Southwest Revisited (June 30 to July 10, 2011)

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Conditions: Road trip with day hikes
Gear: Car, camera gear, hiking boots...
Area: Southwestern US (southern Utah, northern Arizona)

I remember thinking it was time for yet another road trip. I was doing this trip fast. Not a lot of time to think ahead, book flights, etc. Where to go? Hmm... Don't ask me what I was thinking when I thought about heading back to the Southwest in mid Summer. I figured I'd end up doing the trip solo again just like my first trip to the SW in late 2009. I happened to mention it to Karen and then not long afterwards...she was on board too.

It was one of THOSE Summer's in the know the kind...the kind that never seems to find a way of making an appearance. Cooler than normal temps all Spring and Summer and rain...lots and lots of rain. The SW seemed like a good place to escape the cool temps and skin conditioning ever present moisture.

Karen and I are good road trip partners. Very different in so many ways yet so completely compatible as trip partners. Karen's husband David did lots of the legwork and planning and pretty quickly Karen suggested an itinerary. I was on board. It included many places I'd not visited and it would be fun to have some company this go around. One of the first things to do was to call ahead and make reservations for an ATV...but wait...I'm getting ahead of myself.

We decided to take Karen's truck Sunshine. There was a trip planned to Cathedral Valley and we needed a vehicle with more clearance than the roadrunner (my Subaru Outback). So the morning of June 30th we were on our way, intending to try to reach our first overnight campsite in Utah by night. About all I can say is it is a long drive, a verrrrryyyy looooonggg drive. We arrived at our campground near Goblin Valley State Park late (north of Hanksville, UT). I like doing these road trips on the cheap. Pack the car full of gear and just drive. We were lucky in that where we were headed we had scoped out multiple campsite/campground locations. That was our plan this camping.

goblin_valley_coverGoblin Valley State Park
July 1, 2011

Goblin Valley Slideshow

Our first destination was Goblin Valley State Park. We arrived early the next morning to find a few other visitors and it was hot...damn hot. The sun was directly overhead and the lighting was harsh. Most likely because it was the middle of summer. In hindsight it would have been better to arrive earlier or late afternoon. It *might* have been a bit cooler too (...well maybe not).

cathedral_valley_coverCathedral Valley (Capitol Reef National Park)
July 1-2, 2011

Cathedral Valley Slideshow

Our next stop was Cathedral Valley which is part of the interior of Capitol Reef National Park. While there are trails through here, the way to see the area is via a loop road. We decided to do the loop clockwise since there is a river ford near the main road at the start of the drive. If Sunshine (Karen's truck) wasn't able to make the ford, we'd rather find that out quickly, at the start of the 2 day trip, instead of at the end of a 2 day trip (and being forced to drive nearly 100% of the loop to get back out to the main road. The turnoff for the loop drive is just outside the eastern end of the park, it's not signed well and it's just before a small bridge over a "creek". We dropped off the north side of the roadway and quickly found ourselves as the river ford. I volunteered to get out and walk across the creek 1) to catch the momentous creek crossing on film, and 2) to help guide Karen if needed. I quickly wondered if this was a smart idea because the biting black flies quickly found me and started eating me alive. It was hard to keep the camera steady with one hand and swat flies with my other hand. When Karen and Sunshine reached the other side of the creek, she barley slowed down as I dove back into the passenger seat.

This part of the park was nearly deserted. In the time we were there, a bit over a day (including an overnight camp), we only saw a couple other cars. The truck really came in handy. My Subaru wouldn't have been able to manage the drive. There were a couple of substantial ditches across the road (water erosion) and at about the 1/2 way point on the drive, the road is piled high with big rocks making for quite the bumpy ride. Not exactly the kind of place you'll want to get a flat or have car troubles.

