Following Utah 12, the Scenic Byway

The Scenic Byway leading to Capitol Reef National Park

| I'm a day ahead of my trip plan, so today was to be a leisurely drive and visit to Capitol Reef NP.

Why am I ahead of plan? The parks in the first part of the trip are quite close together, but I didn't want to get all stressed out dashing from one to another, so I overcompensated by leaving too much time. For example, today I was supposed to visit Bryce Canyon and then drive to position myself for Capitol Reef. But since I visited Bryce yesterday, I could easily visit Capitol Reef today, which is actually on the schedule for tomorrow.

Actually it's a good thing to be ahead because Sophie has decided that she needs to brake pads, requiring an unplanned detour to Grand Junction, Colorado, the nearest Toyota dealer.

I spent most of the morning and early afternoon going up and down the Grand Staircase after Escalante. The road from Escalante to Boulder, Utah, was known as "Hell's Backbone" and I understand why. Although part of the road was completed in 1933 by the Civilian Conservation Corps — thank you, Franklin D  —  it was only passable in summer. As late as 1940, the residents of Boulder still received their mail by mule train!

I stopped for a coffee in Boulder, and had a nice chat with a former professional photographer who now lives in Boulder, and used to work for publications like Geo, the European counterpart to National Geographic. Many of his photographs hang on the walls of the coffee shop.

Just past Escalante the road goes from the plateau down to the bottom of the cliffs and then back up again to climb Boulder Mountain. As I undestand it, this cascade of plateaus and cliffs that begin in Southern Utah and end with the Grand Canyon in Colorado are all part of the same geologic structure. The Grand Staircase is about the size of Delaware and was made a National Monument by Bill Clinton — thank you, Bill!

The Grand Staircase
Click image to enlarge

Eventually I made it down off the mountain and into Capitol Reef National Park. It's another of the canyons that are part of the Grand Staircase, so there are the towering cliffs and rock formations sculpted into interesting and sometimes bizarre shapes by Mother Nature. 

Like Bryce, it has a Scenic Drive that runs for several miles along the canyon walls, with two unpaved spurs that go into two of the narrow, twisty canyons in the park. I chose to follow the one at the end of the Scenic Drive. Amazingly enough, Sophic had the spur on her guidance system, so I took her advice, "Continue on the current road." Eventually the road stopped after about 2.3 miles, and a trail continued to points of interest; in this case, petroglyphs left by the ancient inhabitants of this area and signatures carved into stone by the pioneer settlers in the area. At what is supposed to be the end of the trail are hollowed-out rocks that hold water. I made it as far as the sign with an arrow pointing up the cliff and the notation that the Tanks were .2 miles. I conferred with a couple who had just descended; the passed on the intelligence that the sign lies (it is much farther than .2 mile), the trail is hard to follow, and only one of the Tanks has any water which appears to be of very dubious quality. I turned around and followed them out of the canyon.

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Last updated on Apr 13, 2018

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