Saturday, July 23, 2011

Roadtripping Utah's Highway 12 from Torrey to Bryce Canyon's Ruby's Inn

In the picture you are looking at a section of the Hog's Back on Utah's Scenic Highway 12. I drove this highway back in the mid 1990s. On Easter weekend. Part of a Roadtrip that included a week in Moab.

I long ago wrote a very long and detailed description of this particular Roadtrip, webpaging the tale with the title "MOAB, Mountain Bikes...etc...Utah...Road Trip..."

Below is the slightly edited section of what I wrote well over a decade ago regarding the Roadtrip over Utah's Highway 12......

It was time to leave Bicknell to begin the drive toward Bryce Canyon NP on Highway 12, the number one thing I'd been looking forward to on this trip, the highway some consider the most scenic in America if not the world.

So it was back to Torrey to the Highway 12 junction, then south. The first part of the road is all about elevation gain. 7000 feet. 8000 feet. Then the summit at 9400 feet.

There was some snow surviving in places. At the summit the view extended over 200 miles to the LaSalles, to Navajo Mountain in Arizona, to Glen Canyon, to Lake Powell. It was an impressive view.

At the downside of the summit we came to the little town of Boulder, the last settlement in continental America to receive daily postal service. In Boulder is Anasazi Village State Park. It was a nice museum and archaeological dig. No Mesa Verde. But I bought a cool faux petroglyph.

The reason Boulder did not receive regular mail is because of the rather treacherous roads in and out of town. During the Great Depression the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) built the new highway, the one we were driving, Highway 12. It was considered a monumental engineering feat in its day and was quite controversial  because of the cost and because locals did not think a road could be built where they proposed building it---over the infamous Hog's Back, along a narrow crest, with multi-thousand foot drop offs on either side.

As you drive along, the Hog's Back pops into view. The road is paved, obviously, but there are no guard rails. The road twists and turns and goes up and down, roller coaster-like for 3 miles. I liked it very much. After the most dramatic part of the roller coaster section you begin a descent along steep cliffs til you reach the bottom of Calf Creek Canyon, site of the number one thing I wanted to do that day on Highway 12, hike to Calf Creek Falls.

The trail head for the Calf Creek Fall hike is right off the highway, beginning in a rather nice campground which I was surprised to find full, as well as an almost full trailhead parking lot. The temperature in the canyon was in the 80's, at least. I was glad I was in shorts and sunscreen. It is a 3 mile plus hike to the falls on an easy sandy trail which meanders along Calf Creek. The canyon is very much like Zion Canyon. The creek was dammed by at least 15 large beaver dams. The water was the sort of clear I didn't know water could be, giving a very amazing view of all the trout avoiding being caught by the guys fishing.

Along the trail there are many points of interest, Anasazi ruins, a couple arches, odd vegetation, lizards, snakes.

About mile 2 the canyon narrows, you begin to hear the  sound of water rushing. I thought it was the falls, but it was a giant beaver dam making a spillway. The canyon continued to narrow, and grow steeper, blocking out the sun. We rounded a bend and the sound of a waterfall became unmistakable. 

And then we saw it.

Falling a couple hundred feet into an emerald pool, Calf Creek Falls was far more than I'd expected, creating a sort of tropical oasis in the Utah desert. A large sandy beach of redrock sand had multiple sun bathers and occasional quick dippers into the cold water. The swamp cooler effect of the falls dropped the temps to a very pleasant breezy warm. A local told me the falls run all summer long, draining a snow melt lake 7 miles further up the creek. In summer the beach and emerald pool become a very popular swimming area. The hike back to the van was much warmer, facing into the sun.

Continuing on, we entered the Escalante zone of Highway 12, following the Escalante river, crossing it a couple times, before the river finally left us and headed down to become Escalante Canyon, the coolest side canyon of Lake Powell. This was a narrow canyon, redrock zone, with a lot of slick rock.

We dropped down into a flat area in the center of which sat the little town of Escalante, a charming slightly Winthropized wild westy town with competing town stores on opposite sides of the street. I gave each store a little business. Ed bought his usual two-fisted ice cream bars and I got a bag of smart corn.

Out of town the road climbs again, entering a different geological zone, white slick rock and then we started seeing the pink hints of Bryce Canyon. At the summit an overlook viewed Powell Point, a white rock desolate escarpment named for Powell because it was the furthest north he got in his explorations and he wrote poetically about the desolate beauty of this monolith.

Now Highway 12 became a drop to a broad valley, the Tropic  Valley, so named because of its lower elevation actually allowing the cultivation of gardens. We drove into Kodachrome Basin State Park and did the scenic loop. A very nice campground, but it seemed like a Bryce wannabe, so I just wanted to get to the real thing, another 20 miles or so.

Continuing on we passed through the little town of Tropic, Bryce Canyon was clearly visible a short distance away, then we entered the Park and then there was Ruby's Inn where I'd called to make a reservation the night before.

