Archive for Dezember, 2010

Colorado National Monument, Colorado – The coldest New Year party

Freitag, Dezember 31st, 2010

Colorado National Monument close to Grand Junction that we visited earlier in November celebrates its 100th birthday. There is a big party on New Year’s Eve where all citizens are invited. Let’s go. Despite -20° C / below 0° F many people come. Rangers light fires where we can roast complimentary marshmallows. I dislike marshmallows, but that doesn’t matter. They are sweet, and this provides energy to stand the cold. The fires do not particularly warm us up; the heat fizzles out in space. Hot chocolate and cider are available and as highlight of the event there is a lavish firework in front of stony scenery. Happy New Year!

Fruita, CO – Snow horizontal

Donnerstag, Dezember 30th, 2010

It is real winter – for the first time after two and a half months USA: It is bitterly cold and the wind flings the snow horizontally across the ground. The snow cover grows. Some other travelling friends sent us a picture from a beach in Belize: palm trees, sun, and hammock. They did without northern Canada and Alaska and quickly crossed the USA. But no, I wouldn’t want to miss neither the beautiful north of the continent nor the eventful Colorado and Utah. Our heater works, the cabin insulation is excellent, and the engine catches. One day I’ll be able to send you a photo of beach, sea, and palm trees. One day.

Fruita, Colorado – Change of position

Dienstag, Dezember 28th, 2010

Continuing the trip would be nice, but we only change position to Joshua in Fruita, only few miles west. We met him and his friend Cullen at Pam’s and Malcolm’s open house party. Josh has a workshop with a lot of special tools. After our experiences on Utah’s off-road trails where we were nearly stuck for two times we decided a winch would be a desirable and useful accessory. On the internet we found a winch of good quality from liquidation for a reasonable price. Joshua spontaneously offered to help fixing the winch on our truck. On his plot we find the same comfort like on a full hook-up campground. But first of all we have to wait until the new toy will arrive.

Palisade, Colorado – A firefly in the universe

Montag, Dezember 27th, 2010

In the evening we are – in the meanwhile for the third time – invited to Jerry and Donna to watch a movie in their impressive home cinema. The neighbours of Pam and Malcolm are – as all of us – fans of “Firefly”. The science fiction series about a spaceship called Firefly, its crew and their adventures was broken off before all shot episodes were broadcasted. The gags and points turned out to be too intelligent and demanding for the 18 to 36 years old male target group of the commercial TV station. The Firefly producer didn’t want to disappoint his fans and shot a movie to conclude the story. Tonight, we watch that movie, which isn’t on the DVD with all episodes that Malcolm gave us. It’s really a pity that this very funny science fiction series didn’t make it into German TV.

Palisade, Colorado – Open house

Sonntag, Dezember 26th, 2010

As in Europe the second day of Christmas isn’t strictly reserved for the family, but for friends as well. Pam and Malcolm organize an open house day. Neighbours and friends go in and out the whole day; there are drinks, snacks, cookies, and many new friends and talks.

Palisade, Colorado – The first day of Christmas

Samstag, Dezember 25th, 2010

After a light breakfast snack everybody unwraps his or her presents. I realize that giving presents has a particular importance. Christmas cards and presents from all over the country, from friends, relatives, and former colleagues and neighbours arrived. Then we have brunch and in the evening a roast beef. In Germany many people eat goose or duck roast at lunch.

Palisade, Colorado – American Christmas

Freitag, Dezember 24th, 2010

American Christmas doesn’t differ so much from European. There is not too much more kitsch than at home. What I really like is that many families decorate their gardens and houses with chains of light as it was at home in former times. In Germany this custom went down with rise of energy prices. Of course it would be better for the environment to go without illuminated Christmas decoration – still it’s beautiful.

Palm and Malcolm host Pam’s parents and us. There is a Christmas tree, of course, and other decoration and a festive dinner (fish in this case). I learned that there is no traditional US-American dinner on Christmas Eve, it is regionally different. And many families brought their customs from their home countries and serve what was their ancestor’s tradition.

