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.