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Post #64: Autumn in Utah

September 30 – October 1, 2020

We weren’t nearly as cold as the night before—only 49 degrees this time—and we slept until the sun began to peak over the sandstone mountains, a slight coolant smell hovering inside. Today we’d head to our last national park in Utah—Capitol Reef.

Unusual art graced both the inside and outside of the store

Leaving our canyon rim campsite, we headed to the first town along the road—Boulder, UT. It was a cute little town and, like Escalante, had just one open shop that sold pretty much everything. Burr Trail Outpost housed local artists’ jewelry, paintings, pottery, woodworks, and silk scarves along with books, touristy stuff, outdoor wear, and, thankfully, takeout espresso and breakfast.

From Boulder, we continued driving along the amazing Scenic Byway 12 through even more high desert mountains. We’d read about the road and the difficulties in making it as it wound around the white and red sandstone hills. At one point, we were on a ridge with views of the multi-colored cliffs and canyons on both sides as the road straddled them. 

Eventually, we left sandstone hills and climbed into the Fishlake National Forest passing aspen groves that were changing color. At one of the overlooks a couple of women were joyfully singing to greet the beautiful day.

While not as riotous as eastern fall colors, the stunning golden leaves quaked as the wind kissed them and they were set off by towering green firs. Each stand of aspen is one living thing, all the trees having identical DNA and all turning color together. Some stands were still green, others golden, still others having lost their leaves. 

We were soon over 10,000 feet again until we descended into the Capital Reef National Park a couple of hours later. 

Just inside the entrance to Capitol Reef National Park
There was a historic Mormon homestead at the base of the sandstone cliffs

By now, we were somewhat worn out by constant sandstone everything and decided on a modest four-mile hike with 650 feet of elevation gain. Yesterday’s long slog through powdery soft sand made the thought of yet more sand less than palatable, but the trail passed through lots of sandy washes and we knew we’d have another bucketful of sand to empty from our hiking shoes after the hike. Few hikers were out even though it was only 75 degrees and the ones we saw seemed to be either just out of college or retired. Kids apparently were back home Zooming in to class.

The trail up was steep with clever steps made from stone
We followed the trail as it wrpped around an enormous cliff
The sun rose late over the enormous sandstone formations on the other side of the cliff
We had the pretty trail nearly all to ourselves

We climbed hard to get into a back canyon and were rewarded by giant broken chunks of sandstone that appeared to have fallen off the cliffs fairly recently. And we found entire walls of sandstone that resembled Swiss cheese. 

As we continued to climb, a limestone dome came into view
Checking out the "cheesy" walls

Odder still were hundreds of black spherically-shaped rocks dotting the brown and red landscape. Had the rocks been thrown by a volcano or had they been uncovered by erosion? With the visitor center closed due to Covid and no cell service to ask Dr. Google, we’d have to wait until we got home to find out.

The 360 degree views from the top were impressive. Once there, we didn’t linger long. We decided that we’d reached that point in the journey when we knew we were done. So we made our way down the trail and back to the truck and started on the 14-hour drive home. 

The loneliest road is also one of the most beautiful

Eventually, we reached Hwy 50 in Utah, which carried us into Nevada where it’s called the loneliest road in the U.S. And it was—rarely did we see more than a couple of cars per hour as we flew westward at 75 mph. 

After about 6 hours of driving and a fill-up at Ely Nevada, it was time to stop for the night. We found a dirt road that lead to a reservoir. It turned out to be almost empty of water this late in the season. A small BLM campground overlooking the “water” was full so we went up another smaller dirt road a half mile from the campsite and pulled off the road to eat a sandwich as the full moon was rising over the hills. 

The next day would bring us home, though some routes were closed due to fires. We hoped the air would be improved.

The full moon that came up over the hills was so bright that it looked more like the sun

When we crawled into bed it was 65 degrees. Sometime during the early morning, we woke up shivering and I had to turn on the truck and run the heater for a while. We’d forgotten our extra blanket and had only a single comforter, which wasn’t cutting it. Warm again, I shut off the truck and went back to sleep. Until we woke up as the sun was just beginning to rise over the hills. I turned on the truck again and noted the outside temperature was just 22 degrees. Who knew it got this cold here? No wonder we were freezing. Note to selves: Bring the blanket next time! 

It was way too cold and too early to make breakfast so we left our flat spot near the (empty) reservoir just as it was getting light. An hour or so later, we found the only open restaurant in Eureka, NV. Breakfast and coffee paled in comparison to luxurious hot running water in the bathroom. 

As we approached Reno, NV we saw the smoky air on the horizon. Soon we'd be trading blue skies for gray ones and fresh air for recycled air

We had a chance to check the air quality back home and even though the smoke was still cycling between good and bad, we were eager to get back. We needed to clean up the Coolant Disaster, the dusty truck and ourselves, and I wanted to fix various things on the truck after the “Worst Road in the World.”

We drove the eight hours remaining to get back home, cruise control eating up the miles on the Loneliest Road in the US, which was not quite as lonely now with many more people escaping the California wildfires and smoke and lots of newbies camping for the first time thanks to Covid.

Once home, we emptied the truck, loaded the washer, showered and cleaned the bits of ash that seeped in under the house’s doors during the last wind event. Regardless of the smoke, ash, tiredness or lack of food at home, we were glad to be back.

Looking back at the trip, we realized there were quite a few calamities or potential ones—almost running out of gas while taking dirt roads near Moab, almost running out of water during our hike at Natural Bridges, dealing with a fire evacuation back home, taking the wrong trail back from the slot canyons, not tightening the coolant container and forgetting to bring the extra blanket. There were certainly some lessons learned and we’d hopefully avoid similar issues in the future. But undoubtedly there’d be other challenges and mistakes during our travels and what matters is how we respond. As we often like to say, adventure is inconvenience rightly considered.

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