This will be a rather short post, with no photos. Our plans for the day included breakfast at the wonderful Capitol Reef Inn and Cafe, but when we arrived at 8am there was a closed sign on the door saying they were closed for the day due to lack of staff. glitch number one.
Instead we found a restaurant connected with a hotel east of Torrey, the Pioneer Kitchen, and in spite of the busload of tourists that were finishing up breakfast, we had a table in a short time. The breakfast and service were decent too, but it didn’t have the ambience of Capitol Reef Inn.
The next plan for the day was for Dan to install the brake pads that Mo and I drove to Loa to buy yesterday afternoon. Long story short, we knew the brakes on the MoHo were making funny noises and managed to get an appointment at Les Schwab to have them checked. They rotated the tires and charged us for checking the brakes. They said they were fine. We chose them because most other shops in Grants Pass had either no lifts big enough for a motorhome, or a wait of weeks to months for an appointment. Les Schwab said the brakes all checked out fine.
On the trip, the brake sounds were getting noisier than ever, and thought maybe it was blowing sand that was in the brake lining.Once we arrived here on Monday afternoon we had Dan drive the MoHo and listen. Yeah…worn out pads grinding the rotors. Sigh. Of course there was no one within 200 miles that could work on the brakes in less then two weeks. Lucky us, Dan agreed to put in the pads and said that if we didn’t replace the rotor we would just have to do the job again when we get home because the pad will wear out quickly. So we finally found pads in Loa and made the round trip to pick them up.
After breakfast, Dan started working on installing the pads. Our plan was to get that done, and then pile into his Suzuki for the gorgeous drive over Thousand Lakes Mountain to visit the remote Cathedral Valley portion of Capitol Reef National Park. Instead, Dan worked for hours on the brakes, with problems entailed by not having the right tools. He and Mo made two trips back to Bicknell for clamps and sockets that would fit. Not fun. It was mid afternoon when Dan finished the difficult job. We also had to try to camouflage the work site because in most parks it is a rule that you not work on vehicles in the park.
By the time everything was finished, Dan was exhausted, and we nixed the trip to Cathedral Valley. Hence no photos from this visit to Capitol Reef and Dan and Sherry will have to return to see it.
In case you have never been there, it is a must see that many people never bother to see. It requires scheduling and effort. This time we had a park notification that the Hartnet Road the crosses the Fremont River was closed. The only access to Cathedral Valley is over Thousand Lakes Mountain. The roads are high clearance and remote.
This photo of the Gifford House is from our visit camping in the Fruita campground in 2019
I knew from past experience that it was important to arrive at the Gifford House in Fruita very early if we wanted to score some of the famous pies. We made sure we were on the road traveling the 11 miles into the central portion of Capitol Reef NP by 7:45. When we arrived at the parking lot it was nearly full, with folks entering the little shop that had signs saying no more than 12 people could be inside at once. Sure enough, pies were still plentiful, with 5 varieties available. I didn’t manage to take photos of the big buck deer with a nice rack wandering around to greet us.
After Chere and I bought our pies, we jumped in the car to quickly get on the Scenic Drive that begins adjacent to the Gifford House barns just east of the main Fruita campground. We first took a quick drive around the campground so that Dan and Chere could check it out, but it was full and had been completely booked for months. No matter, Mo and I have enjoyed the campground in the past and this time our camp with an open view and hookups at Thousand Lakes RV Park is perfect.
The Scenic Drive is 20 miles round trip, and ends at the trail leading into Capitol Gorge. There are no words or photos that can actually capture the intensity of the vermillion, burgundy, carmine, and coral variations of color on the various rock formations of Capitol Reef. There are 19 different geologic stratigraphic formations identified in Capitol Reef. What I learned on this trip with the purchase of one more geology book about the area is that my adored Moenkopi formation actually has four different members! Always something new to learn.
It was still early as we traveled along the narrow road, and the cliffs get bigger and closer and more impressive as the road continues south. The first important side road is the short spur that leads to the Grand Wash trailhead. Silly me, I suggested that we continue south to Capitol Gorge first and catch Grand Wash on our way back. Things have changed a lot since our last visit in 2019. But more about that later.
