June 6: Hoodoos and slickrock and cliffs, and jaw-dropping scenery

I don’t think I’ve ever seen more beautiful scenery than I saw today. Not even the Blue Ridge Parkway. Not even the Icefields Parkway. Not even the Beartooth Highway. This was the desert version of all three, and it was spectacular. The photos I took don’t even begin to do it justice, and I took 150 of them today <wry g>.

I started the day at the crack of dawn by driving to the end of the road at Bryce and working my way back (this, as the brochure advised, puts all the viewpoints on the righthand side). I’d forgotten how pretty Bryce is (the last time I was here was in February, 1997). The colors and the shapes (collectively called hoodoos) and the curvature of the earth views are just magnificent, especially early in the day.

Bryce Canyon from Sunset Point.
Bryce Canyon from Sunset Point.
The start of one of the trails down into the canyon. Given the temperature and the requirement to come back whatever I went down, I decided discretion was the better part of getting myself in trouble.
The start of one of the trails down into the canyon. Given the temperature and the requirement to come back up whatever I went down, I decided discretion was the better part of getting myself in trouble.
Another view from the same spot.
Another view from the same spot.

But that was just the beginning of the scenery. I headed east on Utah Hwy. 14, which is marked on the map with those little green dots denoting a scenic route. This was the understatement of the year, if not the decade.

First, I stopped at a place called Mossy Cave. I never did see the cave, but there was a pretty waterfall (enhanced, it seems, by a canal dug back in the 1890s to bring water east of the mountains to the small town of Tropic). The real highlight, though, was being below the hoodoos without having to hike down and back out. Just a half-mile stroll in and back.

The stream along the Mossy Cave trail.
The stream along the Mossy Cave trail.

Things only got better from there, through canyons and broad valleys and up over hills and dales to the town of Escalante (Es-ca-LAN-te), where I ate lunch at one of those “okay, we’re too small a town for franchise fast food, so here’s something better than any franchise” places. Best hamburger I’ve had in a very long time.

And then the real gorgeousness began. The local term for the shining, smooth, red and white landscape dotted with dark green junipers is slickrock, I suspect because it would be hard to keep your footing on. The road came out on a viewpoint above miles and miles of this amazing territory, where I could do nothing but goggle and say, “Really? Seriously? Really?” I don’t have words for how beautiful that view was, and the pictures don’t do it justice. It was absolutely amazing.

Looking across one of the most spectacular views I've ever seen. The photo looks like crud in compariion.
Looking across one of the most spectacular views I’ve ever seen. The photo looks like crud in comparison.
And one more try. It was so amazing, really.
And one more try. It was so amazing, really.
Another failed try at capturing this unreal place. See the road snaking down? That's where I was headed.
Another failed try at capturing this unreal place. See the road snaking down? That’s where I was headed.

And then the road wove down through it, for miles. This stretch is called the million dollar highway, for how difficult and costly it was to build, but it was worth every penny. To the dairy farmers of Boulder, too, apparently. Before the road was built, the milk they sent for sale to Escalante often turned to butter on the rough trail. Or sour cream, which then exploded <g>.

I passed through the tiny hamlet of Boulder, and began the climb up over Boulder Mountain. I haven’t seen that many aspens since I lived in Colorado. I can only imagine what it must look like in the fall. Gold as far as the eye can see. Today, it was all pale green, except at the viewpoints (the pass topped out at 9600 feet) with more curvature of the earth views. This was a road I know we didn’t travel when I was a kid, because it wasn’t actually paved until 1985.

A view of the Waterpocket Fold, which is the main feature of Capitol Reef National Park, as seen from near the top of 9600 Boulder Mtn. Pass.
A view of the Waterpocket Fold, which is the main feature of Capitol Reef National Park, as seen from near the top of Boulder Mtn. Pass.

My goal for today was Capitol Reef National Park, beyond the northern foot of Boulder Mountain. The last time I was here, too, I wasn’t old enough to really remember. I have vague memories, but that’s it. And, again, I was on scenery overload. Tall dark red cliffs and monuments in all sorts of shapes and sizes, looming overhead like they were going to lean over enough to make a tunnel. I’m pretty sure the ten mile scenic side road (as if the whole place wasn’t scenic) wasn’t paved the last time I was here, either, and while I originally decided to take it because it was 97dF outside this afternoon here (only in the 70s on Boulder Mountain – part of me wishes I’d camped up there instead and come down here in the morning) and I wanted to stay in the AC some more, it was still far more beautiful than it had a right to be.

Aptly named Chimney Rock, in Capitol Reef National Park.
Aptly named Chimney Rock, in Capitol Reef National Park.
Along the "scenic drive" at Capitol Reef.
Along the “scenic drive” at Capitol Reef.

The campground here is in an old Mormon fruit orchard, so at least there’s shade, and now that the sun’s gone down the temperature is actually quite lovely. But heat aside, it was the most amazing day of the trip so far. I’m still just shaking my head at the glory of it all.