Thursday, March 31, 2011

Utah: Part I

For spring break Jenny and I decided to plan an ambitious six day trip through Utah: Capitol Reef National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Arches National Park. This post describes our three days in Capitol Reef National Park.

After a sleepless night on Matthew's concrete apartment floor in San Francisco, we got up at 5:30 for our flight and arrived in Salt Lake City at 10:30. After picking up our rental car, a Dodge Avenger, we headed south, racing to get to the Capitol Reef Visitor Center to get our permits before they closed at 4:30. The first four hours of our drive were surprisingly dull (with the exception of the 80 mph speed limit on the interstate) - it was a grey day. Then all of the sudden we turned a corner and the colors of Capitol Reef burst into view:



All of the sudden, Utah went from gray to red, yellow, and orange. After picking up our permits at the visitor center we drove 20 miles east and turned onto Notom Bottom Road a 90 mile dirt road paralleling the edge of Capitol Reef and eventually coming out in Bullfrog Basin on the shore of Lake Powell. It was the beginning of a lot of stressful driving since we were in a 2-wheel drive car and we had heard a lot of different things about Notom road (impassable when wet, high-clearance 2 wheel drive, etc...). After an hour or so we came to the Burr Trail, a road that slices through the Waterpocket Fold and then continues south.



The Waterpocked Fold is the distinguishing characteristic of Capitol Reef National Park; a 90-mile long piece of the crust shunted upward at a 45 degree angle exposing all the underlying rocks. It's remarkably colorful:



We got to our trailhead, the Upper Muley Twist Canyon trailhead, at about 5 o'clock and hiked in three hours and set up our camp in the dark. The dirt is pleasantly soft, although I still didn't sleep well (something about the 1st night of a backpacking trip). Out camp was in an awesome spot though.



And yes, that's a crazy-huge rock behind the tent. The next morning we got up late and then hiked down to the start of the Upper Muley Twist Canyon Narrows which were sadly water-filled. And we decided it might be better to avoid waist-deep 45 degree water. After working our way around the narrows we hiked up and hiked back along to the rim, getting back to our car about 5.



The color and striations in the rock were awesome (throughout the whole trip)!



And even though the narrows were flooded...



We still got to hike up some other cool narrows.

After we got back to the car, we drove another hour south to the Halls Creek Overlook, where we made some people's day by jumping their car (woo!). Our plan here was to hiked down the thousand feet to Halls Creek and then attempt a 21-mile loop of the Narrows the next day. The hike down to the creek was one of the best views in the park- it always looks like the background is photoshoped in the desert...



When we woke up the next morning it sure was windy, though we had no idea... yet. We left of our backpacks covered under some trees and started hiking south with our daypacks, but after 20 minutes the wind was blowing hard enough (and it looked ominous enough) so we decided to turn around. On our way back we decided to try to hike to a natural bridge up a nearby side canyon and things were going well until we got to a little 15 feet climb up in the canyon. As we were climbing up the little rock ladder the wind started gusting at more than 40 mph spraying as with sand. Up on our exposed little ladder there was nothing to do but hunker down (and get sand in every hole in your body). After about 5 minutes the wind died enough for us to get down, and we spent the whole hike back crying sand out of our eyes. Unfortunately, things were starting to look really ominous when we got back to our packs...



We decided to get the hell outta there, which unfortunately meant racing up more than 800 feet in a mile. Whew. After getting back to the car, a gingerly navigated us down a stretch of high-clearance 2 wheel-drive road and then onto Notom Road for an hour and a half of trying to get back to paved roads for rain made Notom impassable. We were only 20 miles from the south end, but the ranger had mentioned that there was a ford just before the end that was running high, so we headed north, going as fast as our Avenger would carry us down the road. It was stressful driving, but I have new faith in American-made cars now. When we got to the visitor center we discovered that there was a cold front bearing down so we decided to do some hikes in the main part of the park. We first stopped for the Petroglyphs:



This part of the park, known as Fruita, was inhabited by Indians until the arrival of Mormons who planted the fruit groves that give the area its name (and that you can still pick today!). Our next stop was the Grand Wash running right through the center of the park, which certainly lived up to its name.





Next we hiked up to Cassidy Arch, 1000 feet above the canyon, and supposed hideout of Butch Cassidy and his gang.





The arch was awesome, the views down the was were cool, and we even got a decent self-timer shot! After that we drove back to a trailhead on BLM lands where we set the tent up in howling wind. I think it got down in the low 20's during the night and the wind was blowing at 30 mph, making the windchill down in the teens... certainly the coldest night I've spent in a tent. Needless to say we didn't bother with a hot dinner (or breakfast for that matter). The next morning at 5 AM we got fully dressed in the tent and packed everything up, then got out tore it down and ran to the car as fast as we could for our 4 hour drive to Canyonlands, across Lake Powell and then up and over a super-snowy pass (stressful driving!) More to follow...



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