The drive is wonderful, first passing the colorful Bentonite Hills area. This place was so reminiscent of the Painted Hills area in central Oregon that I had to do a double take to remember where I was. The road continues on to the Lower South Desert Overlook. It's on the climb to this overlook that the road really, seriously, got rocky, bumpy, rough, and became a real kidney punching trip. The overlook (on the left) was really scenic and high up on the rim we found small hedgehog type cactus blooming (yellow and pink). We continued on to the Upper South Desert Overlook, lots of photo breaks here as well. It was a nice lunch spot and then we reached the far end of the loop drive just beyond the Upper Cathedral Valley Overlook. It was at this last overlook that we got our first jaw dropping views down into the Cathedral Valley. At Hartnet Junction we turned right and headed north towards the 2nd half of the loop drive. Roughly 1/2 way from the junction back to Hwy 24 is the turnoff to the Temple of the Sun and the Moon. We made a quick stop to check out the place. We did stumble upon Glass Mountain which is much less of a mountain and much more of a mole hill but still pretty interesting. We then ambled around looking for a good place to set up a campsite for the night. Lounging in our chairs that night and watching the sun set over the valley isn't an experience I'll quickly forget. Karen ventured out late than night to try to get some night photos of the Temple of the Sun and Moon and managed to get dive bombed by bats in the process. Early the next day we completed the drive back out to Hwy 24 completing the loop where Caineville Wash Road meets up with Hwy 24 in Caineville, UT.

spooky_canyon_coverSpooky Canyon
July 2, 2011

Spooky Canyon Slideshow

Our original plan was to hike into Coyote Gulch this day but we bailed due to the heat. We started our trip but the heat was just overbearing, deadly really. We made the smart decision to fall back to a backup idea and quickly retreated to the shade of the truck. To have continued on under the summer heat in southern Utah would have been insanely stupid. Instead, we decided to hike down into Spooky Canyon. The advantage of this trip was that once we were inside the slots of the canyon it was cool. Not cool as in as in OMG inside this canyon it's 30 degrees cooler than it is outside! We explored as far up the slot as we could, sometimes needing to turn sideways and suck in our tummies just to get past the tight spots.

After most of the head of the day was behind us, we exited the canyon and headed over (by car) up to the Calf Creek Recreation Area. We pulled in super late but still managed to score a camping spot. Good...because we really didn't have much of a backup plan at this point!

lower_calf_ck_falls_coverbryce_canyon_coverLower Calf Creek Falls
Bryce Canyon

July 3, 2011

Lower Calf Creek Falls Slideshow

In the morning we headed off to Calf Creek Falls. We did our best to get a super early start to beat the heat. Every chance we had to take cover in the shade we took advantage of, to rest and to hydrate. I've done a bit of desert hiking, Karen more so that I but still we knew to start early, take more water than you think you need, to take it easy and know when to cry uncle. Still, we say an alarming number of people with little or no water. One family passed us the father himself flushed, a couple of very young boys in tow both more flushed than their dad and between the three of them they had no backpack and at most 3 liters of water (and nothing else).

The trail is nearly all out in the open, nearing the falls it makes a bit of a turn to the left and the different aspect of the sun have us a bit more relief from the temps. They creek areas widened up as well, the water slowed down ponding in some areas. Lots of milkweed growing along the banks for the creek and lots of  butterflies (swallowtails I think) flitting about. We knew we were getting close to the falls. Finally we could hear the sound of falling water and not long afterward our first views of the falls plunging into a spectacular pool at the base. We were one of the first to arrive so we quickly got our cameras set up, fired off some photos and then retreated to the shade of nearby trees. That's about when the hoards started arriving. Nearly everyone looked exhausted from the heat. Karen and I had found a couple of nice rocks to sit on and nearby I watched as a woman arrived wearing jeans...mind you...they weren't shorts. I couldn't imagine how uncomfortable she must have been. She sat nearby panting from the heat and then she did it...she pulled out a big honking pocket knife and hacked off the legs of her jeans. Hacked them off completely!

Karen had brought a swim suit and quickly dove into the water. I didn't bother with the weight of a suit, instead I just dove in weather all my hiking clothes. I knew they'd be drying quickly in the heat of the day. After a nice refreshing swim and rest in the shade we hiked back out to the TH. Arriving back at the campground we packed up the car and then we were off...time to drive up to Bryce Canyon for a shower at Ruby's Inn (just outside the park) and some swanky car camping. The other advantage of Ruby's Inn was the chance to take a break from cooking dinner over a Coleman stove. The treat on this drip was dinner at the inn. We even had time for a short sunset trip into the park.

