Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Brian Head, Utah – from hot to cold!

Walking the rim of Cedar Breaks

It’s my turn again and it’s ridiculous.  2 or 3 days ago we were setting the alarm so that we could get any walks done before the heat set in and it was unbearable, today we are watching it snow – yes snow!  We did go out for a rangers talk – which turned out to be about the trees in the area and was quite interesting but we hurried back wet and cold.  Thank goodness for jigsaws – well we are in a skiing resort so what else could we do (for those who don’t know I always took a jigsaw when I joined the skiing group).

Jackie contemplates the view - yes, there was a big drop in front of her and no fence!
A lighthouse in the middle of Cedar City - we don't know why!
We are in a resort called Brian Head – how appropriate is that? – and have a very nice flat for a week.  We’ve had some really nice walks in the surrounding canyons and several animal encounters; lots of chipmunks and some deer but nothing as exciting as bears, which we would all like to see.  Brian went out one night to try and photograph the sunset but there were no clouds so he only had partial success.  How quickly things change – if he went out tonight he wouldn’t find the sun.

The yellow leaves of the Aspen Tree. Apparently they are all one tree, roots grow out and another tree sprouts up!
On the summit of Brian Head
Pauline’s got writer’s block so I’m going to carry on! It’s Saturday and we arrived here on Monday with a plan to visit Bryce, Zion, Kolob and Red Canyons, plus Cedar Breaks National Monument and we’ve achieved three out of five, which is not bad considering we wanted more of a laid back week. In fact it seems they are all pretty similar, huge dramatic vistas with big cliff drop offs to steeply shelving red gravel sides and, where a harder stone was present, erosion around the obstacle to leave a hoodoo, which is a weird shaped stack of rock, some very high and large, apparently defying gravity. 
Jackie on Brian head looking for Marmots
When I look back at the photos they are all broadly similar and we do get a little blasĂ© about some of them, which is a real shame as they are all fabulous in their own way. As usual with photos, they simply don’t bring out the vastness and dramatics, you simply have to visit yourself and be awed in person!

She's still looking...
The sunset picture
Cedar Breaks is a case in point, it’s just around the corner (5 miles?) from where we’re staying in Brian Head ski resort. It’s a bit higher than the resort at about 10,400ft and, because it shelves away so steeply, the panorama is vast and the horizon so distant. It makes the perfect sunset photo place, but with clear blue sky it hasn’t presented the most dramatic scene. Amusingly, in the Ranger talk today we were told that early visitors mistook the Juniper tree for a Cedar tree, giving the area its name. In fact there are no Cedar trees in this area at all, so really it should be called Juniper Breaks, but it’s too late! There’s a great walk round the rim of Cedar Breaks out to a ‘headland’ that juts right into the area with great views all around and we were all feeling the 30% reduction in oxygen level at this altitude when walking uphill, particularly if we tried to walk fast. 

She found one!
The rim walk felt strange when, looking one way we saw dramatic alien views down into a vast red valley, but the other way were green fields, trees and the yellow and red leaves of the Aspen trees, most odd! We took an evening drive to and a walk round the top of Brian Head at 11,307ft, which is above the top ski lift and the highest point for many miles around, giving absolutely magnificent panoramic views. Jackie had heard marmots sunbathe on the rocks, but even creeping around and peering over edges to sunny ledges we didn’t see any, that is until we were back in the car on the way down when she suddenly said ‘Stop!’, leapt out of the car with the camera and managed to photograph one flopped out on a rock, leaving me to manoeuvre the car to the edge of the dirt track to allow others to get by! 

More Aspen trees (or should I say another Aspen tree!)
A Pronghorn deer spotted somewhere!
Wednesday was our visit to Bryce Canyon, named after Ebenezer Bryce, an early cattle ranch owner of the surrounding land and canyon. He was unimpressed by the canyon and when asked about it apparently replied “It’s a hell of a place to lose a cow!” It’s all a bit commercialised with many facilities at the entrance eager to take your money and a shuttle bus provided to take you around, which they suggest you take to avoid congestion in the park. 

Bryce Canyon
A natural bridge (or is it an arch) in Bryce Canyon
We didn’t and we’re glad we didn’t as, when we reached Rainbow Point at the end a bus load of people were being bored by the monotone voice of the bus driver pointing out distant peaks. As a park we thought it was OK, but it did get better as we headed back, visiting ‘Inspiration Point’ last, which is a vast bowl filled with hoodoo’s and a fabulous place. Once again, photos don’t do it justice.

