Adjusting future stops and extending our stay here in Kanab was a good decision, as it was a place where we wanted to (and still want to) spend more time. The weather was perfect, and fortunately J&J RV Park was able to accommodate our request to extend. Continue reading
While writing about yet another week of exploring yet another amazing place, it dawned on me that we’ve been in southern Utah for over eight weeks! We continue to immerse ourselves in the natural and majestic surroundings, and this post spotlights some of the fascinating features of south-central Utah – mostly the area along Scenic Byway 12.
Red Canyon in the Dixie National Forest
Traveling east on Scenic 12, the first panorama that grabbed our attention was Red Canyon in Dixie National Forest. The unique vermillion-colored rock contrasted with green pines and we knew we’d have to investigate further. Although this place is lesser-known than its more popular and crowded neighbor, Bryce Canyon, it certainly has its own unique geologic treasures.
Kodachrome Basin State Park
Seven miles off Scenic Byway 12 is picture-perfect Kodachrome Basin State Park. In 1949 the National Geographic Society – with the consent of the Kodak Film Corporation – named the park Kodachrome. We were curious why it was named as such, and we figured it out while hiking all of its 14 miles of trails.
It turns out the setting of red-tinged sedimentary spires (or chimneys), multi-colored rocks of yellow, pink, white and brown contrasting against a blue sky and green trees prompted the appropriate name.
On this sunny day with clouds developing overhead my camera was in overdrive!
The park holds around 70 phallic-type formations, which are actually monolithic spires protruding from the sandstone rocks or jutting up from the valley floor. Some stand as sentinels at the park’s entrance.
Steve was walking along and jumped a foot in the air when he almost stepped on a small rattlesnake. He’d been exposed to many of them while growing up in California, but was excited to have me see one in the wild. I saw another snake up the trail a few minutes later, but it wasn’t poisonous so Steve didn’t care about that one 🙂
What do you think? Did the National Geographic Society name this place appropriately?
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM)
This year GSENM celebrates its 20th birthday. In 1996 President Clinton designated this vast unspoiled and untamed 1.9 million acres of sandstone canyons, cliffs and plateaus as a national monument. It’s named for the Escalante River Canyons and for the Grand Staircase which is explained below:
One of the most well-known and unique features in this monument is the 130′ high Lower Calf Creek Falls. It was named for its use as a natural pen for calves back in the late 1800’s, and it provided a nice 3-mile hike to the falls on this beautiful day.
After our hike, we stopped for lunch at Hell’s Backbone Grill in Boulder, right along Hwy 12. It’s known for its organic food offerings grown onsite. I had the Spicy Cowgirl Meatloaf while Steve enjoyed his Backbone BLT, Yum.
Next we drove the Burr Trail Road, which led us deep into the monument. We drove up to the junction of Upper Muley Twist, about 33 miles from Boulder. It was one of the many striking backroads that we have driven recently.
In the 1930’s the Civilian Conservation Corps spent five years building Lower Boulder Road, now part of Highway 12.
We were happy to meet up with our friends Dave and Faye of The Wandering Camels at the Cannonville KOA (Steve’s campground review here). We hadn’t seen them since last December in Arizona. Faye suggested we hike the Lick Wash Trail, a fairly remote spot in Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument.
We all took their big truck down the fairly rough Skutumpah Road to begin our hike on a beautiful morning.
The first 1.5 miles of this hike was beautiful, and then Steve suggested we head back to take on the Bull Valley Gorge, a slot canyon hike we had passed on our way here. He’d read about a 1954 pickup truck that had slipped into the canyon, killing three men. Their bodies had been removed, but the truck remained wedged in the canyon with large rocks and trees sitting over it.
On our way into the canyon we met a woman leaving who asked if we were experienced canyoneers, and she seemed concerned when we said, “What’s that?”. It got our attention, and we weren’t sure if we’d be able to complete this hike. But since Dave is in great shape, we figured he could toss us up or down any troublesome obstacles, and on we went.
After about a half mile of navigating several drops and obstacles we came to a difficult rope that went down about 10′. The girls said “No thanks”, but the guys said, “Heck yes!”
Steve and Dave continued on while Faye and I stayed behind. About a half hour later they came back like a couple of boys who had just enjoyed a great adventure. They had walked all the way to where the truck was lodged in the canyon, and they’d taken a bunch of pictures showing the beauty along their route.
After this journey we were all thrilled to consider ourselves canyoneers!
A glimpse of Bryce Canyon
The following day’s forecast was for rain and snow at higher elevations. Our plan to hike the backdoor to Bryce Canyon via the town of Tropic was redirected to driving the scenic road through Bryce Canyon National Park. We stopped at every overlook, and the rain started just as we were wrapping up the last one – perfect! For Steve and I, this was our first glimpse of Bryce Canyon and we were totally blown away. But we’ll save that story for the next post…
Next up: Unparalleled Uniqueness…
Before my hasty departure to the Philippines, Steve and I were well underway in our exploration and hiking at Colorado National Monument. I was happy that my “guest blogger” was willing to fill in while I was gone, adeptly sharing his solo excursions as he made his way into Arizona.
Now that I’m unpacked and settled in, I’ll do a bit of back-tracking to cover our experiences while at Colorado National Monument. Our home base was at the very nice James M Robb Colorado River State Park in Fruita, Colorado (Steve’s review here).