buckskin_canyon_coverBuckskin Gulch
July 4, 2011

Buckskin Canyon Slideshow

Karen had allotted for three straight days to try to get permits to The Wave. So, early that morning we were off to the ranger station to try for the lottery. Karen insisted in her putting her name on the permit. She had been to The Wave before and scored a permit that time. I wasn't about to argue in letting the Crowe luck repeat itself. Getting a permit to The Wave is hard as only 20 people per day are permitted entry. The number of people that show up each day trying for permits for the next day nearly always far exceeds the number of permits available so I was willing to sign up to any plan that increased our chances of getting a permit. We put our name in and waited. There was a nice older couple we talked to for some time. This was their third and final day for trying for a permit. I tried to not get discouraged. I figured we likely wouldn't succeed on the first day but we had three days to try. When the lottery time finally rolled around we were the first name pulled!!! We succeeded on our first try! The couple we talked to earlier didn't get a permit that day and it was hard to not feel bad for them. Our permits were for the following day so our plan was to head off to Buckskin Canyon. Buckskin Canyon was a repeat trip for Karen and listening to her describe the place made me all the more eager to see it for myself.

Buckskin Canyon...about all I can say is it was awesome! We hiked through Wire Pass and then a ways eventually to the Confluence. Some nearby petroglyphs here. It took us some time to find them. They are faint but there are there. Quite the awesome canyon hike. Once again, we lingered. The canyon offered shelter from the heat. We exited the canyon and then headed for a nearby campground that straddled the UT/AZ border. Our campsite was in Arizona. The outhouse was in Utah. The rattlesnake that scared the bejeezus out of Karen while she was trying to photograph some birds was also in Utah. This night was by far the hottest night of our trip. It was hard to sleep it was so hot. The rain fly was up on the tent because thunderstorms were rattling through the area all night. Several large claps right over our heads added a bit of nervousness to the sleep that night.

the_wave_coverold_paria_coverThe Wave
July 5, 2011

The Wave Slideshow

This was a return trip to The Wave for Karen. We wanted an early start to avoid hiking in the extreme heat in the middle of the day and I figured it would be smart in case any more thunderstorms developed again during mid day. We were up and on the road before dawn. We started out our hike by headlamp in complete darkness which was only occasionally broken by distant thunder and lightning. I was a bit uneasy about the thunder/lightning and at least it was way, way off in the distance. Please don't let it get closer I thought...

The previous nights rain and the soft sunrise light that peeked out between the clouds brought out the wonderful colors of the sandstone. We were the first on the "trail" this day. The raindrops from overnight were still visible in the sand all around us. Tiny little impact craters as far as we could see. It was beautiful. The route finding into The Wave is what is best described as "interesting". The visitor center issues those that get a permit a handout which is just a series of photographs of landmark that mark the way into The Way (three pinnacles on the right, gulley on the left, cross a flat area). It's all visual. If you weren't paying attention and wandered too far off route you could get so seriously lost out here. Karen advised, wisely, to turn around every once in a while to familiarize ourselves with what landmarks looks like from another directions. Lots of photos take as well along the way to help safely find out way back out. In the end, in wasn't all that tricky to find the entrance.

We were thankfully the first to arrive at The Wave. There was no telling how long that would last so both of us were down to business quickly. This formation is spectacular. Absolutely stunning. And all created by winds. Karen snapped one of my favorite shots of myself of this entire road "surfing" The Wave. After visiting The Wave we continued up and over to the Second Wave. More interesting and colorful sandstone formations here. We both took in as much as we could but then, the place crowded with other was time to leave. Some day...I would like to return to this wonderful place.

We had some time later that afternoon so we thought we'd venture over to Old Paria. It's an interesting drive. Lots of color. We never did find the old townsight though. Sunshine is a 2WD truck and we didn't want to get stuck in some of the sandy washes so we headed back out.

yellow_rock_coverYellow Rock
July 6, 2011

Yellow Rock Slideshow

From Old Pariah we headed off to Lake Powell. A great place to camp, yes a bit crowded in summer but good amenities (showers) and easy access to surrounding sights. So strange to be in the middle of the desert next to such a very large body of water ( it is a man made reservoir). Still, the tropical temps of the water were welcome. The swimming was near divine.