There are no presents on Christmas Eve unlike it is usual in most German families. We’ll have to wait until tomorrow.

Grand Junction, Colorado – Baking cookies

Mittwoch, Dezember 22nd, 2010

Christmas time is baking cookies. Of course one needs little presents when invited. I decided for two traditional German recipes to bring some idea of German Christmas culture to America: Small vanilla croissants with almonds and one-eyes – two butter cookies glued together with red currant jelly, the upper one has a hole in the middle. It’s a bit difficult to get the right ingredients – I don’t find ground almonds, non-chemically treated lemons although organic cultivation, and vanilla sugar or vanilla powder. But with some improvisation we find solutions. Some clients of the building supplies store are a bit irritated of the delicious sweet smell coming from that strange camper.

Grand Junction, Colorado – Like old friends

Dienstag, Dezember 21st, 2010

A young man stops me at the Wal-Mart parking lot. He has seen us some weeks ago as we left Fruita parking lot at I 70 to Grand Junction. He couldn’t talk to us, but he wrote down our web address and he marvelled how fast we drove on the interstate. It comes to light that he recently bought the same Unimog U 1300 L from the same year of manufacture from the Belgian army. Naturally he’s got a thousand questions.

We park on our well-tried quiet building supplies store car park. Since Alaska we learned that it is comfortable to park there. It is quieter than on supermarket parking lots, since they have fewer clients and they are closed at night. Nobody is against us parking here and there is nearly always a public Wi-Fi access. One of the employees finishes work for the day. We don’t know him, but he greets us like old friends. “Man, where have you been so long? What have you seen in the meantime? You’ve been here a month ago, haven’t you?” Right!

Another man ensures us to have followed us the whole day. We appeared on all mall parking lots, and finally he meets us personally to ask what kind of beast it is we are driving around. All true. Even with a camper you do Christmas shopping.

Grand Junction, Colorado –Colorado of all states

Montag, Dezember 20th, 2010

It could have been so beautiful – old destination, new route: driving through mountains with pretty fir-trees after many red-stony weeks. But neither the weather forecast nor the road report shows that this is a good idea. There is already snow and ice on the roads and it is further snowing in the highlands, at least it only rains in the valleys. Instead we go for the umpteenth time on hwy # 128 and I 70 via Monticello and Moab to Grand Junction, Colorado – where we end up for the already third time. There is a reason, of course: It is Christmas soon. Pam and Malcolm from Palisade invited us once more. And what are 300, 400 miles? Come on!

Lake Powell, Utah – Empty ferry

Sonntag, Dezember 19th, 2010

This time we take Burr Trail south to the end at Lake Powell, during the French turn north to Nottom Road where we came from ten days ago. Tonight’s rain made the clay that’s mixed with gravel damp and slippery. We are happy to not have taken the off-road-trail from Kodachrome Basin. We reach Lake Powell at midday. There is nobody and no information either at the ferry or at the visitor centre. Not even the ferry schedule is posted. I have tried to reach the ferry by phone but there was no answer as well. Fortunately the gas station at Bullfrog Marina is open and I learn that the second a last ferry for today will leave at 3:30 pm.

We are the only passengers and get to know that we are the third vehicle in three days to ferry across the lake. Therefore the staff was kind enough to charge us the passenger car charge of 25 $ only. The ferry stands still for two days a week and from the end of the month the ship will be out of operation for two whole months. We’ve been lucky to catch a ride. From Halls Crossing we follow hwy # 276 along the Redhouse Cliffs, dark red mountains with grey and violet shadings. The landscape is so red that the clouds reflect the colour. Then we take the also recommendable hwy # 95 to Blanding.

