HOT HOT HIKES

Hey guys,

After saying goodbye to the Tetons we packed up and drove back to one of our favorite areas in the country, the southwest.  It was a long and kind of painful 9 hour drive from Wyoming to Capitol Reef National Park, made worse by the ever increasing temperatures.  During the course of the drive, we went from temperatures in the 40s to temps near 100.  We found a nice campground outside of Capitol Reef in the small town of Torrey, Utah and set up camp.  Since we were both exhausted from the drive, we decided to walk over to a cafe that was across the street from our campground and grab some dinner.  The place was called Cafe Diablo and since it was in the tiny, unassuming town of Torrey, we figured it would be a good, cheap place to grab a sandwich.  It turned out to be super nice, with some of the best food we've had on this trip and prices to match.  Our dinner for two, sans drinks, was nearly 80 dollars (ouch).

Yummy


After dinner, we decided to scope out the park by driving the scenic drive.  The drive was pretty, especially because the sun was going down; however, we realized that Capitol Reef is not the kind of park that can be easily explored by driving.  The park itself is very long and very narrow and there aren't many paved roads that provide access.  Four wheel drive/high clearance is needed to access the beautiful section of the park known as Cathedral Valley due to a river fording in the beginning of the road.  We have been known to take our car through many obstacles, but the ranger didn't recommend fording the 8-10 inches of water with the Jetta.  Luckily, the section of the park that offered excellent hiking was easily traversed with our car.

The next morning we headed into the park and hiked the Cottonwood Wash trail.  At six miles round trip, it was a pretty short hike, but the numerous obstacles along the trail made it challenging.  After about a mile of walking down a wide, sandy wash, the canyon started to narrow and the fun began.  The trail became a rocky obstacle course, with huge boulders and dry pour-offs that required climbing.






 About 2 miles in to the hike, the canyon narrowed into a series of decent slot canyons, which are our favorite natural formations to explore.  Some of the slots were filled with water and crossing them was quite the physical challenge.  Some of the pools were deep (over 6ft), some were shallow.  At one point we had to cross one of the pools that wasn't that deep, maybe 2ft, but it was filled with bugs and smelled horrible.

Crazy monkey

Super awkward climbing time

Melinda was able to shimmy about halfway across the canyon until she reached a spot that was just a bit too wide for her to cross.  She tried to make it across, but eventually she couldn't support herself anymore and I had to wade into that muddy, stinky cesspool and rescue her before she fell in.  After climbing, tripping, and scraping our way to the end of canyon, we were met with a HUGE choke stone that had fallen into a narrow section, seemingly blocking any further progress.



The first thing I thought when I saw this stone was that we had reached the heart of the canyon. The shape of the stone and the beautiful texture on the walls just made it seem as if it was alive. For being such a grueling journey to get to this point, it really made the pains, scrapes, and bumps worth it.






We did return here about a week later and we managed to navigate past the choke stone with some careful climbing, only to be met with another flooded canyon.  This canyon looked amazing and it definitely had some great photo potential, but the water was probably in excess of 10ft deep and nearly impossible to navigate without submerging yourself.  Needless to say, we turned around and headed back to the car.  Along with the Cathedral Wash trail located outside of Page, Arizona that we hiked last October, this was one of the best hikes we have done.  We love hikes that involve using the whole body and we love the challenge of figuring out how to navigate certain obstacles.

Sassy pants


The next day we did A LOT of hiking.  We started out early in the morning to beat the mid-day heat and didn't return to camp until the sun was going down.  The first trail we set out to do was the Burro Wash trail, a 7.5 mile round-trip hike through good slot canyons.  It was still ungodly hot even though we started early and the first 2.5 miles of the trail required walking through very sandy washes, which always makes hiking a chore.  To top things off, the biting black flies were out in full force and they were pretty much all over Melinda's legs.  The trail was not as physically intense as the Cottonwood Wash trail, but we still had to navigate lots of obstacles.



Eventually we made it to a 15 foot high choke stone that we were somehow able to climb (I pretty much just pulled Melinda up by her arms), but we were met with yet another water-filled canyon.  The water was too deep to proceed, so we had to head back.  Usually the hikes back are much easier, but this one was just as tough going back as it was coming in.


After getting back to the car and getting third degree burns on our legs from the car seats (NEVER BUY A BLACK CAR), we headed to the local drive-in burger joint called Slacker's to grab a burger and shake for lunch. This place had THE best burgers and shakes I've ever had, EVER. We went there every day and it was also half the reason we returned to this park a week later.

After filling our bellies, we drove back into the park and decided to hike the Sulphur Creek Narrows.  This hike is 5 miles from the trailhead to the Visitor's Center and most people use two cars/bicycles to bring them back to the trailhead.  Since we only have one car and no bicycles, we just figured we would walk back to the car along the park road.  The trail begins by descending into a very sandy dry wash and it felt like it took us forever to actually make it to Sulphur Creek, probably because the mid-day sun was relentless.