We stopped at the marker for the Golden Throne and laughed a lot at our attempts to figure out which large monolith was actually the throne. Capitol Reef is actually named for the plethora of monoliths along the Waterpocket fold that is the main geologic feature of the park. These monoliths are called by many names, including domes, thrones, cathedrals, temples, and chimneys. After reviewing my geology book I finally figured out which of our photos was actually the Golden Throne.
At the end of the paved road is a large parking area with signs that prohibit vehicles longer than 27 feet traveling the dirt road toward the Capitol Gorge trailhead. Dan enjoyed driving his nifty Suzuki tow car on the narrow road, grumbling at times at the stupid tourists in big fancy cars driving fast and taking their half out of the middle on the narrow dirt road. By the time we reached the trailhead, the parking lot was filling quickly, and as we checked license plates they were from all over the county, with many plates from the eastern part of the US. People have definitely discovered the national parks, even remote, previously unknown and quiet Capitol Reef.
The flowers in the protected canyon were wonderful, with several rare species that I didn’t have time to identify.
We decided to hike into Capitol Gorge for a bit, going as far as the Petroglyph Narrows. The trail continues on a steeper uphill portion to the Tanks, which I hiked to many years ago, but it was too far to enjoy on this day. We had other places to go and other things to see. It was a lovely walk, with just enough slickrock along the edge of the wash that I could show Dan and Chere the delights of walking on slickrock, which is not slick at all.
We returned along the Scenic Drive with plans to hike into Grand Wash. Entering the side road with cars in front of us and behind us we saw that the parking lot was packed and cars were parking along the entrance road. We probably could have found a space along that road, but hiking with all those people wasn’t the least bit appealing, even in a place as wonderful as Grand Wash. I’ll include a couple of photos of Grand Wash from the time Mo and I hiked it in 2019. I am sure that there were at least 50 people emerging from their cars as we drove away from the trailhead and probably hundreds in the wash. So sad. Hiking Grand Wash might require a commitment to arrive at sunrise, and maybe even then it might be more crowded than I would like.
Leaving the Scenic Drive, we drove back past the Gifford House with roads and parking lots completely filled and overloaded. The visitor center is only partially open, but Dan dropped off Chere and I while he tried to find a parking place. Happily, he was successful. The bookstore was open, but the tee shirt selection was sad. But as I mentioned previously, I was thrilled to find a great book on the geology of the park that I didn’t already own. This one is just technical enough to be interesting, but has lots of photos and illustrations and maps. Mo couldn’t believe I bought another Capitol Reef book but I loved it.
We decided to take the short drive east on Highway 24 toward the Petroglyph site along the highway. There were hordes of folks lined up at the first viewpoint and more walking along the boardwalk that parallels the glyphs and hopefully protects them from vandalism. We parked behind a huge tour bus, and when we returned it was gone and replaced by another huge tour bus.
The petroglyphs are considered to be from the Fremont culture which inhabited the valleys along the Fremont River from about 300 CE. Of course, as with most estimates of prehistoric cultures there are various theories which are often disputed, especially by native people who consider their tribes as direct descendants of the prehistoric people that lived in the area.
We returned to the campground earlier than expected, but enjoyed the leisure time before supper to rest, walk the dogs, and catch up on blogs and photos. Supper was a delicious shared meal created by Chere at our picnic table with a view of the cliffs to the north and beautiful sunshine.
After supper we drove 9 miles back east on Highway 24 to the Observation Point road. There is a viewpoint that is at the end of the pavement that was full of cars and full of people. We chose to skip that point and drove the half mile or so on the narrow dirt road back to the trailheads for the Goosenecks Overlook and Sunset Point. Both trails are under a mile round trip, with a different view of similar landscapes at each point. The parking lot was again packed full but Dan found a spot to squeeze into with the Suzuki.
We chose the Sunset Point trail because it looked as though there were fewer people taking that one up to the viewpoints. The trail isn’t difficult, with only a few steps toward the beginning, and wide slickrock steps in some places. The drop off the cliffs is breathtaking, with the Fremont River close to 1,000 feet below. It is a great place to see the geologic strata in the park with the oldest rocks visible at the bottom of the gorge.