Kodachrome Basin State Park, Utah – A colour film park in half-light

Samstag, Dezember 18th, 2010

Kodachrome Basin is embraced by Grand Staircase – Escalante on the outskirts of Cannonville. A National Geographic expedition awarded this pithy name to the area in 1949 according to the well-known Kodak slide film – authorized by Kodak company of course. Reason for this idea was the intense colours of the stones’ different shades of red, the yellow wild flowers, the green bushes, and the steel blue sky. Wherefrom is nothing to see today. After long weeks of sunshine it’s dull and drizzling from time to time. Nevertheless we invested 6 $ to have a look around in the state park since they have a geological characteristic that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. Nearly 70 monolithic spires rise up between five and 150 feet high into the sky. They seem to grow from the valley floor or the sandstone. The origin of these sand pipes is not completely resolved. Scientists believe that the towers represented underground water sources or geysers 65 million years ago similar to Yellowstone Park. As time passed, the geyser channels filled with calcite containing sediment that cemented the openings. During the surrounding softer sandstone eroded, the chimney rocks remained.

The damp weather changes our travel plans. On one hand we don’t want to visit beautiful nature parks with overcast sky. On the other hand moist makes unpaved trails slippery. Actually we planned to take Skutumpah and Johnson Canyon Road # 500 through Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument from Kodachrome Basin south to effect the next excursions in the area around Page, Arizona. The road # 500 consists of clay and is partially steep. We decide not to take a risk and delay this plan. Instead we decide at short notice to catch a ferry across Lake Powell. Via Escalante Town and Boulder we go back to the dramatic Burr Trail. In the Long Canyon there is a short, maybe 100 m long and not too narrow slot canyon, but with very high walls. We don’t have to search the gulch according to the descriptions from Escalante Visitor Center, because the French MAN truck is parked on the pullout – what a coincidence. Together we descend the winding road and look for a place to spend the evening and night together.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah – The elegant stone chaos in orange and white

Freitag, Dezember 17th, 2010

Utah’s stone wonder don’t come to an end and look differently on each corner, and in each park. Weather erosion created a bizarre world full of spires, pillars, pinnacles and towers in Bryce Canyon National Park. Most of them have an apricot coloured plinth and shade into white to the top. Approaching the hoodoos one realizes all shades of yellow, red, and purple. This becomes possible through iron-containing sediments. The name Bryce canyon however is misleading. Bryce was the family name of a Mormon pioneer couple that owned a ranch here for some years. And the park is actually not a canyon as well. The 40 km long strip of odd sandstone remnants is located between Paunsaugunt Plateau’s brim and Tropic Valley east of it some hundreds of metres deeper.

Many view points on the 18 km long scenic drive on wintry-cold 2500 to 2800 m elevation allow colourful pictures into a fairytale valley. But the ranger advises us to bring the hike forward as long as ice and snow on the trails are frozen. Slush will make the paths even more slippery. We choose a route from Sunset Point along the rim to Sunrise Point, and then to the combined Queens Garden and Navajo Loop. One can connect to the Pee-A-Boo Loop what doubles the 5-km-hike. We can’t complete the Navajo Loop due to rock fall and have to return to Queens Garden to climb up again. The view to the hoodoos from the hike is completely different than only from the view points – an experience not to be missed.

Arriving at Sunset Point the clouds accumulate and it starts to snow. We fail doing good photos due to very bad visibility. We leave Bryce Canyon and descend some metres hoping for milder night temperatures.

Escalante, Utah – American Iron Ladies and a French world-traveller family

Donnerstag, Dezember 16th, 2010

One gets quite everything needed at Escalante Outfitters: internet, coffee, beer, clothes, equipment and a guide, if there is a spot one doesn’t dare to go alone or wants to go somewhere unknown. We meet Camille from California and Theresa from Illinois again, the two hikers from yesterday, and immediately receive invitations to their homes. We were thinking right about them: They run triathlon and have taken part in several iron man competitions. That both of them will be retired in a few years just instils more respect in us.

We leave Escalante and the park for the time being on hwy # 12 west to Bryce Canyon National Park, but will return to Escalante Park later. We are already now certain that Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument is one of North America’s most magnificent landscapes. The diversity, the inviolacy, and the non-development just add to the appeal for us. We could stay here for weeks. We will return in another season.

