Saturday, November 7, 2015

Utah National Parks 10.06-27.15 Part I

Seattle to Moab

We took some time off to visit the Utah National Parks; Arches, Bryce, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Zion. We had rough plans to spend a certain amount of time in each park with select itineraries for each. The plan was to head from north to south and return from the southern end of the state.

As road trips with a preschooler go, we left late on the sixth. Our intended destination was somewhere in Idaho, hopefully as far as Boise. During longer summer days, and pre-kid we could have easily made Salt Lake by the end of the day. The drive out was uneventful and we even got to stop at a taco truck we had wanted to try in Yakima. We were benighted before Idaho but pressed on to Martin Landing a nice (and free) campground at the confluence of the Boise and Snake rivers. We slept and headed out the next morning hoping to make it to Moab. Along the way we stopped at the Buffalo Cafe in Twin Falls for lunch (of breakfast items.) We continued on and stopped for dinner at the Red Rock Brew Pub in Downtown Salt Lake City. After our nice al fresco dining experience, we were benighted again on our way to a camp site at Lake Utah State Park. The $30 a night camping was the highest we paid the whole trip, and was as least offset by the previous night's free camping. On the way out of town, we stopped for kolaches at Hruska's in Provo. Although we had to make an extra stop for coffee as they don't serve coffee until the first snow.

We took a nice scenic ride down to Moab and were poised to arrive in the mid afternoon. We opted to skip some hikes we planned earlier in the day to make sure we could secure a campsite. This proved fruitful as when we entered the visitor's center in Moab, we were told there was little camping left but we found a great site on BLM land up Sand Flats Road, just walking distance from the Slickrock trail head. We set up camp for what would be the next seven days. Since we had a free but short afternoon, we went into town so I could secure a rental bike at Poison Spider. Lucky to be an XL frame size, I was able to get a Kona Process 134 for my next days adventure. We went back to camp and had dinner and explored the slickrock around our camp before retiring for the evening.

The next morning was a little lazy and we got down to the bike shop before 10am to pick up my ride. I had to wait a bit before I could catch a lift to the trail head and start my ride. The woman who drove the shuttle said her favorite trail was porcupine and I considered telling her to drive me there, but I stuck with the original plan. The funny thing about the slickrock trail. The practice loop is not easier than the full loop, only less committing. I knew that, but really struggled with the practice loop. Mostly on the climbs. Part of this was the saddle on the bike being set too low. Another part of it was I had a difficult time gauging the steepness of the climbs and usually found myself in too low of a gear. The riding was fun, and I stopped at a canyon overlook before finishing the practice loop. I raised the saddle at the end of the practice (but still not enough) and wondered if it was a good idea to continue on.

With the saddle raised a bit the climbing was a little easier but I still wasn't finding my groove. Many climbs had awkward starts (from sand pits) or even more awkward 90° turns at the start. And I was still finding myself in too low a gear. Then around three miles in I adjusted the saddle upward again. Around this same time I finally attempted to use the larger front chain ring and climbing got easier. The benefit of "discovering" the outer chain ring was now I descending faster as well. I was really enjoying myself, and spent little time walking the bike except for a few sand pits. Later in the ride, I was getting tired as I did not pack enough food and it was getting hotter. The climbing got difficult again, and some climbs I didn't even bother trying as I knew I would expend 10 times the energy of walking the bike and not really go faster. Of course, my descent speeds increased and at the final descent before reconnecting with the practice loop I was able to hold off a couple of motor bikes. Me on a dual suspension bike is point and hold on. Lots of fun.

The slickrock was like nothing I had ridden before. Other than the occasional sand pits all the riding was on rock, and usually smooth. There was little shade, but I did stop to rest a few times under junipers or behind rock outcrops. It was also fun to watch the rock crawlers do their thing on the Hell's Revenge trail as well as a few guys on trials motos doing what ever they could. The uphills were technical in the sense you needed some skills with body position to get up them, but overall the riding is not very technical. I had a some fun riding down the road back into town to meet Jennifer and Mirabelle at the bike shop.

We ate at Milts for lunch (perfect way to end the slickrock.) Then we headed to the civic center to swim in the pool for an hour before buying some groceries and heading back to camp.

