhead to Delicate Arch by 8:30 - 9 am, there will be no parking to be had. It is not really all that relaxing to hike with hundreds of your best friends along the various trails.

Still, it is a beautiful landscape filled with movement and color. A once in a lifetime visit
because, honestly, this whole region is filled with incredible landscapes that have also lain bare the bones of red and white sandstone - without the crowds. While I applaud Utah’s tourist bureau for creating an amazing destination for the world – the park becomes a place in need of policing and regulation just to manage the human impact on the sites. Ah well, the park service does what it can to offer this region up to the wonder of us all.

Or, in the words of Edward Abby:

“No more cars in national parks. Let the people walk. Or ride horses, bicycles, mules, wild pigs--anything--but keep the automobiles and the motorcycles and all their motorized relatives out. We have agreed not to drive our automobiles into cathedrals, concert halls, art museums, legislative assemblies, private bedrooms and the other sanctums of our culture; we should treat our national parks with the same deference, for they, too, are holy places. An increasingly pagan and hedonistic people (thank God!), we are learning finally that the forests and mountains and desert canyons are holier than our churches. Therefore let us behave accordingly.”
Desert Solitaire

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Peace Tree Juice Cafe - Monticello and Moab

Just go... If you want something tasty, healthy, vegan or vegetarian. If you want a smoothie and - in Monticello - they know how to make a mocha if that's what you are dying for (hello Andy) - this is the spot. And...if you have to have your Starbucks there is one in the local market. With at least an hour line that has nothing to do with the three people in front of you.

Red Cliff Lodge

When we originally planned this trip we didn't have a trailer. I decided to break the trip up with a two night stay near Moab at a place called Red Cliff Lodge. One of the nights also coincided with our wedding anniversary - so what could be better than hot showers and a meal overlooking the Colorado River?

We couldn't have picked a nicer place.

Red Cliff Lodge is about fourteen miles outside of the tourist mecca known as Moab and sits right on the Colorado, nestled between red rock cliffs. The weather cooperated as well and we were treated to two nights of amazing thunderstorms and watched lightning dance along the cliffs while the lights flickered in the dining room. We were feeling very lucky that we weren't out camping in it. Well, to be honest, we were feeling the luck of our daughter who was tenting along with us on this trip.
There is a cute little winery on the property - Castle Creek Winery with a tasting room and friendly staff. The wines are fine and we brought some bottles home to share. The restaurant was great and the morning buffet ample for fueling up. What was definitely fun was the downstairs movie museum that paid homage to all the various movies that have been filmed in the region. As an old western movie buff, I recognized an embarrassingly high number of the films. The film industry provided quite a few jobs in its day to that area.
We upgraded to a two bedroom cabin which had a kitchenette and deck sitting right along the river. The space was gorgeous and comfortable even though I think for the cost of the room they could certainly upgrade the mattresses. However, after camping for over a week, all the other amenities, friendly staff and laundry room  - I really have no complaints that wouldn't have me heading back there when I can.

Island in the Sky - Canyonlands

Really, what is there to say when there are pictures?

Needles District - Canyonlands

 It turned out that our campground at Devil's Canyon below Monticello was a perfect place to launch a day exploring the southern region of Canyonlands known as the Needles District. I don't think we would have come back down this way from our other planned overnight spots due to weather and length of drive. We would have missed out on seeing an extraordinarily beautiful region.

One of the best parts of having visited Needles was that we got familiar with these lowland mazes of color and shape prior to seeing it from the upper reaches of the Island of the Sky district of the park. Once again, there was a noticeable lack of tourists here compared to other park locations which is a loss considering how incredibly beautiful this region is.

Wandering around the Abajo Mountains

The  Abajo Mountain range is part of the Manti-La Sal National Forest. If you are traveling, as we were, from Capitol Reef over to Moab, these are the mountains that you are skirting to the northeast. Highway 95 is the way to go and runs along the Glen Canyon Wilderness with a brush past Natural Bridges National Monument and then heads back up through Blanding to Moab.

lunch at Natural Bridges

 From the road this whole area looks rather beautifully uninhabited. I'd assume that for anyone who likes to off-road with ATV or high clearance jeeps; hunters and fisherman, campers and avid hikers - this area is well known to you. Well, if you live in southern Utah, that is. We camped up above Blanding at the Devil's Canyon Campground (not to be confused with Devil's Garden in Arches NP) and then started pouring over our hiking maps to see what we wanted to do for a couple of days.