We meet Tembo on the way. This is the all-wheel-truck of a French family that travels Africa, Asia, and America for more than seven years. But their progress is slow since the two teenagers need to be home-schooled every day for half a day. The daughter shall absolve her baccalaureate in France next year and got to university then. We exchange tips, information, and addresses, then we continue.

Grand Staircase – Escalante NM, Utah – Perfect to get the creeps – the narrow slot canyons

Mittwoch, Dezember 15th, 2010

One of the dramatic spectacles of nature that water created in Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument are the slot canyons. These are very narrow cuts into the sandstone with high walls, carved several metres deep from permanently or occasionally flowing brooks. There are quite a few in the park, but the icy river separates us from them. The four slot canyons of the Dry Fork Coyote Gulch are regarded as dry, at least at the moment. From the trailhead at the parking lot we have to climb down an unsecured sloping rock and over big lumps of rock into a small side valley that ends in the main wash, the Dry Fork Coyote Gulch. At this point the cairns put by rangers, marking the descent, end. We have to find our way according to the descriptions that we received at the visitor centre, or from other hiking guides. There is a lot of walking over stones and in soft sand.

Arriving in the wash the first gulch, the Dry Fork Narrows, are situated straight away to the left. That’s not a particularly narrow canyon, but great to get the right frame of mind. The many metres high walls are nine feet apart in the beginning, but gradually close ranks. We follow this gulch on plain sandy bottom for few miles before coming back the same way. Even claustrophobic hikers shouldn’t face a problem here.

That’s completely different at Peek-A-Boo, the next canyon downstream. It starts with the oval entrance hole being 12 feet above the ground. Well-meaning rangers carved some tiny hollows into the vertical wall, but their meaning doesn’t completely reveal itself to me. They don’t offer enough support to climb up neither my hands nor my feet. This might be a matter of my leaking free climbing experience. Well, we could walk half a mile around over a sand dune and get into the canyon from the side. But I don’t feel like doing so at all. What we are two hikers for? With some elegant (giving a step-up), less elegant (pushing the bottom) and simply necessary (pulling the other one up at the arm) techniques we somehow crawl up. When we learn that there is no end of the climbing in sight it is too late to turn back. I don’t want to jump down 12 feet. We crawl and push ourselves up through holes, over cliffs, and through crevices. Since this isn’t easy and doesn’t always work at the first go the action is accompanied with a lot of laughter. Two very athletic American women whom we have met on our hikes several times during the last days allow us some lead. After a few minutes we hear them laughing as well. Later on they assure us that they found the climbing “totally crazy”. The most challenging slot canyon ends after a quarter of a mile and we climb out to return via the sideway and the sand dune.

Less than a mile further downstream Spooky Gulch starts in a side valley of Coyote Gulch. This claustrophobic nightmare narrows quickly. This time we’ve left our backpack outside. The walls stand so close together that we have to squeeze sideways through whereas chest and back brush both walls at the same time – a torture for jacket and pants. Not suitable for abdominal girth above 50 inches. Then we stand in front of a wall and think: That’s the end. It isn’t. If you climb up and continue it’s your own fault. From here on it becomes quite amusing. We climb in the most confined of spaces. Where shall we put the knees? It is important to think in advance of how to put the feet since for many metres there is no way to turn them, only shift them forward step by step. After half a mile the very end comes and we squeeze back to the entrance.

There is a fourth slot canyon in the area, called Brimstone. Most hikers, as we do, relinquish to visit it. The danger of this gulch is that one climbs or jumps down and can’t get up again. Few years ago a young man jumped down there and couldn’t make his way back. He was found eight days later. Fortunately he was still alive. This canyon should be left to people who are really experienced free climbers since it is too narrow to carry climbing equipment.

All in all we need four hours to discover all three slot canyons to their end; the sporty women as well. Dry Fork Narrows and Spooky Gulch are simple to discover and big fun for kids. Peek-A-Boo requests climbing and stemming at slippery walls, but is the most graceful and adventurous gulch with all its twists, holes, and bridges.