We did manage a day hike up to a place called Yellow Rock. We were looking for something to fill the day. Karen had one of her useful SW guide books. We paged through it and Yellow Rock caught both our attention. It wasn't too far away, it was a day trip, and it looked like the photography could be quite interesting. The trip wasn't on our original itinerary but it turned out to be one of the real highlights of the trip. The only downside...OK so maybe there were two...was that 1) it was friggin HOT and 2) we got chance out again by thunderstorms. Right after we parked the car at the TH a ranger drove by and while I wouldn't say he was alarmed by our intended destination...we was concerned. Heat can be a real killer. Heat stoke is nothing to flirt with. We had plenty of water. We also intended to take it easy, keep an eye on each other, and I knew both of us were smart enough to call it quits if we felt one or both of us was headed towards trouble. So off we left, first crossing yet another dry stream bed (it was dry then but any rain, even if it was raining far away, could fill this now dry creek bed quickly with water). After a bit, the trail (obvious) went up a steep and somewhat loose gully. I was still trying to get my confidence back after having both knees replaced a bit of a year prior) so they short gully ascent was a bit nerve wracking for me. We stayed loose so as to not let the rocks we were kicking loose hit the other. We reached the top of the gully and then it was sort of like a ridge walk over to the base of the very obvious yellow of Yellow Rock. Every chance we got, we hid under a tree to rest and cool off (it wasn't a joke to try to keep from overheating). The sandstone of Yellow Rock was really cool and both of us spent lots of time wandering around. We both noticed the big thunderheads developing over us so we decide to skip the summit and hike back out. This ended up being a really smart decision because the road in, which crossed a very long area that is not passable when wet. We could see the dark clouds in the distance so Sunshine made a bee-line out of there with little time to spare. It would have put a serious kink in our plans to get stuck on the wrong side of the wash only to have to wait several days for it to be dry enough to complete the drive out.

So the good news was that we beat the storm out. The bad news...I'm getting ahead of the story again.

On the way back to Lake Powell we made a short stop at Horseshoe Bend. I ventured down to the overlook into the bend. Karen stayed higher up photographing the lightning strikes and dark clouds that were in the distance but headed our directions. I didn't' stay at the overlook long and then we finished the drive back to the campground at Lake Powell arriving just in time. Only 1-2 stakes were still in the ground holding our tent in place. Too much longer and there was a good chance the tent would have gone for a bit of a tumble.

cedar_breaks_coverbryce_canyon2_coverCedar Breaks National Monument
July 7, 2011

Cedar Breaks NM Slideshow

Our original plan had us picking up the ATV we had rented before leaving Washington. A couple of short lessons on driving it and loading and unloading it from the trailer and we were off. The plan was to use that ATV to get into White Pocket. But the trip was short lived. The storms that chased us the day before had turned all the usually small passable itsy bitsy creeks crossing House Rock Valley Road into raging rivers of liquid fudge. Karen was driving and when we approached "deal breaker creek" we knew it was over. what do we do. First we have to turn around the rig hauling a trailer on a sandy road that was barely wide enough for one car. Karen started the turnaround but then thankfully, a nice gent would had much more experience than us, completed the turnaround. A nice Dutch family also helped out (that had permits for The Wave that day but their plans were scrubbed because they couldn't get to the trailhead due to the same washout).

So now what do we do? The two days we had planned for White Pocket were now open. Karen suggested that since we were nearing the end of the trip that we should head up towards Salt Lake City. She would call David, the travel agent, to see if he could do some real time research and come up with an alternate plan. Neither of us wanted to head home...not yet. So we were off...first to Cedar Breaks National Monument. I wish I had stopped to snap some photos of the lava flows. I kept thinking I'd do that on the way out but I'd forgotten, we weren't coming back this way. The lava flows reminded me of Hawaii. Cedar Breaks was very much like a small version of Bryce Canyon.

After Cedar Breaks, we continued on to Bryce Canyon, returning to the campground at Ruby's Inn. Again, we had time for a short trip into the park. Eventually a plan formed to do some birding near Salt Lake City. Birding is yet something else Karen and I have in common. David came up with two suggested destinations, Antelope Island State Park and Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge.

bear_river_coverAntelope Island State Park
Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

July 8-9, 2011

Bear River Slideshow

We first stopped at Antelope Island since it as at the south end of The Great Salt Lake and first on our drive north. I'll be honest, I wasn't all that impressed. The place was a midge infested island. At the gate to the park, the park ranger warned us of the midges. We thought about camping here but that was until we were engulfed in a massive swarm of midges. I didn't even want to get out of the car. As for birding...the best shots were of barn swallows nesting under one of the picnic shelters.

The next day were off to Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. This is the complete opposite of Antelope Island. This place was fantastic! We must have caught it at just the right time. The sheer number of variety of birds was unbelievable. Watching a hawk right at the visitor center hunt the barn swallow for a meal in flight was incredible.

The next morning...we began the long drive back to the Seattle area and the relief of the rain and cooler temps.

What a great trip. Thanks Karen!

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