Sunday, December 19, 2010

Part 2 Capitol Reef The Alter of the Sun and The Alter of the Moon

The sun is hot and bright as I am approaching Cathedral Valley.  I am driving slowly through rolling rounded mounds of sententious beauty... to be here and to know this feeling of deep appreciation for my experience. The road turns and then before me the valley opens to a remarkable view of rock formations that can only be called Alters to Nature.

As I drive up to the Alter of the Sun I can not help but be amazed by the scale and color of the huge towering formation.

Approaching the Alter of the Sun

Parked in front of the Alter of the Sun.

Across from the Alter of the Sun stands the smaller but no less impressive Alter of the Moon.
At the foot of the Sun
Gazing past the alter across the valley floor, I see the Alter of the Moon. Many hours are spent walking amongst the Alters as the shadows lengthen. As I write this it is difficult for me to put in words the feelings I am having. The sense that I am in a sacred place prevails and I can only imagine the spirits of lives past that have felt the same.

In the distance the snow covered peeks of the Henrys

 I am tempted to stay longer but the shadows are growing long and I know I don't want to drive out of the valley in the dark, I am not prepared to spend the night, so I reluctantly pack up and start the long drive back. I know I must return to this place someday.

The road back

Back to the main Highway and off to Moab and the Arches National Park.

Part 1, Capitol Reef... but where is the water?

Leaving Dixie forest and descending into the lowlands offeres some relief from the cold and snow of the mountains. The red hills of Capitol Reef can be seen from a long way off and as I approach I can feel excitement building. These majestic hills reveal the passage of the ages on earth. The many levels of strata clearly show the geology of the Paleozoic and Mesozoic eras. The Mesozoic era contain the very famous Jurassic period otherwise known as the age of the dinosaurs. My mind conjures up images of ancient creatures and then of the early humans who lived in this land and how hard those time must have been for survival.

The Sandstone rocks
As I enter the Grand Wash/Capitol Gorge Scenic Drive I am greeted by a group of rocks of astonishing contrast with the surroundings. They are composed of Navajo Sandstone and must have been thrown where they lay 70 million years ago when the fold rose from the ground and formed Capitol Reef.

Now the reef looms up next to the road and reveals a stunning cliff face of color. Thanks to the frequent turn-outs I am able to stop and take pictures without driving into the soft sand on the side of the road.
This image clearly shows the edge of the riff where the reef pushes up.

It is a good idea to stop at the ranger station. I like to check out all the info and picking up a map and another tee shirt to add to my collection. Stopping gives me time to gather my thoughts and get a sense of where I am on the trip.
Clearly marked strata shows off the ages.

Here we can see the scale and breadth of Capitol Reef's stunning beauty.

I see on the map of the park that just up the road on the left side are some petrographic drawings on the rock face. This is my first stop. The carved drawings were done by the Fremont Indians who lived here around A.D. 700. They lasted about 600 years and then abandoned the area, possibly due to a long drought.

I could not help but noticing that in the past this rock wall must have been unprotected and many visitors had climbed the wall to carve their names into it, some even marked over the ancient drawings. (What could they have been thinking to mess up such an ancient artifact?)
View walking up the Hickman Trail
Further up the road is the first real pullout that offers a hike to Hickman Bridge. This is about two miles in and climbing and I must admit that it is not easy for me, what with carrying all my photo gear and enough water for the round trip. But once I rounded the last turn in the trail I saw that it was worth it. Before me was a fabulous arching bridge of stone.
The Hickman Bridge Arch

 Standing under the massive arch of red rock I got the feeling that nature is timeless This bridge has stood the test of time and only small boulders lay beneath it. I hung out for an hour or so taking in all of this beauty and gathering the strength for the return hike down.

It was still early in the day when I got back to the car and more wonders await me up the road I was headed now for the scenic back country road that lead to Cathedral Valley and the Alter of the Sun and the Alter of Moon. Leaving the paved road for the back country, I am grateful for my Suburu all wheel drive. The road is dirt and rock and filled with ups and downs as I drive over huge boulders to get to the far outback area that is little visited by travelers.
As I drive deeper into the wilderness I am aware of how far away from any help I am if I should need it. My driving is cautious and slow and I am aware of my engine temperature. I don't want to hit a rock or overheat out here!
The desert floor is untouched by human footprints.
Rolling rounded smooth mounds of incredible beauty.
It is now mid afternoon and shadows are just beginning to lengthen. The sun is hot and bright.
I am approaching Cathedral Valley as I drive through rolling rounded smooth mounds of incredible beauty.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Dixie National Forest

My last morning at the Bolder Lodge is a sad parting. The comfortable room with a warm bed and great view of the pond will be missed. The fabulous meals I will remember for a long time, after all who would have thought that "elk sausage" and eggs would taste so good. At my age it is rare to discover such a new and wonderful taste as fresh hand made elk sausage. Yum! So much goodness in this remote location is a great find for any traveler. If you find yourself in the area this is a must stop.

Now, in the cool morning light, I head north on highway 12. Soon the road begins to slowly wind upward, the warmth of desert air gives way to a slow chill as large open range  becomes lower alpine meadows. Small patches of snow dot the fields, give evidence of the climb to a higher altitude. Soon small stands of Aspen and Pine trees dot the open range. It is not long before the trees dominate the landscape and the snow covers all the ground. The road continues it's ascent to reveal long vista views of spectacular breadth and depth, more I think, then can be seen in a photograph. The peak elevation is over 9,000 feet. At this altitude the air is cold and crisp and the wind bites, making my eyes water as set up to shoot some pictures. It is mid-day and I am looking out from the top of the south east corner of the Dixie National Forest. 

