14. National Park Road Trip…April/May/June 2016

day 40…5.30
I drove into Capital Reef National Park around 7am.  I’ve been to this little park once before & loved it.  I drove to the picnic area & made myself some coffee.  The Visitors Center was just opening when I was done, so I stopped in to ask them about some of the trails I hadn’t hiked before.  Then I drove to the next town west to buy ice…my whole cooler/no cooler issue is still an issue…thought I had it solved this year, but it’s still a problem.  By the time my ice situation was fixed, I headed back into the park & was at my first trailhead.  The Spring Canyon trail actually starts another trail…a super popular on called Chimney Rock, but the Ranger  suggested I hike into the canyon…I soon came upon the small sign & while everyone else went right, I went left.  The crowds were gone & over the 3.25 miles I only passed 2 couples backpacking out.  The wash was about 20’ wide most of the time, with a few boulders to climb over & colorful walls that were hundreds of feet high!




Here are some sites on my the way to & on the scenic drive.




I started another hike down 1.5 miles down a wash road passing a sign that said “don’t enter if storm is threatening’.  The hike was to Cassidy Arch…only 1.5 miles up & some decent elevation.    So, I started the climb.  It’s named after Butch Cassidy because it’s said he hid out here in his bandit days.  About .75 miles in, I heard thunder & the wind picked up. As I rounded the corner & could see above the high rock walls, I saw the skies growing dark.  I kept hiking around another corner until I had the arch in my sights.


I could see others over near the trails end & could tell that you could hike all the way over to stand on the top of the arch, but really no better views of it.  I’m a little chicken when it comes to thunder/lightening storms & being up so high & my car parked in a wash….so after a little internal debate, I turned around & headed down.  As I drove out the wash it started to rain, but the storm ended up blowing over.  I surely could have finished the hike…but you never know & I have a ‘fun’ factor….if I’m too nervous about something & can’t push through that feeling, I won’t enjoy it…& that’s a huge purpose in being out here!  Capital Reef has an historic district that sits inside it’s boundaries called “Fruita”….with some small orchards in the park.  When I’d driven by early this morning, I’d seen about 5 deer munching on the fruit trees.  There’s a little store that sells home made jams & pies, so I stopped in for my Memorial Day feast.  I bought some other goodies to bring home, but the small individual sized pie was I would ration out for three meals.  It was a yummy cherry treat!

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I ate some hummus & chips while waiting for the sky to clear & soon it did.  I drove down to the next trailhead which would take me a natural bridge.  Lots of up, lots of down, but the bridge was beautiful!



So far I’d hiked about 11 miles today & I felt finished.  The last hike brought down near the Fremont River, so I washed off my feet & socks & put on my Chacos.  It was time to look for a place to stay tonight & I’d seen the perfect spot on my way into the park.  I’m backtracking now, going back east on Highway 24 where there was a few dispersed camping spots beneath the rocks & in some trees.  

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It was early in the day for me to stop, but I parked, got out my chair, opened a beer, had a few bites of pie & read & read & read until dark.  Then I climbed in the 4Runner, put on my headlamp finished one book & started another.  It would turn out to be another night with more star gazing than sleep, but my body is pretty used going & going on not much sleep…just the way I’m wired.  

day 41…5.31
I’m now back on territory I drove when I spent nearly a month in Utah in 2012.  I remember driving this section of 95 going east & it was at dusk & then I drove it in darkness…feeling a lot of remoteness.  But in the daylight, it takes on a whole new look. This is a beautiful drive…the road lined on both sides with amazing huge colorful rock walls. 

I love looking at the Colorado river & Glen Canyon…so pristine & seems like it would have looked the same back in the late 1800’s when Powell explored it.  I stopped at all the lookouts along the way & finished my pie too!