Grand Staircase – Escalante NM, Utah – Devils Garden, Dance House Rock and Hole in the Rock

Dienstag, Dezember 14th, 2010

Devils Garden is an accumulation of unusual rock formations like pillars, pinnacles, arches, and the goblins called hoodoos that look like dwarfs with hoods (no entrance fee!). Three different rock layers erode in different ways and increase the little-man-effect: head, body, and feet. The lower layer is light, nearly white, the middle one red, and the upper one yellow. After strolling around yesterday evening we have to come back this morning with the camera. Behind the Devils Garden pick-nick area the freshly graded gravel road ends. The unusual fall thunderstorms left their marks here as well. The road is for many more miles suitable for passenger cars, but the longer we drive on the 60 miles long road the more necessary a 4WD car becomes.

We take a short stop along the way at Dance Hall Rock. The huge rock is hemisphere-like washed out, has an impressive acoustic, and a partially quite flat stone floor. The Mormon’s trail of 1880 whom we already met once at San Juan Hill had started in Escalante and continued on the Hole-in-the-Rock Road that of course didn’t exist yet at that time. The believers moved through an African-appearing savannah landscape with red sand and harsh brush. The cliffs of the Fifty-Miles Mountains tower in the west, the Waterpocket Fold is visible in the east. They rested, played music, and danced at Dance Hall Rock. In contrast with many religious contemporaries Mormons thought of music and dance not as a devilish thing but, on the contrary, as an expression of their belief, and worship and praise of God. Few kilometres further we change seamless from Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument into Glen Canyon National Recreational Area. The remaining 12 miles of the off-road trail are rough; the last six miles even have an increased difficulty level with a few higher ledges.

The Hole in the Rock is another evidence of the Mormons’ willpower and tenacity. They blasted a passage into the rock face to the several hundreds of metres deeper lying Colorado River and lowered their 26 covered wagons one after the other secured with ropes and ten men each down the cleft. Arrived on the bottom they ferried across the river and continued their journey. Today, Lake Powell is banked there and the water level much higher. The spot is appropriately enough still called Hole in the Rock. I have the magnificent idea to climb down to Lake Powell. What the Mormons managed with all their belongings shouldn’t be a problem for us, should it? It was none of my best ideas. Experience shows that it is with vehicles of all kinds often easier to go uphill than downhill; on foot it is mostly the opposite. Down is somehow possible. But how to climb up again? Suddenly the steps are huge and the shoes too hefty to find support. Later we learn that the slope was much better prepared and replenished then than it is the case today. But what’s the rule? Never jump or climb down somewhere you are not sure to be able to climb back again.

Grand Staircase – Escalante NM, Utah – Corn in mountain, water from wall

Montag, Dezember 13th, 2010

After three days bolting, washing and computer work it is enough: The feet have to be moved! The hike to the Lower Calf Creek Falls starts at Calf Creek campground 25 km east of Escalante Visitor Centre at hwy # 12. We hike through an amply grown canyon with high steep walls along Calf Creek. Wildflowers bloom here even in December. Calf Creek received its name from early settlers who fattened calves here. One discovers high up in the precipices– best with binoculars – natives’ grain silos, so-called granaries. The Fremont-Indians bricked up small caverns in adventurous elevation to protect their provisions. At a smooth steep wall three big figures are visible, painted with red pigment colour. Those pictographs are around 1000 years old, but the purpose and whom they portray are unknown. Pictographs are drawings from paint whereas petroglyphs are carved or picked into stone.

A nice waterfall surprises us in the end of the three-miles-walk. The brook falls from a precipice 40 m deep into a shallow basin with a sandy beach around – a probably refreshing enjoyment in summer. On our way back we accompany a herd of grazing wild turkeys for a while. Calf Creek Trail contains some short steep ascents and sections with soft sand, but dry feet. Consider around three hours for this moderately strenuous hike.

We go a few miles west and turn into Hole-in-the-Rock Road south. After 20 km we stop at Devils Garden where we may camp with our backcountry permit.

