After narrowly missing getting a campsite in Moab, we opted to take the short way to Capitol Reef. We felt fairly confident that heading to possibly the least visited Utah park on the Thursday afternoon would get us one of the first come first serve campsites in the park. Little did we know that we were traveling on a Thursday that most school districts in the state had off for a four day weekend.
As we approached the park you could see what a geologic wonder it is. Capitol Reef is based around the Waterpocket Fold, a 100 mile long monocline, largest in the US. What looks like a mountain range coming from the east is really the Fold. Contrary to what we experienced in the Moab area, as we drove west on highway 24 was more lush terrain. This is because the highway actually follows the Fremont River into the fold/park. There were green cottonwoods all around and a very different feel than the other parks we had already visited. When we got to the western end of the park, we saw the dreaded "campground full" sign at the visitor's center. I had to press on, in case it was wrong. We talked a bit to one of the campground hosts who informed us of the Utah holiday. She also told us there would be about 11 spots opening the following morning and I could come back at 7:30am to try and get one. And possibly the most important thing she told us was where to find camping as she knew the commercial campgrounds in town were full.
So we made a brief stop in the visitor's center and then headed out to dispersed camping on national forest land just west of the park. This was very primitive camping with no toilets or running water. It was also free, so that was nice. The ground was rough and we had to be careful driving in our sedan. We finally located a patch where we were willing to throw down our tent. But because there was no water, I had to leave Jennifer and Mirabelle at camp while I drove back into the park to secure water for our night's dinner. I came back to discover Mirabelle playing with a large group of kids that were camping nearby. We let her play until dinner and then she sat at their campfire until well after her bed time. The goal was that I would wake up early (which I had been doing) and head into the park to wait for a camp site.
The next morning I woke up and headed right into the park, arriving at the campground just before 7am. I was fourth in line. Around 7:30 the ranger pulled up and the three vehicles ahead of me dispersed. I was now talking to the camp host and he was asking if I wanted sun or shade. I thought beggars couldn't be choosers? So I opted for shade and paid for two nights of camping. I then headed to the Gifford House to wait for cinnamon rolls to bring back for breakfast. I watched turkeys and deer waiting for it to open at eight. Then I rolled in and had to wait fifteen minutes for the baked goods to arrive before I could buy a few cinnamon rolls and a pie and go pick up my family.
After picking up Jennifer and Mirabelle we went back and claimed our campsite and set up our tent. Then we walked over to the Ripple Rock Nature Center for the Snakes Alive show. Mirabelle was pretty excited about it and pushed her way up front. She even got to hold a rosy boa! After the show, we went back to camp and drove out to our hike of the Grand Wash. This was a hike we needed to do this day as flash flood warnings were in effect for the following two days. It can be done as a 2.5 mile point to point, or a 5 mile round trip. The hike started off good, but grew increasing long. Mirabelle usually looses steam in the afternoon and at some point after the narrows, we stopped for lunch. It was looking toward the end we wouldn't even make the other trailhead and Jennifer and I discussed how we would accomplish this hike. That is when the reality of the math struck us. If I hiked back to the car, they would still wait an hour in the parking lot for me. So we figured we would see if someone would shuttle one of us back to the car. When we finished the hike we found a local family who was willing to transport all three of us back in their vehicle and they even had a car seat! This act of kindness really made the hike possible for us. After dinner we stayed up for the evening ranger program at the amphitheater before retiring for the night.
The next day we hiked to Hickman Natural Bridge. This was a fairly short hike that rose out of the parking area and eventually through the wash to the bridge. It was gray and misty, so we weren't too concerned about the short section of wash, but we were prepared to move if it seemed like the rain would pick up. The bridge was fun as you got to walk under it and hike a short loop before returning to the main trail and back to the car.
