Clear and 70 degrees F just after sunset
For veteran boondockers out west, three days is but a blink of an eye, but for us, as we travel home toward Oregon after nearly three months on the road, it is a great luxury. Our route is a new one for us, with points on the map chosen more for distance from the previous stop than anything in particular we might want to see. In spite of that spontaneous movement north and west, great stuff just keeps showing up.
Leaving behind the vast salmon colored sands of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and the infamous Lake Powell, we entered the southwestern section of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. I don’t do politics on this blog, but love him or hate him, the Grand Staircase, in my opinion, is the very best accomplishment of President Clinton. One of those last minute deals that presidents sometimes do, the monument designation created a bunch of controversy. Too bad. It covers 1.7 million acres of wild country, administered by the BLM for multiple use, and has protected some of the most magnificent wild places in the western US.
It feels like home to me, having traveled the northwestern parts for years, both before and after the monument designation. Our little piece of Highway 89 toward Kanab yielded up stories of dinosaurs at the closed BLM visitor center, and a beautiful hike along a wash to the Toadstools, colorful formations in stone that look exactly like toadstools, or whatever else imagination can conceive.
It was hot enough that we let Abby rest in the MoHo while we hiked just a couple of miles along the wash and up eroded hills toward the toadstool plateau. Wind and water once again worked their magic on the landscape, and the stormy skies to the west added just enough drama to make it fun.
The prediction was for 0 percent chance of precipitation, and I was reminded of that as big fat drops hit the windshield when we got back in the rig to continue north. After our hike, we were both ready for ice cream, and the town of Kanab wasn’t too far off.
Sure enough, as soon as the internet came up on the phone, I searched for ice cream and found Three Bears Creamery Cottage. This is the kind of restaurant you always hope to find out on the road and rarely actually do. The menu was creative, the bread was homemade from their own ground wheat, the soup smelled great and I wished we were in the mood for eating more than ice cream! Instead we bought two single scoops in cones, for $2.50 each, and such cones you have never seen. They were huge, and the ice cream was from a company called Russels, that I never heard of before, but was probably the best ice cream I have ever eaten.
Our destination was Hurricane, Utah, a small town east of St George that I visited once a couple of decades ago. We thought it would be nice to boondock somewhere in the Utah desert, and a quick email to Mark Johnson, veteran of years of camping in this part of the world, yielded a quick response.
Sure enough, we followed his suggestion, parked at the head of the road, unhooked to find a spot and were rewarded with utter perfection. We are on a high point along a dirt road, just a couple of miles from the pavement, and we are utterly and completely alone. The only activity is an occasional car traveling east or west, and a few mountain bikers peddling along just out of sight of our campsite until they are beyond us.
The first night here, we had some wild winds, and a few raindrops, but by the next morning it was crystal clear and has stayed that way the entire time. Running the generator a bit in the morning and evening gives us power to charge up batteries and computers and check in on emails and write a bit. Otherwise our small single solar panel keeps the batteries fully charged for running the furnace at night when the temps get down to 40 or so by morning.
With two full days to wander, we decided to take the dirt road up to Hurricane Mesa, what the locals call Monkey Mesa. Another suggestion from Mark, and what a great one! I actually linked to Mark’s blog about the place because I think his information is more reliable than most.
I still can’t quite imagine anyone riding a bike up that road, certainly not me! Once up on top the mesas opened up to fantastic views of mountains and canyons. We read about why the place is called Monkey Mesa, although currently there are no chimps being ejected from test ejection seats on the 12,000 foot site. There are still high fences and security all around, but no matter, we weren’t interested anyway.
The views were beyond magnificent. The climb up the mesa is a bit thrilling as well, especially as a passenger on the outside edge. Explain to me why the outside edge of a cliff is always on the passenger side?! Once on top we were treated to vistas of the west side of Zion and the Kolob Canyons on the northern edge of the National Park.
The mesas were lush and the road was excellent, even unpaved. I had no map, but had researched the route a bit before we left, so knew that we could make a long loop and travel back down on the east side of the canyon through Virgin. The route was easy to track, and except for one other car, we were completely alone. It was so refreshing.
Coming down the road toward Virgin, we came to a sharp left turn with a sign that said we were entering Zion National Park. Not a fee booth in sight, so we just ambled up the road and followed the signs to the Kolob Plateau area of the park and toward the Kolob Reservoir. At more than 8,000 feet elevation, the aspens had yet to leaf out and there was ice on the edges of the very low reservoir. With all our travels through red rock canyons, the brown trees and brown hills were a bit tiresome. I can imagine it might be lovely when the aspens are leafed out, but we were happy to get back down to canyon country and red rock again.
Even on a Sunday afternoon, this section of Zion wasn’t terribly crowded, except for the trailheads. As we passed, most of them were completely full of cars. What I loved most about this drive was seeing Zion from a completely different perspective. Instead of all the looking up and up and up, from here we could get a glimpse of the magnificent canyons from the top down, and see them in relation to the mesas that surrounded them. The views were just wonderful.
Our red dirt road led us back to pavement, and then down to the small village of Virgin. There isn’t a lot of shopping in Virgin, but there is a crazy place called Fort Zion, a souvenir shop with a restaurant and petting zoo for kids. Lucky for us, tired and hungry from our day trip, they did have ice cream, good ice cream, and we happily bought a couple of cones to get us back to the rig and the waiting animals.
The evening was beautiful, and after supper we went for a walkabout along the plateau and through a nearby canyon before settling in for the night. In all our years, I don’t think I have ever experienced nights as silent and dark as this place. We leave all the shades open, and fall asleep to only starlight coming through the windows. The moon is rising after 3 am now, so the darkness of the night is total.
I love it here. Love it. Today we left early to explore the more popular parts of Zion, thinking that perhaps being a Monday, traffic wouldn’t be too bad. But that is a story for the next blog.