Monthly Archives: March 2016

Mukuntuweap aka Zion

Zion, our fifth national park visit in Utah, was last but certainly not least. It has a huge TADA factor. According to National Geographic, Zion is the 6th most visited national park in the US, drawing over 3.6 million visitors each year. I have no idea how many visited in September when we were there but it seemed like it may have been all 3.6 million.

Mukuntuweap National Monument was established in 1909 by President William Howard Taft. Mukuntuweap, meaning straight canyon, was the name given to this area by Southern Paiute inhabitants around 1100 AD. The early Mormon pioneers renamed the area Zion, a Hebrew word for refuge. In 1918, President Woodrow Wilson issued an executive order enlarging the monument and officially changing the name to Zion National Monument. The following year it became Utah’s first national park (National Park Service, 2016).

In an earlier post, I told you the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway into Zion from the east was closed because of a major rock fall on September 23. At breakfast in our hotel restaurant in Mt. Carmel on September 26, we learned it was still closed. Nonetheless, we drove to the East Entrance.


We wanted to see what we could of the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway up to the second tunnel where the road was closed. On the map below, I’ve marked the entrance and the closure in red to show how far we could drive into the park.

Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 10_Fotor

Zion National Park brochure map (public domain)

With plenty of scenery and wildlife along the Zion-Mt Carmel Highway, we didn’t mind the fact that we would eventually arrive at a dead-end.


Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway


Scenes from the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway, Zion NP


Bighorn sheep on the rocks along the Zion-Mt. Carmel Hwy


Another herd of Bighorn sheep


First tunnel on the Zion-Mt. Carmel Hwy in Zion NP

The most difficult section of the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway to construct was this 1.1-mile tunnel below. I was fascinated to learn that the first step was to blast holes into the cliff face which would later become gallery windows with incredible views from inside the tunnel. Once the windows were blasted, workers had access to the interior of the cliff where they could continue to blast and drill the tunnel. When the tunnel was dedicated on July 4, 1930, it was the longest of its kind in the U.S. (National Park Service, 2016).


The 1.1-mile tunnel on the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway where the road was closed



Yet another herd of Bighorn sheep from the rear


The Bighorn sheep were bold enough to cross the road right in front of us


We watched 2 rams pursue this ewe a good long while and thought we’d see them lock horns but this guy apparently won out.

Once we saw everything on the east side of the closure, we drove back the way we came and then drove around to the south entrance at Springdale, about 120 extra miles. While Jim drove, I looked for lodging on my smartphone with spotty coverage at best. There were no rooms to be found in Springdale. The closest room I could find to the park was a Best Western in La Verkin, about 20 miles away. As it turned out, lodging is much more reasonably priced further from the park so we weren’t unhappy with our choice.

We arrived at the south entrance in the afternoon. Here’s a tip: Get there early. The parking is limited and the overflow is directed to park on the street or in lots in Springdale where there are shuttles to deliver visitors to the park. The shuttle goes down the main street only so if your parking is off on a side street like ours, you may have a bit of a hike to the shuttle. So get there early!

Next time I’ll share scenes and stories from our exploration of Zion from the South Entrance.


Based on events from September 2015.



National Park Service. Zion National Park. (2016). Retrieved from


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I Found My Park Hiking the Hoodoos

Pun intended.

I think most visitors agree that Zion reigns supreme among the mighty five national parks in Utah. My pick, however, was Bryce Canyon. The unmatched beauty of the hoodoos called to me in a way that no other park has.

So, you ask, “What’s a hoodoo?” If another play on words wasn’t too lame, I’d say, “It just stands there and looks pretty. (If you missed both puns, leave a comment. I’ll explain.)

Imagine giant gothic sand castles made by dripping, drizzling, and sculpting wet sand into lumpy spires. Like this.


Hoodoos in Bryce Canyon NP

These spectacular geologic formations weren’t really formed by adding sand but rather by weathering processes that removed the rock in interesting ways. Frost wedging occurs when water seeps into cracks, freezes and expands, making the cracks ever wider as the process continues. Additionally, acidic rainwater sculpts the limestone by dripping onto the rock and carrying off particles of it. The end-result of this weathering after eons is a hoodoo.

We first spotted hoodoos at the Mossy Cave Trail along Hwy 12 before we even knew we had entered Bryce Canyon National Park. We saw a parking area with hoodoos in the background and pulled over for a better look.


Mossy Cave in Bryce Canyon NP


Trail to Mossy Cave, Bryce Canyon

It’s an easy trail of no more than a mile roundtrip but the views are quite stunning.


Mossy Cave Trail, Bryce Canyon NP


Mossy Cave Waterfall, Bryce Canyon NP

After this outstanding introduction, we were definitely excited to see more. Unfortunately, no rooms were available inside the park at Bryce Canyon Lodge. We checked into  Ruby’s Inn Best Western, a historic and somewhat campy hotel that claims to be the closest lodging to the park entrance, then headed back to Bryce for more captivating views.


Entrance to Bryce Canyon National Park

Luckily we were in the park at sunset which was spectacular.


