It was only 70dF when I left Capitol Reef NP at seven this morning <wry g>. I’d have liked to do some hiking, but not with temperatures approaching 100dF in the afternoon. Today was my last real day in the desert, though. It’ll still be warm at Mesa Verde over the next day or two, but after that I’ll be way up in the Colorado Rockies for a few days. Of course, after that I’ll be crossing the Great Plains, but still… I have to take my optimism where I can get it. Part of me is wondering if I should have headed across Canada, turned south when I got to the other ocean, and come back across the middle of the U.S. Oh, well. Too late now <g>.
But here’s two more Capitol Reef photos, anyway.
Today was sort of Monument Valley North. I’m only a hundred miles or so northeast of the real Monument Valley tonight, but I can remember going there when I was a kid, and trust me, what I saw today was plenty. Lots of huge monoliths rising from the ground. And very few places on the narrow two-lane road to pull over and take a photo.
Oh, and the mighty Colorado wasn’t all that mighty. Or at least it didn’t look mighty enough to justify photographing it, apparently.
Natural Bridges National Monument, which preserves three of the largest natural bridges on the planet, was much more photo-worthy. It was the first designated federal property in the state of Utah, which is saying something, and was brought into being by Theodore Roosevelt. Well, the monument was, not the bridges. They’re natural, formed by water over thousands of years. Never mind.
Two of the three bridges were easily viewable. The third one was perpendicular to its viewpoint, and so you really couldn’t tell what it was. But here are the two that actually looked like bridges.
I also saw lizards (I think they were lizards, anyway), and a beautiful prickly pear cactus blossom (along with more other kinds of flowers than should have been blooming in that heat). Pretty nifty.
The rest of the drive over to Cortez, Colorado, where I am now, was mostly through farm and ranch land, and I didn’t see anything really worthy of photographing. But tomorrow is going to be fun. I’m going to Mesa Verde National Park, just ten more miles down the road, and see cliff dwellings.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.