Mo and I walked back toward the east and Sunset Point where we joined many groups of people settling in among the rocks to await the sunset. I love the view from this spot, with Mt Ellen visible in the distance and the red cliffs of Wingate sandstone lit up by the setting sun. It was lovely, in spite of all the people that were around us. It takes a certain kind of mental gymnastics to enter my own mind in the silence of the place, feel the expanse as if I were alone. I am grateful that I have been visiting this park regularly since 1996 when it was an unknown place and people were few and far between. Those days are gone forever I am afraid.
We walked back to Dan and Chere to watch the rest of the sunset. Dan decided to hike up to the top on his own and surprised us when he popped out of a nearby drainage after his explorations. He got some good photos of the deepest part of the gorge which is very hard to photograph in the contrasting light.
It was the end of a nearly perfect day. We settled in for the evening with plans to travel over Thousand Lakes mountain the next day and explore Cathedral Valley. Little did we know that those plans would be thwarted by “stuff that happens”. But that is for the next post.
Traveling east through Utah on Highway 50 is pleasant enough, but not nearly as lonely and dramatic as the Nevada portions of the historic highway. Still, there are some lovely views. The highway crosses a large flat basin, with many large farms and ranches dotting the landscape. Highway 50 merges with I-15 for a few miles before continuing east at Scipio. The mountains were beautiful and crystal clear.
Once we were on Highway 24 the signs for Capitol Reef National Park were posted every few miles. This is the main route to Capitol Reef from the west.
We saw what appeared to be a nice rest area on the north side of the highway and were delighted to find plenty of parking for both our rigs, a beautiful view, and a nice picnic table in the shade. However, the wind made the weather a bit nippy we didn’t linger long.
When approaching Torrey from the west on Highway 24 it is always thrilling to see the first views of Thousand Lakes Mountain. The mountain looms from 7,000 feet, where the terrain is craggy and rugged, to alpine meadows and forests at its peak elevation of 11,306 feet. Thousand Lakes Mountain is notably flat at the summit, which offers up expansive views of the Henry and Tushar mountain ranges, Capitol Reef National Park and the Aquarius Plateau. When the Fremont River crossing that accesses the back roads to Cathedral Valley in Capitol Reef NP, there is another way to get there. We hope to travel across this mountain sometime during our week in Torrey to see Cathedral Valley.
The first views of red rock cliffs appear a few miles west of Torrey, and while they are beautiful, they are just a tiny taste of what we will see in the next few days as we explore the park.
Dan had made reservations for two sites at Thousand Lakes RV Park many months in advance, and even then there were no sites with full hookups with 50 amp power available. We were assigned two great sites on the north edge of the park with a gorgeous view and 30 amp power. We don’t have sewer at our sites, but there are two dumps in the campground.
The park is quite nice, well maintained and clean, although the sites along this north edge are quite close together. No matter, since our entry door is very close to our neighbor’s slide, and our neighbors happen to be Dan and Chere
The sites may be close together, but the view from the back of the sites where there are picnic tables and camp fire rings is gorgeous.
Taking Mattie for a short walk around the perimeter of the park I found this lovely desert globe mallow, Sphaeralcea ambigua. Sadly, most of the open land just north of the park is privately owned and walking freely requires driving north to get to BLM land.
We settled in to our sites with plenty of time for me to prepare dinner to share at our table. I made green chile chicken enchiladas back at home so supper was quick and easy. Chere and I have discussed sharing responsibility for evening meals on this trip, taking turns and sometimes simply eating on our own. The plan seems to be working well, and it is nice to have a break from dinner cooking sometimes.
It is great to have a chance to share this place with family and we are all looking forward to the next few days here in Torrey as we explore Capitol Reef National Park.
The sun is shining brilliantly into the east windows as I write this on Monday morning. Such a delight. To the west, the magnificent island of mountains of Great Basin National Park rise from the desert reflecting the morning sun.
Last night when we settled in here at the Border Inn RV Park we had no idea whether the skies would clear for us. The smoke from the fires near Sequoia National Park in California was thick and the air quality was over 150 throughout half of Nevada and almost all of Utah. It was a sobering moment when we topped a pass west of Ely to see the thick brown cloud filling the valleys and obscuring the mountains.
