Previously –ZION NATIONAL PARK
Bryce Canyon, Highway 12 and Capitol Reef
Leaving Zion , it was a fine drive for the next 15 minutes or so as we crossed an upper section of the Park.
Then the landscape became quite uninteresting as we headed for Bryce. Got there in 2 hours, an easy drive on quiet roads.
Stopped at Bryce village to pick up some supplies and check out the grocery store, which was very good. The village itself though seemed custom-built and touristy, a short drive away to the Canyon.
I loved Bryce Canyon Lodge right away. Typical of the style, it had one of those big atriums as you enter, a huge high ceilinged hallway/reception area with Indian decoration and dark log-panelling. It must be really cosy in winter with the open fire going, comfy chairs and board games and books to browse. Very civilised!
I was also surprised at how wooded it was round the whole area. Got checked in quickly as it was very quiet and made for our Western Rim cabin which was just delightful inside. Spacious and charming and full of character. Even a small balcony to sit out. Not cheap ($200 +) but I loved the quiet, pine forested location and it was literally only two minutes walk to the Rim.(I did shudder sometimes at how much we’d clocked up money-wise on accommodation this trip, certainly in the desert areas.)
What a sight Bryce was in early evening sunshine! We walked over to Sunset Point, where it was quite crowded and watched the sun go down, jostling a bit to get a photo without a sea of heads in the way.
Got showered and then headed off for a meal in the Lodge itself, in a restaurant that was really charming – and busy.
Caesar Salad for Chris to start, a very good one, while I had a cup of excellent chicken broth.Bison stew for me, a small portion (what a great idea to offer this – as it was, the portion was pretty substantial) .The meat was amazing – it had been stewed slowly for 10 hours then BBQ’d. Powerful flavour.Served with garlic mash which wasn’t so successful.With a good plate of mashed potatoes , I never think they need much more than butter and salt to be almost a meal in themselves.Separate plate of veg – tons of it! Perfect! I often think I could enjoy just a big plate of tatties and veg – Chris says it’s my Highland peasant roots. He had a very good dish of chicken with lemon sauce and a good Californian Chardonnay to wash it down. I think the USA is where we have consistently been served good wine at a reasonable price.The desserts looked nice but we were absolutely stuffed.
It was pretty cold as we walked back to our cabin. Bryce sits at an incredible 8 – 9,000 feet above sea level, higher than the Grand Canyon.
We flaked out pretty early by 9.15pm – it had been a fantastic , long and packed day.
We were up again for sunrise, which was about 7am here from memory. Fleeces on, as it was pretty parky. Unfortunately there was a bank of thin high cloud which made the colours a bit disappointing.
We walked down the Queen’s Garden route on a decent track, a walk I’d thought we might do and then link it up with the Navajo trail but I now realised that being down in the depths of the Hoodoos didn’t appeal much. There were some big drops too.Wandered up the Rim trail to another viewpoint which offered even wider vistas of the incredible eroded rock spires. Thousands of them, everywhere. But by then, around 8.30am, we felt we’d seen enough.
This was the Park which, while it was well worth seeing, we would have been happy to just briefly visit, then move on if the driving distances had allowed that.
The Disappointment of Highway 12
We’d read so much about this drive and were really looking forward to it.It climbs up the Grand Staircase Escalante, a range of plateaus and ridges which covers an area the size of some US States. It’s billed as one of the most scenic Highways in Utah. We had 100 miles to cover from Bryce up to Torrey where we had booked an Airbnb room with a desert view. Some online reviews I’d read suggested people were taking all day to do this drive (on good roads) because there was so much to stop and admire.So, expectations were high and we were both really looking forward to it.
However, with the exception of a small canyon area dotted with lovely cottonwoods beside Kiva Coffeehouse just past Escalante, the whole drive was underwhelming! The first 50 miles to Escalante were actually very dull. The Coffeehouse however, was a charming place, well worth a stop and really enjoyable. A beautiful location and a delightful wildflower garden. And some good home-baking too (and Internet).
White Canyon saw a brief improvement again, but then the farmland and forestry took over and it just became a case of getting the mileage in. Stopped for fuel in Boulder, a tiny place and noticed the brilliantly named Hell’s Backbone Grill. The shop was excellent – tons of interesting stuff, including Navajo head-dresses and bison heads on the wall. It was a case , then , of just ploughing on and getting the mileage in until we reached Torrey.
