Utah National Parks and More

Easter, April 16, 2017 No it’s not Switzerland, the first day of our trip we are in Dillon, Montana. City Hall Dillion, MTMoments after citing City Hall we observed a REAL COWBOY in the street practicing with his bullwhip outside a downtown bar. How do we know he was real? Well the hat was deeper & the brim was wider than any cowboy hat you might see around Spokane. The cowboy and his pals look dusty. They seemed a little drunk & Dennis thought they might shoot me if I took a quick video so I opted for this picture of City Hall. The Beaverhead Brewing Company and other bars in downtown Dillion were open but no food.  We found a restaurant open by the university.  They wouldn’t let the students starve on Easter Sunday.

Apr. 17 Slightly bad Karma a rock, well actually more than one rock, hit our windshield on the brief trip across Idaho.  One of the rocks started a crack on the windshield which spread an inch or so everyday of our trip. Dennis driving would point to some great thing to see and I had to work around my ever elongating crack to view it.  Nothing good happens from hanging around Idaho.

We spent the night in Spanish Forks UT and had long hike with beautiful views along their semi-urban River Trail. Much of the walk trying to identify the flora and fauna.  We really wanted the plants and animals to be different from those we commonly see in eastern Washington.  “No Jan that bird is a robin not the Mountain Bluebird.”  We did see a plant in bloom identified on the park plant guide as: Utah Serviceberry. You couldn’t see that in Spokane.

I’m worried, just one slip & Dennis is down the cliff

April 18 Way too many pictures of Arches N.P. but I must include the one of Dennis playing Sir Galahad. He rescued 2 Japanese girls who took the wrong trail to Delicate Arch. Look how close his foot is to the edge. Yikes! I was scared.

I can’t believe I forgot to bring my Columbia Sports, way too expensive, hiking shirt.  My flannel shirt is too warm to hike in. There are MANY $$$ sporting goods stores in Moab. I’m proud that I found a $9.99 knock-off of my wicking, vented, too expensive, hiking shirt at the General Store.  😊 Lucky me.

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Showing off the new shirt at Devil’s Garden

4-19-17 I think we left no path to an arch un-tread.  For sure we saw all the arches in the Devil’s Garden area.  We are now able to slowly put one foot in front of the other with only moderate pain. I don’t know if we will be able to get out of bed tomorrow but we have ambitious plans to see Canyonlands & Dead Horse Point State Park.

Thurs. 4-20-17 We spent the day in Canyonlands, Island in the Sky unit.  The ranger recommended the hike to Lathrop Canyon. We began with a mile of flat prairie pasture hiking. This was not what we came to Utah for. We were suddenly rewarded when we came to a beautiful canyon overlook with very few hikers.  I took a picture of Dennis studying the wildflower book.  He looked like a model for an ALA READ poster.  We did a lot of other small hikes to formations and views in Canyonlands and decided to pay the $15 fee to Dead Horse Point State Park just a couple of hours before closing because the motel lady said “You came all this way. You can’t miss it.”  I sampled Dead Horse Pale Ale at Moab Brewery.  I thought the beer’s aroma lived up to the Dead Horse name. That was before I knew Dead Horse was a place. Park personnel at Dead Horse Point were pretty excited because it was spitting rain and you could see a big storm coming. Wouldn’t you know we hit rain in a place that only gets 10 inches a year. There were some beautiful views before the rain and the visitors center provided shelter and some exhibits that helped us with plant identification.

Friday 4-21 Packed up & left Moab for the Needles area of Canyonlands. We hiked to Chester Meadow.  There were plenty of hikers but the crowds did not diminish the beauty of the hike although we felt old and slow as many hikers passed us.  We saw two late middle-aged hikers led by a blue haired guide hiking in sandals.  The guide had at least 4 band-aids on of her toes. I wondered whether the band-aids were protecting injuries incurred from hiking in sandals or if the guide hadn’t properly broken in her hiking boots and was forced to wear sandals. I also was astounded that the couple would hire a guide for such a heavily traveled trail. This was a long rigorous hike so I had lots of time to ponder trivia. Chester Meadow was one of my favorite hikes although the meadow wasn’t in any way as dramatic as the hike to get there.

We spent the night in Monticello at the Grist Mill B & B. We had a huge room. Dennis seemed to think we had hiked enough and was a bit perturbed that I’d had my choice of floors but I booked a room on the 3rd floor. We met a cute Mormon couple at breakfast.  We guessed they were Mormon before they mentioned it. Who else under 30 wears a pressed white shirt, and dark trousers to Saturday morning breakfast?

Saturday 4-22 On our way to Capitol Reef Dennis insisted that we see Natural Bridges National Monument. For some reason after seeing all those arches  I was not enthused.

