On to Torrey, UT

Torrey, UT

As much as we like Moab (and our huge site at Portal RV), we pulled out on Wednesday and headed west toward Torrey for a visit to Capitol Reef NP.   The first half of the 150 mile drive is unremarkable as we drove north on UT-191 then west on I-70.   After a brief stop in Green River for fuel we continued west to the junction of UT-24.  UT-24 was almost  void of other vehicles as we drove through the flat land with a nice view of the snow-covered Henry Mountains in the distance.

The Henry Mountains in the distance

As we approached the little community of Hanksville the scenery began to get a bit more interesting.

Rte. 24 then winds through the north end of Capitol Reef NP with some spectacular views.

We had a reservation at Thousand Lakes RV Park on the west side of the small community of Torrey.  This is where we stayed during a previous visit this time of year in 2013 and knew the park to be just what we need.

There are great views to the north and south of us at this park.

The view to the north

The view to the south

One of the reasons for our return stop in Torrey was to visit our friends, Annette and Larry.  Annette facilitated many summer technology workshops at Pam’s school and was the person who first introduced us to the concept of living full time in a motorhome.  The two lived in a motorhome for a number of years but have built a home near Torrey and no longer have a motorhome.

On our first day in Torrey we made plans to go to dinner with Annette and Larry late in the afternoon so we chose a short hike that would get us back to the motorhome in time to be ready to meet them.  When we were last here, the trail to Hickam Bridge had been made impassible by a rock fall and was closed to hikers.  Since the trail is only about a mile one way, today was the perfect day to check it out.  The trailhead is right along Rte. 24 just a few miles east of the visitor center.

Hickam Bridge Trailhead

Hiking along the Freemont River

About half way up to the bridge the trail runs next to a couple of small bridges where the water in the wash has eroded a path under the rock.

A tree has to be tough to grow around here

A short distance further up the trail the beautiful Hickam Bridge came into view.

Hickam Bridge (Can you find John just behind the boulders!)

Just before the bridge the trail splits into a loop.  The loop goes right through the bridge then back to the main trail and back down to the trailhead.

About 35 miles south of Torrey is the little community of Boulder (pop. 180).  When we visited this area two years ago, Larry and Annette introduced us to a small restaurant here, Hell’s Backbone Grill.  It would seem that Boulder has one gourmet restaurant per every 180 people, a better ratio than any town in the country!  We were very impressed with our meal during that visit and were pleased when they invited us to join them for dinner there again this time. This time around the food was just as delicious as we remembered.

Annette, Larry, Pam, and John at Hell’s Backbone Grill

The road between Torrey and Boulder (UT-12) goess up to about 9,000 feet on Boulder Mountain.  It has some great views looking east toward Capitol Reef NP and, if you’re lucky, some wildlife.  We had dinner at a relatively early time so that it would still be light on the return trip.  We drove back just at dusk and were rewarded with great views and spotted some deer and elk near the road.

There is much to do and see in the Capitol Reef NP area and we have many adventures planned during our ten day visit.  More on that later . . .

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Chesler Park / Joint Trail Hike – Canyonlands NP

Moab, UT

Our stay in the Moab area is quickly coming to an end.  For our final hike we decided to repeat a trail we did two years ago in Canyonlands NP.  Canyonlands had three districts around two canyons formed by the Green and Colorado Rivers.  For this hike we drove south of Moab to visit the area of the park known as The Needles.  We left Moab before 8:00 AM (mid-day for Paul and Marsha!), as it is quite a long drive to get to this remote area.  From Moab we drove forty miles south on Hwy. 191, then turned west on Hwy. 211 for another thirty-five miles.

Last time we didn’t get such an early start as we had a hike planned of about five miles.  But after speaking with a ranger at the visitor center, we changed plans and decided to hike the eleven miles on the Chesler Park/Joint Trail.  At the half way point during that hike we realized that, at our current pace, we would run out of daylight and still be on the trail.  So the return hike that day was at a fast pace and didn’t allow any time to enjoy the beauty along the trail.

But this year we were prepared and, after a stop at the visitor center to make sure the trail was open (it rained the night before in Moab), we were on the trail by mid-morning with plenty of time to complete the hike.

The scenery along Hwy. 211 before entering the park

 

The Wooden Shoe Arch near the visitor center

The trailhead

We really enjoy this trail as it has a great variety of trail difficulty and scenery.  As soon as you enter the trail it goes up sharply through gaps in the huge rocks.