Inspiration Point. I know, it doesn't look that good, but go an see it yourself, you'll be inspired!
Thursday was our day of rest, despite the warm calm blue skies and the forecast for the weather to deteriorate (it didn’t seem possible!), so we took short drives and walks over to nearby Bear Flats (there were no bears but great views) and a two mile walk to Alpine Lake on the edge of Cedar Breaks, which was a pleasant wooded undulating walk with occasional grand views out to Cedar Breaks (seen it all before!) and ending at a pleasant lake in an apparently alpine setting with a couple a deer creeping by watching us.

The Alpine Lake
A Cone Squirrel in Red Canyon
Friday we went to Red Canyon, the very much ‘also ran’, near Bryce Canyon, but in our view one of our best days. It’s much smaller than Bryce, but that doesn’t take anything away from it and it was made better in that we walked in amongst the towering red cliffs and hoodoos which seemed a more vibrant red than we had previously seen. Maybe it was the morning sunshine and the definition brought out by the shadows, but we absolutely loved it and, as we were told, there were few other people. A second walk took us round the back along a dirt road, where there are various canyons to explore in a remote setting. 
Red Canyon
The various vehicles parked there were mainly for horse riding treks and we set off on the arches trail, passing riders returning and we went up into the hills to see quite a few small rock arches in improbable shapes, ending with high viewpoint and great views. It appears quite a few canyons interlink and there are mountain bike routes through them, ATV and horse riding routes, something for everyone. A mountain biker I spoke to who was just loading his bike back into his vehicle had had a fabulous ride through the canyons making me quite jealous!

Pauline and Jackie in Red Canyon.
Jackie tries a bit of climbing

And hide and seek!
We can't work out how the stone man on the left is still standing. When it goes, it'll really go!
Now here's a creepy thing. A sign described this pile of rocks as a camel, and we can see what they mean. Here we are walking past on it's left and it's looking at us. Now look at the next picture as we passed by on the other side.......
It's turned it's head and is still looking at us. Creepy or what!
Look at this bunny hiding under the rocks!

One of the arches in Red Canyon
We didn't want to walk under this roof
More improbable arches
The old buildings in Panguitch
We drove back through the town of Panguitch, as we have done a number of times now, but this time we stopped. It’s a really quaint old town in itself, but on the edge of town is a collection of old wooden buildings that someone has bought and taken there for show. There’s a saloon bar a blacksmiths, a fuel station and a ‘house of ill repute’! (Not just for show – they were disguising storage units – a very witty way of doing it. P) 
The GEM cinema and cafe
In town we went for an ice cream in the GEM shop, which is still an historic working cinema that occasionally still shows movies. The front is a cafĂ© still furnished in 50’s styling, playing old fifties rock and roll records!

Just where they belong!
Just in case there was any doubt!
Today it’s Saturday and, as per the weather forecast a huge storm has appeared over us and, in fact all over Utah, bringing plenty of rain from Arizona and causing thunderstorms and rain after rain, quite exciting really! We’ve done almost nothing, except going to a ranger talk this morning at Cedar Breaks where we got soaked! Jigsaw’s done, tea drunk, cake eaten and blog written. Unfortunately, one of the earlier thunderstorms managed to take out our internet connection so, unless it gets reconnected, posting this entry may be a bit delayed!

The delicate manoeuvre to get Jackies section of the jigsaw into the correct place using fish slices! 
The wet and snowy walk to the Rangers lecture
We have one more day here before leaving for Las Vegas on Monday morning and we’re not yet sure what we’ll do. Looking at the TV news, the weather in Utah has been dramatic everywhere and Zion NP in particular is in a flash flood situation with some roads closed and very high rivers. Here this afternoon we’ve had snow and, although it settled a bit it’s gone now, so whether we’ll be able to get out if it snows tonight is anyone’s guess. We only have summer tyres, no snow chains and a rear wheel drive vehicle with wide fat tyres, not a good combination for snowy conditions! 

Kolob Canyon
If it’s not too bad a visit back to Red Canyon might be good to see the dry river beds in flood, it could be an exciting day, before driving to Las Vegas, the desert and high temperatures, just about 4 hour’s drive away. It seems incredible that such a small distance can have such a climate change!

Late addition on Sunday:

Walking in Kolob Canyon
Woke late today (it’s lovely sleeping where it’s cool and you can snuggle down) but hey, we’re on holiday! Set off towards Zion Canyon NP, yes another one, Utah is full of them. We’d decided to go to the Kolob Canyon area for two reasons, it is closer, and higher so should be cooler! Also having seen raging rivers in Zion Canyon on the TV last night as they bore the brunt of some of the weather we’d been having we thought staying high might be sensible. We arrived and did the scenic drive, aware how much mud and sand had obviously been cleared off the road before park opening, and the short hike which wasn’t as muddy as the ranger in the visitor centre said it would be and had lunch at a lovely picnic spot, though did have to dash for the car as the rain started!

