Saturday, July 22, 2017

CO & UT - Days 9 and 10 - Goodbye to Utah

Day 9

For our final day in Utah, and with a big drive ahead of us, we decided to take it easy and indulge in some good ol' R&R back at Swasey's Beach.

Nice and quiet, once again, with only a couple of families enjoying the natural beach and cooling waters, and time for us to reflect on our adventures over the last week.

From there, we headed to the hotel's patio overlooking the Green River, and over a beer or two, we watched the sun set over our final night in Utah.

Day 10

Transition Day!  Time for us to leave Utah for the looooooong drive back to Denver.
Approx. 370 miles and 5-6 hours' driving...

It was interesting to watch the gradual change from the muted, barren-looking landscapes of Utah to the much more verdant-looking Colorado - even the yellow aspen leaves were more abundant since we'd been here a week earlier.

Finally, it was time to divest ourselves of our clanky hire car (now with an additional thousand miles on the clock!), and then navigate the airport rail service into downtown Denver and on to our hotel.  On to the next stage of our explorations!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

CO & UT - Day 8 - Capitol Reef & Goblin Valley

Our final park destinations in Utah would  be Capitol Reef and Goblin Valley - both proving to be beautiful for very different reasons.

First up was Capital Reef - a lengthy drive (about 1 3/4 hours) from Green River, along largely empty roads (apart from the occasion RV or tour bus).  Even from the park "entrance" it was still a way to go to the Visitor Centre and parking lot at Fruita, but we eventually joined a smattering of cars in a green field serving as the car park, and laced up our boots.

Capitol Reef is described as a "remote, hidden treasure" filled with cliffs, canyons, domes and bridges in a fold of the earth stretching across almost 100 miles, known as the Waterpocket Fold.  It was also a settlement for Mormon pioneers in the 1880s, at the confluence of the Fremont River and Sulphur Creek, and is now a preserved village and orchards in an area known as Fruita.  

We had two potential hikes in mind - Cohab Canyon and Hickman Bridge (both deemed "moderate" at 2.5 miles and 2 miles respectively), and we hoped to be able to complete both of them if our legs allowed!

We started out on a very steep hike up the cliff-face adjacent to the car park along switchback trails. It was worth stopping every so often simply to take in the views back across Fruita, the preserved village and the all-important Waterpocket Fold which defines Capitol Reef.  

Once we had our breath back, we entered into Cohab Canyon itself - a beautiful, serene, sun-rimmed canyon, so peaceful, with sandstone rock faces beautifully lit in the sunlight.  Surrounded by high walls on either side, it was easy to forget we were in a big tourist destination, and we met perhaps 2 or 3 other hikers during our entire time on the trail.

Once we reached the end of the canyon, we made our way carefully down the cliff again, crossed the main road (now filled with parked cars on either side), and joined up with the trail for Hickman Bridge.  Being a little shorter, this trail was noticeably busier, and we often had to give way to several groups and families on the narrow trails.  Hickman Bridge was another stunning natural bridge or arch feature, and proved to be the perfect spot for some much needed lunch! 

Rejuvenated by our vittles, and keen to avoid more crowds, we headed back along the trail, across the road, and back up the steep cliff face into the canyon again, before eventually emerging at the Fruita overlook.  Things had got a lot busier since we'd first arrived, with a country fair in full swing in the village.  Obviously we had to take a look!  Live country music, a few crafts and some lovely hand-baked goodies made a nice diversion from sore feet and legs!  

But the day wasn't over yet...

Next stop - the mysteriously named Goblin Valley, albeit over an hour's drive away (but at least in the direction of the hotel).  Legend has it that Goblin Valley was "discovered" by some cowboys looking for lost cattle in the 1920s.  Who knows what went through their minds when they stumbled on this view!  (Although we do know it was originally called Mushroom Valley).

Millions of years ago, this whole area would have been below sea level, gradually forming layers of sandstone, siltstone and shale.  As sea levels subsided and the sandstone became exposed to the elements, the softer layers eroded more quickly, creating the quirky "goblins" that now inhabit the park.

There was no real hiking planned here - it was already quite late in the afternoon, but we spent an enjoyable hour or so meandering through the odd-shaped sculptures in the evening light, and marvelling once again at the beauty of Mother Nature in all its forms.  

Monday, February 13, 2017

CO & UT - Day Seven - Canyonlands National Park

Next on our must-do list was Canyonlands.  Another looooong drive down a pretty lonely stretch of road (this Park was much less busy than Arches), until we eventually found the entrance.  This visit would be less about the hiking, and more about the sheer vastness of the place and the magnificent views.

Canyonlands Park preserves an area of land at the heart of the Colorado plateau, where water and gravity have created hundreds of canyons, mesas, fins and arches.  At the centre, the convergence of the Colorado River and the Green River create three very distinct regions - Island in the Sky, The Maze and The Needles.  We were headed to the most accessible area - Island in the Sky (the other two areas are either day-long hikes or only accessible with 4-wheel drives...)

Even just a few steps from the car park at "Grand View Point", we were afforded sweeping views across hundreds of miles of parkland - almost too big to comprehend.  The views reportedly stretch 100 miles into the distance, with sheer sandstone clips towering 1000 feet above the surrounding terrain.

It was another beautiful day, and Hubby was keen to walk the short trail to Upheaval Dome to witness a possible meteor crater.  The trail was well-marked and maintained, with much larger and more obvious cairns than we'd seen in Arches, and steps cut into the rocks in places so we didn't have to scramble too much.

Posher cairns than Arches Park!

Upheaval Dome is actually a very large crater, 1500 feet deep and 5km wide.  Debate continues as to how it was formed - possibly a dome of mineral salts that rose up through the rock strata from ancient oceans over millions of years, possibly subsidence, or possibly (and recent studies support this latest theory), that it was carved by a meteor strike.  Again, it's hard to judge its size from the photos alone, and it was certainly a strange anomaly to find in the middle of so many canyons!

From Upheaval Dome we drove a little further on to the trail for Whale Rock - another easy hike, until you reached the base of a sandstone dome (the whale).  Then it was a steep but short climb / scramble up the bare slickrock onto the whale's back, and then another scramble up a little "nobble" to get a little higher and really appreciate the views back out across the Park.  


Centre: Candlestick Tower

And then it was onto our final hike of the day, to see Mesa Arch.  Another fairly easy, flat-ish trail leading to another cliff-edge arch, again with beautiful views towards the La Sal Mountains in the background.

After all the awe-inspiring sights, hiking and sunshine, and the long drive back to the hotel, it was time for a well-earned steak dinner at Rays Tavern in Green River!

Gerrof me chips!