Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Scenic Highway 12- Bryce Canyon

Day 1

Starting point: Las Vegas, NV

End point: Bryce Canyon, UT

Roads traveled: I-15 N to Cedar City, UT -- UT 14E -- US 89N -- UT12E78 -- UT 63S (within Bryce Canyon National Park)

Highlights of the day: Scenic Byway 12 Entrance area,
                                      Lookouts in and sunset over Bryce Canyon

As we traveled away from flat Las Vegas strip, flatness which remained vast initially started to narrow down gradually and rocky hills reproached closer and closer to the I-15. Interestingly, before entering Utah, I-15 passes through the  north western corner of Arizona, so you get a state welcome sign- "The Grand Canyon State Welcomes You". For me, it was as sweet and pleasant an invitation as it were a dear friend inviting to his/her home. We were missing Grand Canyon by couple of hundred miles. After a few miles- " Life (was) Elevated" and we were excited to be near our destination.

Immediately after the state line, red rock started to appear and terrain become hilly. We could see distant snow-caped (Cedar?) mountains.

I-50 entering Southern Utah

We pass through St. George, Cedar city on our way to US89 N which leads to the western end of Highway 12. There was a big, well fitting sign suggesting the road's character - scenic, red and beyond speed limits.

Western end of Scenic Byway 12
After a few miles on this road, there comes a sort of natural gate - road narrows a bit and red rocks come to stand like pillars on both sides, almost like the Gates of Argonath (Lord of the Rings), inviting into Red CanyonThere are three information boards- about the highway, landscape and safety and attractions on the route.

Start of Red Canyon

Interpretive Exhibits
The road starts within Dixie National Forest and Red Canyon is the first attraction. This area has hiking trails, and a seasonal visitor center just besides the road, managed by the Forest Service. There is a camp ground too. For more info go to Red Canyon Visitor Center. When we passed in late April, both visitor center and campground were closed. We were still 30 or so minutes away from Bryce Canyon and it was already 2pm. So, we took pictures and did not hike in this area.

Hoodoos of Red Canyon, a preview of next stop

We turned on to UT 63 S toward Bryce Canyon. The 2.7mile road passing through unbelievably recently established and incorporated Bryce Canyon City has inns, RV park and grocery stores. It is just outside the park entrance and shaped up to cater tourists. An interesting fact from Wikipedia: Bryce Canyon City is a company town consisting solely of the property of Ruby's Inn and the Syrett family, its third-generation owners. Rod Syrett, the company's board president, was chosen as the first mayor. 

We entered the park and went to the visitor center for trail and weather information. It was already approaching 5pm, luckily we were there just at the start of the extended hour schedule. So the visitor center was going to be open till 6,30pm and in-park shuttle service was going to start the next day. By the way, taking a picture with the park entrance sign, stamping my passport and picking park map and latest newspaper/guide has become a mandatory tradition for me. I have a collection of those now and for me, they are the best souvenirs.

We were prepared for camping. So first thing we did was to secure a campsite at North Campground and setting up the tent. Luckily a couple of sites were still available. Sunset was going to be around the longer days...especially while visiting parks. Based on advice from a ranger at the visitor center, we decided to drive up to Paria view lookout a few miles south and drive back with stoppage at each lookout, last being the 'Sunset' point at sunset. Hiking was planned for the next day.

We first stopped at Bryce Point lookout. It overlooks the most beautiful and quintessential Bryce Canyon area- the Amphitheater. It is a view one should not miss. When you stand at the end of the trail, overlooking red banded, delicate, spiring hoodoos carved over millions of years surrounding you, it is hard to decide who is the spectator and who is the performer. Symmetrical rows of hoodoos one behind the other, is one of the most beautiful and awe inspiring creation of nature. It is a joyous spot.

A section of the Amphitheater at Bryce Point

Tried to capture the Amphitheater in sectional panorama

Our second stop was Paria View which is on the opposite direction from the Bryce Point and over looks Paria river watershed. You can see the end of the Bryce canyon and large tree lined valley beyond. It does not have dramatic views as of Bryce point but it is a good place to see hoodoos in last rays of sun before sunset. For more info check NPS' page. You can go window hunting in this area. There are a couple of window formations in rocks near and far. If you are interested in geological changes leading to a hoodoo or a window formation go here.

