Adventures with Alice and Jenn
We flew to Salt Lake City on Delta, made a flawless landing, and transferred to a little bus-like turboprop with nine other people for the hop to Moab’s Canyonlands Field.
Here we descended a portable ramp; and walked thru a gate in a hurricane fence to the terminal building, which was about the size of a Seven-Eleven. Our bags were brought over to the gate in a wagon. The car rental counter was closed. Instead a van from Enterprise carried us to their small rental lot south of town. A Hyundai Accent awaited us there. It was a nice little hatchback, tho with more spunk than power.
We picked up lunches at City Market and drove to Alice and Jenn’s house near the south end of town. After we’d brought in our bags, I thought of something else I wanted out of the car. I borrowed the keys from Pat (Enterprise had given us two sets of keys, permanently wired together), opened the car, put them on the seat, got out whatever I’d come for, pushed the lock button on the front passenger door and closed it.
A few minutes later Alice said she needed to drive somewhere. We’d parked her in, so she asked us to move our car. I couldn’t find the keys. Pat went out to peer in the car window, and there they were.
I called Enterprise; they had no more keys to our car. So they sent a locksmith. He stuck a rubber wedge in the back door window, inflated it, and reached thru the gap with a steel snake to push the inside front door lock open. In one minute we were into the car. It’s a good thing car thieves don’t know how to do this 9) . No charge, thanks to AAA.
Jenn came up with a Leatherman tool, and cut the wire off our keys so Pat and I could each carry a set. What will Enterprise think of this innovation? We’ll find out.
We made picnic lunches, rented a Jeep Rubicon from Moab Tour Co., and with Jenn at the wheel explored the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land west of Arches National Park. (Click any picture to enlarge it.)
First we followed a nicely graded dirt road that any car might travel to inspect dinosaur (terapod) footprints in a slab of sandstone that had once been a muddy beach. Then we headed around the side of a mesa on a road so rocky that we shook like popcorn in a popper. At a couple of places, Jenn put the Jeep in low four-wheel drive to clamber up a steep slope or get over a very rough spot. The Jeep also had controls for locking each axle; we did fine without needing to learn how to use them.
We hiked up a canyon to see Gemini Arch from below. It’s a double arch spanning the head of a deep gully in a cliff. The canyon floor was a chaotic heap of angular boulders, mounds of fine pink sand and dry stream beds. Desert plants such as rabbit brush, black brush, juniper and paddle-shaped cacti thrived in low areas that retained moisture. Beneath them, a crusty brown-black froth of fragile “biological soil organisms” (a.k.a. “cryptobiotic soil”) grew in sheltered places. Black cattle roamed the canyon, and their hoof-prints were everywhere.
Near sunset, we treated ourselves to an orange-lit view, east across the Colorado River and Moab Rim’s sandstone fins, of the snowy La Sal range on the Utah-Colorado border. Then we drove down the Hole In The Rock road, a steep descent off the mesa to the Colorado River. This involved passing thru a triangular gap between a great slab of rock and the side of a cliff. It was like a slot canyon for cars. Alice hopped out and jogged ahead to spot the passage for us. Happily, it turned out to have much more clearance than appeared from the road above it.
Pat and I went to the Community Center on the northeast side of town to see and hear Alice’s taiko drum group practice. About five women ranging from 18 to 70 played drum-songs together. There was a dance aspect to the performance, with occasional cries and arms flung high. Most of the drums were large, about 30 inches high and 24 inches in diameter (76cm x 61cm). They had beautifully finished wooden bodies, and skins on both ends. Some drums had names like Lucy, Ozzie and Harriet. I resisted the temptation to dance; there’s only so much humiliation one’s daughter can bear 8) . Nan and Nancy, two retired teachers, were sanding drum stands in the parking lot. They asked me to come out and take pictures of them. We talked about Social Security–always a popular topic with seniors everywhere.
In the afternoon, Alice and I went to a bike shop to rent a cruiser for me; we’d planned to take the newly completed bike path north out of Moab and up the Colorado River to Negroville. Although the shop was supposedly open and music was playing on loudspeakers outside, it was empty and the door was locked.