Devil's Canyon - a great campground. Great spots, lots of privacy, clean bathrooms. Just a little out of the way if you are looking for something near any of the national parks. And just FYI - if you are restocking in Blanding, don't bother looking for beer - the town is completely dry. You can find alcoholic beverages up in Monticello.

Anyway - back to the maps. It took us a little bit of time to realize two things. First, there were more ATV trails than hiking trails in this region. Second - and we learned this the next day - when the map says 'high clearance vehicle', it means something different than my 4WD Tacoma truck. We're talking high clearance jeep preferable with a tow cable front and back. We tried to get to a couple trailheads and literally came up against the perfect places to get stuck out in the middle of nowhere. We didn't but it was close.

We did make our way out to some beautiful canyon country just east of Natural Bridges. What looked like foothills from 95 turned out to be some of the most beautiful rim hiking I've done in a while. Its worth doing some exploring but I also wouldn't head out onto these back roads without some experience, extra water and a 4WD vehicle. Not AWD - 4WD.

Capitol Reef

Personally, I like the fact that Capitol Reef is one of the least visited National Parks in the southwest. The tour buses may breeze by the visitor's center on their circuit between Arches and Bryce Canyon - but it just isn't possible to get the loads of tourists down to some of the more interesting trailheads that exist deeper in the park. What I find quite fascinating about this region is the Waterpocket Fold - a hundred mile wrinkle in the earth's crust. There is no way to visualize this without getting a little distance and/or look down on it. What you end up seeing is the geological layers of fossilized sand exposed after eons of erosion. If you can touch on that in your mind - even for a split second - this concept of time can render anyone quite speechless. This is where the word 'awestruck' comes into play. We are just a blink of an eye on the time/space continuum and we live on the surface of an incredibly rich world. The experience becomes a feast for the senses in colorful canyons, brilliant blue skies, buttery sand and the cool touch of water.

We only touched the surface of what this area has to offer for the hiker or intrepid adventurer. Next time we come down we'll head up to Cathedral Valley which includes fording a river. I have to say, Andy was looking forward to that. Also, I was really glad that we headed down into the park early for some hiking in Capitol Gorge. The traffic jams created by all the RVs that attempt to get back to the parking area is pretty comical. The road is quite narrow in places - it is a sandy streambed when the rains come and closes regularly as the thunderstorms make their way across the area. Most of these RVs are rented and the drivers have various levels of experience and caution. Just because it is a national park doesn't mean that you should be off-roading with your 25 foot Winnebago.

I highly suggest also heading down the Notom-Bullfrog road which is only paved for the first 11 miles. However, there are great spots on BLM land for camping and access for hiking into the National Park that gets you away from the tourists.

It doesn't take long these days to want to escape the busloads of tourist no doubt brought in by Utah's 5 Parks marketing campaign. 5 parks in 5 days is an actual tour. This land isn't mine to claim just because I reside in the country where it sits but I wonder how it can be experienced or appreciated when the red rock canyons begin to blur into each other. If you don't give yourself the time to have your mind blown by this incredible landscape, your missing one of the true gifts - the best connection - this wilderness has to offer.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

That dark crusty soil...

This cyanobacteria - that dark crusty soil that is everywhere in the high deserts of Utah is so important to be left alone. Not only is it often extremely old - it helps keep the soil that is left from eroding and fixes nitrogen in the soil. Watch where you walk!

The following is from the NPS website regarding the environment in the region known as the Colorado Plateau:

"Biological soil crust is a living groundcover that forms the foundation of high desert plant life in Arches and the surrounding area. This knobby, black crust is dominated by cyanobacteria, but also includes lichens, mosses, green algae, microfungi and bacteria.
Cyanobacteria, previously called blue-green algae, are one of the oldest known life forms. It is thought that these organisms were among the first land colonizers of the earth's early land masses, and played an integral role in the formation and stabilization of the earth's early soils. Extremely thick mats of these organisms converted the earth's original carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere into one rich in oxygen and capable of sustaining life."