|On June 9th we picked up grandsons, Richard Hofmeister, 10, and Ryan
Graham, 9, who had flown to Salt Lake City from their homes in Michigan.
These cousins had never seen any of the United States west of the Mississippi
and we were anxious to show them some of Utah's red rock country. We thought
they would enjoy this typically western territory and they did. We only
had two weeks so we rushed through, but even at a fast pace it was well
worth it. Now we get to share this trip with you and hope that you too
will make plans to visit these spectacular places sometime soon.
Zion National Park is located in Utah's southwest corner. All of its 229 square miles are full of breathtaking scenery. Sheer cliffs dropping over 3,000 feet towered over us as we viewed them from the valley floor. As most of the national parks, Zion is best seen from off the road and on the trails; one really needs at least a week to do any of the parks justice. Because we were on vacation (that means hurry up and go somewhere and hurry up and see everything) we only had one full day to see Zion. We sure crammed a lot in.
We made the mistake of thinking that we couldn't fit into Zion's campground and the private campground in Springdale (closest to the south entrance of the park) was booked way ahead or else they couldn't accommodate our 40 feet ( I don't remember) so we made reservations at an old Coast to Coast park in Hurricane. Brentwood RV park on route 9 is still affiliated with RPI, but we weren't so we stayed as a regular paying customer. The park was nice enough but it was over 24 miles (one way) to Zion. That kept us from going back and forth a lot. We arrived one afternoon, visited Zion the next full day then left the third morning. When we first entered Zion, we checked out the campground which was right at the south entrance. There were lots of vacant spaces and we could have fit into most of them. Granted there are no hookups in most national parks, but remember we were on vacation and for a day or two here and there would have liked the atmosphere of the national park campground --- you know campfires and marshmallows etc.
On our full day, we drove the full length of both main roads in the park. Zion Canyon Scenic Drive runs north and south from the south entrance and Utah route 9 runs east and west and includes a narrow tunnel. Because trucks, and RVs cannot fit through the tunnel while other vehicles are coming the other way, the rangers hold up traffic and only let one direction through at a time. That allows for all to ride right through the center of the tunnel where the clearance is the highest. Remember that many of these parks were built long before our houses on wheels went touring. Tour busses use that road too so it is not just us RVers that hold up traffic.
We stopped at each and every overlook and took the short hikes to discover
what there was to see and we did three longer hikes. The hike to the Emerald
Pools entailed a little climbing over some rocks which the boys loved and
the easy one half mile round trip hike to the Weeping Rock was beautiful.
Water percolates through the sandstone until it hits shale and then seeps
through the surface of Weeping Rock --- two years after falling as rain
on the high plateau above. The rock is continually seeping water and because
of that beautiful wild flowers in all colors were growing from the side
of the rocks.
Backtracking on the Scenic road, we turned onto route 9 to head east. This road climbs abruptly so that the valley can be viewed from on high. What a spectacular ride! When we got to that end and before exiting the park, we turned around then stopped to hike the Canyon Overlook trail. This one mile round-trip trail was the most difficult of the trails. It went up sharply at first then continued above the winding narrows of Pine Creek to an impressive view. As with most of the parks much is left as unseen by most visitors. When I looked at the map of Zion I saw the magnitude of the park and noticed that most of it is left as wilderness and available to serious hikers and backpackers.
Kanab, Utah, and our trip to see The North Rim of the Grand Canyon. It was an easy drive from Hurricane to Kanab, on Utah's route 59 which dipped into Arizona and became Arizona 399. At Fredonia we turned north again on U.S. Alt 89. On a map route 9 looks shorter, but part of it is that twisty road through Zion with delays at the tunnel. Kanab was our launching point to see the Grand Canyon and was as close as we could get because of the size of our motorhome. Camping at the north rim is limited to RVs up to 35 feet and is a reservation only park.
