Grand Staircase, Part 2

Wow, what a day today was. I woke up in the morning to the sky just starting to turn blue and it had that thin yellow strip across the horizon letting you know that the sun is on its way which was great news considering it was freezing cold and windy outside. I decided that I didnt want to pass up the opportunity to see the sun rise over the canyons below me from my wonderful camp spot so I braved the bitter cold of the morning air, crawled out of my sleeping bag, and made my way over to the cliffs edge while rubbing my eyes. Man was it cold out! Night always seems to bring cold winds and really chilly temperatures but after a couple layers of clothing and a toasty sleeping bag I manage to sleep pretty well. So anyways, I stood there shivering camera in numb hand waiting and watching the sun begin to rise and as soon as the moment came the landscape started to light up with vivid colors and even the most boring little detail seemed like the most beautiful thing ever.

A few minutes later I was in my car heading back down the road and over to another dirt road for the beginning of my day which I had all planned out and was to be spent playing in the Devils Playground. Seriously, its what it was called. It was fantastic! This small little area had all sorts of really fascinating structures that are difficult to describe in words. It was very much like a playground of rock with arches and little caves and all sorts of places to climb around and explore. Really great way to start my day I thought.

So after a cup of miso soup I got back in my car and started on down a long dirt road, 35 miles or so down that road in fact. About 20 or so miles in I noticed something that made me a little nervous and still does and that was my "check engine" light came on in my car... I figured there was no sense in freaking out and besides, I was really looking forward to the place I was heading so I kept on moving along. I found the smaller more rugged dirt road that lead to the trailhead and as I was driving down this road I noticed on my GPS the word 4WD Road on the screen and got a little nervous as I crept along. It ended up just being an exciting 2 mile drive down a fairly rugged dirt road where I found myself wondering if I was going to get myself stuck somewhere along the way but at this point I was simply bound and determined to continue along and get to where I was going.

Once I reached the trailhead I thanked my car for getting me there safe and packed my bag for my hike. The trailhead, for those of you keeping track, was called Dry Gulch and the dirt road I came in on was Hole In The Rock Road which cut straight through the eastern part of the grand Staircase Monument. The reason I came to this spot was because I had herd there was some really great little slot canyons in the area and after a short mile (?) long hike I found myself at the mouth of the first slot canyon.

The first canyon that I wandered through made me forget any and all worries I may have had and replaced them with a feeling of awe as I wound my way through the slot canyon. This first one was on average about 4-8 feet across and smaller in some places. The walls on either side were somewhere around 40 or so feet up to the surface. I love these canyons because the rock on each side of the canyon is so beautifully sculpted by water and wind and the light from the world above shining down into them always cast such a wonderful glow to them. Really beautiful stuff and amazing to wander through.

So after that I was excited to scout out the other two canyons in the area. I went around a bend and noticed a small opening that was up a steep slope and appeared to enter a small little slot canyon but from a distance it did not appear to be accessible and So I wandered on down through the main canyon. I ended up finding another slot a good ways down the trail and the entrance was a large sand covered wash and as I walked across I was admiring how flat and smooth the sand was. It was almost like red snow lying on the ground. In fact, I followed a trail of footprints out to a spot where someone had lay themselves down in the sand and made a snow angel shape, only in the sand. Happy So it was time to head off into the slot. I immediately was excited to find that it was a very narrow canyon, the walls went up maybe 30 feet or less and the distance between the canyon walls was only about 3 feet across. Once I was a hundred feet or so into the canyon I found that I had to take off my pack to squeeze through because it continued to get more and more narrow the further along I went. Eventually I came to a point where the walls were only 1-2 feet across and So I stashed my bag in a little alcove in the rock, grabbed my camera and crammed myself through the skinniest passage yet which I had to push and pull my body through to make it. The walls of the canyon were so narrow at this point that my back and chest were both scraping along the smooth cliff walls. Part of me was a little nervous that I may get stuck crammed between the rock of the canyon but I managed to squeeze through to the other side of the pass.