Sunset at Bryce Canyon



Sunset in Bryce Canyon NP


Sunset in Bryce Canyon NP


Sunset at Inspiration Point in Bryce Canyon NP


Moon over Bryce Canyon NP

We returned early in the morning for sunrise which was beyond spectacular.


Sky at sunrise over Bryce Canyon


Sunrise at Bryce Canyon NP


Sunrise at Inspiration Point, Bryce Canyon NP

With two incomparable experiences now behind us, we decided to hike down into the canyon on the Queens Garden Trail.  We planned to visit Queen Victoria Hoodoo then turn around and come back up the same way.


Queens Garden Trail in Bryce Canyon NP


Queens Garden Trail


Hiking the hoodoos


Hiking the Hoodoos on Queens Garden Trail

Queen Victoria Hoodoo really did look like the British queen to us. On the photo below, look at the top of the hoodoo. It’s a side view of the portly queen holding her hands in front of her and a crown on her head. Do you see it?


Queen Victoria Hoodoo

Once our mission was accomplished to reach the bottom of the canyon and hike to Queen Victoria Hoodoo, it struck us as premature to immediately hike back up the trail. Why not enjoy the bottom of the canyon with the flat trail and shady respite? We decided to hike the combined Queens Garden and the Navajo Trail route which is only 3 miles but the climb of 580 feet at an elevation in excess of 8000 feet was plenty strenuous for us.


Hiking the Hoodoos at the bottom of Bryce Canyon

We saw signs at the trailhead and along the trail warning hikers about loose rock and rock slides with admonishment to wear appropriate foot gear. Then we would see girls on the trail in their flipflops.


Trailhead warning



Cautionary sign along the trail


Hiking the Navajo Trail in Bryce Canyon NP


Wall Street section of Navajo Trail


Looking down the Navajo Trail from the trail above


Look closely to see the people behind us climbing the trail on switchbacks below


Back at the top on the Rim Trail of Bryce Canyon NP

The park offers a “Hiking the Hoodoos!” challenge to encourage visitors to be active in the park. You must hike at least 3 miles and have photos or rubbings from the benchmark survey markers. I took a photo of one of the markers below.


While we didn’t participate in the program, we are proud to proclaim we met the challenge and I found my park hiking the hoodoos.


Based on events in September 2015.


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Find Your Park at Capitol Reef


Entrance to Capitol Reef

I love the national park slogan, “Find Your Park.” When we planned to visit Capitol Reef, my first thought was, “Find your park back story about the name.” The national park website told me Capitol comes from the white sandstone dome in the photo below that early settlers believed looked like the U.S. Capitol. (It’s the pointy one, third from the left.) Reef refers to the ridge formed by the Waterpocket Fold, a hundred mile long geological wrinkle in the earth found here. Thus Capitol Reef. And now you know.


Capitol Dome

We stopped first at Behunin Cabin, a 215 square foot one-room cabin built by Mormon pioneer Elijah Cutler Behunin in 1883. The family moved to Fruita after just a year due to repeated flooding that destroyed their crops. I don’t know how many Behunins lived here but they eventually numbered 15 so it was undoubtedly crowded.


Behunin Cabin

Elijah Behunin donated land for a school in 1896 where his oldest daughter served as the school’s first teacher at the age of 12. Kids must have been smarter then. Classes continued in this building until 1941.


Fruita Schoolhouse


Inside Fruita Schoolhouse

Our hike to Hickman Bridge was one of the most memorable of our trip. (Remember from my earlier post, a geological bridge is like an arch with water under it.) On the trail, we met a couple from Iowa who told us they had encountered a huge boulder in the middle of the road in Zion National Park from a rock slide early that morning. This would effectively close the road until it could be removed and the road repaired. So in addition to a wrinkle in the earth, there was now a wrinkle in our plan. Ah, well, we had Bryce Canyon to see first so we crossed our fingers that the road to Zion would be reopened before we got there. Thankfully, no one was injured because this couple arrived on the scene literally minutes after the event.


Trail to Hickman Bridge


Trail to Hickman Bridge along the Fremont River


We met another couple at Hickman Bridge, two young men from Washington, DC. One of them was with National Geographic and the other worked for a non-profit. We hit it off immediately and when Jim told them about my travel blog, we had a great travel discussion and even exchanged business cards. Then I tripped over my own feet and punctured my bum on a tree root sticking out of the ground and they had to help me up. I’m sure the memory is burned into their minds forever and I still have the scar to remind me of the experience.


Hickman Bridge


Hickman Bridge



Hickman Bridge

The Fruita Orchard within the park is open to the public with 3100 fruit and nut trees that produce at various times of the year. We happened to be there at apple harvest but other seasons include cherries, apricots, peaches, pears, plums, mulberries, almonds, and walnuts. You can pick and eat whatever is posted as ready for harvest at the time. If you want to take produce with you, you weigh it and leave payment in the metal box. The apples were $1 per pound.