Not a bad view. Apparently the Grand Canyon is in the distance
Longhorn sheep seen in Zion NP
Decided that although we couldn’t be bothered to go to Zion and mess about with the bus (no cars on the drive at this time of year) we would do the drive just into the park and out on the Zion – Mt Carmel Road. Well worth it, a different set of scenery again, it is quite astounding the variety that is here! We also saw a herd of long horn sheep – rare apparently!

A heard of buffalo (or bison!)
This is Checkerboard Mesa in Zion NP
Out to eat tonight, although I have enjoyed cooking, we expected to be late one night and eat out, so we only have the emergency tin of tuna to go with pasta left which I’d rather save till B and I are in our next basic cabin by the Grand Canyon where easy cooking will definitely be required! Plus, from our window we can see Mi Pueblo Mexican restaurant which has been open every day and we can’t see how they can possibly make a living at this time of year, so having really enjoyed our time here we thought we’d support the local economy!
Monday morning, snow on the ground
Had to clear the car of snow
Bling in one of the shops in St George
What a difference a drive makes, now it's too hot!

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Utah! Round every corner there’s something amazing!

One of the less interesting roads, disappearing into the distance
Utah is a fabulous place, perhaps not round every corner, but certainly within an hour or so’s drive there is something different and amazing, literally too much to do! We made a plan not to try to do too much and we thought our plan was fairly modest, but we’re finding we can only do the most amazing things and are having to miss out slightly less amazing things, that anywhere else would be fabulous. 

Stunning semi-desert scenery on the SR-24
We can’t do all the hikes and scenic drives and rock climbing is coming in a dismal third! There are some great looking single and multi day hikes into really remote but wonderful back country with slot canyons and gorges to explore and there would be four wheel drive adventures and river rafting if only time and money would allow. A year in this state alone would not be enough, so how do we decide what to do?

Capitol Reef NP
Well, we left Moab after Arches and Canyonlands NP and an evening of climbing feeling we’d barely touched the surface of what was there, took a 2.5 hour drive along the I-70 freeway, then down towards our destination of Bicknell on the SR-24 which, after turning East turned out to be a fabulous scenic drive (there aren’t enough adjectives to describe the scenery!) which led through the top of Capitol Reef NP and eventually on to Bicknell and our destination for three nights, the Aquarius Inn. Bicknell is a town of 300 people with one adequate restaurant and about 12 miles from Torrey, the next nearest with a few more adequate restaurants.

This is known as The Chimney, a big boulder perched atop a crumbly sandstone column
Two suspect characters peer through holes in the rock
Capitol Reef NP is not a No. 1 destination, but is still a stunning place. It’s a National Park 100mile long (N-S) but quite narrow, that protects the ‘Waterpocket Fold’, which was a ripple of the earth’s crust, like a ruck in a carpet, that has since eroded to reveal sandstone layers that span 200 million years of history and is the largest exposed monocline in N. America. Not only is it dramatic to look at, containing canyons, cliffs, towers, domes and arches, it’s also a geologists dream, as we found out when we went on a walking geology talk with Sophie, a young female Ranger, who had a huge knowledge of geology and, despite the rain, made it a very interesting and worthwhile outing to the Hickman Natural Stone bridge. 
On our geology walking lecture
The Hickman Natural Stone Bridge
With her we learnt about rock layers from the Permian period (270 million years and the time of the ‘great extinction’ where 96% of life on earth disappeared) through to the very thick layer of Navajo sandstone, laid down when the area was a dry desert and little life existed here. It’s possible to see diagonal stripes in this layer, which is where sand was blown and deposited on the leeward side of a dune, allowing geologists to even work out which way the wind was blowing at the time. On top are round black rocks with lots of holes, which are volcanic rocks ejected by old nearby volcanos and probably transported here by glaciers during the last ice age, although there is some disagreement on this theory.

A different view of the natural bridge from underneath
The original school house (seats up to 30 students)
Anyway, enough of geology, the fertile area in the middle, at the junction of two small rivers is called Fruita and was (is) a small village, then very isolated, settled by Mormon pioneers who planted fruit trees and developed their own community, occupied until 1969. The trees and old buildings are now managed by the park authority and we took an interesting history tour round the original buildings and orchards, the fruit trees of which anyone can visit and eat the fruit for free on site, only paying a nominal amount if fruit is taken away.

