Friday, October 25, 2013

Utah's Capitol is a Reef?? Sept. 20 -22

 Before leaving Moab I had to get one more classic slickrock ride in the bag. The Klondike trail was one of the original trails in the area and lately there has been a lot added to it so I thought I'd be remiss if I didn't explore there. The old Klondike trail is actually a 4x4 jeep route, but it's still a worthy bike route too. A little sandy at the very beginning, but then it alternates between dirt and slickrock. 

Holy Crow, actually a Ravine
Unfortunately, it's not the smooth red kind of "hardtail friendly" slickrock, but the hard, bumpy white "full suspension friendly" kind. Great for anyone who thinks they are a real "hard ass" and wants to put that to the test! 

Anyway, if you take the trail all the way to the end you should definitely take a break, park your bike at the bike rack and take the short hike to peer into the northwestern corner of Arches National Park and get a beautiful view of the Klondike Bluffs. And don't forget to look for the cairns which in this case don't necessarily mark the trail, but actually mark the locations of petrified dinosaur footprints! You don't see that everyday!

After taking in the view, there are many newly added options for continuing your ride and I thoroughly enjoyed the parts I rode, but I just want to touch on one section I experienced. From Klondike you can hop on to the double black diamond trail called Baby Steps. It's named that because you have to take baby steps to survive it, not because it's baby friendly! To warm up you get a seriously technical, short steep climb and then the adventure begins with a super duper, stupendously technical and steep descent. So bad ass is this section that I had to pass a 4x4 Jeep that was hung up and very unsure about how to proceed. The angle of decent put's your butt higher than your head and it has millions of treacherous rocks, both fixed and loose, large and small. And  wouldn't you know it, one of those rocks had my name on it! No skin off of my chinny, chin chin, but I did lose a few layers of skin off of my thumby, thumb thumb! After that horror show the descent mellows to a nice double track and from there you can happily continue once your heart descends back down out of your throat!
Capitol Reef

Surviving that ride was enough for me so I traded two wheels for four and drove down to Capitol Reef National Park ( The whole drive down I was wondering what the deal was with the name? It wasn't the capitol of Utah. (Does Utah even have a Capitol? ;) And there sure as hell aren't any reefs in the desert, so what's up? Well the terrain has features resembling "Capitol Domes" so that's the first part explained. The other half of the name came from the first explorers to this rugged area who had a seafaring background and likened the treacherous land, which was nearly impossible to make your way through, to reefs in the sea which would often trap ships. In fact, this land is so rugged and remote that the nearby Henry Mountains and Escalante River were the last mountain and river to be surveyed in North America!
Fruta School for grades 1-8

On approach to the park I stopped to check out the Fruta school which belonged to the Mormons, housed grades 1-8 and measured about 20 feet by 20 feet! I guess things like crowded classrooms never change! Entering the park I found that  two of main scenic spurs were closed due to flood damage so it didn't take me long to get through the north end of the park. I spent the darker hours of twilight and evening in Dixie National Forest which has a rich green moistness to it which I found a welcome and pleasant contrast  to the predominately arid red desert climate of Utah. It was there that I welcomed the Autumn Solstice. 

The next morning, as if on cue, it really started to look and feel like Fall, at least at that higher altitude. There was a colder breeze blowing through the Aspen trees. This causing them to gently sway and seemingly  trigger the immediate release of their fall colors, bathing the forest in bright orange and yellows. 

Descending back in to "The Gulch" part of Capitol Reef the high canyon walls to each side which blocked the sun gave off alternating feelings of coziness and claustrophobia. The closed in feeling brought to mind an apocalyptic Hollywood type scene of trying to outrace a wall of flood waters as it rushed through the canyon lapping at Mage's bumper and threatening to envelop all in its path.

Road to Capitol Reef
Nearing safety from biblical type flood waters as you exit the canyon, your next obstacle is to carefully traverse the tight switchbacks which lead you into Strike Valley and the Waterpocket Fold which is the main geological feature here. It's also where the off road fun starts with a long romp through the east side of the park where you can view the giant buckle in the Earth's crust. Created 65 million years ago it also spawned the parks colorful cliffs, domes, soaring spires, monoliths, canyons and even an arch or two.

That evening I set up camp in the Studhorse Peaks with great views of Muley Twist Canyon, Strike Valley, the Waterpocket Fold and Henry Mountains off in the distance. There were also bonus views of two rainbows which was nice except that the rain which brought them forth also brought back nightmarish thoughts of rushing flood waters.

Bryce's sole arch
Exiting the park I made a short pit stop at the Anazazi State Museum before picking up a hitchhiking bicyclist and continuing on down to Bryce National Park ( The biker was younger (seems everyone is these days!) but we actually had a lot in common. For one thing he was pedaling around the country which is something I have thought about doing. But besides my wild fantasy of being able to pull that off, he also enjoyed writing , photography and was a musician to boot. The similarities ended there abruptly when I found out that his musical prowess was playing the bagpipes! I didn't see that one coming! I couldn't help asking if he was Scottish, to which he replied, "a little bit". And yes, although traveling lightly by bicycle, he did carry his instrument with him. After lugging my drumset around heaven only knows how many times over the years I always swear that in my next lifetime I'll play the flute or harmonica or something of the like just for convenience's sake!

Bryce is the famous home of the Hoodoos.