Once through the first set of rocks things flatten out a bit with great views of needle rock formations in the distance.

Then it’s back into the rocks going through another narrow slot . . .

. . . then down steeply into a wash.

 

After crossing the wash the trail winds steeply up through more rocks before entering another relatively flat area with beautiful views all around us.

Then it’s back up a steep area, again through the rocks, to the highest point in the hike (no photos we were in total concentration mode).  Here things open up into a wide valley called Chesler Park. At this point the trail splits and provides hikers with a number of options.   We turned to the right on to the Chesler Trail, knowing that we would loop around the “park” and return to this spot after about six miles. If you do this hike, we recommend doing the loop in this direction (counterclockwise) as the views around you are beautiful in all directions as you meander through the rocks going generally down in elevation.

A blooming claret cup

This part of the trail is a bit primitive in spots with a bit of scrambling needed, but nothing too difficult for most hikers.

After about a mile through the rocks, we came to a sandy Jeep road that, about another mile, takes you to the trailhead for the Joint Trail.

About a half mile up this trail we reached a very cool, long slot area.  First we climbed up a rough set of steps through a narrow passage in the rocks.

At the top of the steps we entered a wide area where the rocks above us were so close together the area feels like a cave.

At the end of this cave-like area the trail turns to the left and goes through a long, narrow slot with rock walls soaring overhead.

The trail is sandy along the slot except in two locations.  The first requires a short climb up a crude ladder (steps carved in a log).

Then there is a brief scramble up some large rocks.

But for the most part, the walk through the slot is on a smooth, sandy flat surface.

Once out of The Joint the trail goes through a flat, sandy section for about a mile right through Chesler Park.

We completed the loop and returned to the main trail ready to head back down toward the trailhead.  This point is called The Viewpoint, as it is the high point on the trail and provides a great view looking back down toward the trailhead hidden in the rocks in the distance.

The Viewpoint

Heading back down from the Viewpoint.

Going back through one of the slots

As we approached the final descent through the rocks to the trailhead, we were treated to one last vista, with the snow-covered La Sal Mountains in the distance.

After hiking over eleven miles, we returned to the Jeep in the brilliant sunlight of late afternoon, compared to our last time here when we just made it back at sundown.  We celebrated our day with a nice cold stout and dinner at the Moab Brewery!

That’s it for our visit to Moab this year.  We really like the area and are already planning for a future visit.  But now it’s on to Torrey, UT for a visit to Capitol Reef NP.  More on that later . . .

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Devil’s Garden Hike in Arches

Moab, UT

We have been traveling with friends, David and Karen, for about three weeks now and have had a great time exploring in northern Arizona and southeastern Utah.  But they are getting ready to move on without us and head west soon, so we wanted to share one of our favorite hikes in Arches NP with them before they leave.   The Devil’s Garden is a very popular trail with many options for hikers and numerous arches to visit.  David and Karen are adventurous so we decided to do the loop trail, a distance of about seven and half miles depending on how many short side trails you take to visit different arches along the way.

The trailhead for Devil’s Garden is easy to find as it is at the end of the main park road where the road makes a large loop and heads back toward the visitors center.   If hiking on a weekend or holiday, plan to get there early as this trail is very popular and the parking fills up quickly.  We were there on a Thursday so parking was readily available.

An enthusiastic hiker awaits departure

The first mile of this trail is well maintained and easily accessible for any level of hiker.  About a half mile from the start of the trail we took a right on to a side trail to see Tunnel Arch and Pine Tree Arch.

Tunnel Arch really has two arches side by side

Pine Tree Arch (in case you can’t read the sign)

One of the most popular and famous arches in the park is the Landscape Arch.   At a little over 290 feet, it is considered the longest natural stone arch in the world.  A trail that led under the arch was closed in the early 1990s when several large chunks of sandstone fell from the center of the arch, so you can’t get very close.

The Landscape Arch is the end of what is labeled the Primary Trail.  From here we continued up what the park calls a Semi-Primitive Trail, but it is still a good path.  The first part goes up a narrow fin of slick rock.

At the top of the fin you can see Partition Arch to the left.  A good side trail takes you to the back of this arch.

Partition Arch from the main trail

Two cute young hikers pose below the Partition Arch

Just a bit further up the side trail is another arch, Navajo Arch.  David and Karen liked the lone pine next to the arch and posed for their next Christmas Card photo.  If the park finds the tree to be missing in December, they might want to check a certain site in an RV park in Cortez, FL!

