Posted by: Jack | April 3, 2007

Epic Journey: Day 9 – Capitol Reef, Natural Bridges

I woke to an eerie twilight this morning. Although the sky was bright, the narrow canyon maintained the shade of night for some time. This also delayed the coming of warmth from the sun. Feeling well rested I decided it would be a great idea to unicycle the 3 mile (each way) out-and-back trail to the Calf Creek Falls. I had only vague memories of this trail from 4 years earlier when I had hiked it at night but I figured that if I would soon be at the Moab Mountain Unicycling Festival (Moab MUniFest) I had better get some practice.

Although very technical at times, the trail turned out to be within my ability to ride save for the areas of extremely fine and loose sand where a 20″ wheel will never suffice regardless of skill. I would estimate that I was able to ride at least 80% of the 3 miles on the way out. I did grow increasingly concerned that I might be forced to rebuild my pedals before the MUniFest began due to the loads of sand creeping into the unsealed bearings. But I’ve done that a number of times now and am getting fairly proficient.

The 126-foot tall falls at the end of this trail have a way of sneaking up on you–I suppose it would be more correct to say that one can sneak up on the falls without knowing they are there–due to a tight bend in the canyon/trail which hides the roaring crash of water until you are directly upon it. This adds quite a bit of shock value to the final approach as seen in the short video below. Please forgive the extremely unsteady camera work–I was riding a unicycle.

I found a nice log and sat for sometime enjoying the scenery, solitude and a small snack. The misty, ionized wind produced by the falls certainly added to my elation as well. As the sun raised higher, lighting up more of the canyon I decided I better get some good photos of this scene but then I decided a video clip may be more effective. But here is one photo anyway:

I recommend watching the above video in this larger version to help pick up on the subtleties which really enhance the scene.

I probably could have enjoyed hanging out here for most of the day but I had places to go, things to see and a desire to do some more riding. I got back on the trail and found that it was a bit more ride-able in the return direction. I even found myself powering through some sandy uphills despite the tire’s habit of spinning in place. I came across a group of 3 women who were very happy to have finally figured out what sort of cycle had been making the weird, snakelike track and managing to ride up and down rocks. After happily accepting their praise and having the standard discussion of origins, I continued on. Somewhere around there I took my second and last real fall and while picking myself up, realized it was the exact same point where I had fallen on the way out.

I made it back to camp with plenty of morning to spare and sat around soaking up some sun, eating lunch and reading a bit. Around noon I was basically driven out of camp by an unbelievably cold wind that began gusting through the canyon. Continuing North along the scenic highway was great fun. In addition to the endless scenic viewpoints, the road itself provided entertainment.

There were a number of signs along the way alluding to something entitled Hell’s Backbone. When I saw a sign indicating that I had reached whatever this was, I pulled over to investigate. It turns out that Hell’s Backbone is a scenic old gravel road which takes a very indirect route from Escalante to Boulder. Since I was coming from Escalante and heading to Boulder and also had more than enough time, I thought I would give it a go. Just as I was starting out a thought occurred to me and I returned to the sign to look at the map. And it’s a good thing I checked because it turns out that I was already about a mile from Boulder and Hell’s Backbone would have taken me right back to Escalante but via a winding path which may have masked the fact that I was heading southwest. So instead I just proceeded to Boulder where I originally planned to turn southeast, heading through Glen Canyon National Park.

When I reached Boulder I stopped at another Grand Staircase visitor center to fill up on water as it had been unavailable at the Calf Creek Campground and I was running low. I had also hoped to make a call to our energy provider back in Olympia. When I had last talked to Anna she informed me of a notice we had received saying that due to missed payments our power would be turned off two days later unless our bill was settled. I found this very strange seeing that we had been signed up for automatic payments for many months now and any missed payment would imply that either my checking account had insufficient funds (not the case) or their billing system had failed. Anyways, I found that the town of Boulder provided no mobile phone service so I decided to reroute North to Torrey which I thought might be a bigger city. This path would also take me through Capitol Reef National Park rather than Glen Canyon where I had already been years ago.

Torrey turned out to be smaller than Boulder and I received no signs of a signal on my phone. I decided the call could wait until I reached Moab the next day.

The drive into the Capitol Reef area was as dramatic as any I had yet encountered. The panoramic below is a concept compilation inspired by a series of photos taken by Doug on our backpacking trip in Idaho last summer.

When I reached the park’s visitor center my legs were feeling a little worn out from the morning’s ride so I sought out a shorter trail to explore. I decided upon the nearby Cohab Canyon Trail and made my way to its trailhead. The first ¼ mile consisted of steep switchbacks which lead right into the easy remainder of the hike through Cohab Canyon.

Photo Note: I am looking super tan. Nice.

As soon as I entered the canyon I was thinking how much fun it would be if some of the guys from La Crosse were here with me. The whole area was like a giant stone playground. I was held back from trying anything to adventurous by the fact that I hadn’t seen anyone else on the trail and any sort of injury might leave me stranded for quite some time. I still managed to have fun though, attempting speed accents of some moderately inclined walls. The one below was quite fun and I feel my speed was considerable given only a ten-second timer on my camera.

At the visitor center I found that many visitors, myself included, wonder where the name Capitol Reef came from. The park info explains that the “Capitol” is based upon a number of the peaks in the park which are shaped much like a capitol dome. The term “Reef” then dates back to early pioneers who had originally been sailors and therefore referred to any sort of barrier as a reef. I would be more inclined to believe that “Reef” was chosen given the holey (as in having many holes, not divine) texture of the rock walls which I felt resembled a dead coral reef.

As the canyon leveled out a bit I came across the giant spire below which was similar in appearance to the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon, only far larger.

I also found an extremely narrow but lengthy crack in one of the walls and spent a fair time attempting to investigate. It continually narrowed toward the bottom making it impossible to walk through. Instead I found myself utilizing the technique known as body-jamming. The picture below is pretty awful but helps illustrate this situation.

The lizard below was about 6 inches in length but other than birds this was the largest wildlife I saw on my entire trip.

Taking a side trail I soon found myself overlooking the Fruita area of the park. The name is given because of the many orchards that are maintained there. In fact I hope to return in the future during the appropriate season because visitors are welcome to help themselves to as much fruit as they would like for free.

As the sun began to set, I returned to the visitor center where I found that the Natural Bridges National Monument had a campground on site. This monument was my first intended destination for the following day and given the expensive campgrounds at Capitol Reef I decided to head to Natural Bridges early.

This stretch of road took me through some very unique landscape as the highway crossed the northeastern part of Lake Powell. The sun was too low for pictures and I don’t really know how to describe it so I won’t. Just go there sometime.

I arrived at the Natural Bridges campground late in the evening and while registering a campsite I saw this interesting sign:

Now maybe I’m thinking of something else but I thought the Bubonic Plague had been wiped out quite some time ago. More than seven days have passed since then and I sense no signs of illness so I think I made it through okay.

Making camp, I ate some dinner and a great day came to a close.

Continue to Day 10 

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Responses

  1. Thank you for your info.

    Download a FREE Camping with Family Report at:

    http://www.CampingWorldGuide.com

    The most resourceful camping site updated constantly.

  2. […] Journey Through Time Scenic Byway 12 in Utah stretching from Bryce Canyon up to Torrey (Day 9) – If you don’t have time to actually stop at any of the parks next time you are […]

  3. I enjoyed your travelogue- Capitol Reef is a favorite place of mine


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