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Natural Bridge Not Arch

Dennis lost enthusiasm when he got a $$ speeding ticket but by then we were invested.  There were ladders and LOTS of steps to go down the canyon and get up close to the natural bridges. I felt car sick on the curvy circular road and counted over 100 very steep steps down the canyon to view one of the bridges from ground level. After the 100 steps down and up (yes I counted) Dennis didn’t think we needed to see anymore bridges from the bottom up but we did complete our tour and we viewed all 3 natural bridges from various angles and an interesting Puebloan ruin.

I was surprised when the Park Ranger at the Capitol Reef Visitors Center asked us what kind of car we drove instead of how far we wanted to hike.  He recommended a backcountry drive and hikes up through two less traveled canyons. Headquarters Canyon was our favorite.


Headquarters Canyon

Apparently, we are canyon overachievers because we climbed up a very steep rock which we later found out a hiking book suggested sane hikers should not try. We spent two nights in a very oddly constructed room above the Austin’s Chuckwagon store in Torrey. Dennis suspected the upstairs addition was not up to code. I can’t imagine Torrey has a building code.


Stairs to rooms

We ate much better than expected dinner at the Red Rock Restaurant which had a beautiful sunset view and delicious dinners. We had trout and turkey mole.  Our plan was pizza at the Red Rock Bar & Grill (no view) but we turned in the wrong Red Rock parking lot and found ourselves in the much nicer dining room and decided to stay.  It is confusing when so many of the businesses are named: Red Rock.

4-24 Monday We finished seeing Capitol Reef and the big event was a 3-mile hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls.

Hike to Calf Creek Falls

I can always lure Dennis out of the car & down the trail if there is a waterfall. We spent the night in Escalante at a cowboy themed motel.  The price was right.

4-25 No one told us to bring down coats to Bryson. We had 2 short snow squalls but only after some fun hikes earlier in the day at Kodachrome State Park.


Kodachrome State Park

We felt like we got our $8.00 worth of hiking and shelter from the brief but heavy rain.   It was not crowded so it was a nice break from the national parks. At Bryce people were crowded into the Visitors Center especially during those snow squalls. It was often a challenge  just to find a parking spot at Bryce.

We had a fantastically beautiful morning hike in the Bryce Canyon Fairyland Loop

(8 mi.) By 7 p.m. we had recovered enough to make the quick steep up and down to Queen’s Garden. I’m reading a biography of Queen Victoria so I needed to see the Rock that supposedly resembles her. The canyon in the evening light was beautiful. We were the last ones out of the canyon.  How quickly it empties when the sun goes down but the colors are wonderful in the evening light.

Climbing Walter’s Wiggles

4-27 Thursday   The drive to Zion was a relaxing scenic drive until you hit park traffic.  The Zion Visitors Center parking lot was full before noon so we drove to our motel and took two buses into the park.  We hiked up Walter’s Wiggles to Scout’s Lookout and we each had a different excuse for not making the final ascent to Angel’s Landing.   It was all good because we had enough energy to hike around the Emerald Pools and catch the bus back from  Zion Lodge.  In the morning we hiked the Watchman Trail and visited the Human History Museum. This turned out to be an excellent choice (Dennis’s idea) since we understood a bit more about the early human history when we met with cousins Sue and Jerry the following day https://www.nps.gov/zion/learn/historyculture/people.htm


We checked into the Rodeway Inn in Hurricane. We had time to explore relatively uncrowded part of Zion with only 5 vehicle at the trailhead for the trek to Northgate Peaks we were practically alone.  I gave Dennis a hard time because the hike “features “giant ponderosa pines.” “Woo-hoo just like the 8 ponderosa pines in our yard at home?”  The hike was windy and started at 6900 ft. elev. so it was quite cold which I whined about.  At the trails end I warmed-up in a sand dune (which we don’t have in our backyard) and enjoyed the view. I had to admit the view of 2 mountains was spectacular. IMG_4290

Saturday 4-29 We had a delicious pancake breakfast at the home of my cousin Sue and her husband Jerry. This was followed by our first anthropological hike.   We went to an area popular with mountain bikers where Sue and Jerry were able to locate an ancient native site.  With newly acquired observational skills we identified spots with rock chips indicating that tools had been fashioned there long ago.  The same areas also had pottery chips.  Some pottery chips had painted black stripes and occasionally a chip had a curve or bump.  I believe the bumps indicated that a coil method. It was a really exciting to me to imagine this remote spot was once a small settlement of ancient people.