We stopped at Larb Hollow Overlook which was very nice with some great distant views to Capitol Reef National Park and the remote-looking Henry Mountains.
There was an elderly chap there that we got talking to. From Arizona, he’d come to the USA after WW2 and left Europe (Belgium) far behind, seemingly with no regrets – “I got the hell outta there…..Europe? What a mess.’ We found on this trip that the Americans we met weren’t short of a very definite opinion or three – very entertaining!
Then came the big descent to Torrey. Something that was always strange to us was that although the mountains we were looking at were around 9000 – nearly 12,000 feet in height, they didn’t look anything like that because the elevation was so high. We’re used, at home, to mountains rearing straight up from the roadside or the ocean. Although they are only 3-4,000 feet or so, they look every inch of it.
As we drove into Torrey, Highway 12 was finally over – the first disappointment we’d had on the trip. Ah well, you can’t please all of the people all of the time…..and Utah had done pretty well with us so far.
An afternoon in Capitol Reef
Torrey looked a pleasant little place in very nice country. Picked up some local maps from the helpful Wayne County Visitor Centre and then had a late lunch at Cafe Diablo.Quesillados for me which were excellent and Enchiladas for Chris,which were maybe not quite so good(maybe it was the colour, purple, they looked weird.) Then a superb Huckleberry ice cream…only $ 4.75 for three massive scoops of purplish ice-cream made of the berries, a bit like our blueberries. One of the best ice creams I’ve ever had.
It was now only 3pm as we had completed the drive so much quicker than we’d thought with barely any stops. It was too early to head for our accommodation, so we headed 8 miles along Hwy 24 for the 25 mile scenic drive through Capitol Reef and the Fruita Historic District which we’d originally planned for the next day.
Capitol Reef/Fruita drive($10 or free with Pass)
What a stunning drive! Incredibly beautiful. In fact even the drive to the Fruita District itself from Torrey was far more impressive than Hwy 12 (just about every Hwy we drove from now on was so much more impressive than Hwy 12!)
It seemed to offer the classic USA desert landscape which inspired us to come here. We were both blown away by Capitol Reef – the late afternoon sun on the red rocks, the wildness of it. The little historic Gifford House at the beginning of the drive was very nice too and I got some strawberry and rhubarb pie which smelled fantastic.
We drove down two of the spur roads ; a mile of bumpy track took us to Grand Wash Canyon where we got out and walked for a mile or so , surrounded by rock walls and silence. Absolutely wonderful. (Though the compost toilet at the car park wasn’t – it was so bad I just couldn’t use it.)
A longer 2.5 mile spur further south took us to Capitol Gorge, another fine place for an easy walk. It was all very impressive and hugely enjoyable and hardly another soul was there.It was interesting to see the etched names and dates of the first Mormon settlers who had made their way through these narrow walls of rock in the 19th century, the only access routes through the ‘Reef’ wall of rock which gives the Park its name. Capitol comes from the shape of one of the rock mountains being like Capitol Hill.
I had hardly given a thought to this Park when planning things – it was just somewhere to pass through briefly en route to where we really wanted to be. Another mistake! (I’m good at those.)
We stopped off at the Panoramic Lookout on the way back towards Torrey, which gave more stunning desert/mountain views.
It was very easy to find our Airbnb accommodation a few miles outside Torrey. Heir Bob’s house was along a short dirt road near the Hidden Falls Hotel. On first sight, it looked a bit suspect and my heart sank that we’d picked a wrong ‘un, but it turned out to be utterly charming, one of our favourite places of the whole trip.
Heir Bob was quite an elderly man, tending the truly beautiful wildflower garden when we arrived and we took to him right away. Our accents reminded him of his father, he said, who’d been a Scot. We now had an utterly charming little flat, beautifully appointed and well designed, all to ourselves(Heir lived a short distance away). Fridge, microwave, breakfast things and – a kettle! The garden had lots of sitting out areas . It was idyllic and all for $100 a night. And the view! Orange rock mountains and a swathe of greenery with barely another house in sight.
Got unpacked , opened the sparkling wine plus a beer for Chris and then sat and watched the sun go down from the panoramic windows. I was so glad we’d eaten earlier and didn’t need to leave this place. It was somewhere to be savoured. Snacked on crisps and – for me – the essential nibble on some chocolate (a nibble? – who am I kidding, I demolished the bar.) Another packed day and out for the count by 9.30pm.
Next – a spectacular drive to Monument Valley via the Moki Dugway (ranked one of the world’s most dangerous roads.)