PHOTO GALLERY INDEX > Rock Show
Bryce Canyon National Park & Capitol Reef National Park, UT 11/10-14/08 (Day 759-762)
A fresh dusting of snow makes the hoodoo formations of Bryce Canyon National Park even more gorgeous and other-worldly than usual. However, at 9,100 feet it’s so cold in the park that we stay just one night before moving on toward Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument and, we hope, milder temperatures.
It is, indeed, warmer by the time we reach the town of Escalante and drop our Airstream at an uninspired local trailer park before heading out to drive the Burr Trail, a 68 mile backcountry route through Grand Escalante National Monument and on to Capitol Reef National Park.
We’ve been warned that the road is not recommended for trailers, so we're confused when we hit the Burr Trail and realize it’s almost entirely paved. Save for a few final miles of switchbacks and dirt road which would, admittedly, be an Airstream challenge, the entire Burr Trail is in better shape than much of the road we’ve been on lately.
Save for a group of cowboys on horseback and one truck coming from the other direction, we have the Burr Trail to ourselves and as the gorgeous scenery unfolds—including towering walls of bright red Navajo sandstone that out-wow all the dramatic rocks we’ve seen so far—we’re sorry we didn’t bring the Airstream with us.
Even a wide spot in this road would make a vastly preferable camping spot than the dusty pull through we just left her in and since its BLM land we could have parked it almost anywhere.
The next morning we head to Capitol Reef National Park via Utah's scenic Highway 12, but despite the gorgeous scenery we seem to be a bigger attraction for a European tourist who takes a picture of our Safari SE as we’re pulled over in a turnout making a quick picnic.
Capitol Reef National Park, whose main feature is an enormous spine of sandstone that acts like a barrier, or reef, is home to the remnants of cabins, schools and farms left behind by the area’s first white settlers who managed to find a way into the region. Weirdly, park visitors are allowed to pick the fruit that the settler’s old orchards still produce each season.
There’s no fruit around right now so we focus on the park’s scenic drive along a mostly paved road past pockmarked sandstone formations and side canyons and run offs. The road saves the really dramatic scenery for the last unpaved miles and then dead-ends at Capitol Gorge, a pass through the imposing sandstone walls that Native American tribes and early settlers both used like a road.
The walls of Capitol Gorge still hold onto Indian petroglyphs and inscriptions from settlers who passed through in 1911. The gorge is also home to some more recent arrivals: strange birds called Chukars that look like enormous quail but without the floppy head piece and with a hooked magenta beak and magenta colored legs.
We know all of that because the things are nearly tame. As we walk through the gorge a flock of a half dozen Chukars walks right up to us, like dogs, and when we sit down on the ground they happily peck and scratch all around us. We're charmed until a ranger tells us that the Chukars are an invasive species that’s slowly but surely pushing the native quail out.
We’ve grown used to the rock shows that go on in this part of the country, but as we drive out of Capitol Reef National Park we're newly-amazed at how the terrain changes like neighborhoods in a city—now red Navajo sandstone walls, now beige flat stretches, now pure white pitted pillars, now grey sandy humps.
Sometimes the changes sneak up on us in gradual stages as we drive. Sometimes the change is incredibly sudden, like someone flipped a geological switch and the backdrop around us flipped to something totally different.
And, so, just a few miles south of the spiny, spiky neighborhood of Capitol Reef National Park the landscape suddenly looks like a lumpy moon—something that’s not lost on the locals who call their neighborhood Luna Mesa.
That night we get a bit of a boondock fix as we pull into the Hite Overlook where we’d intended to just enjoy the sunset over the junction of the Colorado and Dirty Devil Rivers as they join Lake Powell far below us. It’s so lovely and secluded, however, that we decide we’ve found our own neighborhood for the night.
** This isn't a normal photo gallery with a slideshow because this post originally appeared on our Airstream blog. **