The next day we headed to Arches. The road makes quite the entrance into the park. We went on a short ranger led hike and saw Balanced Rock before having a picnic lunch. Then we went over to Park Ave for an "art crawl" at Mirabelle's insistence. This involved hanging out with a Moab artist who gave us colored pencils and paper to draw what we saw. We sat in the shade for an hour or so drawing before we finally started our hike down Park Ave. This was a nice hike through a wash, but late in the day Mirabelle could not make the return trip. I had to hike back and do the car shuttle by picking them up at the courthouse towers parking lot.  That concluded our first day at the park.

The following day we headed up the road to check out dinosaur prints. This involved a longish drive up the highway to a dirt road leading to a small parking area. There happened to be a stage mountain bike race going on, so the small parking area was a bit more full as there was a water station set up there. We took the 500 foot hike to see some cool tracks left in a river bed millions of years ago. We left that location (Copper Ridge) and headed to another location Mill Canyon where the tracks were only recently unearthed or discovered. There was a boardwalk and at least a half dozen different dinosaur tracks including some crocodile tracks as well. A short and quite sandy drive further up the road revealed fossilized dinosaur bones in the rock near a wash. It also happened to be a great place to view pack rat middens. after carefully driving out of the sand we headed back to camp. After that we managed a hike to double arch in Arches. Although perhaps a little ambitious for late day with a preschooler.

The day after that we spent making the long (for a preschooler) hike to Delicate Arch. While it is a fun hike, it is not so much when you are in a conga line with all the other tourists. The trail starts at an old homestead and crosses a stream (with frogs!) before going up slickrock slabs for a quarter mile then winding around a while until taking a blasted into the cliff route to the arch. Mirabelle was perhaps feeling tired on this hike and we were doing it close to midday so it was real slow going on the way up. She was pretty chipper on the way down. This arch is the one on the Utah license plates. It is nice, and you can walk under it. But there was so many people there all I wanted to do was turn back to the car. After the hike we drove Potash Road to look at petroglyphs.

We decided to change things up a bit and head to Canyonlands. Partially to start Mirabelle on her second Junior Ranger badge of the trip, but also to avoid crowds at Arches. (Entry times into Arches for us were about 30 minutes. We were never more than the third car at Canyonlands.) Our first stop was Mesa Arch and the short hike to it. This was a fun arch you could get up close to and looking through it gave you a good view of the canyon as well. Interesting thing about this hike is that it is a loop, but when we were there over 90% of the tourists took the same (southern) trail back instead of the northern leg. We had it all to ourselves on our hike back.

We then headed out to do a hike at Whale Rock. Before we did, we had a picnic lunch at the Upheaval Dome picnic area. Then drove to and started out on our hike up Whale Rock. This was a fun hike with scrambling involved that kept Mirabelle engaged. The views from up top were nice, and it was also not a very populated trail. After finishing that hike we did a little poking around at the Shafer Canyon overlook before returning to camp.

We were back in Arches the following day and did a morning hike on the windows loop. While the main trail in was mobbed, the return "primitive" trail was more quiet and much fewer people which made it a nicer hike. We had a picnic lunch at the shady Devils Garden picnic area, and then proceeded to hike to Landscape Arch. Landscape Arch is possibly the longest known natural arch in the world. But what makes it dramatic is the how thin it is for the length of span. Much more deserving of the name "delicate." On the way in we saw a few other arches and then made our hike out. Right near the start of the trail is a sand slope that Mirabelle and other kids played on before we returned to the car and went back to camp.

The following day it was time to say goodbye to Moab. We had planned to do one hike in Canyonlands before leaving for Capitol Reef because entry into Canyonlands was quicker in previous days. So we packed up camp and headed for Canyonlands and our last hike in the Moab area. For the hike we opted for the Grand View Trail which is at the southern end of the mesa that makes up the Island in the Sky District. We started with a ranger talk and then headed out on the trail. This trail runs along the cliffs for most of its duration. At some point you can see the Green River, but the Colorado remains elusive. The views are expansive and really made me want to explore the other districts in the park as well as the White Rim Trail. In a funny sort of thing, when we got to the southern tip of the mesa and had snacks, I heard a woman calling "Gilbert." I asked if that was in fact what she was calling and she said yes. But not only was her husband named Gilbert, so was another guy that was on the trail. After some joking around, we headed back to the car and the drive to Captiol Reef.

Photos can be seen here

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