Saturday, June 20, 2009

The National Parks in a Pink Caddy - Episode 9

Indecision seemed to rein as we drove north from Vegas. It had bee 98 degrees in the day, so we thought the thunderstorms of the West might be relenting. But by the time we reached St. George, Utah, two hours north, it was raining again. Bummer. Chris suggested we drive through Zion National Park. The Kolob district was on I-15, so we stopped at the visitor center to learn a bit about the area. The rain continued to be depressing, so we drove up to Cedar City. My glasses were a problem: I had bent over to retrieve a stuck rope in Red Rocks, and my reading glasses fell into the abyss; and my fancy sunglasses lost their coating and I couldn't see through them. So, Chris suggested we go to the Dollar Store. I'd never been in such a place; everything cost $1.00!!! I found cool sunglasses and fancy reading glasses - $1 each. I couldn't resist two ice cream bars - $1 each. Now I was a happy camper once again.We headed up Utah Highway 14, a narrow winding road rising to over 10,000 feet. The rain turned to snow, and although the Caddy performed well, I worried slightly that the road would get too slick for us. My Alaska driving skills came in handy. We drove into Cedar Breaks National Monument. I produced my Golden Age Passport for the ranger at the kiosk, and he wanted my ID to prove that I was the holder of the pass. I was offended: I was surely a senior citizen; I'd driven up in a pink Cadillac; did he suspect that somehow I was cheating the government???? I asked if he had ever caught anyone cheating. He said 'No', but he'd heard that it had happened somewhere. Mind boggling!
Cedar Breaks north of Zion park
We walked the hundred feet past the toll booth to the edge and peered over. It was stunningly beautiful. Patches of snow clung in the depressions and gullies. A cold wind blew, and standing there in shorts was a huge change from the heat of Las Vegas. Created in 1933, the park was celebrating its 75th anniversary. The little log buildings, even the little toll kiosk were historic, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933.
Chris contemplates Cedar Breaks
Several miles across, and 2000 feet deep, the red sandstone is a wonderful example of the process of erosion. Utah Juniper trees dot the lower landscape...trees my grandfather would have called "Cedars".
The incredible red sandstone of the breaks; snow still in the gullies
It began to be a trip down 'Memory Lane' for me as we continued down Hwy 14. My great grandparents on my mother's side were immigrants to the area in the late nineteenth century. My grandfather was among the first rangers when the Dixie Forest was created. And my mother was born at Panguitch Lake in the Harris Flat Ranger Station. We were headed that way. I remember as a small boy catching rainbow trout in the lake from grandfather's boat. It was a long time ago, and I hadn't been there since I was quite young. Today, the lake is surrounded by million-dollar vacation sad. I remember driving up the dirt road in the Forest Service pickup in 'granny gear', hauling supplies from town. At the ranger station Grandpa had horses which he would ride through the forest wearing his suit, tie, white shirt and Stetson, a little badge on his coat. It was a different era.
Yours Truly with Panguitch Lake in the background
I pulled into the ranger station; the building was gone, but a wonderful volunteer named A.J. Mitchell greeted us and showed us around. He was my age and was born in the area, so we were able to trace the outlines of the buildings on the ground. The flagpole still stands, the oldest Forest Service flagpole in the country. I can see grandpa raising the flag every morning.
Chris and A.J. next to the ranger station falgpole
Driving down the hill into Panguitch, I got the sudden urge to see if my grandparents' home was still standing. A short search found it in tact and beautiful. Smaller than I remember, the barn and chicken coops gone, the garden now a lawn, but it brought back a flood of memories. I moved here when I was 6-months old and came back every summer until I was a teen-ager.
My grandparents home in Panguitch, Utah
Being Memorial Day, I convinced Chris to take a tour of the cemetery. We walked around a bit and found my grandparents grave. 'Katie May Daly and William R. Hurst'. My Aunt Catherine and Uncle Vermon must have placed the flowers on the grave earlier in the day. Storm clouds threatened and poured on us.
My grandparents gravestone, Memorial Day 2009
Bryce Canyon was just 25 more miles up the road. My mother and father met there when they worked at Ruby's Inn in 1940, so it was another memory stop. The rain was now pretty severe, huge drops, hailstones, sleet, thunder, lightning.... But we pulled into the park, showed the pass (no ID required this time) and headed for the rim.
Chris in the rain at Bryce Canyon
Peering into Bryce Canyon, Utah
Being an Alaskan and used to a lot of rain, I'm not usually too conscious of rain, but I had planned on desert conditions and was dressed in shorts, a short-sleeved shirt, and no rain gear. Not to worry, it was probably still warmer than it had been in Alaska in over a year!The canyon was staggeringly beautiful, with huge thunderheads, boiling black, and menacing. Giant sheets of rain surrounded us. The rain pretty much washed all the tourists away in minutes, and we nearly had the place to ourselves. Chris and the Caddy overlooking Escalante, Utah
How far could we make it before dark? Through Tropic where Mom taught school in the early 40's, Henrieville, and into Escalante my Uncle Vermon's home town. We pulled into a beautiful little BLM campground, but it was full. The road traveled the apex of a sandstone cliff band, and the cars that went by were mostly local folks in pick-up trucks. We stopped often to take photos and look over the edge at the vistas; we had become tourists.
Grand Staircase country, Utah
Chris suggested we pull off the road at a convenient spot to camp...sooner rather than later so we could cook while it was still light. I was difficult, wanting to find better places. Finally I took her advice, and we pulled into one of the most beautiful sites ever, high above the Escalante river, overlooking the whole wilderness of southern Utah: Slickrock, forests, white sandstone, the Escalante Staircase....The pasta dinner, salad, and box of wine settled us down for the evening. We set the chairs over by the edge of the cliff and watched the storm clouds and black rain all around us. We could see forever in the clear evening air.
The campsite above the Escalante River
In the morning, the sun shone brightly; maybe we were going to beat the weather after all. I had a bee in my bonnet about visiting my friend Ace Kvale, a fellow climber, in Boulder, Utah, at the bottom of the valley below us. So we screwed around for a while trying to find his place. After making a valiant effort, I couldn't spot his truck, so we motored on out of town. The search gave us a feel for the place. Beautiful and remote are words that come to mind.
Sunrise over the Escalante
The next National Park on the tour was Capitol Reef, a bit further north up the road. The drive over passes, down sinuous mountain roads, and through pinon pine and aspen forests made the time pass quickly. The Waterpocket Fold is a 100-mile long wrinkle in the earth's crust which extends from Thousand Lakes Mountain to Lake Powell on the Colorado River. The little Mormon farm town of Fruita, Utah, full of orchards and historic buildings is also park headquarters. We checked in at the visitor center, and drove up the road to to see the big fold, cliffs, and greenery.
Chris at Capitol Reef
Capitol Reef
The landscape for the next 100 miles or more is a total desert, like the Badlands of South Dakota, a moonscape with little vegetation. Not many folks venture out here, but it was a fascinating landscape, and we rubber-necked the whole way to I-70. The freeway headed into Grand Junction. I was behind in a paying a bill, so I tried to find a free wireless and wasted a ton of time while I worried about the countdown to 2:00pm (4:00 EST). Chris suggested the public library again; excellent!!! It was a classy place, and we did our email. Next I found an oil change spot, fixed up the Caddy, and we began the marathon drive to Boulder, Colorado. This leg of the journey would soon com toe an end.

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