Wednesday, August 19, 2015




       “Come on in. The earth, like the sun, like the air, belongs to everyone – and no one.”

                                                                                -Edward Abbey, The Journey Home

It's August 1st and the first day of our road trip to Utah. It also happens to be my mother's birthday—she would be 105 today. Thank heavens for moms—they live in our hearts forever.

There is a little drama on our drive to Nevada when the traffic slows on Hwy 15, and we see flames in the distance from a forest fire. We see helicopters overhead and dozens of firefighters along the road as we pass. Fortunately, it is brought under control, and we slowly move through the area.

After visiting relatives in Salt Lake City, Ron and I head to south-central Utah to enjoy some of the best scenery anywhere. It's about a three-hour drive south to Torrey, Utah (elev. 6,830 feet) which is close to the entrance of Capitol Reef National Park, and the location of a studio apartment we rented for the night.

Our arrival at the rental is a little bit concerning when we turn on to a dirt road and then drive up a steep hill with large potholes. We were warned about this and were even informed that it might not be passable in rain. Fortunately it was not raining, and our van made it up the hill with no problem. We find parking, however, we aren't quite sure where to enter, and the surroundings look a bit unfinished and overgrown with plants and grass.

The owner, Bob, finally appears on the scene; his pleasant and comfortable manner changes everything. He shows us the unit—it's beautiful, just like the photos. It overlooks colorful canyons and ridges that date back 65 million years, and is one of the more unusual airbnb rentals we have encountered. It feels like we are right in the midst of the park with a panoramic view of the red rock layered cliffs and the desert sky. The refrigerator is full of breakfast food for the next morning and the homemade cookies are scrumptious.

One of the special things about using airbnb is that the owners are often friendly and informative. Bob, who owns this place, is no exception. With a passion for Triassic paleontology, he has an impressive collection of fossilized dinosaur dung or “coprolites,” bones and dinosaur teeth—all from the nearby canyons.” His enthusiasm for the area and knowledge of fossils is one of the highlights of the trip. I leave with a much greater appreciation of geology and the millions of years that preceded us—I can almost envision dinosaurs walking around.

With fewer visitors, Capitol Reef provides more solitude than many of the other national parks. We tour and hike in the evening, when it is cool and quiet. The park offers 15 well-marked hiking trails as well as numerous backpacking opportunities. There are colorful cliffs, massive domes, soaring spires and twisting canyons along the way. The park is 100 miles long and narrow with the waterpocket fold down the center that exhibits the earth's many diverse geological layers.

A special place in this park, is the historical fruit orchard where you can help yourself to an apple, apricot, cherry, peach, or pear when in season. This is part of the Fruita Historic District, a Mormon settlement dating from the late 1800s. The last private resident left in 1968, and it is now maintained by the park service. Also, in this area is the popular 71-site Fruita campground surrounded by willow and cottonwood trees and the nearby Fremont River.

Nearby, and easily accessible from the road, is a walkway to view petroglyphs that were etched onto the rock walls by early native inhabitants. Most are attributed to the Fremont Culture, which existed in areas of Utah from approximately 600 to 1300 AD.

After leaving the park, we drive on the Scenic Byway 12 and through the rugged and spectacular Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The drive, with all of its points of interests and backways, ends 124 miles later, near Bryce Canyon National Park. We continue on to Brian Head (elev. 9,800 feet), the “Highest Resort Town” in America, stopping at spectacular vista points along the way.

It's hard to envision the magnitude and beauty of the lands that are owned by the American people and managed by federal and state agencies. In Utah alone there are 2.3 million acres of public land—40% of the state. It is also home to five national parks, all within close proximity. There are 59 national parks across the US. If I had a bucket list, they would all be on it.

The park system offers a $10 Senior Pass for citizens 62 and older. It includes free entry for life to all of the national parks as well as other recreation sites managed by federal agencies.






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