Thursday, October 8 – Capitol Reef National Park and Boondocking in the Dixie National Forest
Growing up in southern Florida and snorkeling coral reefs in the Florida Keys, I have a hard time accepting the word reef when used to describe western landscapes. Evidently, early white settlers found the rock formations that make up Capitol Reef National Park difficult to navigate much like a ship captain trying to find his way through coastal reefs. Hence the name, Capitol Reef.
It’s around 11:30 AM as we enter the small town of Hanksville, UT on our way to Capitol Reef NP. We left Goblin Valley State Park about an hour ago and have another hour ahead of us. We haven’t had internet access for the past 3 days nor much of a breakfast this morning so we pull into Duke’s Slickrock Grill. The Yelp reviews are promising and they offer free WiFi. Perfect! The menu says breakfast ended at 11:00 AM but our waiter tells us, “Not a problem”.
Cindy orders the “Cowboy Breakfast” and I have the “Trail Boss”. We love diners that name their breakfast selections after hardy eaters such as the Eighteen Wheeler, Lumber Jack, Ranch Hand, Longshoreman…you get the idea. There’s not much you can do to screw up eggs so we judge a diner by the quality of their bacon. Duke’s excelled on this front so we highly recommend this joint.
It’s about 2 PM when we finally arrive at Capitol Reef. The drive was slow going at times but the scenery spectacular. Unfortunately, we’ve arrived about an hour too late to get a campsite. That’s what we get for treating ourselves to breakfast at Duke’s. Even so, we take the scenic 10 mile drive into the park. Since it’s the middle of the day, I don’t take any photos. On the way out, I stop in the visitor’s center for alternate campground suggestions. Capitol Reef is surrounded by the Dixie National Forest which has numerous developed campgrounds and dispersed camping sites. Since it’s getting late and we’ll only be staying one night, we opt for a dispersed site where we can boondock for free.
Friday, October 9 – Bryce Canyon National Park
We leave our boondocking site early this morning so we won’t miss out on a first-come, first-serve campsite at Bryce Canyon. The drive is only 96 miles and we arrive around 10 AM. On the way into the park, we pass a few touristy motels, restaurants and commercial RV parks. The Ranger at the Pay Station tells me the campground is not full which is good news. The campground is less than a mile inside the park and as we drive around the A-Loop where generators are allowed, I see lots of available sites. Weird. All the other national park campgrounds in Utah have been filled. Why is this one empty? It seems very nice – sites are spaced well apart and there’s plenty of room for large rigs. No hookups, but that’s to be expected for a national park campground. Turns out, the fee for this campground is $30/night and to add insult to injury, they charge campers an additional $5 to use the dump station! Capitol Reef NP to the north charges $20 and Zion NP to the south charges $18 (electricity included). I feel like I’m being ripped off which taints our visit. As a result, we cut our time here short and pay for only 2 nights.
After we settle in, we take a drive through the park. It’s similar to Capitol Reef only the roads in Bryce run along the top of the canyon. The roads in Capitol Reef (as well as Zion) run along the canyon floors.
More Milky Way Photos
After dinner, I head out to take some more Milky Way photos. Unlike my previous attempt at Goblin Valley SP, I haven’t done my homework by preselecting a spot. There’s an overlook called Sunset Point which sounds promising, so I head there. It’s completely dark out when I arrive. Even with my head lamp, I find it difficult to navigate the paved trail out to the overlook. At the overlook, I find another photographer taking Milky Way photos. As I set up, we chat and compare techniques and gear. It’s too dark to see him but based on his accent, I’d say he’s from Germany. His wife is with him while Cindy and T&E are back at the Airstream enjoying the warmth and comforts of home. At 8,000 feet, it’s downright cold out here.
The sky is dark and the Milky Way is clearly visible. However, being at the top of the canyon means there’s no foreground features to make these photos interesting. There’s also people on the surrounding canyon walls walking around with flashlights which spoils most of the pictures I take. I decide none of these photos are blog-worthy until I notice something strange…
After closely cropping the photo above and performing a quick google search, I discover I’ve photographed the Andromeda Galaxy. The Andromeda Galaxy is the nearest large galaxy to our Milky Way at approximately 2.5 million light years away from Earth.
