Brown Signs: Around Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

From the Rim (don't step back)

If you plan to have RV problems, Page, AZ is a good location.  Ours were minor, but it turned out that the Sunset Boat and RV repair shop was two blocks from our campground.  The first was the roof vent, which blew off somewhere after we left Monument Valley.  The second was the cold shower (failed thermostat), which Linda & Emily had.  Cruiseamerica.com arranged for both to be repaired at Sunset.   With both repaired, we packed up to head west and north.  On the way out of Page, we took a brief stop at the overlook for the Horseshoe Bend in the Colorado River.  We had floated around this bend yesterday.  Today (Tuesday 5/24/11), we viewed it from the rim 1000 feet above the river.  

Lake Powel

We had a 3-½ hour drive to Kodachrome Basin State Park, in Utah.  Along the way we had an overlook for Lake Powel and a hike planned.  Lake Powel is the water that backs up behind the Glen Canyon Dam.  Page, AZ exists because of the dam and the lake.  Engineers and technicians run the dam and the electric generating station, and recreation businesses, including our float trip, entertain those of us to come here for the desert and water.  I cannot image how inefficient a lake in the desert is for storing water.

About 10 miles further along highway 89 we came to Big Water, which had the first ranger station for the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  The building had an intriguing spiraling design, which worked quite well for outdoor display area, and indoor exhibits.  They had one room with fossil remains from excavations from the past few years.  The ranger spoke enthusiastically and proudly about how many new fossils have been identified in this region.  He seems less enthusiastic about recommending hikes for someone driving an RV.  It was not clear whether this was a concern about accessing some of the hikes, which would be on gravel roads, or about whether people in RV’s could hike.  No matter, we had researched a hike already.  The station did have a fabulous book selection on geology, natural history, exploration of the region, etc.  More things to read later.

Toadstools are on the white cliff

We then traveled another 10 miles to the Toadstool hikes.  Toadstools are rock formations, in which a heavy rock falls off the ridge, compacting the mudstone below it.  Then erosion removed the softer, non-compacted mudstone, leaving the first rock supported on a pedestal of compacted rock.  There are four valleys accessing this region, called the Rim Rocks.  The 1st and 4th valleys have the best views from below.  This area is accessed from the Paria River-White House campground and visitors center.  Park, walk across the highway, go through the gate, wondering whether you supposed to be there.  The visitor center staff did not know where this trail began, but read about it in a hiking book.

Prickly Pears in Bloom

We walked the mile in for the 1stvalley, along what appeared to be a cow path initially.  Yes, there were plenty of cow plops, dried but not petrified.  Cross a couple of washes, as the red and white cliffs and mesas grow in size.  To our amazement, looking at the ground was as enthralling as the distant cliffs.  Thousands of wild flowers were blooming along the trail.  While some could be found throughout the walk, others clustered in specific areas, such at we could see an acre of tiny daisies,

White Toadstools

then an acres of purple asters, then some yellow flower for a while.  After walking awhile, the path began to turn away from the cliff with the toadstools.  We took a picnic lunch, which we ate on a large rock, while we figured out where the path reappeared. With sandwiches consumed and the path identified, we finished our walk to a view that looked to be out of a science fiction movie.

The rest of the day consisted of driving on highway 89, then 12, past Bryce Canyon National Park to Kodachrome Basin State Park, down the mesa.  Though not the knock-you-off-your-feet splendor of Bryce, Kodachrome sits in a valley surrounded by smaller versions of the brown, white, and red cliff and hoodoos for which this region is famous.  The campground is well laid out with 27 RV and tent camping sites, curving around an elongated oval.  The mix of visitors appeared to be about 50-50% RV’s and tent campers.  A few spaces have electric and water hook up, but the rest go to the dump station to clear out and refill the tanks.  Generators may be run only mid-day to keep the quiet the rest of the day.

Outdoor Cooking

We set up our fire pit with charcoal for grilling steaks, and wood (5$/bundle near the bathrooms) for an evening fire with our dinner and desert.  We watched the light of sunset on the eastern cliffs and then waited for the starts to come our with the clear night sky.  Sleep is easy here.

On Wednesday (5/25/11), we decided that this park was a good place at which to finish our RV trip, rather than pressing on to Capitol Reef, as he had planned.  We were able to pay to stay at our campsite two more nights.  We spent the day in the park, hiking and horseback riding around the different formations in the basin.  On of the major geological features of the park are sand pipes.  These are vertical intrusions of hot slurry mud, which form inside the layers of sedimentary rocks.  Then as the strata erode away, the harder sand pipes remain as so many pillars against the peach and cream colored sandstone cliffs.  Linda and Emily thought that the park should be called Phallic Valley, for obvious reasons.