Kanab is a neat little town but has very little in the way of shopping. Most of the businesses in town are motels. We chose Kanab RV Corral as our campground because they advertised "big rig sites." It was definitely the best in town. Run by a young Dutch couple, this place was spotless and cheerful. We spent the first afternoon touring the Paria Town Site which was 33 miles east of town on U. S. 89 and five miles north on a single lane dirt road. This ghost town which was used in the filming of many western movies was ghostly. There wasn't a soul around and the boys had fun running in and around the buildings playing cowboy. They also spent some time on the magnificent horizontally striped hills. The stripes are pink, rust, white, beige and shades in between. This was pure desert and fun, but we didn't stay long. Some nasty gnats decided that since we were the only living creatures around they would have us for dinner. After the dusty adventure the boys enjoyed the pool at the campground.
Early in the morning on our second day in Kanab, we packed lunches and headed to the Grand Canyon. Except for the little junction of Fredonia, there is little life on Alt 89 into Arizona and the park. And it was an 80 mile drive one way. The main thing we noticed when we arrived at the park was how small the visitor area was and how few visitors there were. If you have ever been in the crowds at the south rim, there is no comparison. There was a lodge, gift shop, and small visitor center, but not much else. After a few minutes in the visitor center we hiked a short trial to an overlook. The boys were amazed. They had no idea the canyon was that big and we were only seeing a small part of it. The best way to see this park is to camp there or stay in the lodge. There were some drives we would have taken if they weren't so far away. Adding a drive which was 30 miles one way and away from home would have added 60 miles to our 85 mile drive home. We decided not to do it. At least the boys can say they saw the Grand Canyon and we learned that we would like to go back. We would like to stay at the lodge for a vacation of a few days sometime. Just because we live in a motorhome doesn't mean we can't do that. Others leave their house to go to a lodge or motel. We got back to Kanab in the early evening and treated ourselves to pizza at the Pizza Hut next door to the campground and the boys got in another swim before bedtime. We left Kanab the next morning.
Bryce Canyon is located a short drive from Kanab north on route 89 then east on Utah route 12. We had made reservations to stay at Ruby's Inn Campground and were delighted that it was only one mile from the park's entrance. Bryce is not a large national park at only 35,835 acres, but in our mind it is one of the prettiest. Since we arrived early in the day, we got situated in our camp site then took off for the park. Our first priority was to reserve horses for the next morning's ride so we headed to the lodge and had no problem getting that taken care of. Then we were anxious for the boys to see why Bryce was set aside as a national park so next we went to the visitor center. One of the things we were all impressed with was a model of the areas we had just covered --- Zion, Grand Canyon and then Bryce. From the model it was easy to see their relationship to each other, and the vast differences in size. We picked up junior ranger booklets so the boys could work on that project and earn their badge. One of the requirements for any junior ranger badge is that they attend a ranger program. In the other parks we were too far away to be able to do that.
From the road one sees almost nothing of the canyon at Bryce. But from the overlooks the phantom-like rock spires or hoodos, as they were named by Indians long ago, take the shapes of fairy castles, ships, faces and animals. Ryan said something to the effect that one has to be there to believe it and appreciate it. His class had studied Bryce in school and he thought he knew what to expect. He was very impressed.
After the ride, we drove the length of the park to the end, then hiked
the bristlecone loop trail. The trail began with a thick stand of fir trees
but as we neared the point, they were replaced with the bristlecone pine
trees. Since we were at 9105 feet in elevation, we were able to see these
trees as well as a good view in any direction --- all the way into Arizona
That evening we bundled up and went to the campground in the national park for a one hour campfire program which was all about micro organisms that hold the soil together and that was the final requirement for the boy's junior ranger badges. The next morning before we left the area, we drove the boys into the visitor center so they could receive their well earned badges. They learned a lot by doing projects and looking for things as we hiked. They also had to pick up a bag of trash along the trails.