The day started in Fallon on a positive note. The smoke had cleared and the sky was mostly clear except for a few high clouds. The high winds of the previous day had dissipated by the time we got on the road at 9. Highway 50 officially begins in California going through Carson City and intercepts Interstate 80 at Fallon. Traveling east from Fallon we were officially on the Loneliest Road in America.
I love Highway 50. We have traveled this route several times over the years and it has never been disappointing. On this day the skies were dramatic as always, with big puffy clouds racing across the brilliant blue sky. The morning sun made the mountain shadows dark against the horizon. The rabbitbrush was in bloom most noticeably along the roadsides, lighting up the landscape with brilliant yellows.
As we continued east toward Austin and Eureka I texted Dan and Chere to see how they were doing. All was well, and they had departed Winnemucca at 9 as well. We had 181 miles to go to Eureka and they had 191 miles. Funny thing, they arrived at the intersection of highway 278 and Highway 50 just ten minutes after we did.
The stretch of the highway between Fallon and Eureka is especially gorgeous. The pavement stretches for long distances, with sometimes miles of straight road without another vehicle visible. Traffic was minimal all day, with a few RV’s on the road and more than a few souped up, stripped down, very tough looking back road vehicles heading for the wide open spaces and sand dunes perfect for ATVs.
Basin and Range is just that. The ranges trend north and south and if one is traveling east or west the drive includes many long basins, and many steep, winding ranges. Traveling Highway 50 is all about ups and downs. Austin is such a charming little town, nestled into the side of the mountain on one of those “ups”. We have traveled through Austin, but never stopped for more than a quick photo before continuing. I made a note on our calendar that on the way home in a couple of weeks we need to plan to actually stop in Austin and explore some of the charm. It is an historic mining town with a cemetery that even from the road looked like it would be a great visit.
We were communicating the Chere and Dan as they neared Eureka and decided that it would be a good place for a lunch spot. The road through downtown is two lanes wide with a large parking lane as well. The town was quiet, and an entire block of parking lane was open right in front of the town Senior Center. We parked and Dan and Chere were parked behind us within minutes. The skies were so blue and the sun so bright it was blinding.
We took the dogs for a short walk in an open area between buildings and discovered a group of picnic tables behind the closed Senior Center. Perfect! It was the official beginning of our shared trip to Utah and we all feeling happy about the good weather. Seems as though Dan and Chere had encountered some serious storms and narrow roads on highway 278 that connected Interstate 80 to the north with Highway 50. They were happy to be in the sunshine.
We continued east with a plan to fuel at the Love’s station in Ely, easy for us and for Dan with his big diesel rig. The uhoh moment came as we got closer to Ely when the thick smoke blanketing everything to the east appeared. I checked the smoke map to discover that the thick stuff was emanating mainly from the huge fires in California and extended all the way east to Colorado, with an especially dark plume covering the area along the Colorado River.
I had been checking for smoke over and over before we left for this trip, encouraged that it hadn’t reached the far southeastern corner of Utah where we were headed. It was a sad moment. After we fueled up and continued south toward Baker, the gorgeous mountain ranges around us were completely invisible. When we stopped for lunch, the four of us agreed that it might be nice to unhook after we settled in and take a side trip up the roads of Big Basin National Park. When we got to our spot for the night, the smoke was so thick I had to get out my Big Basin NP book to show Dan and Chere what the view was to our west. Not a good day for a side trip to high mountains completely shrouded in smoke.
Dan and Chere insisted that we join them in their rig for supper, even though we had each planned our own meal. Chere contributed home made sweet n sour for our pre dinner cocktails, and we enjoyed visiting and catching up with them, talking about our plans for the next ten days. Dan agreed, that smoke or not, he wasn’t missing out on his long awaited trip to Southern Utah.
We went to bed in high winds, but during the night the winds dissipated and a couple of times when I woke I could see the nearly full moon shining into the rig.
Morning came with another wonderful surprise. The smoke was gone. Not just a little bit, but completely gone! The mountain range of Big Basin NP to the west was gorgeous. I checked the smoke map again, and while there is still a long plume heading into southeastern Utah, we have mostly clear skies ahead of us as we travel the last leg of our trip toward Torrey. Amazing how clear skies can shift my mood. I am really looking forward to this day and to once again arriving in one of my favorite little towns in the west. I do love Torrey, ever since my first trip through there in 1991, it has been a special place for me.
