Tuesday, September 11th-Friday, September 14th
Tuesday. Whoever decided that US-50 should be named the Loneliest Road in America, apparently had never driven on US-93 heading south from Ely, NV. Now that’s a desolate road, but in a good way. Wild scenery, sparse traffic, few settlements. Another beautiful drive! We passed Cathedral Gorge State Park, and thought we might like to return and spend some time exploring its intriguing geological formations. After we passed into Utah there were more irrigated farms and more development, although still very wide open spaces. We drove through Cedar City, the gateway to Cedar Breaks National Monument, and were impressed with the cleanliness of this relatively big town, home to the campus of Southern Utah University and many cultural attractions, including the Utah Shakespeare festival, not to mention its proximity to the famous parks of southwestern Utah.
Cedar Breaks is a 20 mile drive up a very steep, winding road that passes through increasingly dramatic red rock canyons. The road climbs about 5000 feet in those 20 miles. For the first time on this trip, our truck started to overheat so we turned off the AC and let the truck rest for a few minutes. It cooled off quickly and did fine the rest of the way.
It probably helped that the air temperature dropped as we climbed, and when we reached Point Supreme Campground in the Park located at 10,000 feet elevation, it was about 66 degrees F. Cool, refreshing!
This park seems to be at the top of the world, on the subalpine Markagunt plateau. In the higher elevations the aspen are already turning brilliant shades of yellow, orange and red. The high country forests and meadows fall away abruptly, opening onto 2 vast amphitheaters of rock walls, columns, hoodoos, sharp knife edges (called fins), parapets, towers, ramparts, minarets, and many other fantastic formations in glowing shades of orange and pink and mauve that change as the light changes. We stopped at the Visitor Center and walked out to the Point Supreme Overlook there. Then we drove the 6 miles to the north end of the park road, stopping at each of the 4 scenic overlooks there. Then back to the Visitor Center where we took a 1 mile hike towards Spectra Point. Another mile would have taken us to Ramparts Overlook, but we were still getting acclimated to the altitude and the cool, drying wind. So we turned around and were back at the Visitor Center in time for a glorious sunset that turned the rocks deep red.
Then, the stars! This is designated as a Dark Sky Park, and the stars are incredible, the Milky Way splashed across the sky as the crescent moon set.
Wednesday, September 12th. I awoke at 5 a.m. and realized all the indicator lights in the trailer were dark, including the fridge, the switches for the gas hot water heater and the water pump, and even the digital clock on the entertainment console display. Our batteries were totally depleted. We still don’t know why, but we do know our campsite is quite shady and our solar panels aren’t getting much sun. But we drove here yesterday 4 hours through the desert in the blazing sun, so the batteries should have been fully charged at the end of the day. If we come here again, Site 21 gets full sun. But Site 14 gets a lot of sun too, and has the advantage of being on the outside of the loop overlooking endless alpine meadows stretching to the east.
Scott’s turn: We can get by with none of these systems working, but not having the fridge working would cause problems. The fridge and freezer run off propane, but that system needs some electricity to power the electronic starter to light the gas. As the sun rises, we gradually see the solar charging system and controller wake up. Thankfully, after two hours of very weak rays, the fridge wakes up. Huzzah! By the end of day, we get the batteries to half full… this means that we are likely to have enough power to pull in the energy-hungry slide, which we must do before we leave here. Stay tuned.
No, we did not spend the entire day looking at the solar charger display! We head out to traverse some more paths along the edge of the Amphitheater. The sky is brilliant blue, with intense sunshine, temps in the high sixties. By late afternoon, with snack and lunch breaks in between, we cover 3 plus miles, which does not sound like much, but at 10,000 feet we have to walk slowly, drink often, and rest. The trails are great… we took the 2 one-mile loops of the Alpine Pond Trail, winding through high altitude forest, meadows, rocks and boulders; we learned a lot and at least got moving. We drove North toward the ski resort of Brian Head for a while to check things out. The Aspens were even more brilliant in their Fall colors at those still higher altitudes. We pretty much collapsed late afternoon, after spending an hour or so searching near the Visitor Center for any kind of cell signal to coordinate things at our house in Florida. Thank goodness no hurricanes there.
Early dinner was a hot Thai tofu soup. Warming. Delicious. Now the question is… can one or more of us get up the energy to tackle the 4 mile roundtrip Ramparts hike tomorrow morning?
Thursday, September 13th. Answer: Yes! After some early morning phone calls from the parking lot of the ranger station (the only place with any cell signal in the Park), we had some breakfast and got ready for our hike. Before leaving the campsite though, we talked with Chris, a young man who has been traveling full time for 2 years with his wife and their husky, Koda, in a Nash 17 trailer, slightly smaller than ours and without a slide. Chris had made some great improvements to the energy systems in his trailer and was happy to share his experiences. This was of great interest to us, especially in light of our recent drained battery episode. He promised to email us his parts list. On this trip he has been doing volunteer work along the way, most recently with the Peregrine Foundation doing releases of California condors.
Then we drove to the Visitor Center and the trailhead for the Ramparts Overlook hike. The Spectra Lookout is one mile in, and the Ramparts Overlook is another mile further up the trail, so it’s a four mile roundtrip. We took it slowly, and were pleased to be able to do this moderately difficult hike without too much huffing and puffing, but there was a lot of oohing and aahing! The views of the Amphitheater were spectacular and ever-changing. We took hundreds of photographs, but they can’t do justice to the clarity of the air, the quality of the light, and the fantastic shapes and colors of the rock formations.
