Monday, August 4, 2014

Utah's Scenic Byways 24 and 12

A couple weeks before heading out on our cross country road trip, we realized we would most likely end up in Bryce Canyon National Park on a Saturday afternoon/evening. I knew how quickly first-come/first-serve national park campgrounds fill up, so I decided to figure out an alternate plan for Saturday night. However, no hotels, bed and breakfasts, or airbnb options could be found right around Bryce Canyon. 

And I'm so glad for that! I ended up stumbling across this awesome airstream resort in Escalante (about an hour outside of Bryce Canyon). Shooting Star Drive in and Resort was such a perfect mix between camping and hotel staying. We got a shower and a bed to sleep in, but also cooked outside and watched the sunset over the mountains with absolutely no one else around. Plus, booking our stay at the airstream resort on Saturday night changed our route from Moab to Bryce Canyon. Google maps originally suggested I-70 to Highway 89 as the quickest way to Bryce; however when has the quickest way ever been the best?! This definitely held true on this terrific road tripping day. Scenic Highway 12 was one of the most beautiful roads I've ever been on. And Highway 24 before that goes right through the best of Capitol Reef National Park (I guess I don't know that it was the best since we only ventured about a mile off the road, but it was spectacular!)

Tip: Make sure you fill up your tank in Moab (and probably stock up on snacks), because gas stations are few and far between on this route! 

Reference: Utah Office of Tourism Website:
24 and 26: Canyonlands and Arches National Park
15: Capitol Reef National Park
16: Shooting Star Airstream Resort

From Moab, we took I-70 west past Green River and then headed south on Highway 24. We continued on Highway 24 by heading west at Hanksville (this is where the official scenic byway begins but it's pretty interesting before this too) and got to Hickman Bridge in Capitol Reef National Park about 2 1/2 hours after leaving Moab. After a short hike and a stop at the visitor's center in Capitol Reef, we continued on our way west on Highway 24 and then began heading south on Highway 12 through Dixie National Forest before arriving in Escalante about 2 1/2 hours later (really estimating here but we took our time stopping at vista points).

Hike: Hickman Bridge at Capitol Reef National Park
Hike Difficulty: Easy 
Hike Distance (Round Trip): 2 miles
Time (Round Trip): 1 hour 
(maybe a little longer if you plan to stop and appreciate everything!)

The trailhead parking lot is easy to access and has two pit toilets. It is about 2 miles east of the visitor's center and on the north side of the road (well marked). Most of the trail is in the sun, so make sure to wear that sun protection! 

The first part of the trail is crazy because there is a big sign that basically says it's a rock fall area and you aren't allowed to stop until you get past that section (two pictures down you can see that area). The beginning of the trail is easy to spot and right along the Fremont river.

The trail ascends through lava rock spattered fields. These lava pieces were moved into the Capitol Reef area by glaciers and mudflow and rounded from the tumbling in this process. 

Hickman Bridge (125 feet top to bottom and 133 feet from left to right)

Vista Point along Highway 12 in Dixie National Forest

Sugar's Shack - Our airstream was decorated like Marilyn Monroe's trailer for Some Like It Hot

Made ourselves some dinner on our propane grill (be sure to bring food for grilling because the stove inside doesn't work).

The airstream resort rents these classic cars and will play a movie that you select and bring you candy and popcorn to the car. We were asleep pretty early, or we totally would've done this! 

We seemed to have the whole place to ourselves, so enjoyed rehearsing for our friends' wedding while watching the sun set on a great day.

Sunset from the airstream

Friday, August 1, 2014

Mesa Arch and Neck Spring Trail at Canyonlands National Park

Hike: Mesa Arch (see Neck Spring Trail details below)
Hike Difficulty: Easy
Hike Distance (Round Trip): .5 miles
Time (Round Trip): 30 minutes - 1 hour (with plenty of time for enjoying the view)

We woke up at 4:30am on our second morning in Moab. (We were camping at Up A Creek campground in town because we were worried we wouldn't find first come, first serve camping when we arrived. Pros - only tents allowed at campground, good shower/bathroom facilities, ice to purchase, easy walk to restaurants and grocery store. Cons - we were in town, really windy and dusty so our stuff got covered in dirt even with the rainfly on.) It is about 50 minutes drive to Mesa Arch in the Island in the Sky District, and we wanted to be there for sunrise. We made it right as the sun was rising, and we definitely were not the first ones there. Lots of folks with tripods waiting to get the same shot as everyone else. However, we just walked a little bit away from the swarm of 20 people or so, and it was fine and peaceful and definitely worth being there for sunrise. 

The "Honey Moon" at dawn on our way to Mesa Arch.

People waiting to take a picture at Mesa Arch.

On Eagle's Wings (no?)

The shot everyone was dying to get. 

The most beautiful "potted plant arrangement" done by Mother Nature herself.

After spending some time at Mesa Arch, we drove over to Green River Overlook to see the sun rising over the canyons there. Pretty spectacular view!

Green River Overlook

At 7:30ish, we were already at the Shafer Canyon Overlook Parking Area to eat some breakfast before heading out on the Neck Spring Trail. 

Hike: Neck Spring Trail
Hike Difficulty: Moderate (some scrambling up slick rock)
Hike Distance (Round Trip): 5.8 miles
Time (Round Trip): 3-4 hours
Elevation Change: 300 ft

First off, I highly recommend this hike! We had been reading a lot of different descriptions of hikes in Canyonlands. A lot of the longer hikes sounded a bit sketchy because they were super steep and had slippery rocks and a lot of elevation change. We could have done them, but we only had our running shoes with us and we felt like we didn't need to push it. The description for Neck Spring did NOT do it justice. The Canyonlands National Park Service website describes it as "a loop trail that passes historic ranching features as well as two springs and diverse plant life." While all of this is true, it also had it's own canyon and great views. I was really impressed with this trail. It changed a lot so it didn't get boring. And we saw NO ONE on the whole hike. Literally, zero people. If you have been to Arches or Canyonlands, you know how rare this is.

The hike starts out at Shafer Canyon Overlook Parking Lot on the south side of the parking lot (away from the big views). The trail immediately begins going down hill and quickly crosses the road. This trail does a lot of moderate descending and climbing, but nothing that is too challenging. The trail crosses no other trails, so it's pretty easy to follow. Just make sure you keep an eye on the cairns and it's easy. 

Historic Ranching Remnants

Utah's State Flower - Sego Lily

Lizard tracks everywhere!

I believe this is Taylor Canyon. Great spot to stop and have a snack. 

The only moderate part of this hike is the 250 vertical foot climb up slick rock to get back up to the top of the Island of the Sky Mesa. There was nothing sketchy about it. The cairns were easy to spot and none of the climbing was challenging. We then walked awhile along big expanses of slick rock before reaching the main road again. We crossed the road and then the trail hugged close to the road for the last 1/2 mile to a mile (because this section is basically "the neck" and there isn't that much land between the two canyons). The views of Shafer Canyon heading back to the parking lot were incredible.  

The rest of the afternoon, we checked out some other parts of the park, including Upheaval Dome. It was really crowded here, which proves once again that it just takes hiking on the longer trails to completely escape the crowds at national parks. 

Pretty meadows along the road in Canyonland National Park "Island in the Sky" District.