Once we reached the creek, the hike improved significantly.  After being bitten by flies and burned by the sun, walking through the cool water was heavenly.  After reaching the stream, the canyon gradually narrowed until it was just us, the stream, and the tall golden canyon walls.  Every now and then we would have to descend a waterfall, some of which were easier to navigate than others.  Unfortunately, I killed my cell phone while shooting one of these waterfalls.




I had put my phone in the back pocket of my shorts and totally forgot about it until I crouched down in the water, submerging my butt along with my phone.  Oops.  The funny (or not-so-funny) thing was Melinda dropped her phone in the water about 45 minutes later while descending yet another waterfall.  This waterfall was particularly tricky to descend, as there was only a small area to land on that was next to a deep pool of water.  I descended first and Melinda more or less just jumped into my arms, but while doing so her phone and our guidebook fell out of her backpack and into the water.  Again, oops!  At this point, we were pretty bummed because we assumed that we had just lost tons of trip photos and videos.  We trudged on and after finally navigating out of the narrows, we were dumped out on the highway near the visitor center.



We had to walk 3 miles up the highway back to the parking area to our car. The walk wouldn't have been bad if it wasn't for the thousands of gnats swarming our face the entire time. It was pretty miserable and by this time our legs were ready to call it quits. When the parking lot came into view we both breathed a huge sigh of relief. To reward ourselves for the 15 miles of hiking we did, we went and grabbed some milkshakes. ; )  We promptly put our phones in our giant container of rice and hoped for the best.  Melinda's ended up being relatively okay.  Mine is toast.

After a few days at Capitol Reef we drove about 2 hours south to Blanding, Utah. The name of the town was quite appropriate since there was absolutely nothing there. The most happening place in the town was the combination gas station/fast food/bowling alley; however, the town made a great base camp for exploring some ruins I've been wanting to visit and it was also pretty close to Natural Bridges National Monument.

On our first day in Blanding, we spent an afternoon visiting the three different natural bridges at Natural Bridges National Monument, Owachomo, Sipapu, and Kachina bridges.   The monument is very small.  The 9-mile Bridge View Loop Drive is the only road in the park and it provides viewpoints and trail access to all three of the bridges.  Since the Kachina bridge didn't appear to be very impressive, we decided to hike down to Sipapu and Owachomo.  The hike to Sipapu was pretty fun since we got to climb a few ladders and walk along cliff edges.

The best that ladder has ever looked

dorks

Sipapu is the highest and longest of the three bridges, and it definitely felt powerful when standing underneath it.  Owachomo, which is the smallest and skinniest of the three (only 9 feet thick), was definitely the most impressive.  We decided to stick around until the sun went down to do some night photography.  We hiked the short trail down to the bridge and found a nice spot by a pool of water to take some photos.  Once the darkness fully set in, we were greeted to cacophony of animal calls and hundreds of bats whizzing by our heads.  It sounded like we were surrounded by hoards of screaming monkeys and something that sounded oddly like a chicken.  It was a little creepy, but that didn't stop us from spending hours out there shooting and light painting.


Our main reason for visiting the Blanding area was to explore the awesome Anasazi ruins spread throughout the area known as Cedar Mesa.  We first set out to find the ruin called "House on Fire," appropriately named for the rock ceiling above the ruin that resembles a huge flame.  Finding the trail head was surprisingly easy considering there was no signage indicating a trail or a ruin (we had good directions).  The hike to the ruin was easy and we sat there for about an hour until the sun moved into the correct position to reflect light onto the rock walls.  With the sun hitting the rocks, the ruins and ceiling got a nice glow and it really accentuated the ceiling's fire-like quality.





The following morning we headed out to find the "Fallen Roof" ruin, which is named for the collapsing roof above the dwellings.  Finding this trail head was a bit tricky as there was no signage again and it required driving down a few unmarked dirt roads.  Finding the ruin itself was also a bit tough due to the overgrown trail and washes that branched off in different directions.



There was also one more ruin about 1/4 mile further down the cliff side that was worth visiting just for the amazing view of the surrounding area. This ruin was particularly awesome because you could see sticks that were exposed from where the mud had washed away. It's just fascinating seeing what they used to build the framework for these structures and to know that those sticks were gathered by somebody such a long time ago.  There are so many more ruins around here that we would have loved to visit, but we just didn't have the time. Most of them are around 15 mile hikes and require some overnight camping. I think some time down the road we may come back and spend a few days exploring the area.



In between our hiking we realized that the Valley of the Gods was about an hour away so we decided to make the journey and check it out. It's sort of like a miniature Monument Valley. Before getting to the scenic drive, we had to traverse the Moki Dugway, which is a dirt road that twists and turns down the mountain side until finally reaching the valley floor.


The view is terrific and the road is in great condition for being gravel. The drive back up was even more fun and the 180 degree turns were fun to zoom around. The scenic drive through the Valley of Gods was also pretty nice. The road wasn't too bad and I think we only bottomed out once which I blame on our hitch catching, like always. I shot a bit but it was so ungodly hot we just tried to relax and take in the beautiful scenery.