Escalante, Utah – Margaritas at Cowboy Blues

Sonntag, Dezember 12th, 2010

In the evening we take our dinner for the second time at the Cowboy Blues. We already have been here two days ago together with John and Nancy from Michigan who go on a six or eight weeks long journey every year. We have met the photographer (always these photographers; they seem to be very adventurous people who enjoy contact with other people) and his wife in the laundry. The Cowboy Blues lays claim to having the best Margaritas in town. In principle is this correct; especially because it has the only Margaritas in town.

Escalante, Utah – The helpful king of the cows

Samstag, Dezember 11th, 2010

A rancher, the “Cow-King” of Escalante, how they call him, offered us to stay on his plot. We may pull into his huge truck garage and use his equipment. Of course it is much easier this way to carry out necessary control and maintenance works.

Escalante, Utah – A nature preserve at its beginning

Freitag, Dezember 10th, 2010

Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument is one of the youngest and at the same time largest nature preserves in the USA. It doesn’t protect a certain nature phenomenon, but a huge, untouched and inaccessible area with a multitude of climatic zones and nature wonders. Canyons, arches, natural bridges, petroglyphs, Anasazi ruins, waterfalls, and slot canyons are found between desert and alpine mountains. The monument got its name thanks to a coloured terraced cliff landscape in the southwest and on the other hand Escalante River that conferred its name on the former Mormon settlement as well. The region was one of the last in the United States to be mapped, and Escalante River one of the last important rivers to be discovered. One of former president Bill Clinton’s last important official actions in 1996 was to pass the law that put this area under conservation. For the first time the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) was given the task of managing the park instead the National Park Service. Until today there are no continuously paved roads, no scenic drive, no campgrounds in the park inside, and nearly no restrooms in Grand Staircase – Escalante; what at the same time holds the particular attraction of this complimentary accessible area. Perhaps it has a chance to survive this way and not be “loved to death” like the other parks.

Infrastructure is limited to Escalante Town and surroundings, where the most important visitor centre is situated. Here we get maps, descriptions to the mostly not marked hiking possibilities, a permit for backcountry camping and other essential information: Most hiking paths are not recommended now since they request walking through rivers up to a mile. Nobody detracts us from doing so, but since crossing the icy pond in Arches NP I am satisfied with bathing in ice-water for this winter. Some of the best spots are accessible without getting wet feet anyway. The well-known Hole-in-the-Rock Road (# 200) in the east of the park where to find many attractions is passable. Unfortunately the heavy rainfalls and flash floods in September and October also caused heavy damages in this area: All tracks in the park’s centre as the popular Cottonwood Road (# 400) or the Alvey Wash Road / Smoky Mountain Road (# 300) are impassable and couldn’t be redone due to the continuous soil moisture. A re-opening before spring 2011 is out of the question. We could try the Skutumpah Road / Johnson Canyon Road (# 500 / 501), but the rangers aren’t sure (always these experiments).

Initially we have to do some essential things in Escalante Town like taking fuel, buying food, changing engine oil, visiting a laundry, getting internet access. The town is distinctively sweet and festively decorated, seems to be neat, and the people are very likeable.

Burr Trail, Utah – Divine beauty in stone

Donnerstag, Dezember 9th, 2010

Capitol Reef National Park offers many hiking possibilities to its different sights like goosenecks, rock monoliths, chimney rocks, gulches, natural bridges or Cassidy Arch where bank robber Butch Cassidy is said to have hided. The park protects the mountain range Waterpocket Fold. In numerous, mostly circular water erosions of the strongly weathered fold mountains only seasonal falling rain collects and offers a basis of life for several animal and plant species. To see the water pockets it is best to hike on even ground through the Capitol Gorge that narrows to 15 feet (around 3 miles round trip). To get to the tanks a small climb is necessary but worthwhile.