We then drove to the short hike to view petroglyphs. There were some nice examples, although we could not get as close to them as the one we views back in Moab. It was starting to rain a little harder at this point, so we took the park's scenic drive. This was a good thing to do in the wet, and to give Mirabelle some sitting time after two hikes. However, the road crossed several washes and even was a wash for a short distance before the pavement ends. I was a little spooked by this, so we didn't get out at any of the viewpoints or stay too long on the road. We had reservations at a restaurant in town, so we just headed that way, stopping at a few view points in the park on the way out. One of which was the Goosenecks Overlook which overlooks Sulphur Creek winding through a canyon. It was quite unexpected as some of these deep canyons are not noticeable until you are standing on the rim.
We continued into Torrey to the Cafe Diablo. We probably didn't need reservations for the 5:30pm time we had made, but when we were leaving they had to open the outdoor seating to accommodate people who were arriving without reservations. It was nice to eat inside on the first rainy evening of our trip. While the empanadas appetizer was great, and I enjoyed the pomegranate chipotle ribs, Jennifer wasn't bowled over with her pecan chicken and we felt the restaurant was maybe a bit overhyped. The great thing is that instead of the typical placemat and crayons that restaurants give kids, they let Mirabelle borrow an Etch-a-Sketch. Which made us vow to purchase one for the longer road trip segments as soon as we got back to civilization.
Because of our early meal time we were once again able to attend the Ranger talk at the Amphitheater before turning in for the night.
I awoke early in the damp morning and was planning our travel day in the car when I decided I had enough time for a bit of a hike. So I grabbed the camera and headed up the Cohab Canyon trail which leaves across the street from the campground. The hike up was short and steep and in no time I was at the head of the canyon. I hiked in a bit poking around, but wanted to get back for when Jennifer and Mirabelle woke up so I wouldn't delay our travel day. When I got back to the mouth of the canyon, the sun was shining a bit, and there was a rainbow beyond the campground. After snapping some pics I headed down and we once again had pie at the Gifford House for breakfast. We packed up the tent, and then Mirabelle played with some other kids for an hour or so before we finally got on our way.
We got underway and headed out to Scenic Highway 12. Our goal was somewhere in the Grand Staircase Escalante area but it would be determined by weather. It was raining lightly for the most part and when we climbed through Dixie National Forest, it was really foggy and going was a bit slow. We stopped for lunch at Hell's Backbone Grill, easily the best food we had on the trip. Jennifer had some pumpkin pinon enchiladas and I had posole. The meal was so good we fantasized about returning this way on the way home to eat there again. Then we continued on to the monument.
There was some wild terrain, and some creative highway engineering that went into the scenic highway. At one point the road occupies the top of a ridgecrest called the Hogsback. We drove through the monument before actually reaching the town of Escalante, where we stopped in the monument visitor's center. After talking with the ranger, it was determined that we couldn't do anything in the monument because of the rain. All roads in the monument are unpaved and become streams or sandpits. So we hung out at the visitor's center and checked out the displays which included a dinosaur skull and microscopes for looking at cryptobiotic soil crusts. We decided to continue on to Bryce, which had a similar weather forecast. But being farther west, we hoped it would get out of the rain sooner.
When we arrived at Bryce we checked on the camping situation. There were sites available. I guess not a whole lot of people like to camp when it is raining and in the forties. We contemplated getting a hotel room and drove into town to check prices at Ruby's. (We checked for a room, a cabin and a tee pee.) Then we decided all of that was too much to spend and we should set up the tent. We drove back into the park during a break in the rain and hoped to get our wet tent set up before it started raining again. But by the time we picked out a site it was raining. We made the decision there it was time to get a room, dry off our tent and get some showers. We drove back to the hotel in sheets of rain, streams running down the street and lightning lighting up the sky. We picked the right time to have our hotel night after a run of twelve nights camping.
We immediately took the tent out to dry and then made a choice for food. We opted not to go to the restaurant located inside Ruby's and head down the road a short distance to Cowboy Ranch House. It wasn't worth the trip out in the rain, but it wasn't horrible. Then we went back to the hotel and Jennifer and Mirabelle went swimming in the pool before bed. In the morning it was still raining and we got some laundry done while we ate breakfast at the Cowboy's Buffet and Steak Room located within the hotel. I had a surprisingly delicious breakfast burrito, and I would say the food was a touch better than down the street. After the laundry was done we checked out and headed into the park.
Reminder: Pics are here.