So we went hiking instead, following the Hidden Valley trail south of town to the top of a 650-foot (198m) mesa. Behind us, the snowy La Sal mountains loomed over southern Moab. We crossed a high meadow beneath a balancing rock and descended between some of the sandstone fins the mesa is noted for. It was a novelty to hike desert country and not be hot; the temperature was in the 60s (10 c). Some low, brilliant clusters of purple flowers prospered among the rocks; wooly purple locoweed, according to Alice. To the west we could see the mesa from which we’d viewed these fins last night.
Pat and I went hiking in Arches National Park while Jenn went to work and Alice wrote a paper for her class. We chose a favorite trail from our last trip, the Broken Arch trail. It was blissful to stroll thru the desert under a gentle sun and a cool breeze; the temp was in the 60s (10 c). We stopped for lunch on the sandstone platform under Terrace Arch, with a view across the red desert rocks of the blue crags of the La Sal mountains covered in snow.
I saw an intriguing basin in the Terrace Arch formation. The tops of sandstone mounds and pillars were a harder, greenish rock. As the red rock had eroded away beneath them, the green parts had fallen and collected in the basin below. We scrambled toward this basin, but came to a drop-off before we could reach it.
Even tho we’d been on this trail before, Pat was taking lots of photos. I got impatient and went on to the next formation, a pair of huge freestanding pillars, where I could sit and wait for her in the shade. It was a long wait; she got back on the main trail going the wrong way and nearly reached the car before she realized her mistake. She reminded me of our “Wait at the intersection” rule, somewhat tartly.
We followed the trail thru Broken Arch; it isn’t really broken (at least not yet), it just has a big chunk of rock missing at its apex. Beyond it, we ascended thru a canyon oasis between two fins of sandstone. In this protected nook, contorted juniper trees sprawl amid the rocks, surrounded by bushes of blue tinted wood and other desert growth, but no grass. The canyon grew narrower as we climbed, until at the top it shrank to a crevice in the sandstone.
Today we drove from Moab west to Little Wild Horse Canyon, which is near Goblin Valley State Park, which is near Hanksville. We enjoyed a short hike and scramble thru the slot canyon. Getting into the canyon was a puzzle; the obvious route up the dry streambed was blocked by a huge circular cutout about five feet deep. We clambered up the canyon’s left shoulder, following a trail to a low spot on the canyon wall further upstream.
Here the canyon branched; we took the right branch. Soon the walls approached each other until they formed a tight, twisty hallway of stone with a floor of fine sand and gravel. Twice they spread apart, only to renew their acquaintance. In the upper canyon, the floor disappeared and the way rose and fell as we walked on the flared-out bases of the walls. Some areas were filled with shallow water; here, stepping-stones had been laboriously dragged into position.
Anxious about a forecast wind and snowstorm, we hurried westward to get over a high pass. Two-lane, no-shoulder Highway 24 wound between crumbling mesas striped with various colors. Some we recognized from a visit to Zion National Park as petrified sand dunes. Others had “flying buttresses” of dark gray triangular outcroppings. Now and then, balancing rocks on skinny necks observed us from the ridge tops. Between the mesas we crossed chaotic valleys of dunes, gravel bars and dry streambeds. “Mars, with roads,” Pat commented. “And signs.” A yellow diamond sign with the appropriate arrow symbol obsessively preceded each bend in the road.
The upper part of this drive crossed Capitol Reef National Park. We stopped to look at a restored homesteader’s cabin. It was made of blocks of stone; the roof was split logs covered with stones. We’d have liked to stop more, but the storm had us worried.
We reached the 9600-foot (2926m) pass in good time. There was fog, wind and rain, but the storm wasn’t as bad as we feared. Unlike Washington’s heavily developed 3000-foot (914m) Snoqualmie pass, this pass had no structures, no crags and no clear cuts. It didn’t even seem to have a name. Short trees, some with white bark, and a tattered blanket of snow covered the rolling hills.
In Escalante we moved into our splendid cabin at the Wild West Retreat, operated by Shannon and Jenifer Steed. Icy, rain-laden gusts buffeted us as we moved in. Built in 1922, the cabin had been a barn on a feedlot on what was then the town’s main street. It now has an imaginative, modern interior with spiral steps up to a bridge that crosses the high ceiling from corner to corner. At one end is the loft bedroom; at the other, a small platform with a twin bed. From here, steps lead up to a high door that opens onto a deck. Jenifer told us that she and Shannon had remodeled it themselves except for the custom steel railings on the stairs and lofts. Peeled logs were used throughout, giving the cabin a massive, rough-hewn look.
