As I mentioned before, we found Bryce Canyon National Park is kinda boring.  But fortunately it is right next door to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (henceforth referred to as GSENM), which is chock full of not-boring.

Before I continue, however, I must mention that the town of Tropic, Utah (pop 600) has incredibly tasty pizza.  Really, you should try it, especially the Navajo Taco pizza.  It totally blew away the pizza in Torrey, Utah (pop 200).

Now, on to Devil’s Garden!

Because GSENM is managed by the Bureau of Land Management instead of the Park Service, the rules are a bit more lax.  So we got to run all over this set of hoodos and arches.  Its entrance was marked by a sign that labeled it an “Outstanding Natural Area,” and it is outstandingly natural.  The kids found it the best playground ever.  I half expected to see Wile E. Coyote run through this landscape.

When we arrived, the crowds hadn’t hit yet.  We had the place pretty much to ourselves.

It was almost worth the headache I got from driving 10 miles of washboarded dirt roads to get there!  (Ugh.  I hate washboarded roads.)

BUT mere headaches could not stop us from continuing another 6 miles down the washboarded road to hike a slot canyon!  Heavens, no.  The canyon is called the Dry Fork . . . or was it the Dry Wash?  Eh, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Lovely, isn’t it?  I love slot canyons.  Almost worth the horrid headache I got from driving the combined 16 more miles of washboarded roads to get back to the main road.  I even agreed to try out a different slot canyon the next day.  Which will be discussed in the next post.

Camping at Tanner’s Flat

Know what?  I’m a wimp.  A camping wimp.  For me, camping means sleeping in a tent no more than 20 feet away from my car, sleeping on an air mattress, and munching on fresh fruit, cheese and veggies from a cooler.  What’s not to love?

Brian and I decided we would try to squeeze a camping trip in at the end of summer, and booked a night’s stay at the Tanner’s Flat campground up Little Cottonwood Canyon.

We really haven’t been tent camping with the kids in over a year, so it was almost a brand-new experience for them.  They loved goofing off in the tent and making as many trips as possible to the campground bathroom, which was just downhill from us.  (When making campsite reservations, I always go for the one nearest the bathroom.)

Eleanor was thrilled to spend time gathering kindling for the campfire.  She lead William on several expeditions, a la Little House in the Big Woods.  Adorable.

Jeffrey’s main occupation was throwing multiple marshmallows into the fire while shouting “TEMPLE OF DOOOOM!” and then watching them spontaneously combust.

I was really worried Katie would not sleep well, but she was great, and slept in quite a bit.  Jeffrey, on the other hand, woke up at 6:00 and proceeded to bounce on the air mattresses as much as possible.

Ugh.  We decided we might as well get up and go hiking.

The Albion Basin is at the top of Little Cottonwood, and is very, very popular for hiking, due mainly to the scads of wildflowers:

Go ahead, sing it to yourself: The hiiiiills are aliiiiiiive with the sound of muuuuusiiiiic . . .

It’s so busy that on most weekends you have to park at the bottom of the basin and take a lousy shuttle bus up to the trailhead.  But we were on the road early enough to bypass this inconvenience and park where we wanted!  Right at the trailhead for Cecret Lake:

Oooooo, purdy purdy.  Last year, we did this hike, and it was just as pretty, but we got rained on, then hailed on.  And then we saw some moose.  This time, we were nearly alone during the first part of the hike, and saw lots of hummingbirds in this meadow:

Downtime on the trail was spent waiting for Heidi to pop out from behind a boulder with a goat or something.

And . . . then we realized that our main activity for the day was over by 11:00 a.m.  So we went back to the campsite, ate lunch, built a fire, roasted yet more marshmallows (yes, more TEMPLE OF DOOOOOM!), and packed up for home.

Need I say that sitting in full sunshine in August next to a campfire is a dumb idea?  Naps were in due order that afternoon . . .

Hiking Jack’s Mountain Mailboxes (Well, Almost)

In which Brian poses for the cover of a Louis L’Amour Novel!

This one is called “The Baby Rustler.”  Apparently Mr. L’Amour has gone a bit daffy in his old age.  (Wait.  Is he even still alive?)

So.  There’s this trail above the foothills of Salt Lake City that leads to Jack’s Mountain Mailboxes, which is a memorial to a little boy who died from cancer back in 1995.  His parents scattered his ashes on one of the foothill peaks, and placed two mailboxes in the hillside.  Hikers who visit read and leave inspirational messages in the mailboxes.

My kids thought it would be ripping to find the “secret messages” on the mountainside.  I was really curious, too.  Up we went!

Starting at the “H” rock (a big rock painted with an “H” for Highland High) . . .

. . . Easy peasy.  But then the trail got steep.  Very steep, although there were scads of dragonflies to keep us entertained.

The following picture shows Brian (and Katie) at the trail’s halfway point.  See the peak in the distance?  Brian said, “Hey, all we have to do is climb up that!  It should only take half an hour!”

But thin Western air can be decieving.  Things are farther away than they seem.

We kept going up up up up up uuuuuup.  Somewhere along the way I noticed that the trail map we downloaded indicated a 1200 ft. elevation gain.

Finally, we came to these rocks — what we thought was the peak.