After our time in Cedar Mesa was over, we drove about 90 minutes to Monument Valley. We initially passed through here waaaay back in October but decided to skip it since we figured that we would be back in the area at some point on our trip. This is another park where 4WD would have come in handy. We decided to stay for one night since most of the park has to be accessed either by tours or off-road driving. We decided to check out the 17 mile Valley Drive, which is the only scenic drive in the park that you can drive your own car through. We asked about the road condition when we paid the entrance fee and we got the response of "just go slow."   We decided to give it a shot. Well, we made it about 2 1/2 miles and said the hell with it and turned around. The road was in horrible condition and we were beating the crap out of our car. I knew it wasn't going to be the easiest drive but I didn't expect it to be as bad as it was. 

I decided to just hang out and shoot at the highly photogenic area near the main parking area with a great view of "The Mittens" out in the valley. It's quite a popular location pretty much at all times of the day and even more so at sunrise/sunset. I decided to escape from the crowds and hordes of other photographers and walk down the sidewalk for a bit until I found a nice rock on the side of a sandy hill. I had the whole place to myself and it was a wonderful and peaceful experience watching the sun go down in the valley. The light that night was terrific.



Despite only being in Monument Valley for a very short time, I really do like the park and would love to come back when we have the ability to do some of the drives into the more remote areas.

After our brief stay, it was off to Page, Arizona so I could get back into the Antelope slot canyons one last time. We pretty much just relaxed at camp for most of the afternoon and then decided to hike out to Horseshoe Bend for sunset. You really can't come to Page and not go see Horseshoe Bend, it's one hell of a sight.


The next morning I woke up early so I could get to Lower Antelope Canyon when they opened to try and miss some of the crowds. Unfortunately, it was overcast and rainy, which is no good for slot canyons. I could deal with the clouds even though the light wouldn't be as nice, but if it's raining, they close the canyons down due to risks of flash floods. Luckily, the weather broke and the clouds started to break apart and I was able to head in along with everyone else that had the same idea that I did.  I ended up getting stuck with a group of 27. That's a whole lot of people to contend with; however, once in the canyon, I didn't need to stay with them since I paid the extra money for the 2-hour photo pass.




The most annoying part was that it took 30 minutes for all 27 people to walk the 200 feet from the parking lot to the entrance of the slot canyon. Then, it took about another 20 minutes of waiting until my group had moved far enough into the canyon that I wouldn't be in anyone's way and I could take my time and set up some shots. So 1 of my 2 hours was pretty much spent waiting. This is what drives me nuts about the Antelope slot canyons. I agree that yes, they are really beautiful, but I'll take the empty, tight, and twisty slots at Escalante over these any day. One thing I had going for me is that I had been here before and I knew some areas that I wanted to photograph. I managed to take maybe 2 or 3 shots in an hour which for me was completely fine. I think most of the people in the tours are walking out with 2 or 3 hundred ; ) You'll only know the chaos if you go there. It's quite a spectacle watching the people snap away and run around like maniacs not paying attention and tripping over themselves as they scurry through the canyon. My advice for when a group comes by is grab your things, find a corner, and hide ; )

The good thing about being able to get into the slot canyons that day was that it was one less night we had to spend at camp. We stayed at the same campground that we did back in October, but I guess summer time brings the bugs. More specifically, the cockroaches.  On our trip, we do run into the occasional cockroach in the bathroom or near our site but there were so many cockroaches outside of our camper, it looked the like the entire ground was moving. We put our shoes up on the wheel well of the camper since we were afraid they might be carried off otherwise. I'm guessing there were hundreds. Melinda moved the picnic table close to her door so she could put her shoes on and not touch the ground. Then, she would jump over to the pavement where none of them seemed to scuttle. It was funny.


After leaving Page, we drove back to Capitol Reef since we loved the park so much, and the burgers and milkshakes were a bonus. We hiked the Cottonwood Wash trail once again and drove around exploring some areas that we may visit if we return. We revisited Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument and explored one of the slot canyons we didn't get to see during our last visit, the Zebra slot canyon.  The 5-mile round trip to Zebra was painful.

Black fly territory

Hidden entrance





It was hot, there were biting flies everywhere, and the entire trail was more or less a deep sandy wash.  The canyon itself, although only 1/4 mile long, was probably the prettiest slot canyon we have seen so far.  Zebra canyon gets its name from all of the stripes that decorate the canyon walls.  On our way back from Zebra, we decided to make a detour to check out the Tunnel slot canyon.  Unfortunately, about a mile or so into the trail to Tunnel, the flies became so bad that we had to turn around.  They were actually drawing blood.



On our last night in the Capitol Reef area, we headed out into the park since it was a pretty clear night and just watched the stars. We managed to see a few shooting stars.


So, it's all coming to an end. Sort of. Next blog will cover our journey home and some final thoughts and stats about the trip. Also, we might decide to reveal some future plans.

Until next time.





Comments

  1. Your night shot with the natural bridge and light painting looks awesome!

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