Paria View overlooked Paria River watershed

Now we were driving back towards North Campground. Next stop was Inspiration Point. It is in same general area as the Bryce Point but overlooks different section of the canyon and has hoodoos stacked in rows on one side. From the parking lot for the point, there is trail leading up to a lookout which is on the rim trail. There is another lookout a few steep feet higher up the rim trail. Evening light on the hoodoos was enchanting.

A view from Inspiration Point lower level

Next stop was Sunset Point. It is near to the Sunset campground and Bryce Canyon lodge. Rather than a single lookout point, it is a sami-circular extension with a walking path along the rim. You can connect to Navajo loop, Queen's Garden trail and Peekaboo canyon trail on canyon floor by hiking down which involves switchbacks. We spent remaining evening here walking around rim trail and clicking different hoodoos.
Spot a hiker on rim trail (lower left)
Banded Hoodoos

Hoodoos and shadows at evening
the E.T. hoodoo in view
Switchbacks to Navajo Trail leading through The Wall Street It was closed when we went.
The Sentinel hoodoo

Sunrise Point which was the last stop, closest to our campground were to be visited the next day.

We went back to campsite, cooked and finished dinner. By that time, I started to realize how cold the night was going to be. I was curious to see the night sky over open canyon and see how photographs of hoodoos turn out with starts. So, we went back to Sunset Point. It was hard to believe, the canyon was so dark, no a hint of so many hoodoos. We could not see anything beyond couple of feet from the railing. Sky was clear, moon was hours behind to shine over the canyon. We tried to click long exposure photographs. They were better than our vision but did not turn out as crisps as we wanted. We had to fight with darkness and growing, biting cold (remember elevation is 8000ft), which we could not withstand even with winter jackets, hats and regular gloves.

From Sunset point at Night
We rushed back to our tent, tucked inside our sleeping bags. Who knew my brand new sleeping bag which promised to work comfortably at 15 degree Fahrenheit did not keep me warm at 24 (despite woolen socks, jacket etc.)?!! My husband's sleeping bag was suited for much warmer temperature, however he was not troubled by cold. So, for the next night camping was out of the question. Bryce is at the highest elevation on highway 12 and on the Colorado Plateau for that matter, 'currently'. As we traverse eastward on highway 12 elevation reduces and nights become warmer.

Same travel description in StoryMap

Monday, May 11, 2015

Southern Utah Trip- A Summary

We are back from our 14 day tour of the southern Utah. We saw and explored many new places, features and hikes which we could not include in our previous trip. And still, there are places remain to be visited. I agree, no amount of time is enough to explore it thoroughly and enjoy Colorado plateau's beauty which is so unique, awe-inspiring and heartwarming. It is remote, rugged, arid and labyrinthine. It is so paradoxical! The towering, hard rocks and its softer counterpart- sand which create such hostile environment for creatures to live or even pass-through them, suddenly, at your next turn metamorphose into such a sublime, delicate and touching form, revealing the power of forces of nature not just in gradual weathering and degradation but also in creating, designing artistic masterpieces. I have felt this many times while traversing long, strenuous, hiking trails to see a special hoodoo, an arch, a bridge and the Wave.

Inspiration Point, Bryce Canyon Nat. Park, UT

Owachomo Bridge, Natural Bridges Nat. Monument, UT

The Wave, it was the highlight of the trip. Actually, it was the reason this trip was planned at first place. Although, I have....we all have..seen it in photographs and been impressed by it so many times, I did not know where it was located. After strings of internet searches, I found out that the Wave is located in Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, AZ and requires permit from the Bureau of Land Management to visit it. I applied for one such lottery based permit for month of May and luckily got one in my first try. It was a golden chance and exciting opportunity which, I have read, many people get after multiple trials. My husband did not believe that it was a big deal, till he saw the wave and heard other visitors mentioning how difficult it is to get the permit.