Rock Hard

Our one-hour horseback ride took us around the mesa for views of the park as well as Bryce Canyon in the distance.  Linda and I ride trail horses every year or so we have some basic familiarity with getting on and off, and signals to give the horse.  Emily had not been on a horse for years.  Her review lesson came in fits and starts for the first section of

In the Saddle

the trail.  Unfortunately, about 100 feet into the trail, we had to descend and ascend into and out of a gully, which is not the easiest starting point for learning how to stay in the saddle.  Things improved from there on.  One hour was sufficient enjoyment and prompted resting by the fire pit with a bottle of Chianti afterward.  Emily noticed that her arthritic thumb did not hurt after horseback riding… maybe in comparison to the back, hips, knees…

Thursday (5/26/11), we drove about an hour and a half north to Bolder, UT, to visit the Anazasi Museum.  This is set up in front of the Coombs ruins, where have been excavated and preserved under a canopy roof for viewing and protection from the elements.  The museum consolidates information, which we have come across at other sites, but usually as a subsection of a larger display.   The displays are concise and informative on what archeologists have identified about what they now call the Ancient Pueblo people.  As the Hopi people consider the Ancient Pueblo groups as their ancestors, their views are express also in the museum.  The museum shop includes books and other items related to archaeology, Native American culture, jewelry, ceramics, and textiles.  Linda found a book on how to play the Native American flute (being helpful or suggesting something?…) and a necklace for herself.

Desert Mallow and Navajo Sandstone

Fifteen miles south of Boulder, on our way back to Kodachrome Basin, we stopped at Lower Calf Creek Falls for a 5 mile hike (round-trip) to view the falls and cool off in the pool below the falls.  The parking lot, which was nearly full, was an exercise in turning an RV around.  With the help of the Camp Host, we fit into a spot.  He smiled as he agreed that we were new at this.  The hike has some tricky places, as you climb up and down sandy rocks to pass by outcroppings.  Otherwise, the sand covered valley floor is like walking on the beach for several miles.  To compensate for the effort, we had striking views around each outcropping and stunning wild flowers.  We were a little concerned when a German couple, who had been staying at Kodachrome Basin, met us as they

Lower Calf Creek Falls

hiked out and warned us of the “school group”.  As we approached the falls, we could hear children laughing and screaming.  We anticipated chaos rather than tranquility.  It turned out that the school group was well behaved, sitting in a circle eating lunch, while the children of other hikers were jumping in and out of the cold spring water, generally having a good time, as children are inclined to do.

Soft Shoulders

Even if we had not stopped at either of these points of interest, the drive from Escalante to Boulder is breath taking.  In fact, at a couple of points, where the road was barely 20 feet across, dropping off hundreds of feet in both directions, I probably held my breath.  As I had a clear view with no on-coming traffic, I decided to take my half of the road out of the middle.

Friday (5/27/11) would be another travel day.  We anticipated about five hours of driving to return to Las Vegas for Zack’s jazz band concert in the evening.  Before breakfast, we took one more hike in Kodachrome Basin to watch the sun rise through a couple of box canyons.  Then packed up and started driving.  To cross out of the Colorado Plateau, we headed south on highway 89 then over the pass on Rt 14,which took us over 10,000 feet.  A ranger a few days ago said they had snow in the mountains.  At the highest point, the drifts were still a couple of feet deep.  The RV went up and down the pass in low gear, but made it to Cedar City.

Follow the Arrows

Linda did some quick research and found that Zion had a northern entrance at Kolob, just off of highway 15, which we would drive to Las Vegas.  We stopped for a leg-stretching hike at ooh-ah views of the red sandstone precipices.  This section of the park is less visited as it does not connect with the main canyons, which most tourists wish to check off their lists of places to see.  The rest of the drive seemed to be downhill, especially the Virgin River gorge, which the road curves through.  It almost seemed to be riding white water in an RV.  We arrived at Karen and Tom’s home in time for some quick un-packing, reorganizing to move to hotel life, and showers before dinner and time with family.

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About hermitsdoor

Up here in the mountains, we have a saying, "You can't get there from here", which really means "We wouldn't go the trouble to do that". Another concept is that "If you don't know, we ain't telling." For the rest, you'll have to read between the lines.
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