Capitol Reef National Park and Torrey, Utah. After the boys got their badges, we continued on Utah route 12 to Torrey. The road, which was very crooked on our map, lived up to our expectations. Our trip was spectacular and very mountainous. Tight curves, grades of eight to ten percent and beautiful scenery made the trip very interesting. At one summit which was over 9,000 feet, the road became a narrow ribbon with steep drop-offs on both sides. There wasn't much of a shoulder either. Ron even admitted that that was a little scary. Before we dropped down to Torrey, we found ourselves surrounded by Aspen trees and remnants of snow in the shady spots. It was spring in the mountain and the trees were bright with their new leaves. Wildflowers blanketed the hillsides. When we pulled into the Ten Thousand Lakes Campground, it was very windy and rather cool.
We had visited all of these parks in 1991 and at that time had stayed at the same campground; we were impressed with this rather new little campground. We got to know the owners, John & Valley Riley, and wrote about them in one of our newsletters. These hard working folks built the campground from scratch and have since enlarged it considerably; we were impressed with all they had added. They even have jeeps for rent and a western dinner each evening. One thing that hadn't changed was their friendliness, commitment to their customers, the great gift shop and Vallies home made muffins. We ordered a dozen to take with us the day we left.
Because the first day was so cold, we didn't go to the national park; we stayed home and played games with the boys. In the evening rain turned to snow, but did not stay long. The next day we drove the 12 miles to Capitol Reef and again were amazed at all there was to see. Our first stop was the visitor center and we were pleased that they had a very nice slide show as well as some interesting displays. This is one of the parks where a four wheel drive vehicle would be helpful. The main interest in the park is a 100 mile long sinuous wrinkle in the Earth's crust called the Waterpocket Fold. There is a 25 mile round trip narrow scenic drive which is a must, but most of the sights need to be seen from trails and dirt roads. But the huge red rocks which can be seen on route 24 are worth the trip alone.
There is quite a bit of history in the area too. Mormon pioneers settled
in the area in the late 1800s and there are cabins and historical buildings
to look at including a lush orchard which the Mormons planted. These orchards
belong to the national park and in season, the fruits are free. All they
ask is that you take only what you will eat. When we visited the park in
1991, we had hiked the grand wash but decided to pass this time.
Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. These parks are only 30 miles from each other so it was natural to visit both, but we centered our trip on Arches and in fact had reserved four days for this area. You could say that we saved the best until last. At least this has been our favorite of Utah's national parks. We set up camp at a relatively new campground just a mile or two south of Arches entrance. Moab Valley RV Park is a very nice park. The sites, which the owner designed are large and the hookups are terrific. Our biggest concern was that we would be close to the national park entrance and having such a nice campground was a plus. We knew from our previous trip that we could not fit into the small national park campground and besides it fills up fast each day.
Arches is not a very big park when compared to some of the other big parks. At 77,379 acres, it contains the greatest concentration of natural arches in the world. Hikes in Arches range from easy to difficult, and short to long. We knew that the hike into the Fiery Furnace which is a ranger-led hike is very popular so as soon as we were set up in the campground we drove the short distance to the visitor center and reserved a spot on the next available hike. We signed up on Thursday early in the afternoon and the first available Fiery Furnace hike was Saturday at 4 p.m. After picking up junior ranger booklets (they are completely different at each park), we took a drive through the park. There is only one main road through the park and it is about 18 miles long. As soon as we turned off U.S. route 191 at the park entrance the road rises sharply by way of switch backs and soon we were surrounded by towering red rock formations. This is one park where much of the beauty can be seen by driving the main park road but the short hikes to get close and personal with the formations adds to the enjoyment. Our first day was simply to get an overview of the park and plan our next day's activities.
On Friday morning, we hiked with a ranger to Broken Arch and later took a spur trail to Sand Dune Arch on our own. The ranger walk took one and one half hours, but the total distance covered was only 1.3 miles. It was a fairly flat trail through open grasslands and we learned about the vegetation in that area. When we got to Broken Arch, since it was our first big arch to see, the boys enjoyed climbing through it and over some pretty big sandstone rocks. Later at Sand Dune Arch we were surprised at all the fine soft red sand in and around the arch. It was like being at the beach without the water and the boys had fun running and jumping from rock to rock. The picture is of another set of arches named windows .