Fruita was a city that we both loved. It’s at a relatively low elevation and has an environment that we think we could actually settle into someday. We know we’d never get tired of looking out the windows at this fantastic monument every day! Keep on Reading
The sand storm, the wind and a little shower the previous night did not dampen our spirits, for we woke up to a beautiful sunny cloudless day at Stovepipe Wells. However, due to an event – “The 63rd Annual Death Valley ’49ers Encampment” – the 12 full hook-up sites were booked for the rest of the week. So, we moved across the street and dry camped at the Stovepipe Wells NPS Campground. For $12 you get a parking spot, no hookups. No problem, let’s save some $$$!
Death Valley….what a foreboding name. Why is the name so bleak ? A group of Euro-Americans became stuck in the valley in 1849 while looking for a shortcut to the gold fields of California. They gave the valley its name, even though only one of their group died there. Despite its name this place is anything but deathly. Its geologic history has created a diverse and extreme landscape that is quite amazing to behold.
In less than a year we are back at Death Valley National Park as we promised ourselves, and we continue to be fascinated by this unique place. Though we’ve been to Wrangell-St Elias National Park (the largest National Park in America), the size of Death Valley (the largest National Park outside of Alaska) is still formidable at 5,300 square miles. It is vast with its own assortment of uniqueness and desert beauty.
Death Valley is known for its triple superlatives: hottest, driest and lowest. Officially the hottest place on earth holding the record at 134 F (57 C), the driest for it receives less than 2 inches of rainfall or none at all and the lowest dry point in North America at Badwater Basin – 282′ below sea level. This is an unforgiving, inhospitable place but it is remarkably beautiful in its own way. Winter months are really the time to come here, even the park rangers advise against doing so in the summer.
The park has a long list of attractions, and because there is little vegetation the full display of rocks, cliffs, badlands, peaks, sand dunes, salt flats and more are in your face. Going from one place of interest to another left us enthralled and awed as none of them are the same and each has its own unique character. While marveling at all these sights we also got some good exercise, as most stops require a fair amount of hiking.
But first, where did the name Stovepipe Wells originate? There was only one known water source on the cross-valley road. Because sand often obscured the waterhole spot, a length of stovepipe was inserted as a marker – hence its unique name.
Lets explore, shall we ?
Just beyond Stovepipe Wells Campground is the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. We were told that sunrise at the Sand Dunes is one of the best times to catch that golden glow from the sun. And true enough, I managed to catch that moment when the sun rays hit the dunes. These 150 foot high dunes are surrounded by mountains on all sides, with the primary source of sand being the Cottonwood Mountains to the north and northwest.
Also close to Stovepipe Wells is the Mosaic Canyon, where we walked through a narrow canyon with smooth, polished marble walls that enclose the trail as it follows the canyon’s sinuous curves. We observed “Mosaics” of rock fragments naturally cemented together along the trail. We missed this one on our first trip but checked it out this time. Fantastic – a must see!
Further north we followed the boardwalk along Salt Creek Trail. It is a saltwater stream which is the only home to a rare pupfish which can survive in the salt encrusted water. A salt-resistant pickle weed also thrives here.
If you have only a short time to visit the park, be aware that many impressive sights are toward the south end of the valley near Furnace Creek – about 40 miles from our base camp at Stovepipe Wells. The key here is to start early to get a good flavor of what the valley has to offer and to give yourself time to drive between all of the points of interest. To enjoy its assortment of uniqueness is to take time and explore. We would estimate that 3 full days should be allocated to explore, 4 would be even better.
Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level. Here you will see landscape of vast salt flats. Walking on the salt flats you can hear the crunch of the salt….
Next stop was the Natural Bridge, a medium-sized limestone rock formation that has been hollowed at its base to form a span across two rocks. Getting to it is a half mile walk and at the end of the trail is a dry waterfall.
The Devil’s Golf Course is an immense area of rocky salt eroded by wind and rain. It is called as such because it is incredibly serrated so that “only the devil could play golf on such rough links.” At first you would think it is a coral reef, but taking a closer look reveals gnarled crystalline salt spires. We tromped through this strange and rugged terrain to get a closer look at the salt formations and found several holes in the surface with perfectly clear water shining underneath.
We took the scenic nine mile drive to the Artist’s Palette, where we saw striking arrays of colors in the hills caused by the many different minerals in the earth there. Note the sea green, lemon yellow, periwinkle blue, salmon pink and purple colors that are splashed across the barren background. Exquisite and simply amazing!
The Golden Canyon Trail was another worthwhile hike that winds through a canyon of colorful rock walls. At the end of the trail is beautiful Red Cathedral, formed by extremely steep cliffs. It is composed of red colored oxidized rock.
Along with its stunning natural splendor, Death Valley also has colorful human tales. There were several mining ventures that boomed and busted in the 1800’s. One of them was the Harmony Borax Works, where a 20-mule team hauled borax 165 miles from the desert floor to the railroad town of Mojave. It only operated for 5 years.
Another story tells of a colorful character named Walter Scott, an ex-cowboy and prospector. A beautiful mansion toward the north end of the valley called Scotty’s Castle is named after him – even though it was actually built and owned by his friend, millionaire Albert Johnson. As the story goes, Scotty (a con artist) claimed that he financed the building himself from his secret gold mine, when in reality it was the Johnson’s vacation home. Scotty’s Castle is currently owned by the Park Service and has 2 very good tours that can be taken there. They also have several shaded tables which are perfect for enjoying a picnic lunch between tours.
The Timbisha Shoshone American Indian tribe lives and thrives in the heart of the valley by Furnace Creek.
The Furnace Creek Visitor center has recently been renovated and updated. We encouraged you to stop by and check out their modern and interactive displays.
Next up, 4-wheeling in a Jeep around Death Valley. How cool is that?
And here’s just a few of the many striking desert scenery and colorful canyons as seen from your car window.