Hoodoo [hoo'doo] n. 1. A pinnacle or odd shaped rock left standing by the forces of erosion. 2. v. To cast a spell or cause bad luck. 3. Voodoo

I'm not sure if I was overly anxious to get to the next destination or just trying to avoid getting caught up in a spell, but Bryce National Park turned out to be a quick over-niter. It was one of those places which was undeniably special, picturesque and wonderful to visit, but at the same time didn't require a long stay. I was able to do the tour of the park, see everything and in lieu of camping for more than a night, continue on in search of other things.
Bryce Hoodoos
It's certainly worth the stop, but in the end, I did just that and then carried on......

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Monday, October 21, 2013

Arch Back, Now Arch Forward Sept 15-20

Arches National Park ( is a difficult place to look upon. So vivid are the colors here in southern Utah that as you peer at the extraordinary landscape you might wonder if you are suffering from a kind of reverse color blindness. This is the place where the engineering side of Mother Nature must have realized that the arch is the strongest geometric shape and then went on to experiment with it in all shapes and sizes, more than 2,500 at last count. Then the artistic painter side of Mother Nature dove into her "Red Period". Quite the combination!

Where is Waldo?
Sunglasses are a must in the desert, but I definitely recommend polarized glasses which provide just that extra little "pop" in the colors which is apt to cause you to question if this is still Earth.  But don't forget to come back for the views under the dark night skies which have so far managed to escape most of the light pollution which is so rampant today. Forget about counting stars, you can't count that high, but you may have the opportunity to count shooting stars. You'll also likely see the biggest candy bar in the galaxy, the Milky Way, floating above like a twinkling cloud enveloping the planet. Just watch out for the caramel, it's super sticky. 

Whether night or day the desert skies perfectly frame the plethora of geological features you can visit here such as Hoodoos, Natural Bridges, Spires, or Towers. Not to mention the Arches and Windows which return the favor by nicely framing the sky, particularly at night. 

Double Arch
Big Horn Sheep have been reintroduced to the park and you might have a chance to spot a few. Their adept climbing and descending skills are certainly to be admired and most impressive when seen in action. However, only a blind man could miss the main attractions which are too numerous to list. 

Here is my advice as a starting point, especially if you only have a short time. 

Skip the Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint. Unless you have a telescope you are way too far away to appreciate this most popular arch. If you really want to see it you'll have to hike up to it, which isn't a cakewalk, but it is worth it. All of the rest of the stops I'd recommend and to a high degree the following:

Balanced Rock
1) La Sal Mountains Viewpoint- The mountains are far off, but you'll get a gorgeous 360 degree view of the area including the features of The Organ, The Courthouse, Sheep Rock, Tower of Babel and Three Gossips.  

2) Double Arch, Turret Arch and The Windows- These are right next to each other, an easy stroll from the parking lot and in my mind "not to be missed"! Want to burn a few extra calories? Then take the primitive trail around the back side for some alternative perspectives.

3) Balanced Rock and Garden of Eden- You're headed to Double Arch already and you have to drive right past these so why not park and explore them for a bit. I mean, "How often do you get to visit the Garden of Eden!?"

4) Delicate Arch- This is supposedly the most popular arch in the park and to be honest I'm not sure why. Don't get me wrong, it's awesome, but given the somewhat lengthy hike required and the high quality of other arches I just can't quite figure out why it's the "King of the Prom" so to speak. However, if you're up for the hike, go for it. Maybe even pack a little picnic backpack and enjoy the sunset party there. Just don't forget your headlamp for the walk back.

Delicate Arch
5) Broken Arch- Towards the north end of the park you might see the name of this one and be tempted to skip it, after all it's broken right? Not quite. It used to be a fairly small arch until a few decades ago when it "broke" and doubled in size to become another fairly grandiose arch. Which is also something to bear in mind when your climbing under these things. It doesn't happen often, but a 800 ton boulder crashing down on your head is going to leave you with quite a headache! 

Landscape Arch
6) Devils Garden- This is a large area with many worthy arches to check out, but Landscape Arch, perhaps the world's longest, is an easy hike. Much more challenging is the hike to Double "O" Arch which I felt was worth the extra effort, but it is strenuous. 

If you have more time go ahead and check out the remaining 2484 features of the park. I'm sure you won't be disappointed. However there is more to the area than just Arches National Park. Moab is famous for the novelty of "Slickrock" mountain biking, which technically isn't "mountain biking" since you're not on a mountain, but good luck riding your road bike!!

So, of course, I couldn't not get a ride or two in here. I was originally going to do the popular Sovereign trail (12 mile out&back), but I met a guy in the parking lot who convinced me to try the new "Klonso" trail system which burned my lungs much more than I would have liked. But the short of it is that the trail blazers are hard at work and a lot of new trails are popping up. They are all very well marked so don't be afraid to get out there and ride!

Double "O" Arch
In addition to Arches and the Slickrock riding there is the bastard step son of a park named Canyonlands. It really can't compare to its smart,  handsome, "mommy's little angel"  big brother Archie in terms of spectacular features, but you should feel ashamed if you don't at least fain a little bit of interest in the kid and spend some time with him!

Yes, Archie got the great hair and all the arches, but Cayonlands has fine qualities too if you only care to look. There is the curious Upheaval Dome which has scientists fighting over competing theories as to what caused its creation. There is also the fine Green River Overlook as well as a really grand view at the southern tip of the park aptly named Grand View Point!

However, the one biggest draw that would pull me back in to this park in the future has to be White Rim Road. If and when I get a hardy four wheel drive I'm coming back to tear that thing up. It circumvents the park following along the immensely tall walls at the bottom of the canyon. And it skirts along parts of both the Green and Colorado Rivers. I imagine the views from there must be both ominous and mind blowing!

Cross one thing off of the bucket list. Add another thing on to it!
That's the way it goes sometimes ...........

Canyonlands National Park- Grand View

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