>> May 2013 >>> Southern Utah national parks, part 2
Highway 12, Anasazi State Park, and Boulder Mountain, UT
The next day I headed back up to Highway 12 to cover 120 miles or so of fantastic roads and scenery to get to Capitol Reef National Park. This road's alias is Scenic Byway 12, a very appropriate name once again. This photo is one of the best from the trip, and illustrates the kind of beautiful drive I had this day - click to see a larger version. I've decided to use it for this site's header pic.
I left the hoodoos in Bryce, but kooky formations kept coming along as the scenery changed from reds to browns to grays and back again, nearly always with geology stripes, and skies as big as Montana's. This is easily one of the most spectacular roads anywhere, alternating across deserts and mountains and ranch land with gentle curves, long straightaways, and steep switchbacks, featuring countless panorama views and bizarre close-up details.
Due to situations at home, I had to make this trip shorter than originally planned, and I had to pass by turnoffs to places with picturesque names like Kodachrome Basin, Escalante Petrified Forest, and Hell's Backbone. But I was able to catch many glimpses of Grand Staircase National Monument as I went, named for its series of huge cliffs of different colors indicating layers of different types and ages of rock.
I did stop at Anasazi State Park and Museum in Boulder, which was a wonderful place. It's got thousands of artifacts on display and a lot of info about the way of life for the Anasazi, ancient people who lived in the area long before the Navajo and Hopi. The park also has a life-size reproduction of a pueblo building, and its centerpiece is the Coombs archaeological site, where excavations have uncovered ruins of 97 rooms and 10 pit structures so far. There's a self-guided interpretive trail through the ruins which really was like stepping back in time to the 12th century.
From there Highway 12 climbed up to the 11,000 feet summit of Boulder Mountain where a solid snowpack and leafless aspens turned the sunny spring day into a winter wonderland, and then back down the other side. The views from the top were phenomenal, with open plains and the snow-capped Henry Mountains in the distance. The jutting red diagonal arrowhead formation in the middle of the right-hand photo was my destination for the day, Capitol Reef National Park - click to see a larger version.
Capitol Reef National Park, UT
Capitol Reef was a revelation. Unlike Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Arches, I hadn't heard of it before researching this trip, but it has as much if not more to offer than the others in this unbelievable chain of parks. The long straightaways of Highway 24 leading toward the park passed through still more alien and impossible landscapes, and it was hard to believe I'd just been in a snow-covered forest.
Capitol Reef is a series of buttes, cliffs, and canyons in and around a 100-mile-long bulge in the earth's crust called the Waterpocket Fold. It's a "geologic monocline" (basically a seismic wrinkle on the earth). The formations are among the craziest I'd seen yet, complete with crumbling tops and slides that might have happened last year or thousands of years ago. For perspective, the big toppled boulder in the center pic was the size of a car. Trixie was not impressed by such things, but she enjoyed posing on the sun-warmed shale and blending in with the scenery.
Most of the walls and formations feature stripes of different rock layers, and many of them are on diagonal slants. It gives the whole area a dizzy psychedelic look, and also boggles the mind when you think about the magnitude of the forces that created all this. Again, click for a larger version of the left pic below to get an idea of the scale we're talking about here.
Entering the park proper, I got a spot at Fruita Campground, site of an 1880s Mormon pioneer settlement, with several restored buildings from the time. The campground is incongruously located in a grassy area amid apple, peach, pear, plum, walnut, and almond orchards planted by those early settlers, and campers are allowed to gather fruit when in season. The Fremont River runs alongside the campground, and there's a barn nearby with three friendly horses. All this is surrounded by multi-colored, diagonally striped cliffs - the pic to the left is taken from the campground. It's truly an incredible place.
There was enough daylight left to explore another aptly named Scenic Drive through the park, so off we went "into the fold" where the landscape was different around every bend.
You'd think I'd be getting immune to bizarre and beautiful red rock formations by now but no, Capitol Reef is something else. Virtually every surface is made up of diagonally slanted color bands, and most are topped off with spires or castle-like crenelations. Narrow canyons take off on the sides leading to old uranium mines and outlaw hideouts, and the more dramatic formations have picturesque names like Golden Throne, Pectol's Pyramid, and Fern's Nipple.
The next day I set out early for the last eastward leg of this trip, but stopped just past the Fruita/Scenic Drive turnoff to see the restored one-room schoolhouse and rock wall carvings nearby. These are technically called petroglyphs, but I like to call them prehistoric graffiti. These ones were done by the Fremont Indians hundreds and hundreds of years ago.
I've always been a sucker for this kind of thing: it's like ancient history come alive in a way that even displays of artifacts can't do. In the case of this panel, it's weirdly similar to the family stick figure decals you see on the back of SUVs. I don't know if that was the intention or not (I'd like to think not), but it's curious. Click for a larger version with both detail and scale. This grouping is quite high on the wall, amid some very large boulders, and is barely visible until you locate them with the free telescope set up on the boardwalk viewing platform.
From there I headed northeast on Highway 24 through still more changing landscapes and fabulous diagonal and striped scenery, and a long, beautiful drive to meet up with Interstate 70. Next up: Moab and Arches National Park.
~ anasazi, capitol reef, arches, moab
~ virgin river gorge, zion, bryce canyon
~ pinnacles, peacocks, omelettes, lassen
~ burney falls, death valley, turkeys
~ delta, eucalyptus, redwoods
~ diablo, morgan hill, delta, chabot
~ sundial, shasta, river road, delta, olema
~ columbia, chabot, diablo, preparations
much more to come, hopefully
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