Thursday, October 20, 2016

North Rim and Southern Utah- Part 3

Kathy and I had the free breakfast at the hotel and said our goodbyes. I was a bit sad she was not coming with me. It is more fun traveling together. She had a tournament to play and was looking forward to it. She really enjoys playing competitive volleyball. As it turned out, her team took the silver medal in the gold division, going 3 games in the final before losing the tie-breaker. Not bad.

Kathy's Huntsman team. Kathy is 3rd from right in the back row.

(Note: I took many photos and have posted some of them here. You can click the photos to see a larger version. If you would like to see more photos, they are available here:

I headed out on I-15 to I-70 after stopping at a Starbucks for some good coffee. The hotel stuff just didn't measure up. My plan was to drive to Canyonlands and find a boondock site for the night. The drive across Utah on I-15 and I-70 is very scenic. I enjoyed it quite a bit although I did not stop to take any photos.

I arrived at Canyonlands in the afternoon and stopped at the visitor center for advice about camping. All the campgrounds were full- continuing the trend of the trip. However, BLM lands just outside the park boundary were free game for boondocking. I decided to do some sightseeing first and then head out to find a campsite. I drove to the end of the road and enjoyed the overlook. There is a white rim of sandstone around the canyon, called- interestingly enough- the White Rim. There is a jeep trail that follows this edge which is a popular overnight drive with remote camping. The trail was apparent and I resolved to come back to drive that someday. I toured a couple of other overlooks on my way out with similar distant views.

Canyonlands overlook. The White Rim is apparent.

Another Canyonlands view

It was getting late in the day and I needed to find a campsite. I left the park and took the first dirt road to the left after crossing the park boundary. I followed it for a bit, took a left fork and ended up at a very nice campsite with a view across the mesa to some canyons and a recognizable eroded rock called Cleopatra's Chair.

View from camp with Cleopatra's Chair in the distance.

A nice, protected  boondock site

Another view from camp

Morning panorama

I enjoyed the evening, cooked dinner and sat in my chair for a while admiring the sunset. I had a good night's sleep and woke early to get back on the road. I had decided to make Rocky Mountain National Park my next destination. I planned to drive up the west side, boondock before I got to the park and then drive across the Trail Ridge Road and exit on the east side. I stopped for lunch at a rest stop in Glenwood Canyon, a beautiful stretch of I-70 along the Colorado River. The weather was warm and sunny and I had a nice restful stop.

Glenwood Canyon (photo from earlier in our trip)

I exited the freeway at Dillon and stopped at the USFS office for advice on dispersed camping near Rocky Mountain National Park. The ranger on duty informed me that the Trail Ridge Road had been closed that day due to snow and possibly would stay closed for the season. I needed to change my plan and head to the west side. I got back on the freeway and drove to Idaho Springs to catch the road to Estes Park. Again it was late in the day and I needed a campsite. I decided to head for Golden Gate Canyon State Park which was on the way. Kathy and I had camped there on an earlier trip and found it to be a nice park. I arrived after the visitor's center had closed for the day. I self-registered and drove to the campground which was about 12 miles up a winding mountain road. I arrived and picked out a site. The campground was mostly empty but a few hardy folks were camped there. The site was nice and level and I quickly set up and made dinner as it was getting dark. The park has hot showers and laundry facilities. I took advantage of the shower.

Campsite at Golden Gate Canyon State Park

I drove to Rocky Mountain National Park, arriving in the morning. Again stopping at the visitor's center for advice. I was informed that the Morraine Park campground had space available so I drove there and claimed a space for the night. Then I went on a driving tour of the park. I decided to do a hike to Bear Lake and Alberta Falls, which sounded like scenic places. I drove to the trailhead for Bear Lake but never got there. True to form, there were so many cars trying to get into the trailhead parking lot that was already full, that the road backed up nearly a quarter mile. I turned around and drove back to another trailhead where the parking was also full but the traffic was not so bad. I waited a bit, a parking spot eventually opened up and I grabbed it. I loaded lunch in my pack and set off for a nice walk. I eventually made it to Bear Lake. I ate lunch on a bench along the trail with a nice view of Bear Lake. After lunch, I enjoyed a nice hike through the woods to Alberta Falls.