Fruita Orchard


Fruita Orchard


Jim using the apple picker at Fruita Orchard

The Fremont Petroglyphs, inscribed by early Puebloans and named for the Fremont River, decorate the red sandstone in many areas throughout the park. They are prominently displayed, however, directly off the highway along a pleasant walking trail.


Fremont Petroglyphs

The Castle, visible from the highway, is another well-known landmark within the park.


The Castle at Capitol Reef NP

As we exited Capitol Reef National Park, we took the scenic drive down Utah State Route 12 on our way to Bryce Canyon. When we stopped for gas and groceries in Escalante, Utah, I asked at the grocery store about buying wine. They directed me to the state liquor store which we finally found after much searching in Escalante Outfitter’s. According to their website they offer “tours, food, gear, cabins, and camping.” While not advertised, they also sell alcohol in a small closet at the back of the store caged in by chicken wire.

Once we procured the wine, we were on our way to Bryce Canyon National Park where I would indeed, find my park.


Based on events from September 2015.




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Needles, Butler Wash, and Natural Bridges

We planned to miss the Needles section of Canyonlands National Park because the road to the entrance was an additional 50 miles off the highway. Then a ranger told us about an alternative called Needles Overlook that was only 22 miles off the main road. That fit our schedule better so we decided to have a look. I think there was one other vehicle the entire time we were there. This gem is definitely a well kept secret. We hiked to Needles Overlook and Indian Creek Viewpoint which were both easy walks with stunning rewards.


Jim on the trail to Needles Overlook


View from Needles Overlook


View from Indian Creek Viewpoint


Colorado River Overlook


Me on the trail where the soil surface and hard surface meet

Just west of Blanding on Utah SR 95 we stopped for a one mile roundtrip hike to Butler Wash Ruins, cliff dwellings of the Anasazi dating from 1200 AD. The trail begins on gravel but quickly becomes slickrock so be careful and mind the cairns to stay on the trail. Much of the trail is uphill going to the ruins which makes the return more pleasant.


Jim on the trail to Butler Wash Ruins


Jim climbing the trail to to Butler Wash Ruins


Butler Wash Ruins where Anasazi lived in cliff dwellings

Our final stop for the day before dinner and a hotel, was at Natural Bridges National Monument. Fortunately, we still had enough energy to tackle the bridges because it was intense. Or so we thought until we encountered an 80 something year old woman who went to the bottom of all three bridges…making us look like hiker pikers.


Natural Bridges National Monument

If you read my earlier post about Arches, your first thought may be, “What’s the difference between an arch and a bridge?”  A bridge crosses some kind of water at one time or another whereas an arch does not . Both are formed by erosion, however.

Your second question may be, “What’s the difference between a national monument and a national park?” A monument preserves a significant natural resource and a park protects a variety of resources within a significant area. Bridges National Monument, the first national monument in Utah, was established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908 to preserve the three natural bridges found here.

The trail to Sipapu is billed as a strenuous hike. Elevations ranging from 5500 to 6500 feet provided an additional element.  The trail began with stairs and as I climbed down, I told myself, “I have to climb back up at the end of the hike so keep a little in the tank for later.”


Stairs at Sipapu Bridge trailhead


Jim and more stairs on Sipapu Trail

We encountered a class that was listening to a lecture as we hiked to Sipapu Bridge. I wondered if they were resting on the way back.


Sipapu Trail

When we saw the views after some fairly rigorous hiking, we decided not to go all the way to the bottom.


Sipapu Bridge

The second bridge was Kachina and we decided right away not to go to the bottom since the view from the overlook was superb. If you can’t tell where the bridge is on the photo below, the green trees in the center of the photo are below the bridge.


Kachina Bridge

Finally, we hiked to Owachomo Bridge. We did go all the way to the bottom of this one.


Hiking to Owachomo Bridge 



 Owachomo Bridge




Selfie with Owachomo Bridge behind us




Beneath Owachomo Bridge


Owachomo Bridge above us

Whether you’re a hiker or not, this is a great place to spend some time. There’s a driving loop with stops and views of each bridge along the way and you can hike all or a portion of the trails with overlooks, too.

We planned to tour Capitol Reef National Park the following morning and wanted to spend the night near the eastern entrance. The drive on SR 95 was impressive.


Driving north on SR 95, Utah

Reception on my smart phone was very spotty in this area but I did find a room at the Rodeway Inn in Caineville. I also read there were no restaurants in Caineville so to prevent a restaurant search while hangry, it would be prudent to eat before our arrival. I think there were two or three eateries in Hanksville and we chose Blondie’s, a family owned burger joint. The extended family all seemed to be in attendance and our food was cooked while we waited–nothing fancy but tasty, nonetheless.


Blondie’s in Hanksville, Utah


Burger at Blondie’s

We easily found the Rodeway in Caineville, Utah, population 20, because it was the only building in this unincorporated town. The hotel was basic and overpriced including a gluten loaded breakfast of cereal and donuts. But it was the only option this side of Capitol Reef and our evening view was priceless.


View from the Rodeway Inn in Cainville, Utah

Check back next week for our tour of Capitol Reef National Park and prepare to be amazed. We were.


Based on events from September 2015.

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