The couple also remodeled and rent the house next door. In the summer, they put on “Dutch oven dinners” with entertainment on the patio. They also own the Cowboy Blues restaurant and a theater; and the husband guides historical bus tours.
We drove thru the little town and found two grocery stores. Griffin’s was the largest, a peculiar L-shaped building. We found no fresh meat, beer or wine. We settled for frozen chicken tenders and some raspberry frozen yogurt.
Our cabin had a lovely wood stove, so I’d planned to buy a newspaper to start fires with. But I couldn’t find any for sale. The checker told me that the town paper only comes out weekly and is mailed to its subscribers.
“What do you start fires with?” I wondered.
“Whatever we can get.”
A customer was more helpful. “The Post Office has paper in a trash barrel,” she said.
We found the Post Office down the road. It was closed except for the PO-box room. There, just as she’d described, was a bin for discarded junk mail. I brought some back to our cabin and it served the purpose very well.
We had a good dinner at the Circle D, which served wine and beer (maybe that’s why it was on the edge of town). I had chicken cordon bleu with mushroom sauce.
We laid low for most of today and gave the driver a rest. We considered booking a tour or renting a Jeep to get to the Peekaboo and Spooky slot canyons and the Devil’s Garden on the Hole In The Rock road east of Escalante. But recent rain made the road’s condition dubious, and a guide we talked to said Peekaboo was full of mud. We decided to hike in Calf Creek Canyon instead.
Late in the afternoon we hiked toward the upper falls. This “trail” was mostly stretches of solid rock; cairns marked the way. It took us 300 feet (91m) down a steep slope of white sandstone. It was strewn with egg-shaped brown-black rocks and boulders. They had a rough, porous surface; we read that they were relics of a nearby volcanic eruption 150 million years ago. We crossed patches of fine tan sand and orange clay, descending against an icy wind and keeping an eye on lurking showers. Two that seemed headed our way turned and followed the canyon downstream instead.
Night was approaching, so we gave up on the waterfall and returned up the trail to the car. Even tho we didn’t hit the gong this time, we saw some lovely desert landscapes and got a good workout. I thought climbing the slanted sandstone hillside was a lot easier than descending it, even tho it took more energy.
The lower falls of Calf Creek Canyon were our target today. A paved road led to the bottom of the canyon, where we found a campground, bathrooms, a parking lot for day-users and the trail-head. The trail was quite different from yesterday’s; it was easier and more formally “built,” but it was a six mile round trip.
The trail ran up the canyon along the base of the south wall, a series of red and white sandstone terraces. Most of the trail was fine red sand; now and then it changed to solid rock. A brushy wetland covered the canyon bottom, created and maintained by beavers. Our guide pamphlet pointed out the ruins of cliff-top stone granaries built by the Fremont People, who lived here from 800 to 1300 AD. With help from other hikers, we spotted three pictographs on a cliff on the other side of the canyon.
The canyon walls grew higher and steeper, until they curved out to meet each other at the 130-foot (40m) waterfall. Its mist sustained a desert oasis of trees, grass and mossy cliffs. A seep emerging between layers of sandstone fed a row of ferns on a canyon wall.
We returned to Escalante at sunset. We took quick showers, and went to Jenifer and Shannon’s restaurant, Cowboy Blues. The small room was filled with locals, talking happily and laughing at a song that a guitar player and his friend were singing. An old man came in and was helped to a crowded table, where a new mother was showing off her baby. Jenifer, our landlady, was our waitress. I had a green chili burrito with hot sauce; it was great.
We did laundry in a laundromat at an RV park. The machines were expensive, and the dryers barely had any effect. We had to hang a lot of damp clothes from the loft railings when we got them home.
We went to Escalante Petrified Forest State Park for a picnic and a hike up to the top of a butte to see petrified wood. There wasn’t much on the one-mile (1 km) main trail, but a 3/4-mile (1 km) extension down a steep hillside took us past a lot of petrified wood. Chunks of petrified tree trunk littered the knolls and gullies, and smaller pieces of every size were everywhere. “Absolutely no collecting,” warned a sign. Regardless, several of the trunks had been defaced by chipping.
For dinner, we drove east of town to the Kiva Cottage, the only restaurant in the area listed in our AAA guide. But it had closed at 4:30. So we came back to town, passed some obvious fast-food places and tried the Prospector Cafe. Only one car was in the lot, not a good sign. The impoverished lunch and dinner menu fit on one side of a sheet of paper.