The Wave, Vermilion Cliffs Nat. Monument, AZ

In our previous trips, whenever our trip included flying in and out of a major airport near our destination rather than driving there from home, we avoided camping. Taking all the camping and sleeping gears, cooking materials and utensils and other essential items for camping were too much to carry as checked luggage on flights. But this time, as we had given 2-3 days to each national park, we decided to do camping and staying near/within the parks. Southern Utah has so many national parks, state parks and Bureau of Land Management campsites (with walk-in availability) as well as private RV/campground parks that we believed we would not have trouble getting a campsite without reservation. So, taking additional baggage turned out to be a favorable plan. There was no much trouble getting a campsite, even in evening and night hours. And once in, we saved time by cooking all possible meals at our site rather than going out to finding a (vegetarian) restaurant, especially in remote areas.

I had done a lot of research to plan this trip- deciding the route, scenic roads to drive, hikes and possible backpacking opportunities. We are happy that we could do most of the things we had in our list. It was very cold, rainy weather that affected first two days of the trip. Additionally, it was my health. Due to a temporary health issue, I was not 100%. Due to nature of the treatment, it was expected that I will be easily fatigued, which i had been already experiencing while packing but however weak I feel, I was not going to cancel the trip. We decided that we will do less hiking, camping and more drive through sightseeing if I am not up to it. So, I was a bit upset and doubtful at my capacity to enjoy the trip in a way we usually do...roughing it out...our way.

Anyway, Bryce Canyon, our first stop, the highest elevation on Colorado plateau, still had below freezing temperatures (24° F/ -4.4° C) at night. So we stayed in a hotel and I rested more for the first two days. Afterwards, I do not know when and how fast I regain full capacity and energy that did all the hiking and camping we planed without any health issues...just like I expected.

Southern Utah's large, arid area beyond managed park facilities and beyond small, desperesed towns  is inaccessible, as there are no paved roads. From Bryce Canyon on the west of the Utah state to Glen Canyon on the east of the state only paved corridors are-
     a. I-70 - faster but way north, skips Grand Staircase- Escalante National Monument (GSENM) & Capitol Reef National Park
     b. Highway 12 - a scenic byway with multiple interesting hiking, museums locations, visitor centers and small towns.  It passes through Grand Staircase- Escalate and connects to Capitol Reef. It is the best and only way to see GSENM without a high clearance, 4 Wheel Drive  (4WD) vehicle.
From highway 12- there are unpaved, gravel roads which branch out in north-south general direction. They pass through rugged areas and allow deeper exploration of the wilderness, and access to back-country, long hiking/ canyoneering trails. No doubt, these roads are scenic! Some of these connect to a town, some end at a point abruptly. All these unpaved roads, by the fact that covered by very fine sand which turn to clay when wet, become impassable (for any 4 wheel vehicle) after rain. Even when dry, some roads have so much fine sand on that 4 Wheel Drive, high clearance vehicle is required. For some other unpaved roads with have some gravel base, may be traversed by 2 WD vehicle when dry. Along with weather, getting updated road conditions for these backcountry roads is equally important if you are planning to drive on them. Lo and behold, if it rained and you are stuck, you will be far, far away from any help, possibly food/water and more importantly any phone networks. That is why it is better to have updated information, proper vehicle, additional food/water and someone who is informed of your travel plans.

We rented a Jeep Patriot from Las Vegas airport. We could not get a 4 WD vehicle from any rental company at that airport location. It was surprising! The Jeep was high clearance but 2 Wheel Drive. I was doubtful that we could drive on any such backcountry roads even on a dry day and we would miss most of the GSENM. However, rangers at visitor centers confidently advised us to drive on (even with 2 WD) when the weather was perfect and on other instances strongly urged not to drive if weather was playing up. We trusted and followed their advises. However, I would say, if you can't get a high clearance + 4WD and it is comes to choose between a low clearance + 4WD vs. high clearance + 2WD, it is better to have a vehicle with high clearance. My logic is, when wet, all these roads become impassable for any 4 wheeler anyway. When dry, 4WD is not needed much but high clearance at least will make one comfortable, secure driving over rough, bumpy roads which often pass through washes. We were happy with our rental. We drove on the Hole-in-the-rock road and burr trail road. One we could not go on due to weather was Cottonwood Canyon road, past Kodachrome Basin state park. We changed our route to accommodate it on our return travel but unfortunately, it was rainy again on second time too. One very good thing about travelling to Souther Utah's parks is, that they are situated within average 2 hours distance from each other (through highway 12). So, you can relatively easily change your route to revisit a place if you want.

