Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Utah Roadtrip

In 2011, my girlfriend and I visited the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and in 2012, we visited Page, AZ and Zion National Park.  These were all places I had been to before, but it was wonderful seeing it through someone else's eyes.  Wanting to continue the tradition, in March of 2013 we took four days off to take another swing through Southern Utah.

Our base of operations was Ruby's Lodge just outside Bryce Canyon.  I had visited Bryce by myself for the first time just a few years before.  That trip was also in the winter months, and I found the park absolutely magical.  I had been going through a somewhat tough time in my personal life, and being out among those red rocks dappled with snow was transformative.  The roads to Bryce are kept plowed through the winter, and the trails stay more or less accessible (especially with some traction devices), which makes winter hands-down the best time to visit the park.  The crowds are a fraction of what you have to deal with in summer, and the snow only adds to the scenery.  Just as with the Grand Canyon, winter is the time to go.

The actual trip was pretty much like any other Bryce trip.  We walked the rim trails at sunrise:

Sunrise and Rim Views

We drove out to the last pullout, then drove back, stopping at each viewpoint along the way:

Hoodoo up close

We saw deers in the meadows along the drive:

About mid-day, once we had visited each of the viewpoints, we went to Sunset Point and hopped onto the below the rim trails.  This time, we were able to do the peek-a-boo loop, which had been snowed in the last time I visited.  The trails at Bryce pack some of the best scenery I've seen on any short hike.  They rival Antelope Canyon or the Zion Narrows for effort:reward ratio:

Along the Peek-A-Boo loop

After a full day at Bryce, we decided to take a day trip out to Capitol Reef.  This was not exactly convenient, requiring a couple hours drive out and a couple hours back.  But we had already visited Zion the year before, and the scenery on that drive more than compensated:

Snow on Boulder Mountain

Arches along the trail to Calf Creek Falls.  Unfortunately we did not make it all the way out to the falls this trip.

The long road trip meant that we only had a few hours to enjoy Capitol Reef, which was in no way enough time to do justice to such a beautiful place. 

Juniper and Waterpocket Fold
We did the unexpectedly amazing drive up Capitol Gorge, then hiked on up the Gorge and to the water pockets.  Along with stopping at some view points and some other small hikes, it was about all that we could squeeze in.  In the back of my mind I made a mental note to plan an extended backpack up here.  Given the remoteness and the scale of the park, this seems like the best way to visit.  But we still squeezed as much enjoyment out of the hike as we could given what time we had.

Hiking Capitol Gorge

View of Capitol Gorge from above
Sunset at Powell Point, on the drive back
The last morning at Bryce was beautiful, as always.  We hiked the rim trail from Bryce to Inspiration Point, watching the rising sun light the formations.  On our way out of the park, we pulled off a large meadow to see herds of pronghorn.  It was a fitting goodbye to Bryce.

Hoodoos and Light

Pronghorn in the meadow outside the park

One of the advantages of visiting a region multiple times is that you can see the little pockets of interesting sites.  We had visited Southwestern Utah several times now, so we could spare a little time to see sights that were not marquee attractions, but worth visiting all the same.  On our last visit, we had squeezed in a trip to Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, and intended to do similar this time around.  On the drive up, we visited Moqui Cave, a tourist trappy private attraction on the road to Bryce.

Inside Moqui Cave

 On the drive back, we stopped at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, though we missed the opportunity to take a tour.  We made it up with a detour over to Pipe Springs National Monument after crossing back into Arizona.  Pipe Springs was the only reliable water source on all of the Arizona Strip, and so was a hub of Mormon society in the area.  The park service has preserved the buildings surrounding the spring.  While I would never consider driving across the state just to visit Pipe Springs, it was very interesting to learn about the Mormon pioneer days, and well worth a side trip while in the area.

Water in the desert


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