A LOT of photos for this day of traveling Highway 12 are linked here>
Today was a driving day. We weren’t sure where we would end up, and only knew that the route would follow Scenic Highway 12, one of the most dramatically beautiful drives in the west. I have traveled this route before, on other trips, but each time it is a new experience. Each time the aspens on Boulder Mountain are a different shade of green or yellow, the canyons varying shades of clarity, red or hazy. Today there was a lot of haze and smoke and I wondered if possibly there were forest fires going on somewhere. We haven’t watched TV or listened to a radio in many days now, so I really have no idea what is going on out there.
When we left Torrey this morning it was windy and chilly enough for long pants and sweatshirts. Gasoline cost a staggering 3.29 per gallon, with the advertised 3.09 per gallon only for 85 octane ethanol, not something we want to put in the MoHo. We never would have made it up all those grades!
The road is two lane, very rough along much of the way, with many steep grades and curves, including the hair-raising 14 percent downgrade off the hogback. We thought we might like to hike Calf Creek Falls, both the Upper Falls and the Lower Falls have trailheads not far south of Boulder. But it was hot, much too hot to leave the cat in the MoHo without air conditioning even if we could take the dog. The white hot heat made hiking seem much less attractive to us anyway, so we decided instead to make it a looking and driving day instead of a hiking day.
Bryce Canyon National Park is on this route as well, a few miles south of the highway ,and we decided against braving the crowds to be tourists at the overlooks. We both have hiked Bryce in the past, and most of the trails are steep and hot, even though gorgeous. Even outside the park, however, the colors of the hoodoos are every possible shade of orange sherbet, pink, cream, white, and red. It’s pretty to look at, but not inviting to hike because the rocks are soft red claystone, crumbly and shifting underfoot. My soul love is slickrock, and solid cliffs of Wingate, so I am content to enjoy the colors and the hoodoos and move on.
I spent part of the drive reading aloud to Mo about 90 different hikes in Canyon Country in the WOW hiking guidebook I bought back at the Capital Reef Inn. So many of the truly great hikes in this part of the plateau involve many miles of rough driving down the Hole in the Rock Road just north of Escalante. The road is the gateway for many famous slot canyons and the canyons of the Escalante River, but they will have to wait for another time for us. I read about backpacking the 38 miles through Pariah Canyon and wondered if I have a trip like that still in me. It’s all downhill, mostly on the canyon floor wading in the river, with slots so narrow you have to carry your pack in front of you to slide through. Maybe someday. It could be a lifetime trip like my Cataract Canyon raft trip turned out to be. Who knows. But today, driving highway 12, I added it to my bucket list.
After a short break and walk at Red Canyon, we turned south on Utah 89 toward Kanab, and then turned west on Highway 14 toward Cedar Breaks National Monument and Cedar City. At the top of the pass, again at 10,000 feet of so, is the lovely Navajo Lake where I camped a bazillion years ago when my kids were just little. It was a different time of year, with the green aspen I remember so clearly all now fiery yellow, gold, red, and peach. We stopped for the night at Duck Creek Campground in the Dixie National Forest since the Navajo Lakes camps were closed for the season. Tonight we had our last campfire in the mountains to accompany a card game before we watched the night sky darken.
I am amazed at how quickly the landscape shifts as we travel. It often isn’t a gradual change, suddenly we are in desert, then in spruce aspen high mountains, back to sage, red rocks to cream and buff clays, and back again. Tomorrow we will leave the mountains behind as we enter the Great Basin landscape of the west. Once over this last mountain, the basin and range will meet us on the way through Nevada and finally home to Klamath Falls where Basin and Range meets the Cascade Range.