The trail to Navajo Arch goes along the side of a rock wall carved by wind and rain, creating cool patterns in the wall.

We rejoined the main trail and continued along another long but level rock fin.

Along this sandstone fin there are many spots where you can stop and enjoy the great views.  We found a spot down out of the wind and enjoyed a great lunch with a view.

After our lunch we continued up the trail until the Double O Arch came into view.  This arch has a large opening on top of a much smaller one.

We climbed through the smaller hole for a photo from the other side.

At this point the trail begins to make a large circle back toward the trailhead.  The park designates this part as a primitive trail.  While the trail is still pretty good, many parts are following cairns with several steep drops as it takes you in between and over some great rock fins.  There is only one side trail in this portion that leads out to Private Arch.

Private Arch

Above Private Arch is a long fin that, if you’re willing to hike up and out to the end, gives a great view of Devils Garden.

Up the fin . . .

. . . and out to the end point

See the angry face in the rock?

Returning to the main trail we continued as the trail went up and over some narrow areas of slick rock.

After winding our way through the rocks and up a sandy hill, we hiked through a flat area back to the primary trail again near the Landscape Arch.

Heading back to the primary trail

Tomorrow David and Karen (oh, and Cody too!) head west for a visit to Capitol Reef NP.  We’ve enjoyed our time with them and look forward to seeing them somewhere out here in the west in the future or back in Cortez, FL.  We will be staying in Moab for another week before we also head to Capitol Reef.

More on that later . . .

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Arches in Arches NP

Moab, UT

Earlier this week, while David and Karen were on a ranger-led hike through the Fiery Furnace (we did that hike during our last visit), we decided to check out a few arches we had not yet visited.  We drove in to Arches NP and parked at the trailhead for the Sand Dune Arch.

This arch is very popular as it is a very short “hike” from the parking area and the trail leads through an interesting short slot area.

The Sand Dune Arch is not very large compared to many others in the park, but it is beautiful with the sun shining on the colorful rocks surrounding it.

From the Sand Dune Arch,  a half mile hike across a flat plain takes you to the next arch, The Broken Arch.

The trail leads right through this arch, so you get to see it from two distinctly different perspectives.

We continued on the trail knowing that it makes a loop going through the park campground.  In the distance we could see another arch that was not named our the park map from two years ago but is now.  It looked to be miles away from where we were, but turned out to only be about a half mile away.

A short trail led about 300 yards to what turned out to be the Tapestry Arch.

We returned to the main trail and looped through the campground into a short but interesting area through a couple of cool slots.

Last week we stopped in the Arches NP visitor center and asked a ranger if there were any interesting things to see that were away from the usual sites filled with people.  One of his suggestions was a visit to the Eye of the Whale Arch, accessible only by a four wheel drive vehicle or by a two mile hike up a rough dirt road.  The road is too rough for most visitors and not rough enough for the hard core “Jeepers” who frequent the area so not many people visit this arch.

To get to the arch we turned on to a dirt road right across from the parking area for the Balanced Rock.  This is a well-maintained dirt road for the first few miles that will eventually exit the park and take you to the main highway (191) that goes through Moab.  About a mile up that road we turned right on to another dirt road, one that is not maintained and is marked for four-wheel drive vehicles only.

We agree with the necessity of a four-wheel drive high clearance vehicle, as this road is a bit rough.  After about two miles we came to a small parking area with the Eye of a Whale Arch in the distance.  The ranger was correct about the infrequency of visitors to this arch as we had the entire place to ourselves.

A short easy trail leads right up to the base of the arch.  The ranger had told us that the arch does not look like an eye from this side, so we decided to hike through it to get the better vantage point.

The climb up into the arch was pretty easy, but the climb down the other side required a bit of crab walking down the slick rock.

The ranger was definitely correct, as from the other side the arch does have a resemblance to an eye (complete with an eyebrow), although we couldn’t see the resemblance to a whale.

After exploring the rocks around the arch we returned to the Jeep and headed back down the road.  Pictures never adequately show the twists and turns of the terrain, but the three pictures below may give an idea as to what we drove through.

Winding through the sand

Climbing sharply up . . .

. . . then sharply back down

 

Returning back to the maintained dirt road, we turned right and headed west toward where the road exits the national park property.  Along the way we could see the Eye of the Whale Arch to our north.  From this distance we could see a slight resemblance to a whale.