“What’s in a grilled chicken salad?” Pat asked.
“Chicken,” said the puzzled waitress. “And salad. It comes in a bag.” Nothing complicated here, mister.
We should have walked out. Instead we ordered grilled chicken with mushrooms and onions. We were served pretty good salads (good job, salad-bagging company). Next came the main course; tough chicken breast garnished with mushrooms, instant mashed potatoes cowering in salty brown gravy, canned mixed vegetables, and insipid puffed-up rolls. A family came in as we were finishing; I wanted to warn them, but Pat said it would be rude.
Today the weather forecast was dire; high winds and snow in the southern Utah mountains. A strong wind shook the house while we ate breakfast. However, we’d made our plans and paid a deposit; so despite misgivings we headed westward on Highway 12. Our plan was to stay for four nights in Duck Creek Village in the mountains between Zion and Bryce national parks and go hiking in the parks.
The snow found us near Bryce Canyon National Park. It blew in showers, each followed by a pause and some blue sky as if to draw us on, only to be followed by another gale.
By the time we reached our final turnoff, the highway was covered in snow and the trees on each side were full of it. A group of seven beautiful pronghorn deer crossed the road in front of us. Pat stopped and tried to take a picture of them. A bus RV conversion that suddenly came up behind us bellowed with its air horns. She drove on, afraid that it was warning us it couldn’t stop.
We drove up a short slope to the Pinewood Inn in snow about 5 inches deep; Pat got stuck momentarily while parking. At the counter inside, a young woman covered in tattoos was working at a computer and assigning tasks to two young men in snow gear. Nobody else was in the building. Later, we met the woman’s mother and a third young man who seemed to be the cook. Two adjacent restaurants were closed.
The youngsters checked us into a room in a building next door that had no other guests. (We heard that there were some guests in another building.) They apologized for the weather, and for the fact that they’d just taken over the resort and it was dilapidated and in considerable disarray. Snow was forecast for the coming week; so the girl refunded the fee for three of the four nights we’d booked. She gave me a menu and said that, although the kitchen was closed, I could order something for supper in the next hour or two.
While we waited for them to find a way to get our car to the lot near our building, we went snowshoeing in the nearby woods. It was very pretty, and the snow was dry powder. Other than the snowshoes and ski poles we’d borrowed from Alice and Jenn, we had little snow gear. It was cold; the tails of Pat’s snowshoes kicked up snow that stuck to the back of her jeans.
We came in after an hour and moved the car. I took my menu to the empty restaurant and found a young man, whom I’d seen behind the front desk and later shoveling snow, in the kitchen. “Can I order a sandwich?”
“It’s the cook’s day off.”
“Oh. Well then, can I just make something for myself?”
“I don’t think so.”
Pat improvised a good supper out of our lunch food and leftovers in our tiny kitchen, after I moved a bedside lamp into it so she could see.
A beautiful day, and fresh snow glistening in the sun, made us hate to leave. But we knew it wouldn’t last. We returned east, admiring Red Canyon’s orange turrets garnished with snow. We shopped in a good grocery in Tropic that had been closed Sunday; free hardbound copies of the Book of Mormon were on display by the register.
We had a picnic by the car in Kodachrome Basin State Park near Cannonville, and hiked thru lovely desert on a trail of fine orange sand. Buttes and spires reared up around the valley. We couldn’t resist a side trail dubbed “secret passage.” It led us into a nest of spires, domes and pitcher-shaped mounds of orange sandstone.
Dinner was at the Circle D in Escalante, a good restaurant. We drove thru the dark on the narrow corkscrew road toward Torrey. Now we were grateful for the obsessive signs; it was as dark as pitch. On the way, I arranged for a cabin for the next three days. It was a very nice cottage at Pine Shadows Cabins in Teasdale, southeast of Torrey and close to Capitol Reef National Park.
This afternoon we hiked to Hickman Bridge, a natural arch in a thin ridge between two canyons in Capitol Reef National Park. The trail led us through a beautiful, rocky canyon that contained two small arches; apparently in Utah arches are so common that only the more notable ones are mentioned in guidebooks and maps. As the sun was nearing the horizon, we walked under Hickman Bridge and followed a side trail to a viewpoint overlooking the park’s central valley.