Rocky Mountain view

Another view

Bear Lake lunch spot

Alberta Falls

A view along Bear Lake Road

After my hikes, I did some more driving around the park and enjoying the scenery. The sun was setting and I decided to head back my campsite to set up and make dinner. After dinner, I had my customary campfire.

A view of the Fall River Valley

Elk grazing in the meadow
I got up early, before dawn, to pack up and head to my next destination. As I was driving out, a large bull elk crossed the road in front of me. I stopped and took a few photos before continuing on my way. The sun was rising and the sunlight on the mountains was beautiful.

Nice bull elk posing

Sunrise as I left the park

Two long boring days of featureless freeway driving awaited me to get home. I struggled at times to keep my energy up. I reached the north central part of Nebraska late in the day. I decided to camp at Smith Falls State Park on the Niobrara River, one of the original National Wild and Scenic Rivers. Smith Falls, at 63 feet high, is the highest waterfall in Nebraska. On arriving, the park seemed to be more like a county park than a state park, with few amenities. The campground consisted of maybe 20 sites laid out in a straight line across a treeless field adjacent to the Niobrara River. The Niobrara, was placid but made a nice boundary to the campground, with a high stone bank on the far side. I paid the small fee and set up camp. It suited me fine for a place to sleep. It was getting dark so I didn't make the short hike to the falls. I made dinner and cleaned up. A nice sunset colored cloud kept me company as I did the dishes.

Sunset cloud over the Niobrara River

Another early start found me on the road at dawn. The sky was beautiful and I drove across South Dakota. I saw many deer and pheasants along the road. By late afternoon, the trip odometer had reached 4,270 miles and the end of another great camping adventure.

North Rim and Southern Utah- Part 2

In the morning, we ate breakfast, packed up and said our goodbyes at the North Rim campground. Ric and Jeanne were heading to the South Rim. Dave and Marty were heading home. We were heading to Tuweep.

Entering the Tuweep area

(Note: I took many photos and have posted some of them here. You can click the photos to see a larger version. If you would like to see more photos, they are available here:

Tuweep is a remote area in the northwest corner of Grand Canyon National Park. Tuweep means "earth" in the Paiute language and came to describe the area of white settlement and now Grand Canyon National Park surrounding Toroweap Overlook. Toroweap means "dry or barren valley." This broad, flat valley was formed by lava flowing from the Toroweap fault underlying the valley beginning about a million years ago.

Tuweep sits at about 4500 feet above sea level, about halfway between the North Rim and the Colorado River below. The area is reachable only by a rough, rocky road requiring a high clearance vehicle after driving about 70 miles on gravel. We had an overnight permit from the Park Service which allowed us to camp for two nights in the small campground near the end of the road. There is no water but there are composting toilets at the campground. We had been warned to bring tire patching equipment and not to expect service in the event of a breakdown. There is no cell service.

The rewards for braving the trip are stunning views of the canyon, volcanic desert scenery and very few people. We were looking forward to it after our time in the more populated North Rim area.

Tuweep Road

We reached the campground about 3 PM after negotiating the notorious rocky road without incident. It was not as bad as I was expecting from our research but it was probably the worst short stretch of road we have driven. Kathy did get out of the truck a few times to spot me over some particularly rough spots. We didn't even lose a mud flap, although I was expecting that to happen at several points.

We picked a spot in the campground and set up camp. There was time before dinner for a short hike so we decided to walk about a mile to the end of the road and see Toroweap Overlook. We were not disappointed.