Ruby's Inn is now a Best Western, but the Ruby family still owns it. Old man Ruby bought a ranch here in the early 1900's. A neighbor dropped by and took the Ruby family on a Sunday picnic to the edge of Bryce Canyon. Ruby saw the tourist possibilities, began running tours, opened an inn, gave up ranching. When the government decided to make it Bryce Canyon National Park, Ruby was given the park concession, hence the cozy relationship Ruby's Inn has with the park to this very day.

I want to return to Bryce Canyon National Park and stay a week at Ruby's Inn, with day after day of hiking.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Yosemite National Park's Waterfall's Moonbows

Yosemite National Park is well known for its waterfalls, with namesake Yosemite Falls likely being the most recognized.

In addition to being spectacular waterfalls, the waterfalls of Yosemite are also known for their Moonbows.

Of the waterfalls in Yosemite, Yosemite Falls is the site of the best Moonbows.

A Moonbow might more precisely be called a Lunar Rainbow. A Lunar Rainbow occurs when moonlight is reflected in the spray from a waterfall.

To see a Yosemite Moonbow the conditions you need are a clear night sky, bright moonlight and a waterfall falling a lot of water.

Watch the video below to see some Yosemite Moonbows...

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Yosemite's Half Dome Cable Controversy

In the picture you are looking at a line of hikers holding on to a cable to take them to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.

The Half Dome Cables Route hike starts on the Yosemite Valley floor. This is known as the Mist Trail. It is 8.2 miles to the top of Half Dome, with an elevation gain of 4,800 feet.

Two steel cable are used as handholds to take hikers the final 400 feet to the top of Half Dome. The Sierra Club installed the original Half Dome cables in 1916.

Due to the length of the hike and its difficulty, for most of Yosemite's history the hike to the top of Half Dome did not have any overcrowding issues. But, in recent years, as you can see in the picture, a lot of people were hiking to the top of Half Dome and crowding the cables.

The crowd of hikers going up and down the cable made for a bit of jostling treachery on the steep rock wall. Since 1996 four hikers have fallen to their deaths from the cables. Dozens have had to be rescued after falling or getting stuck.

To solve the problem of too many people hiking to the top of Half Dome the Park Service decided to limit the number of hikers by issuing 300 permit a day to hikers and 100 a day to backpackers.

Some Yosemite aficionados were not happy with this solution, finding it nearly impossible to get a permit.

On the 4th of July a citizens group called Save Half Dome started up an online petition asking the National Park Service to stop requiring permits to climb Half Dome and to consider the installation of a third cable.

There are those who would like to see the cables removed, making the claim they deface Half Dome. Under current rules such cables could not be installed. The reason the Half Dome cables are allowed is because their installation, in 1916, pre-dated Half Dome's 1964 designation as a protected wilderness area.

So much of the Yosemite Valley has been so greatly altered from its natural state it seems, to me, a bit ridiculous to make an issue of installing an additional cable to the top of Half Dome.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Zion Canyon Narrows Has Reopened to Hikers & Campers After High Water Closure

An above average snowpack, combined with a prolonged snowmelt caused record breaking levels of water to flow into the Virgin River for a longer than normal period of time this summer, forcing the closure of the extremely popular Zion Canyon Narrows.

The Virgin River has now receded enough to allow the reopening of the Narrows to the hordes of tourists who flock to enjoy this scenic wonder in Zion National Park.

In the early 1990's twelve back country campsites were created in the Narrows. The recent high water was the highest recorded since the campsites were created. Two of the campsites were damaged by the high water and will remain closed for now.

Even though the Narrows are now open, the Virgin River's water levels remain high. One must be ever vigilant when hiking in the Zion Narrows regarding the flash flood danger.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Taking a Roadtrip (or Hiking) to the Top of Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park

This photo, seemingly depicting the end point of a Roadtrip, gives an acrophobe, such as myself, a case of wobbly knees.

The picture is a publicity shot of a Studebaker Roadster, taken in 1916, with the roadster and those onboard on top of Overhanging Rock on Yosemite's Glacier Point.

Glacier Point is a popular viewpoint high above the Yosemite Valley, located on the south side of the valley. The high point of Glacier Point is at an elevation of 7,214 feet, which puts it 3,200 above Curry Village and the Yosemite Valley floor.

Among the Yosemite National Park scenic highlights you will see from the panoramic Glacier Point viewpoint are Half Dome, Vernal Falls, Yosemite Falls, Clouds Rest and Nevada Falls, with the High Sierra in the distance.

You can reach Glacier Point from the Yosemite Valley floor via Glacier Point Road, during the period of the year when it is open. In summer the Glacier Point Road, and the Point itself, can be a bit overcrowded with tourists.

In addition to Glacier Point Road you can reach Glacier Point on Four Mile Trail, ascending 3,200 feet in 4.6 miles, making this a somewhat strenuous hike.