The drive from the river to my next park, is so amazing.  One side of the road is still lined with the huge rock walls, the other side with white rock canyons…for miles & miles.  Some look deep but they stretch as far as you can see.  My next stop was the Natural Bridges National Monument.  I’ve never been here before & it’s a super small park…a 9 mile loop drive takes you by 3 Natural Arch viewpoints & trailheads & one viewpoint & short trail to some ruins.  I did them all.  Not long in length, but big enough on elevation…loss then gain.  Each bridge you can see from a distance, then you can hike down to walk underneath it.  The first trail had three fixed ladders & four fixed handrails.  It’s warm here in Utah & I can always feel the heat here when hiking.  


Once my hiking was done for the day, & I’d downed a little more hummus, I drove to my next town, Blanding.  I stopped at their visitors center, which I remembered from the last time was very helpful & really nice for such a small town, & got my questions answered.  I was hungry for fried chicken (uh oh…too much food) so I went to one of the few places in town that served it.  A mom & pop steak house which had outdoor seating & the food was pretty good, but not outstanding (I just ate too much of it!)  Then I went to the library to plug in & do a little web work.  I’ve closed them up & moved to the parking lot.  I’m next headed out to find a dispersed campsite I was told is only a couple miles out of town.  I drove into of this eerily empty but pretty reservoir…& as soon as I slowed down the 4Runner I knew why it was empty.  Hundreds of mosquitoes swarmed my windshield…YUCK!  I drove to the other side & same thing.  I wasn’t camping here…even though I’m car camping I still get out & this was disgusting!  I drove on up the highway to a sweet little NFS campground…only $10.  There were only a few other campers in this beautiful small mosquitoe-free (at least free of swarms of them) spot.  I paid up & parked!

day 42…6.1
It was another beautiful morning & I hung around camp for a bit, making coffee at the picnic table & reading.

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The drive up towards my cutoff was beautiful!  The big red rock formations all around.  Once I glanced to the side of the road & saw an arch just out in the distance…no signs, no way to get to it….it was just there.  I did drive by one arch with a pullout that was pretty cool…Wilson Arch…sitting right by the road.


I turned off the highway about 30 miles south of Moab…I’ve almost come full circle in several spots but am trying to discover new ways to get from point from to point.  I took the LaSal junction & quickly the scenery began to change.  I began to climb but started to be surrounded by more green, more mountains in the distance & rushing big rivers.   I was back in my beloved & super fun Colorado! It was a gorgeous but kind of isolated drive as the roads wound up & then back down eventually getting me near the turn off for Telluride.  Ive been to Telluride several times before & knew it was too early to do much hiking, but I was only 16 miles from this small cowboy/uber rich-folk town.  I like the way the town looksold buildings lining the streets, small but really cool houses & the magnificent waterfall at the end of town.

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It’s nice that, just as in Crested Butte, the over the top, humungo homes are kept up at the ski resort, so unless you go up there, you don’t see them.  I stopped at the store to buy ice (my never ending battle) & boy had they remodeled this store since the last time I was here.  It’s just a Clarks. they’re all over small towns in Colorado, but this one is fancy.  Wish they’d do a little fixin’ up to the one in CB.  I bought a slice of pizza for my ‘brunch’ & drove through the town noticing how much snow is still up on the mountains.  Back home in the midwest, it’s summer, but the snow is still thick on the mountaintops in Colorado.  I drove to the parking area at the end of town with a view of the falls, ate my slice & just stared up at all the places I’ve hiked here.  I’ve hiked up all those switchbacks you see on the mountain & remember slipping as I crossed the waterfall on the left (barely noticeable) not coming too close to the edge, but it still scared me!  This is the road that leads to Black Bear Pass…it goes all the way to Ouray & is a one way uber crazy 4WD  road.  I’ve hiked the other side from Ouray as well….it’s amazing! (close up photos of each fall below)


There was water rushing down from all the surrounding mountains & it’s a wonderful site to see.  It’s the only good thing about not being about to hike much in June in the mountains, is that the snowmelt creates outstanding waterfalls.  They’re now having a heat wave here…so anticipating the snowmelt runoff to be fast & furious….not a good thing.  It’s better if they warm up slowly through spring, letting the water soak in & skipping the raging river part that causes rock fall & flash floods.  I took a couple of hours to stroll in & out of the cute little shops, one thrift store & a favorite gear store.  I only bought a postcard, a bar of dark chocolate & the tiniest set of Tibetan prayer flags I’ve ever seen.  Before I left for the day, I stopped at a grilled cheese food cart & bought a sandwich.  I was heading to Ouray to the brewery & I’ve never found a place to eat there that I like.