Dinner was at the Capitol Reef Café, a nice restaurant on the west side of Torrey. A specialty there is hickory pepper roasted chicken. The gift shop had several tempting history books; it also sold petrified wood by the pound.
Today the late winter storm we’d been trying to dodge found us in the canyons of southern Capitol Reef National Park. We started out in Grand Wash, a pretty canyon with a wide floor of gravel and sand. The shadows were cold, but the sun in a clear sky was encouraging.
I’d forgotten to put our park pass on the dashboard of the car; so we went back to the car, and decided to move to Capitol Canyon. This involved driving to the end of the paved road and onward over a narrow but not Jeep-rough dirt road. Now and then we entered concrete-paved dips into dry streambeds; this would not be a good road to take on a rainy day. Occasionally we met cars coming the other way, and edged past each other with a friendly wave. By the time we reached the end of the road, the storm’s hazy margin was sucking the warmth out of the sunlight.
With the fords behind us in mind, we decided to set off anyhow but keep an eye on the weather. This canyon was rugged and I couldn’t call it pretty; instead of the fascinating layered stone that we’d come to expect, this canyon’s walls were abrupt and steep, and its floor was littered with rocks and debris that looked disturbingly like the remnants of a flood. Now and then we crossed junctions with steep side-canyons, and here the going was roughest.
This canyon has seen interesting history. We read that outlaw Butch Cassidy was thought to have a hideout in it; nearby Cassidy Arch is named for him. Before Highway 24 was built, a road through Capitol Canyon was Torrey’s connection to Hanksville to the east. It was a narrow road; the smaller cars of the early 1900’s could barely pass each other. Iron posts high on the canyon wall once supported telephone wires, a necessary workaround after floods washed the telephone poles away. The construction crew had incised their name on a high cliff. Sadly, tourists have followed their example, signing their full names dated this year. A sign nearby stated that the vandals had been identified and were being prosecuted.
While Paul explored a side canyon, Pat went up a side trail to look at the “tanks,” natural sandstone hollows that fill with rainwater. We read that occasionally people resorted to this water in the old days.
The temperature never rose beyond 40 F., and an icy wind gusted through the canyon. When a thin dry snow started falling, we decided it was time to retreat and get the car back on pavement.
We checked out of our nice Teasdale house and drove east, stopping at the Hollow Mountain gas station in Hanksville. Behind the pumps is a tunnel in the side of a butte. The convenience store and rest rooms inside it are typical of their kind, other than the beautiful sandstone walls.
The elevation dropped, and the air warmed up. Highway 24 took us north; we turned west at the Temple Mountain junction in search of Crack Canyon. It’s in the same area as is Little Wild Horse Canyon; but we had a difficult time finding it, due to the confusing snarl of desert roads, vague directions in our guidebook, and loss of the network connection my iPad depends on for navigation.
At last we found Chute Canyon Road and started down it. But the outcroppings of bedrock protruding from the roadbed were more than our little car could handle. We settled for an explore of the site of a 1950s uranium mining town near Temple Mountain. Other than bits of foundation and a tin can or two, little was left of it; but a massive concrete cube with a doorway in one side of it stood in the middle of the campground. The openings of several mine tunnels gaped in the ridge above; each was carefully sealed with a cement wall. We read that, before Geiger Counters were invented, uranium miners looked for wooly milk vetch plants that were thought to grow near uranium ore. They also found uranium in petrified wood.
We moved on to Goblin Valley, and walked the Molly’s Castle Overlook trail. It took us past picturesque layered walls, weird rock formations that seemed to have heads, and through a short slot canyon whose walls were disturbingly soft.
This morning we returned to Moab and took Alice out for brunch. She directed us to the Jailhouse Café. It’s housed in the town’s one-time courthouse, which included a small holding cell; it only serves breakfast. I had Southwest Eggs Florentine; poached eggs on English muffins with steamed spinach, hollandaise and chipotle sauces. It was wonderful, but I paid for it later. (Okay, I ate some fried potatoes too.) We walked across the Colorado River to the south end of Arches National Park on the recently-completed bike trail. The river was a bit higher, thanks to the storms; but it still didn’t look full enough to float down happily.
We said good-bye and turned in our rental car; Enterprise didn’t comment on the separated keys. We flew back to Salt Lake City and Seattle. Remarkably, when we’d claimed our baggage and went outside, we discovered that it wasn’t raining.