We were very excited to get up close and personal with a grove of bristlecone pine trees at the Spectra Lookout, some estimated to be at least 2000 years old!
We got back to the Visitor Center just before 2 p.m., in time for the daily Geology Talk. This was given by Regina, a volunteer park ranger, retired elementary school teacher from Louisiana, who is also serving as part time campground host in exchange for a free campsite with full hookups. She has been here since mid-May and will be here until the campground closes September 30th when they start winterizing the facilities. She said right off the bat that she is not a geologist. This was pretty obvious, but she was able to impart some interesting info about the geological history of the area… 60 million years ago it was part of that vast inland sea… then a shallow lake… then came Volcanic explosions about 60 miles to the west which deposited ash and mud that became rock known as Rhyolite Tuff stone… then there was uplift… then the ongoing process of erosion still forming and transforming the landscape. Cedar Breaks is part of a geological formation known as the Grand Staircase, which includes Bryce Canyon and other parks in southwestern Utah, as well as the Grand Canyon.
As we drove back into the campground there was a signboard at the entrance announcing a Star Party tonight at 8:30 p.m. We’ll be there!
Friday, September 14th.
The star party was fun. Two volunteer amateur astronomers from St. George, UT (who also spend the summer in the park in free campsites with full hookups in exchange for their astronomy programs) set up their telescopes just up the campground road from our campsite so we walked over and took turns viewing the rings and moons of Saturn, and the craters of our own crescent moon. They said it was 100 degrees F in St. George that day, while the high was in the 60s up in Cedar Breaks. During the star party it was in the 50s and falling fast so we said goodnight and retired to the relative warmth and coziness of our trailer!
Friday morning we decided to explore some of the surrounding area and take a waterfall hike in Dixie National Forest. On the way to the Cascade Falls trailhead, we stopped first at Brian Head, an 11,000 ft. Peak at the northern border of the park. There is s 3 mile dirt road leading up to the summit, and at the top there is a stone shelter built by the CCC, our heroes!
Then we drove beautiful winding back roads to the Navajo Lake recreational area and tried without success at first to find the Cascade Falls trailhead.
But we did check out all the National Forest campgrounds along the shore of Navajo Lake ($8.50/night for us with our Senior Interagency Pass!). It was here that we met John, a park ranger and asked for directions. He said I’m going there… Follow me! So we did. We never would have found it following the printed directions we got from the Cedar Breaks brochure. John said it was because the county and the state were having a disagreement over where to place the new road signs. Where there should have been a sign for route 14, there was a sign for route 70. And where there should have been a sign for forest road #70, it said #54. Confusing! Anyway, we got there, thanks to John. He also told us that the best forest service campground in the area was Te-Ah, from the Paiute word for Deer Lodge, and that the movie My Friend Flicka had been filmed there! Anyway, the Cascade Falls hike was spectacular, and the Falls were the least spectacular part, since they were completely dry. But the surrounding scenery was breathtaking. This was a short 1.5 mile hike with some steep sections that we took slowly. But we were encouraged that our stay at 10,000 feet seems to have benefited our cardiac capacities so there was not much huffing and puffing. At the Falls we met a school group of about 20 teenagers from Williamsburg Academy, an online school which they pronounced “awesome.” Scott asked how often they have to meet in person, and they said “we don’t HAVE to… we CHOOSE to.” One of their instructors said he was from Hollywood, FL. (The second time that day someone mentioned Hollywood: earlier a French Canadian man asked us for directions in our campground and said he had once been in Florida visiting an old girlfriend who had a double wide trailer in a mobile home park in Hollywood!)
When we got back to the trailhead, we struck up a conversation with a bicyclist, Kevin from Mesa, AZ, who had just finished a punishing ride from Strawberry Point, and was supposed to be meeting someone 11 miles away at that very moment. We offered to give him a ride so he put his bike in the back of the truck and we took off to meet his wife at Navajo Lake Marina. This was also on the way to Te-Ah campground which we wanted to check out anyway, and Kevin and his wife were very grateful! And Te-Ah did have some beautiful spots. The flush toilets were not working however.
We drove back through some amazing lava fields, the result of an eruption some 1000-5000 years ago, relatively recent in geologic time.
When we got back to the trailer, we realized that we were out of propane since the fridge was off and the stove wouldn’t light. We have been carrying around a small propane canister for just such an occasion but when Scott hooked it up there was the characteristic propane smell plus a pronounced hissing sound that indicated a leak. Plus, when Scott tested it with his propane sniffer gadget, it loudly and unmistakably confirmed a leak.
We ended up jumping back in the truck, for the 20+ mile drive to Cedar City, hoping to find someplace where we could fill our empty propane tanks at 6 p.m. on a Friday evening. We found such a place about 3 miles north of town at a Love’s truck stop just off I-15. Then we stopped at the local grocery store to stock up on some supplies. When we got back to camp and Scott hauled the heavy canisters out of the truck and got them hooked up… still leaking! We really couldn’t figure it out, so we settled on the working hypothesis that it’s because of the altitude. It’s not the tanks that are leaking… it’s the hose connections. So Scott wrapped them with electrical tape and we are hoping they stabilize when we get to a lower elevation. In the meantime, we have propane so our fridge and stove work fine, and the propane sniffer no longer detects any leaking gas. When we get internet access we will look up behavior of propane at high altitude.