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I passed a herd of elk grazing just outside of town.  The drive down from Telluride into the cowtown of Ridgeway is breathtaking!  These a some of the biggest mountains in Colorado & they are fantastic!


Ridgeway is the home to the famous John Wayne movie, True Grit.  The True Grit steak house restaurant used to make their own & super fantastic veggie burgers, but don’t anymore.  I made a quick stop at the local brewery for an IPA.

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Then I went to their little library to jump on wifi for a minute & added 5 new books to my Kindle. I was 10 miles north of Ouray, so I pointed the 4Runner south was soon there.  I checked out the gear store, which used to be (maybe still is) owned by a guy from Kansas City.  The Grilled cheese cart lady told me I had to go to Miss Mouse Chocolate shop & buy a ‘scrap cookie’…that they were wonderful.  There’s some glitch inside me that when someone gives me tips like this, I feel drawn to do it…everytime.  Crazy. There are only a couple of shops I went in, but soon found myself buying a scrap cookie…They use all the left over ingredients from the candy they make, add it to cookie dough & it all makes a pretty tasty cookie.  I’m a sugar freak, & I really try to stay away from it as much as possible.  My bad habit on road trips is Coke…can’t get more sugary than that & I try not to drink them too often but always keep one in the cooler for emergency caffeine.  I’ve stayed away from buying any candy…which I could eat my weight in Twizzlers & Gummy Bears & die an early death, but I’ve been disciplined not buying them this trip.  So when I eat something  like the pie or this cookie, I can feel the sugar effect immediately…so weird.

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I took a couple bites of the cookie & headed to the Ouray Brewery.  They make decent beer…nothing I’d buy to bring home, but my very favorite thing about this place is the SWINGS!  Instead of barstools, they have swings!  LOVE IT, LOVE IT!!!  I ordered a stout, hooked up to the wifi, visited with the bartender & a local (who is also full of Utah gnat bites from her trip there this weekend, but got a great tip on another place to visit on my next trip to Utah) & swung…back & forth & back & forth.  I LOVE THESE SWINGS!

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I walked around town a little bit, decided against the hot springs (which I usually go to) because they were very crowded & it’s pretty warm here.  (How did that flag get all the way up on that rock?)

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I needed to find a place to camp & knew I could find a spot up Owl Creek Pass road…although the last time I camped up there, I remember it was a super long dirt road drive.  This is same road that John Wayne filmed one of the last scenes of True Grit when he puts the reins in his mouth & guns in both hands….it’s a beautiful spot.  I made it to the road & started up the wash board road seeing tons of elk & nearly missing one as he ran in front of the 4Runner.  They were popping up all round me like the mosquitoes at the reservoir.  At mile 4 I pulled over…there was still lots & lots of snow up high & I didn’t even know if the pass was clear.  I decided to turn around & just head to Montrose.  The sun was very low which means the wildlife is running around, jumping on & off the roads & while it’s great to see them, I’d rather be parked & not driving when they jump in front of me!



As I drove back out the road, several ran in front of me, but a baby elk got stuck on the other side of the fence.  I’d stopped my car, not wanting to scare it into being in a hurry & just watched…no one else was on this road. It finally got through the fence, crossed in front of me but then took a bit to find a way back through the new fence.  I got a video of the baby, but no photos.

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I finally got to Montrose after dark after passing ‘wildlife warning’ signs about every mile.  Happy Happy to be back in Colorado!

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