But then we scrambled over the top and realized we still had half an hour of climbing to go. The real peak was off in the distance, taunting us.

It was 8:30 p.m. by that time, and we had run out of water.  We didn’t want to hike down the steep trail in the dark, so we had to turn back.  Eleanor, who had been the most whiny on the way up, was surprisingly devastated by this decision, and launched into an inspirational pep talk:

“We don’t have to give up!  If you just BELIEVE in yourself, you can do ANYTHING!  And I know we can reach the top if we just BELIEVE!”

Brian was already heading downhill by the time she was done.  Buh-bye!

Jack’s Mountain Mailboxes will have to wait for another day.  In the meanwhile, we got to admire these delicious views of the Salt Lake valley:

Hiking Gorgoza Park

Our local newspaper, The Salt Lake Tribune, has this fabulous “Hike of the Week” feature in its “Fit & Healthy” section.  Brian and I love keeping an eye out for kid-friendly trails that are close to home.  The side of our fridge is thick with little trail guides we’ve snipped out of the newspaper.

This past Tuesday we decided to try one of them out — a trail up Parley’s Canyon in a little natural area called Gorgoza Park.

What a charmer this place turned out to be!  There’s a tiny little pond at the base of a small green foothill, and the trail crosses over and around a tiny stream, its banks thick with aspen and scads of wildflowers:

Yes, yes — William is wearing his pants backwards in this picture.  His shirt was inside-out earlier in the day, and it took me several hours to convince him to fix it.  The pants were non-negotiable.

Eleanor wanted me to take this “silly” picture of her:

It was a little over a mile to a rocky outcropping on the peak.  There’s a great view of the surrounding area, and also, in this case, gathering storm clouds.  Look how oblivious we are of the impending doom:

We got caught in a five-minute cloudburst for the last five minutes of our hike.  It poured hard as we approached the trailhead, and then stopped right after we scrambled in the car.   That’s how it always is, right?

In Which Brooke Plans Your Next Vacation

For spring break this year, Brian was able to take a couple of days off, and we headed down south to Capitol Reef National Park.

What was that?  No . . . not Cedar Breaks.  Capitol  Reef.

It’s a national park right in the middle of Utah.

No?  Not heard of it? I’m not surprised.  Most of the people I’ve told about this trip have never heard of this park, and that includes people who have lived in Utah their whole lives.  I’d like to change this, because I think the park is a really special place.  Brian and I first visited it in the summer of 2001, right before we moved to Pennsylvania, and we were charmed.

Well then — sit back, relax, and enjoy a bit of armchair tourism, eh?

The name of the park has two origins.  “Capitol” because of these big rocky domes that resemble the U.S. Capitol building:

“Reef” because the pioneers found the big ridge — what geologists call a “waterpocket fold” — to be nearly impassable, like a coral reef would be for a boat.  So there you have it: Capitol Reef, aka One Confusing Name.

The Navajo apparently called this region “the sleeping rainbow,” because of the stripes on the ridge.  Why they couldn’t call it Sleeping Rainbow National Park is beyond me.  Don’t you think people would be more likely to visit Sleeping Rainbow?  Or is that too hippie sounding?

The pioneers were so proud of their trek through the narrow Capitol Wash that they took time to create a name register on the walls.  Very cool:

Unfortunately, the pioneer register has too many contributions from modern park visitors.  “Bong Wang 1998” is not history, folks.

Oh, and the Fremont Indians took time to make some neat rock art, too.

A tiny town called Fruita existed in the Reef until 1969.  There were never more than ten families living there at a time, but they grew lots of fruit trees, which are now preserved by the Parks Dept. as “historic orchards.”

Capitol Reef is also one of the more family-friendly parks we’ve visited.  A lot of the trails are safe for kids, like Grand Wash, which has a beautiful series of narrows:

Grand Wash also has these really neat water-made hollows in the redrock.  The kids loved taking breaks inside of them:

The hike to the Hickman Bridge is also great for kids, which includes a self-guided nature trail:

Okay, fine.  Let’s get it out of our systems: ELEANOR HAS SHORT HAIR.  The stylist cut it shorter than I intended, and thank heavens that Ella didn’t care.  She looks so different!

Capitol Reef also has the Ripple Rock Nature Center, which is like a mini children’s museum about the park.  We went with a ranger to examine water insects in the Sulphur Creek, and later made plaster castings of deer tracks.  Cool!  I’ve wanted to make track castings ever since I saw it done on an old episode of Mr. Wizard.  (Do you remember that show?)  But who goes hiking with Plaster of Paris?

Sulphur Creek is also home to this big field and a lovely bridge over a stream shallow enough for wading.  The kids LOVED that place; we could easily have stayed there all day, done nothing else, and Jeffrey would have been perfectly satisfied.

In the evening, we made the short hike up to Sunset Point, where you can see the rainbow in earnest.

So beautiful and relaxing, right?  And it’s only a four hour drive from SLC, so why not try Capitol Reef out instead of Zion or Bryce?  No crowds, no shuttles, only a $5 park entrance fee.  Think about it, eh?

Tomorrow I continue my Capitol Reef travelogue with the Tale of the Water Pit!  Stay Tuned!