Because the day was heating up, we took the afternoon off and tried to keep cool. In the late afternoon we drove to The Devils Garden at the end of the park road, and hiked to Landscape Arch and continued on towards Double O Arch. The trail to Landscape Arch is well marked and listed as "moderate," but continuing on is difficult. Cairns (several rocks piled on top of each other) mark the way because as the park guide described, the trail is "difficult with many short elevation changes, rocky footing with some exposure to heights" and the total length was 4.2 miles round trip. It was difficult but fun until we got to the "exposure to heights" part. I couldn't go on. At that point the hike continued on a ridge five feet wide and about 300 yards long, with straight drop offs on either side. I had done it seven years ago, but the wind was blowing so strongly that I just couldn't do it. But Ron and the boys went on to finish the trail which went on for another mile or so. I waited behind. It was beautiful; the sun was nearing the horizon and the shadows were long. There was no one else around and it was peaceful. But as it got darker, I was glad to seem my men returning from their trek. They were all excited and the boys chided me a little for not being able to see the wonderful sights that laid beyond the obstacle. By the time we finished the trail and returned to our car, it was after 9:30 and dark, but it had been the perfect time to hike.
The Fiery Furnace is a large area of mostly tall, flat rocks, called fins. The reason that the trail should not be taken without the ranger is it is a maze and one would get lost. Also there are some pretty narrow places where hikers have to squeeze through and steep narrow places where footing is difficult. Richard and Ryan loved it, and we discovered that seven years ago it was easier for us. Age does make a difference. Our hike led us to a large arch which was only discovered in the 60s. Surprise Arch was just that. Hidden among the fins, it was not noticeable until we looked up. We felt privileged to be among the few who ever see it. Our hike began at 4 p.m. and we didn't get off the trail until 7 p.m. It was very comfortable in the fins because they create a shady environment.
narrow passages at the fiery furnace
On Sunday morning we took a drive to visit Canyonlands. This is a wilderness park. There is a main road with overlooks, but it is very short. The only campground in the park is primitive (without water) and there are only 12 sites. The major portion of the park is for four wheel drive vehicles or backpackers. In 1991, Ron and I bicycled down into the canyon on the Shafer Tail and out through the canyon along the Colorado River and to the confluence of the Green and Colorado rivers.
On the way to Canyonlands, we stopped at nearby Dead Horse State Park. We like the view into the Canyon from the overlooks in the state park because that is where we first saw the road deep in the canyon that we wanted to explore in 1991. We wanted to see it again and show it to our grandsons. From above, the road looks lonely and we remembered how on our trip we only saw four vehicles. We were alone and hot for the 22 mile ride.
At Canyonlands National Park, we spent a few minutes in the very small
visitor center then headed back to Moab. On our way back, we stopped at
Arches visitor center so the boys could get their badges then we rested
at home and out of the heat until 6:00 p.m., when we headed into the park
for our final hike.
Delicate Arch is big, beautiful and probably the most recognizable. It is on thousands of postcards and Utah's license plates, but it is not easy to get to. We began our hike to Delicate Arch at about 6:30 p.m. The park brochure said that this hike is best taken at sunset and also added that we should take lots of water. The trail starts out easy enough on a gravel trail, but reaches a huge dome of slickrock and starts up. Cairns mark the way and it is a steep climb. Near the top the trail takes a turn and winds around more rock until we walked along a ridge, made another turn and there was the arch. It was easy to see from our vantage point, but we were still quite a ways from it. The arch is situated on the outer edge of a large sandstone bowl; we were across the bowel from the arch. Ron and the boys wanted to get closer so they continued until they were on the rim and under the arch. I was satisfied to take their picture from the other edge. We stayed quite a while, but left before the sunset. There was a good audience and we were ready to leave.
Ron and the boys under the arch