Sunday, October 11 – Zion National Park
We’ve had enough dry camping for a while and with our supplies dwindling, we decide to head for Zion West RV Park, a commercial campground in Leeds Utah. It’s 30 miles from the west entrance to Zion National Park but close to St. George where there’s a Walmart and every other store imaginable. The fastest route is to go due east and take I-15 south but we like the looks of Highway 89. This will take us south to Highway 9 which leads to the east entrance of Zion. From there, we’ll tow the Airstream through the park while getting a preview of Zion along the way. According to Google maps, it’s about a 130 mile drive. Sounds like a great plan.
While driving along Highway 9, we pass a large sign at a pullover about 10 or so miles from the park entrance. I think it says something about large RVs and trucks. We should have stopped to read it but we keep going. About 10-15 minutes later, we arrive at the east entrance to Zion. There’s a small line of cars and RVs waiting to enter. When we pull up to the entrance booth, I show the Ranger our annual pass and ask him about the RV/Truck sign that we didn’t bother to read. He tells me tall RVs and trucks are prohibited but we can tow our Airstream through the park by paying a $15 escort fee for the narrow tunnels up ahead. All if this was explained on the sign. Now I know why so many other RVs in front of us were turning around and exiting the park. I guess they didn’t bother reading the sign either. Not wanting to shell out $15, we do the same which adds another 50 miles to our trip. I really need to plan better.
Wednesday, October 14 – Hiking “The Narrows”
It’s about 7 AM when I arrive at the visitors center near the west entrance of Zion NP. I was here yesterday and rode the free shuttle up the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive to where it ends at the Temple of Sinawava. Cars are prohibited on this drive which makes sense since there’re few places to park. Today, I’ve come prepared to hike up the Virgin River into an area known as The Narrows. The scenic drive runs along the Virgin River and as it heads up-canyon, the canyon narrows. At the drive’s end, the canyon is so narrow, there’s no room for the road to continue. Most people ride the shuttle to the end where they exit to hike a paved trail that continues for another mile upriver. I did this yesterday. At the end of the paved trail, there’s nowhere on either side of the river for the trail to continue thus forcing hikers to enter the water if they wish to keep going. And that’s exactly what I plan to do today. I’ve come early since this is a popular hike and I want to experience it without the crowds.
Saturday, October 17 – Grand Canyon’s North Rim
Most tourists visit the south rim of the Grand Canyon. It’s an easy drive from Flagstaff and Phoenix is not that far away. We been to the south rim twice. We’ve always wanted to visit the north rim but it’s a very long drive from these major gateways. Now that we’re in Zion NP, we’re only 140 miles away.
The landscape changes from sage brush and desert to junipers and pines as we climb in elevation on our way from southern Utah to the park. The temperature drops as well. We have a campsite reservation so we’re in no hurry. It’s about 3 PM when we arrive. The lodge and most of the park’s amenities have closed for the season so not many people are here. Even so, a sign at the park’s entrance indicates the campground is full.
Years ago on a nature show, I learned about the Kaibab Squirrel which exists nowhere else in the world other than a small area along the north rim of the Grand Canyon. The Kaibab squirrel is a sub-species of the Abert’s squirrel which lives along the south rim and is an example of a species that has evolved differently due to geographical isolation. There’s a common misbelief, which the aforementioned nature show propagated, the geographical isolation of this sub-species resulted from the formation of the Grand Canyon itself. This is not true. If you’re interested in learning more about the Kaibab squirrel, click here.
Tuesday, October 20 – Leaving early.
It’s been cloudy and rainy ever since we arrived at the Grand Canyon NP. Generators are limited to 2 hours in the morning and evening and without the sun, our solar panels and limited generator time are simply not enough to recharge our batteries. Our net loss is around 10% of capacity each day so we’ve decided to leave a day early and start our journey back east for the holidays.by