 The plateau ends abruptly in a precipitous cliff that drops straight to the river below. We climbed around a bit before just sitting down to absorb the beauty and drama of the place. I enjoyed sitting on the edge of the cliff and watching the river thousands of feet below. I noticed some rafts on the river- tiny dots moving along. We could see rapids that looked like ripples on the surface of the muddy river. It was fun to watch the rafts move through the rapids, one by one.

Enjoying the view at Toroweap Overlook

Watching rafts in the river 3000 feet below

Another view of rapids and rafts in the river below

After spending some time at the overlook, we walked back to camp for dinner and the sunset. There were a few other people camped there but not nearby and we appreciated the solitude and quiet.

Campsite at Tuweep Campground

Burning bush at sundown

Sunset on Toroweap Bluff

The next day I was up in time to watch the sunrise. I love the warm first light of the sun on the landscape. I took lots of photos and got a few good ones.

 We made breakfast and discussed our plan for the day. We decided to hike the Tuckup Trail out to Tuckup Point, another overlook about 6 miles round trip across the desert, according to the park guide. We packed our water, some lunch and headed out, following the rock cairns marking the trail.

On our hike to Tuckup Point

The trail wound through the desert, providing interesting views of rocks and desert plants with which we were totally unfamiliar. I was surprised by the number of flowering plants and enjoyed taking photos of them.

We stopped to have lunch. The day was cool by desert standards but the October sun was intense. Finding shade was a challenge. The trail wound out and back around washes and smaller canyons. We were not certain how far it was to the overlook. I was motivated to reach the end, Kathy less so. She had recently had knee surgery. Although well healed, she was beginning to have some pain in her knee and was developing a blister on one toe. We came upon a rock outcropping that afforded shade and a place to sit.

Kathy opted to sit while I continued to the end of the trail. It only took me about an hour total, out and back, but it was too long for Kathy, who started to worry when I didn't return as soon as she thought I should have. To her credit, she stayed put. It turns out we had a misunderstanding about how long I would be gone. In hindsight, we should have established more clear time frames for my return. On my end, knowing Kathy was waiting, I pushed the pace of my walk and couldn't really enjoy the overlook as I might have if Kathy had been there too. It was a dumb decision to continue there by myself. In any event, I made it to the end, took a few photos and returned to Kathy.

Large cairn at Tuckup Point

View to the Colorado at Tuckup Point

I needed to rest a bit after my return, having pushed my pace. We discussed Kathy's discomfort with my absence and identified our lessons learned. Then we began our return hike to camp. We were both tired from the day's exertion and by the end of our hike we were rationing our water. It is clear we were not adapted to the desert and the altitude and were fortunate we did not have any mishaps. But all is well that ends well. It was an interesting hike and a good day with lessons learned.

We had dinner and enjoyed the evening light, watching the stars come out and the moon rise. The moon was only half full but amazingly bright. The next morning we would pack up and head for our next stop in this amazing landscape.

Moon rise over camp

We broke camp early and began our day's journey. After escaping the Tuweep road, we would travel back country roads through the Buckskin Mountains to the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, passing the Vermillion Cliffs and the Cockscomb on our way to Kodachrome Basin State Park. It would prove to be a long day but a scenic one.

Sunrise at Tuweep

Jimson Weed along the road- flower made famous by Georgia O'keefe

We turned off the highway near Fredonia and headed cross country into the Kaibab National Forest.

The long road to nowhere

Vermillion Cliffs in the distance

Vermillion Cliffs. Photos do not convey the amazing colors

We climbed quickly up into the forest and had some nice long views to the Vermillion Cliffs. The roads were constantly crossed by small washes requiring us to slow our speed to bump over them. The road soon left the forest and returned down to the Coyote Valley. We came to a trailhead for a hike to Wire Pass and the Buckskin Gulch. Buckskin Gulch is a photogenic narrow slot canyon in red sandstone. The large parking lot was full of cars and people. This was obviously a popular hike.