It didn't really get any wider beyond that, the texture of the rock changed slightly and I still had to shimmy my way down and around the bends of the super narrow slot canyon, really a lot of fun if you ask me. I ended up at an awkward point where I had to kind of do a half split with my legs and bend my head down underneath some debris that were stuck in between the canyon walls and about 10 or 20 feet later I found that I simply could not go on because the slot made a pretty sharp ascent up a little dry waterfall and it was just to narrow for me to climb up it to continue. So I made my way back through taking photos along the way.

At this point I was really happy with the way the day was heading and on the way back down the trail I decided to investigate that little slot that I saw which was accessible with a bit of climbing. So I ditched the pack once again, grabbed my camera and headed up this slick smooth rock to the slot above. I could tell that people had been up there before because of black smudge marks from shoes smearing against the slick rock to scramble up to the slot. As soon as I pulled myself up into the slot I was so happy to have checked it out because as it turned out it was a slot that I had read about online and wanted to see while I was out here called Peek-a-Boo Slot or something like that. It was very dramatic with its curvy walls and empty pools where water flows when it rains. There was also a double arch across the top of the slot which was really neat looking. The slot canyon was a very short one but rewarding because of the really neat looking curves and arches and holes to climb in and out of.

So at this point I hiked back up to my car and it was only 1 in the afternoon and so I had a whole afternoon ahead of me so I made the decision to drive on down the highway because I did not want to put my car through anymore rough dirt roads after that little check engine light came into my life. So I headed north to get to the next highway I needed to get to to make my way out towards moab and canyonlands. This highway quickly became the most beautiful drive I have made on the trip so far. It wound around and made its way up through canyons and all the way up to the peak of one range and made its way along the top edge of this canyon/mountain range leaving a really really amazing view to one side of me as I drove. Realllly amazing. I noticed at this point that whenever I stopped to hop out of my car it was getting really really cold out and clouds had been present all day long. I did not think anything of this until the highway I was on (12) started heading up in elevation. And when I say up I mean up. I climbed up the road in my car and thought to myself eesh, this just keeps going up and up and it started to get to the point where I was driving through low lying clouds. A quick glance at my GPS told met that I was climbing fast and the higher I got above sea level the more and more clouds came out to play with me and the windier it got. Eventually I was driving on snow through this windy mountain pass and I stopped when I noticed a sign that said peak elevation or something like that and I found that I was 9600 feet above sea level and when I stepped out of my car to snap a couple of photos I was nearly blown over the wind was gusting so much. FUN! So I hopped back into my car now that I was frozen by the chilly windy air and kept on driving. I had made it that far, why stop there? I made my way further into the mountain and the snow started to pile up on the highway and my speed started so slow as it was getting pretty hazardous to be driving on a road I didnt know, alone, in a mini blizzard all while night was creeping up right behind me.

So that was all well and exciting to drive through snow like that and as I was driving across the peak I noticed the markers on the side of the road had long orange poles on them sticking up a good 15 feet into the air and I realized that this was so that snow plows could make their way down the road if they could not see the road. pretty smart I thought to myself and I found that I was not looking to be inside that snow pile that the plow came plowing through so I kept on moving along down the road.

Eventually I found my way tot he bottom of the pass and the snow cleared right up and I was out of harms way. A nice sigh of relief was in order. I stopped to top off my gas thank and asked the gas station worker advice on how to make my way over to Moab and she pointed out a route that kept me at lower elevations to avoid going through more of that snow and mess.

And that is what I did and now I am stopped in a national park called Capitol Reef, one of the northern most parts of it. I drove through the park in the dark of the night so I have yet to see it but I think I have been through here before and I think I remember it being pretty nice to I am looking forward to spending a little time here tomorrow.

On a last note before I wrap up another to long post, I found that this camp is right next to a stable with horses roaming a field and so I walked up to the fence and had the chance to say hello to a horse and pet its warm snout before climbing back in here for the night. A nice way to end a long day or exploring.

Sorry for the super long post everyone. Talk to you again next time...

song of the moment: "Loro" by the band Pinback