You can take a 4 hour bus tour to Glacier Point. You can opt to take the bus one-way and hike back to the valley floor. The bus tours run from late Spring til early Fall, departing at 8:30am, 10am and 1:30pm. You can secure a reservation, once you are in the park, at any Tour & Activity Desk or by calling x1240 from any house phone. To make reservations before arriving at Yosemite, call (209) 372-4386.

The Glacier Point Bus Tour Costs (circa 2011) ---

 Round-trip  One-way
 Adults  $41  $25
 Seniors  $35  $23
 Child  $23  $15
 Child under 5  FREE  FREE

I don't believe the final stop on the bus tour is the same final stop the Studebaker Roadster made in 1916.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Water Level at Lake Powell Rose 26 Feet in June

I have been the Captain of a Lake Powell Houseboat "Roadtrip" twice. Both times in early October.

On the first Lake Powell Houseboat "Roadtrip" no note was made by those in charge regarding the lake level being anything but normal for that time of year.

When we arrived for the second Lake Powell Houseboat "Roadtrip" a few years later we were surprised to see Lake Powell in what appeared to be flood mode. And note was made, this time, by those in charge, that Lake Powell was holding extra water.

I did not like Lake Powell as much with the extra water.

Currently Lake Powell is at full pool. The lake has risen 42 feet since its yearly low was reached in April. High water presents challenges to fish anglers.

I do not know if Lake Powell's current lake level is similar to my first visit, or the second.

The first time on Lake Powell, with the water level way lower than the second visit, the water was crystal clear. On the second visit, with all that extra water, the water was not clear.

The first Lake Powell Houseboat "Roadtrip" saw nothing by clear skies and warm days. The second Lake Powell Houseboat "Roadtrip" started off in heavy rain and rough water. Which was fun and a bit scary. We knew we were seeing something few get to see, that being waterfalls running down the cliffs surrounding Lake Powell.

If think if I were to float on Lake Powell again, rather than rent a houseboat I would rent a speedboat to go exploring and stay each night in a cabin at Bullfrog.

But, I do not see this happening anytime soon.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Having a Whopper at the Navajo Code Talkers Display & Navajo Culture Center in Kayenta Arizona

Among the many things I love about a Roadtrip is being surprised by something. Seeing something you did not know existed. Or learning about something you had never heard of.

I remember one September in my college years, being in Yellowstone, hiking the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. And then remarking that this canyon is so grand I wonder what it is like to see the world's most famous Grand Canyon.

So, being footloose, with no itinerary, off we headed, south towards Grand Canyon. On the way we came to Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion Canyon National Park. Total surprises. Knew nothing about them at that point in time. Was total scenery overload.

And then there can be the little surprise. Like over Christmas of 1994 I went to Disneyland, then headed east to Las Vegas, then Grand Canyon, then across the Painted Desert for the first time, heading to Monument Valley and Moab.

The Painted Desert is Navajo country, the location of the Navajo Nation. There is a town called Kayenta in Navajo territory. In Kayenta there is a Burger King. And in that Burger King there is a museum.

The museum is dedicated to the Navajo Code Talkers. I had never heard of the Navajo Code Talkers prior to that day in that Burger King.

The museum has some World War II relics, with newspaper articles telling the story of how approximately 400 young Navajo Americans helped win World War II by developing a code based on the Navajo language that was impossible for the wily Japanese or Nazis to crack.

Since I first learned of the Navajo Code Talkers a movie has been made telling the story.

If you are Roadtripping across the Painted Desert it is very easy to find the Kayenta Burger King and the Navajo Code Talker Display and Navajo Culture Center. The Burger King is at the junction of US 160 and US 163.

By the way, this particular Burger King made particularly good Whoppers.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

A Grizzly Bear Mom & Her Cubs Are Causing Traffic Jams In Grand Teton National Park

I remember back before the bears were removed from Yellowstone National Park getting stuck in a traffic jam, or two, caused by bears.

This summer Grand Teton National Park, the National Park next door neighbor of Yellowstone, is have some traffic jams caused by bears.

To be more precise, traffic jams caused by a Grizzly Bear mom and 5 bear cubs that follow mom around.

The Grizzly Bear mom is known as #399. Her daughter is #610. This year, Grizzly Bear mom #399 had 3 more cubs. While daughter, #610, had 2 cubs.

The Grizzly Bear mom and her brood of cubs travel together, usually not far from the road, which has led to them becoming a very popular roadside attraction in Grand Teton National Park.

Years ago, at a Yellowstone bear traffic jam, I was a bit horrified to see a guy put his arm around the bear causing the jam, so that a picture could be taken. This was a brown bear, not a Grizzly. That same brown bear tried to stick its head in the window of my antique 1965 Ford Mustang.

A Grizzly Bear mom is one of the more dangerous animals you will ever run into. Mom will fiercely protect her cubs.

Grizzly Bear #399 has defended her babies in the past. In 2007 she bit a guy who came upon the mama Grizzly and her cubs while they were having a dinner of fresh elk meat.