Into the first canyon
Erosion of the land has created a number of accessible and inaccessible canyons, one with several side slot canyons. We drove the scenic road into the park, entered a couple of canyons in the car on gravel roads, crossing several watercourses and parking beneath massive canyon walls and then walking along the watercourse bed to narrowing, sheer canyon walls. Don’t get stuck in here in a flash flood! Signs at the entrance tell you not to enter if a storm threatens, the dry watercourse can change to a raging torrent within a matter of minutes, with few places to climb to safety! 

Group photo time, camera balanced on a rock shelf
Driving along these twisting dirt roads between high cliff walls wondering where it leads and whether it will be possible to turn round is bad enough in a car, but we saw quite large campervans (RV’s) with worried looking drivers negotiating them, trying to squeeze past cars coming in the other direction!

The second canyon walk
The rainy start to the geology walking lecture
Our Sunday morning geology walk was done in the rain (they only get about 10 inches of rain a year we were told, well, 5 or 10% of that must have fallen on Sunday!), fortunately it was not in a canyon! That took a couple of hours, we got rained on intermittently, but saw sun on surrounding peaks set against a black sky, rainbows, lightning flashes and swelling rivers, all very atmospheric! The low cloud and rain afterwards made us return to our inn, but we went out again in late afternoon when the sky cleared to walk the high and less prone to flood Cohab Canyon, which had quite an ascent up, but then a gradual descent, with several side slot canyons to explore. 
Look at this sunlit peak against a dark sky
We did three slot canyons, one just about wide enough to squeeze through sideways that Pauline decided wasn’t for her. It was fabulous (lacking better adjectives again), had amazing canyon walls eroded into fantastic shapes and colours and was very worthwhile. We ended up back on the SR-24 road (that only made this area accessible in 1962) and walked back to look at the ancient civilization rock art (Petroglyphs). Their drawings look like men in space suits to me – are they trying to tell us something?

The uphill walk to the Cohab canyon
Looking back down to the Fruita village
Jackie checks out a slot canyon

And we have a go at this one - come back Jackie!

Pauline decides she's gone far enough and backs off carrying our rucksack
A rest out of the afternoon sun in Cohab canyon

In one of the slot canyons
Jackie gets eaten by a rock dinosaurs head!

Look at these amazing rock colours
A lizard basks in the sun

Ancient Indian rock art. Do they look like spacemen to you?
Buffalo, we finally saw buffalo (or are they Bison?)
This morning was nice and sunny for our scenic drive along highway 12 through the Grand Staircase NP, another and huge National Park. This place is so remote that only highway 12 crosses it. There are a few four wheel drive tracks that follow early pioneer routes, but other than those it’s pristine. All hikes in this area are remote with no established tracks and some of them, like ones to a slot canyon area sound great, maybe we’ll come back later! 
Grand Staircase NP, a remote pristine wilderness. The road you see is the only crossing
Navajo sandstone. The diagonal lines mark the sand dune layers
Eventually we came through the top of Bryce Canyon, which is another amazing place of strikingly red sandstone sculptures that we’ll be visiting later and on through Red Canyon, another bright red canyon that is considered an ‘also ran’, but is fabulous. We stopped at the visitors centre and chatted to a volunteer ranger who told us all about the fantastic sights in Bryce Canyon, then told us about his Red Canyon, which also sounds fabulous. 
Entering the top of Bryce Canyon
Go to Bryce he told us, it will be busy, but afterwards come here, where it’s almost as good, but we’ll probably be walking on our own! Then he told us about the other nearby NP, Zion, which has some stunning walks.  Bryce and Zion are going to need at least two days a piece, Red Canyon at least one day and nearby Cedar Breaks National Monument another day.

A viewpoint over Cedar Breaks National Monument
Our apartment at Brian Head
We’re in Brian Head now for seven days, it’s a ski resort at 9800ft, but sadly not at the moment, the ski season starts here on 20th November, but we’re in a luxurious ski apartment with high mountains and ski lifts all around us. The grass is green, but the aspen trees have turned to red, orange and yellow leaves and the scenery is stunning! At 9800ft its cool and fresh here, low 60’s F (16 C), but bright and sunny, so pretty good to walk around in. It’ll be colder tonight, but not freezing, so we’re happy with that.

From the other direction. Pauline's starting a jigsaw, Jackies on the computer
The view from our terrace and a ski lift going uphill
Tomorrow it’s into Cedar City for shopping and sightseeing, taking a round mountain trip of scenic roads and then hit the National Parks on Wednesday. When we booked Brian Head for a week before we left the UK we thought we’d be able to have at least one day of relaxation, but now we’re thinking a week isn’t enough. There is too much to do and not enough time!!
The view a little bit further round