Thursday, June 21, 2012

“Wash” Day at Capitol Reef N.P.

Hi all, Dianne here.  During our first trip into Capitol Reef National Park, we stopped at the visitor’s center and talked to the rangers, then picked up some literature to help plan our week.  In addition to the free maps and hiking guide, we purchased a great trail guide at the visitor’s center, outlining all the trails in detail.  

This little guide cost around $4.00, but it’s worth every cent.

After careful planning, we decided to take two short, easy hikes for our first hiking day:

Known as the pioneer highway, the wash through Capitol Gorge for many years served as a road for early travelers through Capitol Reef.  It follows an old wagon trail to the “tanks”, a group of pockets in the rock hollowed out by water in the stream bed.  This trail, as well as the second trail we took that day, can only be done during dry weather with no chance of storms, due to the danger of flash floods. 
This is the road, not the trail!
The last portion of the road to the trailhead is unpaved, rocky, and gave us a thrill in our little low-clearance Matrix.  We creeped down the road and did finally reach the parking area for the trail.

Soon after we started walking down the stream bed, we came to a wall of ancient petroglyphs:

No hike is complete without a close-up of some of the surprising wildflowers that manage to eke out a life in this barren environment.

The cliffs closed in as we walked down the wash.  Here’s a photo of Roger showing how tall the cliff sides were:  

Soon we came to the “pioneer register” rock face, where travelers dating back to 1871 have etched their names and dates as they passed through the gorge.  In addition to the opening photo, here are two more:

Don't even think of adding your name and date to the wall; now there's a posted $250 fine.  Graffiti is only interesting when it's 100 years old!

Here and there were interesting hollowed out places in the rock walls, a testament to the power of the water during the periodic flash floods. 

I found these formations to be especially interesting; I can only surmise that clumps of sand were packed into the holes in the rock wall during a flash flood, and left to harden into sandstone. 

Here and there we found interesting spots for a quick drink.

The trail to this point was short, flat, and easy, so we decided to forge on and climb the 100-foot elevation gain to look at the “tanks.”

The trail was marked by cairns, and we had to really look ahead to spot them to avoid making a wrong turn. 

There was some scrambling involved, but we did finally reach two of the tanks; unfortunately for us, they were dry as a bone.

Click the link below to see a great photo of how the tanks look when it's not so dry:
Tank water-filled with reflection

We had left our picnic lunch in the car at the trailhead, and by this time Roger’s stomach was growling so loud that it sounded like a mountain lion.  We retraced our steps and hurried back to the car like cows racing back to the barn to be fed.

We retrieved our lunch from the cooler in the car, and were grateful for the shady pavilion with tables at the trailhead.  

Then it was on to the next trailhead!

Along Scenic Drive we passed by a huge rock formation which to me looked like a large chocolate temple.  There is a layer of rock here that looks like chunks or flakes of chocolate lying everywhere.  In other spots  it has been ground down to look like cocoa powder.  Here was a whole temple made of it!

To reach the next trailhead, we turned down another unpaved road off Scenic Drive.  Once again, our poor little Matrix creeped along, but luckily we didn’t have to go too far.

Our trail guide described the Grand Wash trail as an easy out-and-back walk through a wide wash, 5 miles round trip.  Before we set out on our hikes, we checked the NOAA weather forecast for Torrey, and assumed we were all set for a lovely mid-80-degree stroll.

The sun was baking down on us as we made our way down this dry wash.  There were more interesting holes, gouges, and formations as we made our way.  The variety of rocks (carried through the wash by flash floods and left behind) was amazing.  

Here’s an interesting “peek-a-boo” formation in the rock wall.  Recognize anyone?

Roger was in rare form this day; here he is posing on a ledge:

Roger's not the only one who enjoys sunbathing on a rock wall:

After a mile or so in the hot sun, we finally reached a stretch of shade where the rock walls became narrow, and rose to over 800 feet tall.  Notice the stripes of desert varnish on the rock wall. 

Interestingly, in the old days wagons and automobiles occasionally traveled down this wash, although the main route was through Capitol Gorge, which we had hiked before lunch.  All too soon we passed through this shady stretch and the wash widened out again into the bright sun.

This rock intrigued me; I can just imagine the water swirling around it during a flood.  The darker colored "knob" on top is still part of the same large boulder.

We were really baking by this time.  Even the hot water in our water bottles tasted good to us, and it was not just lukewarm, but getting hot.  We were really feeling tired when we came upon another short, shady respite.  
This one came complete with a large rock ledge.  We wasted no time climbing up onto it and stretching out to make the most of our rest stop. 

It was actually pretty cool to lay there and watch the swallows darting around the rocky cliffs above.

After resting there, we reluctantly forged on.  After a while the scenery all began to look the same, the sun was hotter and hotter, and after speaking with hikers we met coming down the trail from the other direction (off the trailhead on Hwy 24), we learned that we had already enjoyed any shady spots and the rest was full sun.  It sure felt hotter than 80 degrees!  We decided to turn back and skip the last quarter-mile, knowing we had already seen the best of the trail.

We stopped at every shady overhang along the way back, gulping down the rest of our hot water. 

We finally made our way back to the car.  When Roger turned the car on, he was surprised to see the temperature gauge showing 101 degrees!  After driving a bit, it leveled out to 98 degrees.  What we didn’t realize when planning our day was that the National Park was 1100 feet lower in elevation than our camp site in Torrey.  As we drove back home, we watched the temperature gauge go down, until it was indeed in the mid-80s back at the RV.  Hiking more than six miles in 95+ degree heat; no wonder we were both beat by the time we got home!

Check back soon for Roger’s next blog entry –- we rented a Jeep for a day, and got off the beaten track for a really great adventure!

"Dancing in the Sheets"
The pet photo of the day is our kids’ favorite game on change-the-sheets day.  Actually, Charlie the cat taught Bandido how much fun it is to jump on the bed and lay down right where mom is trying to put on the sheets.  Bandido, in turn, taught Tequila the game, and the two of them took it to new heights by wrestling right where I was trying to make up the bed.  Right after this photo, Charlie the cat also jumped up and made claim to part of the bed.  I finally gave up!!



Linda said...

What an amazing the petroglyphs. My favorite photos are of both of you relaxing in the shade! Hiking in the heat is no fun, you guys are awesome!!

Gin and Syl said...

But it's a dry heat! Liked the peekaboo rock. Kinda shows that Roger can be a clown.