Signs for this road state that four-wheel high clearance is “recommended.”  We would change that to “needed” as it was quite rough in a number of spots.  Four miles to the west we passed a sign indicating the boundary of the national park.  There is no entrance station here so if you are willing to drive eight miles over some rough terrain you can avoid the entrance fee for Arches!

We were on this road because the ranger had told us about a display of dinosaur tracks by the road on public land just outside the park boundary.

Three toed tracks made by human sized dinosaurs millions of years ago were clearly visible in the rock.

The dinosaur track is on the right

 

The road continues for about four miles beyond the dinosaur foot prints before reaching Hwy. 191.  The land is managed by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) and is traversed by numerous mountain bike trails.

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Long Canyon Road to Dead Horse Point

Moab, UT

There are two dirt roads just west of Moab that take you up the side of a steep wall of rock to the top of a high mesa.  Last week we posted a blog about our ride up to Island in the Sky in Canyonlands NP by way of the Shafer Trail Road.  Recently we picked up David, Karen, and Cody and drove the second of these two roads, Long Canyon Road, which takes you up to the top of the mesa just outside Dead Horse Point State Park.

To get to Long Canyon Road we drove out Potash Road, the same road we did to get to Shafer Trail Road.  The road itself is not marked but it begins in the parking area clearly marked for viewing Jug Handle Arch.

Jug Handle Arch

As you leave the dirt parking lot you are immediately in Long Canyon, with soaring rock walls on both sides of the road.

We picked up a new driver for this trip

After a few miles the road begins to climb and go around some sharp switchbacks.

We stopped often to enjoy the view of the canyon below with the snow covered La Sal Mountains behind us.

As we rounded a curve a sharp pillar of rock rose up in front of us.  There were three cars parked along the side of the road near it so we stopped to see why.

A closer view of the rock wall of the pillar revealed the reason for the parked vehicles.

About a half mile beyond the rock climber, we came upon one of the neat features of Long Canyon Road, a pass under a huge boulder.  Now we know this boulder is going to fall down some day, but it didn’t appear that today was the day, so we felt pretty safe driving under it.

The road under the boulder was a bit rough.

But it is no problem for a high clearance vehicle.

Right after the boulder the road goes up a steep, narrow canyon then turns sharply around a switchback . . .

. . . and continues to climb up the canyon wall.

At the top of the steep grade pictured above is the top of the mesa.  A small, primitive camping area is located there.  This area is pretty remote and the “only” amenity is the spectacular view along the rim of the mesa.

At the top of the mesa the road continues along flat terrain for another mile where it meets Utah Rte. 313, a paved road leading in to Dead Horse Point State Park.  We entered the park and drove out to the point to enjoy the great views below. We could see most of the Shafer Trail below us as it headed to the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands NP.

Shafer Trail below us

The Colorado River winds through the canyons

The Shafer Trail heads into the canyon

A view of beauty (points for John on this one!)

Hey, dogs love a great view, too!

David and Karen enjoy the view

In the distance we could see the evaporation ponds for the potash plant.  We passed right next to them last week when we drove the Shafer Trail Road.

We enjoyed Long Canyon Road so much we decided to take it back down the mesa on the return trip and enjoy the great views again.  Our decision was a good one as that great view behind us on the trip up was now constantly right in front of us on the trip down.

The La Sal Mountains

Check your brakes!

Down through a beautiful slot

This is Long Canyon

Both Shafer Trail and Long Canyon are “must do” trips in the Moab area in our opinion.  Both roads are well-maintained and only require a bit of high clearance in a couple of spots.  Allow at least a half day for each as it is slow going, but that’s OK as you need to enjoy the scenery anyway!

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La Sal Mtn. Loop – Fisher Towers Hike

Moab, UT

There has been  a bit of rain in eastern Utah lately, making hiking or traveling Jeep roads impossible on some days.  So one day we picked up David, Karen, and Cody for a ride into the nearby La Sal Mountains on the scenic paved La Sal Loop Road.

The mountains were covered with a thick layer of clouds and as we gained elevation it began to snow!

A snowy windshield

A local sentinel keeps an eye on us as we pass by

Cody seemed to love the snow

When the skies finally cleared, we headed about fifteen miles north of Moab to hike around the base of an area known as Fisher Towers.

A cloud lingers over Fisher Towers

The hike is a bit over five miles round trip and takes you slowly up and around the base of the towers.

David, Cody, and Karen hit the trail

One of the most famous spots in Fisher Towers is a rock peak called Ancient Arts.  It is a favorite spot for rock climbers and was made famous in a 2012 credit card commercial out a few years ago where a girl climbs up and stands at the top while circled by a helicopter.  Check it out here.