We were concerned with our time frame to reach Kodachrome Basin since we had a camping reservation. It seems always that every time we set a destination and a certain time to be somewhere, we are sorry we did, having to pass up places we wanted to explore. Maybe that's just the nature of life- there is never time to do everything. At any rate, we passed up the Wire Pass hike and continued on. In a short way, we came to another trailhead that was not crowded and we decided to stop for lunch. It turned out to be the outlet of Buckskin Gulch. We hiked up a short way and found a spot to eat our lunch. We got a sense of the Gulch and what we were missing on the Wire Pass hike.

Buckskin Gulch


More sandstone texture

Dried mud patterns in the canyon wash

Back in the truck, we continued on to the Cottonwood Canyon Road along the Cockscomb, a 20-mile long, multi-colored, jagged ridge of sandstone reminiscent of its namesake. Cottonwood Creek runs along the base of the Cockscomb to its confluence with the Paria River and we saw many people camping in the river bottoms. The scenery was fantastic. The road continued the pattern of crossing frequent washes requiring slow speed. It is apparent that after a rain the road becomes a muddy mess. Sections had deep ruts from people trying to get through when it was wet. There were clouds threatening rain and we were concerned for a time that we might get caught in a sea of mud. But the rain threat passed to the south and we enjoyed the trip through Cottonwood Canyon immensely.

Cottonwood Canyon Road views...

Eventually we came to Kodachrome Basin State Park. We checked in and went to find our campsite. It turned out to be less than ideal, but we made it work. It took all our leveling blocks to get the truck level on the driveway we were required to park on. On the plus side, there was a picnic table under a nice tree and the campground had nice views of the adjacent Bryce Canyon National Park. Also, the park had free showers with nice hot water- worth the price of admission. We had dinner, a nice campfire and went to bed.

The next day we explored Bryce Canyon National Park. Like all the other National Parks we had visited this trip it was crowded with people and tour buses. We decided to hike down into the canyon. This turned out to be a good decision as there were far fewer people and the views were great. We took about a 3 hour hike and enjoyed it very much.

Bryce Canyon views...

After Bryce we ventured out into the Dixie National Forest to find a place to camp. We saw the Pine Lake Campground on our map and headed there. We arrived late in the day to find one other party camped there. We found a nice secluded site in the stand of mature pines, paid the small fee and set up camp. After dinner we took a short walk to Pine Lake and enjoyed the sunset. There was a nice steel pedestrian bridge crossing a wash to get to the lake. I noticed a plaque on the bridge that said it was built in Alexandria, Minnesota. Go figure! Returning to camp we had another nice campfire and went to bed. As we were lying in bed, we both thought we heard wolves howling but shrugged it off, guessing they must be coyotes. But they sounded more like wolves. Are there wolves in the Dixie National Forest? Someone can let me know.

Our camp at Pine Lake

Pine Lake views...

The Pine Lake camp brought to a close our shared camping for this trip. The next day we had reserved a room in a hotel in St. George and the following day I would start my journey home, leaving Kathy in St. George for her tournament.

On the way to St. George, we passed through Zion National Park from the east, going through the tunnels. The road was very scenic but the traffic gave us a glimpse of what we would find when we reached the visitor center and park entrance. We had to wait at the tunnels. All the pull-outs and trailheads were filled with cars. As at all the other National Parks on this trip, Zion was packed with people. We circled the visitor center parking lot for a time before scoring a parking space. We decided to eat lunch at a picnic table and check out the visitor center displays. The photos and descriptions of hikes whetted my appetite. We discovered that the waiting time for a shuttle bus, which is the only way to enter the park, was exceeding 1 1/2 hours! We decided, as at the other parks, to leave a visit to Zion for a later trip.

Views from the road entering Zion National Park...

We pressed on to St. George and checked in at our hotel. Kathy got registered for the tournament and we went out to dinner. Back at the hotel, we did laundry and Kathy got herself organized for her stay in St. George. I pondered maps and possible routes back home.

My solo trip home will be the subject of the final part of this trip report.