All in all, our route changed considerably from a simple, straight forward loop to a bit complex back-forth, not-so loopy route.

After reading various geology presentations in visitor centers and attending a couple of ranger talks and video presentations, my brain was overloaded with names of rock formations, layers and which layer is responsible for which rock features in which national park. Although I love geology and I learned a lot through the presentations, I could not grasp the whole picture. So, on return, I searched online for any documentary or teaching video on formation of Colorado Plateau. This one I found most educational- titled Ancient Landscapes of the Colorado Plateau with Wayne Ranney from Universality of Utah- Humanities.

I hope to follow-up with detail travelogue!


Federal Lands visited
Bryce Canyon Nat. Park (#2 on map)
Capitol Reef Nat. Park (#6)
Arches Nat. Park (#11, #18)
Canyonlands Nat. Park (#10 Island in the sky district, #17 Needles district)
Zion Nat. Park (#23)
          Glen Canyon Nat. Recreation Area (#22)

          Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park (#14)
          Antelope Canyon (#22)
Vermilion Cliff Nat. Monument (#20, #21)
Grand Staircase Escalante Nat. Monument (#8)
Natural Bridges Nat. Monument (#15)
State Park visited
Kodachrome Basin State Park (#3)
Goblin Valley State Park
Dead Horse Point State Park (#11)
Anasazi State Historic Site (#4)
Newspaper Rock State Historic Monument (#16)

Scenic Byway Traveled
Highway 12
Hole-in-the-Rock Road (#8 Escalante- starting point, #7 Hole-in-rock)
Burr Trail connecting Notom-Bullfrog Road (#4- road starting point, #9 road entering Capitol Reef)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Trip to Southern Utah's National Lands

We are planning to visit some national parks, monuments and untamed wilderness of Southern Utah and Northern Arizona this summer. I have never seen such awe-inspiring, other-worldly and at the same time formidable place. Those stratified red rocks, smoothed out tepee formations, emerging hoodoos, narrowing canyons, water carved rock bridges, occasional waterfalls, a patch of greenery within towering stand-stones are some things we do not get to see often. I believe, there is no place like Colorado plateau, such expanse with myriad of rock formations with geological, paleological and historical (native American) importance, anywhere in the world.

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Amphitheater, Bryce Canyon Nat Park, UT
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The Teepees, Petrified Forest Nat. Park, AZ

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Finns, Arches Nat. Park, UT
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Painted Desert, Petrified Forest Nat. Park, AZ

Colorado plateau expands over four US states- Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. It probably encompasses the highest concentration of national parks and other protected lands. See the list below.

We visited a few national parks in this area way back (2011)....when we were just learning the nuts and bolts of exploring the national parks. At that time we were so naive that we gave a day to explore some of these parks...looking back  we have come a long way. This time we plan to give more time to better explore each park..hopefully...even though we know seeing all is an illusive dream.

From east cost, we are flying-in and out of Las Vegas airport. So, our travel will be on a circular route. In 13 days, my "over ambitious" plan include exploring around 3 national parks, and around 3 or so national monuments and a couple of small state parks. Here is our tentative road route.

South Utah | My new trip on!

Hope to keep updating this with our upcoming adventures and experience!

View of Colorado river from Desert View, Grand Canyon Nat. Park, AZ


National parks and monument of Colorado Plateau:

  • National parks (from south to north to south clockwise):
Petrified Forest National Park, AZ
Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
Zion National Park, UT
BryceCanyon National Park, UT
Capitol Reef National Park, UT
Canyonlands National Park, UT
Arches National Park, UT
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, CO
Mesa Verde National Park, CO
Chaco Culture National Historical Park, NM

  • National Monuments (alphabetical):
Aztec Ruins National Monument, NM
Canyon De Chelly National Monument, AZ
Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, CO
Cedar Breaks National Monument, UT
Colorado National Monument, CO
Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, NV
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, UT
El Malpais National Monument, NM
El Morro National Monument, NM
Hovenweep National Monument, UT
Navajo National Monument, AZ
Natural Bridges National Monument, UT
Rainbow Bridge National Monument, UT
Sunset Crater National Monument, AZ
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, AZ
Walnut Canyon National Monument, AZ
Wupatki National Monument, AZ