We stopped to rest under Ancient Arts, hoping to see climbers on top.  But we were a bit disappointed that the peak appeared to be deserted.  As we rested John went on up the trail.  We didn’t think anything of it until a few minutes later when one of the group took a zoom picture of the top of the peak.  Wow, how did he do it?

Once John returned to the group we continued up the trail.  At one point a ladder helps you get down the rocks to cross a wash.  Ladders are a bit difficult for some hikers, especially the four-legged kind, so Cody needed a bit of assistance.

But the rest of the group were able to get down the ladder without any help.

On a large boulder we discovered that we were at the end of the trail.  We knew that because of the succinct  message on the sign.

The views from the top were beautiful.

Five sets of feet for “Lunch With a View”

 

On the way back down the trail there was a great opportunity to recreate the famous scene from The Lion King.

One of the participants appears to be a bit more enthusiastic than the other!

The sheer cliffs of the towers provided great scenes as we hiked back down the trail.

At one point the trail goes right along the base of those towers.

Just after re-crossing the wash with the ladder, we passed two girls hiking up the trail with a pretty big dog.  We informed them about the ladder in front of them and were able to watch them go down it from our location down the trail.  After a few attempts to go around the ladder, they finally were able to get the big pooch down.

While we watched that action, Cody took the opportunity to enjoy a brief rest in the shade.

Cody hiked the entire five miles with no problem but he looked a bit exhausted on the car ride back to town.  So it looks like a Jeep trip might be our next adventure to give the little hiker a rest.

More on that later . . .

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Shafer Road Jeep Ride

Moab, UT

The area around Moab is a mecca for Jeep enthusiasts.  You can find a trail nearby that will fit any level of vehicle and driver.  Some of them even have names that reflect their difficulty, like Metal Masher Road or Hell’s Revenge.  Our Jeep is “trail rated” but we have not added any of the enhancements enabling us to drive those real challenging tracks, and we have neither the driving ability nor the desire to do them anyway.  We bought this vehicle so we can get back to remote areas and it does a great job at it.

One of the rides we really enjoy in this area is the Shafer Trail Road (also called the Shafer Canyon Road), an eighteen mile dirt road that takes you across a mesa directly under Dead Horse Point State Park and above the Colorado River.  The road enters Canyonlands National Park not far from the White Rim Road and ascends the canyon rim in a series of long, stunning switchbacks. These switchbacks provide scenic views of the Colorado River basin and the La Sal Mountains.

To reach the road from Moab, go north on U.S. 191 to its junction with Utah Highway 279. Turn left on Highway 279 and go all the way to its end at the potash plant. The route turns to dirt road and starts climbing up terraces along the Colorado River.

Entering the dirt section of Potash Road

 

The road soon passes the evaporation ponds of the potash plant.

The scene behind us as we viewed the evaporation ponds

We stopped at a terrace with great views of the Colorado River.

In the distance we could see Potash Road as it meandered into the canyon toward the intersection with Shafer Trail Road.

At the “T” where Potash Road meets Shafer Road and White Rim Road we turned left on to White Rim Road for a four mile drive to an arch.  The road was a bit narrow and right on the edge of a cliff.

Soon we came to the Musselman Arch.

John, Cody, and David walk across the Musselman Arch

 

We then drove the four miles back to the intersection and continued up Shafer Trail for five miles.  This is where things get interesting as the road goes up the canyon wall in a series of switchbacks.  At the top we spotted a young hiker sitting along the canyon rim overlooking the road below her.

Once up on the mesa the Shafer Road intersect with paved road in Canyonlands National Park.  We turned left onto the paved road and stopped at an overlook just past the Island in the Sky Visitor Center.  The overlook allows you to look back down the canyon at the Shafer Trail Road as it comes up the canyon wall.

The switchbacks of Shafer Trail Road

The view of the Shafer Trail Road as it approaches the switchbacks

Continuing into Canyonlands NP, we stopped to check out the view from Mesa Arch.

Mesa Arch with the La Sal Mountains in the distance

Looking through the Mesa Arch

David and Karen at the Mesa Arch

We continued to Grand View Point where the road terminates.  A paved path goes along the rim with great views to the east.

The Colorado River is down there somewhere

 

We had planned to come back down Long Canyon Road but the hour was late and the winds were steadily increasing as predicted.  So we took the paved road back to US 191 and returned to Moab, leaving the Long Canyon Road for another day.

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