The alpine Aspen stands form soft shapes in the expansive snow fields accented by dark pines, a designers pallet of snow whites, soft browns and dark greens with blues and violets to the horizon.

 The light is bright and the snow reflective, a warm coat and sunglasses are necessary in this place.

Soon I pass the crest of the forest and start my descent back down to a warmer altitude. It was good to feel the cold air after so much desert heat but I have to confess that I would rather be in the heat of the lowlands then the alpine cold.

 From here I can see in the distance, the face of Capitol Reef National Park, my next stop.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Burr Trail Road

My night at Bolder Lodge was so nice I scheduled two more nights. The lodge is at a fork, so I decided to take one of the back roads to see what I could find... I would not be disappointed.  If you have not heard of the Burr Trail Road you are most likely not alone, I did knot know of it until my GPS announced that I was actually traveling on it. This in itself was not much of a surprise because most roads are poorly marked along the route 12 corridor. What is surprising are the fabulous sites along the trail. I found myself stopping often. The images that follow are representative of the unique formations and vistas that occur along the way.
Portions of the trail are paved and other segments give way to dirt. I am glad for the 4-wheel drive of my trusty Subaru Outback. This car has been a good and reliable partner for me on this trip.
The landscape colors become more red as I wind my way down into what appears to be an ever narrowing canyon, soon I am driving next to steep walls on a bumpy dirt road, to my left is a dry gully.

There is much to see and not another car in sight. The day is warm and sunny and I am beckoned to stop and explore. I don't even pull of to the side as I am truly alone out here.

The next series of shots, I hope will give you a sense of the surreal atmosphere of this place.
It feels as though spirits occupy this land and I want to be respectful of how and where I walk. Prairie Dogs dart from hole to hole, buzzards, drift on currents high above me looking for a meal. This canyon is so quiet I can only hear the noise in my head that occurs when there is no external sound to overwhelm the inner dialogue. I guess it is the result of many years of living in the ever present cacophony of city life. 
Silence, I find, can be surprisingly loud when it is first encountered. However, it doesn't take long before I become comfortable and relax in the bigger quiet of this place. It is after all a joy to be here.


As I slowly continue down the road small slot canyons appear across the gully and evidence of torrent flooding is clearly marked in the arrangement of the rocks and the shapes in the walls. I am compelled to stop and explore all the cracks in the cliffs. I am glad I did, as I explore small openings that expand into rooms of color and light carved by 10,000 years of raging flood waters.

The glowing light of the slot canyon offers sublime color and geometric forms that dazzle the eye. I am awed by the extreme values and shapes. The sandy floor has no foot prints and I feel that I am the first human to step into this natural temple.

 In this shot is a series of holes carved by wind and rain create a depth of frail forms in the natural architecture of the wall.

I am aware of the extreme cleanliness of the slot, clearly nature is taking good care of it. I will leave it as pristine as I found it. 

Even in the depth of the slot canyon one finds new life growing, small trees compete for the limited light and water on the canyon floor.

Exiting the slot reveals water stained rocks and a sheer cliff face.

Soon I am back in the car and moving on to the next wonder. Slot canyons give way to rock piles of fantastic form. Towers of stones one piled on the next reaching for the sky.

 Most interesting are the balanced large rocks sitting on smaller ones. This place starts to resemble a chess set filled with interesting pieces.

Continuing down the road, I see the pillars give way to an up hill climb. The steep walls lower and the view opens up to a vista. So much fascinating landscape hidden away on a small road that leads to the southeast corner of Capitol Reef National Park. This is where the dirt road dead ends in a landscape devoid of people, untouched and unspoiled.

Hours are spent walking amidst the monuments to nature. Again I am aware of the deafening silence but for the wind whispering between the rocks and the sounds I am making with my camera. Click on the images to see them full size.

The day passes quickly in this place, I am getting hungry and soon will need to start back.

On my return the road appears different, so much to see coming and going... The lodge is calling me now and I realize that I won't see it all on this trip.

A small stream that was missed when entering offers late afternoon light.

A free range steer makes an appearance, then I am home again to the view of the pond from my balcony. Getting ready for dinner I know a great meal awaits. I could not have had a better day then this one. I feel blessed and wonder what the road will present next?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Devils Garden

Just a few miles into the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument there is a dirt road going south into the foothills. It is a dusty road flanked by large fields. Long Horn Cattle come close to the road here to see the passerby's as they zoom down main route 12. I take the turn off and drive down the dusty road. I am watching the time and the gas needle as I am going far out into a wilderness area. There are no gas stations or restaurants out here. There are many smaller enticing turn off roads but I am on a mission. I am looking for the famed Devils Garden that is somewhere down at the end of  road.

After what seemed like an hour I was wondering if my GPS was telling me the truth there was no road marked on the screen and it said I was driving on open range.  But then there it was a small hand painted sign on the left side of the road... Devils Garden this way.
Here is the photo essay of that stop. Click on the image to see it larger.

As the day moved from late morning to early evening my belly began to complain and road fatigue was setting in. Up ahead a few miles was the Boulder Mountain Lodge, a phone call and I had the last room for the night, lucky me. This is a first class lodge and is often totally booked. My room looked out on a small pond. The last image here is the view from the back deck off my room. This was such a nice place I booked two more days using it as a base from which to explore the back roads. They also have a great home made Elk Sausage.