I woke at 4 am this morning, listening for the rain. I thought I needed a good soak in the hot tub for achy legs. By the time I undressed and opened up the tub, the rain was pouring. It wasn’t a light rain, it was a deluge. Something we so desperately need here in the Rogue Valley, and all over Oregon and the West for that matter.
In spite of the big drops splashing my face and wetting my hair, the tub felt good. I love traveling, but I will miss my early morning soaks, and evening dips with Mo under the stars, watching for airplanes.
We were well prepared for our departure, loading up clothes and food over two days, making the process fairly easy. I cooked several items for the freezer for the journey. Mo and I much prefer eating at home in the rig rather than at restaurants, especially in these day of Covid. Freezer meals make things nice and easy in the limited space of the MoHo.
We were on the road just after 8am, driving south on I-5 from Grants Pass in the pouring rain. Traffic was light, and I didn’t have to worry much about the blinding spray thrown onto our windshield when traffic is heavy. It poured all the way south, over Siskiyou Pass, next to invisible Mt Shasta, and for many miles after we turned east on Highway 89. Since we have moved to Grants Pass, the route between I-5 and Susanville toward Highway 395 is most often our chosen way to cross the mountain ranges between us and the desert.
I had been tracking road closures along Highway 89 and Highway 44 north of the huge Dixie fire, burning for almost two months now and decimating almost a million acres of forest, homes, and small communities. Just two days before our scheduled departure I saw on Caltrans that highway 44 was once again open, with delays and some areas of one way traffic due to the fire. The alternative would be to travel north toward MacArthur, adding more than 90 minutes to our travel time as we headed toward Reno.
The smell of fire was strong as we drove through thick smoke toward Susanville. Mt Lassen was shrouded and completely hidden from view. In some areas the ground was still smoldering, but we made the crossing with only a short delay of 20 minutes.
Once east of Susanville, as we approached Highway 395, highway signs were flashing and notifying us of reduced visibility due to smoke and dust from high winds. An app I use called Ventusky showed we were traveling through winds of 46 mph with gusts to 59 mph. The canyons on the east side of the mountains funnel winds downslope and make for some scary driving. I had driven 4 hours or so almost to Susanville through all the rain, but I think I had it easy compared to Mo’s stint driving 395 in the high winds. Nice part about the winds, however, is that they blew away the smoke. However the dust and sand that we drove through battered the rig terribly in some places.
By the time we reached Fallon we were definitely ready to hunker down. Once again we boondocked at the Texaco station on the east side of town that is owned by the local tribe. As long as you go inside and enter your information in their book, the tribal police will leave you alone for the night. When we arrived the winds were still very high, and yet it was warm enough we needed to open the windows a bit. A fine coating of sandy dust quickly covered everything. Reminded me a bit of a book I read recently called the Four Winds, by Kristin Hannah. Her descriptions of life during the dust storms of the 30’s were harrowing. A little desert wind and dust is nothing compared to life back then.
We had a light supper of salad and a bunless hot dog and within minutes I was ready to hit the comfy bed. I think it was only 6 or so when I went there to read while Mo stayed up and caught up with some of her internet business. There is a great Verizon signal here so our phones work just fine.
We talked a bit with Brother Dan who was hunkered down in Winnemucca with Chere. They decided to eat out, and were concerned that a huge accident east of Winnemucca that was closing the interstate for several hours might not be cleared by morning. Hopefully all is well and we will meet them tonight in Baker, Nevada. We will be camping once again at the Border Inn RV Park in Baker. Tomorrow we will point both rigs toward the east, crossing Highway 50, the Loneliest Road in America, toward Capitol Reef NP. Dan made reservations for 4 nights at an RV park in Torrey, so instead of boondocking at Fruita as we often do, we will have hookups for our time there. I am looking forward to sharing some of my favorite spots in Southern Utah over the next ten days with Dan and Chere. It is their first time to see the red rock canyons and a few of the big national parks in Utah.