Our education wasn’t complete yet.  Jerry drove us around Hildale and Colorado City, Az. Originally, we were in search of pie and coffee, but Dennis and I learned about the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints (FLDS).  I guess I understood that there were still polygamists but I didn’t know that there were so many and living so openly. I assumed they were hiding out in some unknown rural area where no one would find them. Well it is rural but Wikipedia will tell where to find the FLDS members. There was a dress code for women,  long skirts, and long hair. We learned that from the architecture you can estimate the number of wives.  We identified the homes that were still following Warren Jeffs.  I know about Jeffs from the news but I didn’t know there is a cult of FLDS members still loyally following him. We found it interesting that we saw women and boys working in the farm fields on fences or irrigation but we never saw an adult man doing non-motorized work. Ah well, it’s good to be reminded religious freedom has many manifestations.

Sue and I figured we hadn’t seen each other or been in touch for something like 52 years.  It was really wonderful to connect. We had a great time and I hope we can do it again.

Sunday 4-30 Sue had mapped out a morning canyon hike for us convenient to the highway we were taking home.  I really came to love canyon hiking this trip and life doesn’t get better than an early morning canyon hike with NO people AND a waterfall.  It was a beautiful good-bye Utah hike.

We didn’t actually make it out of Utah, we spent the night in the town of Brigham City obviously Utah. It was a charming little town but no hikes.

5-1 We planned to see the world’s largest bird sanctuary (80,000 acres) https://www.fws.gov/refuge/bear_river_migratory_bird_refuge/ on the edge Brigham City but were disappointed to find that the birds have the day off on Mondays.  The sanctuary seemed to be fenced and we couldn’t find any way to break in. We picked up a bird list so we know what we might have seen. The weather was damp and foggy so without further exploration we headed north.

We stopped in Hagerman, Idaho. Our aim was a picnic and short nature trail in the Malad Gorge unit of Thousand Springs State Park.  It sounded picturesque so we paid the entrance fee and secured a map.  Unfortunately, the wind was blowing about 50 miles an hour down the gorge. We managed to jump out and see some huge waterfalls over dams on the Snake River. We huddled in the car for a picnic.  We were unable to locate the nature trail.

I can’t remember who had the idea to see the Oregon Trail Museum.  I wanted to see the actual trail and Dennis wanted to see the museum until he found out it was 20 miles off the road.  We did both and we thought it was worth the detour even though we only had less than 2 hours before the museum closed.  Dennis’ comment was that the museum story was a lot like the Oregon Trail game Leigh played when she was in 3rd grade.  I guess it’s good to confirm that history is actually as depressing as the game.

We spent the night in La Grande, Oregon another picturesque town we’d never visited.  After a full hour trying to walk to the recommended restaurant in drizzle we ended up back at our motel. After consulting our reference sources, we got in the car and drove in less than one minute to the restaurant we had been looking for. Somehow, we had managed to walk past the street twice. It was just that kind of day but we at least felt very grateful that we weren’t traveling by Conestoga.  We are now very thoroughly acquainted with downtown La Grande.

5-2 Our last day we extended the trip by stopping at Walla Walla to visit Dennis’ Alma Mater.  The weather was perfect and the Whitman campus was in bloom.  We toured the library and marveled that some of the reference books Dennis moved during the library remodel the summer of 1973 are still on the shelves (but not being used). The house he rented in 1973, located along the railroad track with a tree coming up through the bathroom floor is no more.  I took a picture of Dennis in front of his dorm which looks like it will outlast those reference books.

We made one last stop at Palouse Falls to see the flood waters pouring over.  I couldn’t get the picture out of my mind of the of the horrible long fatal fall if one of those tourists on the unofficial trail around the falls slipped over the edge and down the chasm.  A week later it was reported that a man did exactly that taking a picture.  My nightmare came true! I’m glad to report we returned home sore but unscathed.




Best Things

The Primitive Trail (which isn’t primitive by our standards) in the Devil’s Garden in Arches was less traveled than other Arches hikes. We encountered mostly European tourist. I learned I could balance and climb on the rocky ridges. The secret was to look at the fantastic view and not directly down.



The hike to Chester Meadow in the Needles area (above) of Canyonland.  There were so many different rock formations, narrow canyons, and fantastic views. I got to employ my newly acquired rock climbing confidence. I was relieved so I didn’t stumble and land on my head.

Capitol Reef’s Headquarters Canyon hike was fun and sufficiently remote.  There were hardly any hikers.

The climb up Walter’s Wiggles in Zion was the opposite of canyon hiking. It was exhausting and we struggled up with the masses; all ages and nationalities of hikers.  The view was incredible!

Getting reacquainted with cousin Sue after 52 years and meeting her husband Jerry.  I wish we had more time.  Also seeing the ruins of ancient site, finding pottery, and seeing petroglyphs was really something. Wow! IMG_4296

We tasted the local microbrews along our route.  We agreed the sampler we had at  Beaverhead Brewery in Dillion on Easter Sunday was the best. Maybe the secret ingredient is that Montana cowboy dust.


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