The uniqueness and exclusivity of the Waterpocket Fold in my opinion does not reveal itself from the scenic drive. Right behind the eastern park border Nottom Road branches off that later meets the southern part of Capitol Reef Park and leads to the legendary Burr Trail that ends at Lake Powell in southern direction or meets the connecting Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument and Boulder in western direction. Beginning and end are paved, the middle part is gravelled – no problem for passenger cars when it’s dry. With some rain you’ll need 4WD, with more rain the road might not be passable due to several riverbed crossings. It is a world of surreal beauty. On one side is the Waterpocket Fold with its crassly coloured sandstone layers, this upfolding of the Colorado Plateau that lets geologists leap around with delight. On the opposite side there are soft round hills of drifted and already settled sand – the colours in reverse order.

Burr Trail west climbs up as a breathtaking winding road the Waterpocket Fold – with views until Henry Mountains. Then we end up in a desert of sandstone mountains, with separate colours following each other: first burgundy, then orange, and eventually white. The Long Canyon does its name credit – for many miles we are following this gulch. In Boulder we turn left to hwy # 12 heading to Escalante Town. It is difficult to find more superlatives although hwy # 12 would deserve it. It is Burr Trail’s equal in nearly every way. The road crosses stomach-mumbling the narrow ridge of connecting mountains – a so-called hogback. Soon a massive canyon approaches from the right. There is one surprise after each corner, a new view, another aha experience. Nottom Road, Burr Trail, and highway # 12 will be on the list of our favourite roads.

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah – Muddy River’s dreadful trade

Mittwoch, Dezember 8th, 2010

Instead of the off-road trail from yesterday, we try to get to hwy # 24 to Capitol Reef National Park on Country Road # 1012, a so-called major connector. It connects to Factory Butte Road as well. That should be passable, shouldn’t it? Pavement changes to gravel, but the road is freshly graded. We drive and drive. The road gets worse and narrower. More and more often brooks washed away the track. At some point a diagonal crack in the road becomes too wide to cross it. Joerg carries huge stones to fill the holes and to build a bridge. The road even gets worse and narrower, and tire tracks show that vehicles turned round here. From the information boards at the roadside all maps have been removed, but there is no additional information. We continue. But then, the road just doesn’t exist anymore. We try it in two different places. At the first one higher on the mountain, there is only a dozens of metres high brim left, the track leads into the abyss. A bit lower it seems that the track partially crossed the Muddy River, partially followed the wash. But there is a river now anyway, and it seems to be sufficiently deep. A kind fellow put some stones in front of this shallower brim to detract other drivers from falling into the river. Muddy River simply beamed the road into nirvana. Turning round is scheduled.

We begin a long, long way back, but the detour we have to take now to get to Capitol Reef NP is even longer. The rangers there don’t know anything about the disaster at Muddy River. But we learn that there were heavy thunderstorms with flash floods later than usual in September and October. So the water couldn’t evaporate and the trails couldn’t be redone. Their famous off-road trail to Cathedral Valley is impassable since then. It’s already late, so we use the remaining daylight to follow the scenic drive, passing monoliths, canyons, and coloured walls. They look like a LSD-animated artist painted the yellow and red, beige and brown, white and grey, turquoise and purple, orange and black stripes and eddies.

The Fruita Campground in the park has got a problem with the restrooms. They put chemical toilets there, for this they do without the otherwise usual 10 $ camping fee. We are the only guests here. The historic Mormon village Fruita from the late 19th century is situated around the campground. Some buildings like school, blacksmith, and a farmhouse were restored. The orchards are still tended. Between June and October you can pick fruits for free (to eat) or inexpensively (to take away).

Hanksville, Utah – Hanksville and the dwarfs

Dienstag, Dezember 7th, 2010

Hwy # 95 bores its way from Lake Powell through imposing rock massifs. In front of Hanksville it eventually becomes less impressing. In Hanksville most shops are closed, and there is nobody to get information about road conditions. Actually, there is no reason to go to Hanksville, but I got a parcel sent here by mail on general delivery, so we at least have to stop by. But it gives us the opportunity to visit Goblin Valley State Park. Erosion created odd sandstone sculptures there, hoodoos hardly taller than a man, little gnomes with kobold caps on their heads. This is a funny place on earth. Unfortunately, the rangers left the park for the winter; no information about their off-road trails and the gravel roads around is available. We have to throw the entrance fee into their mailbox. 7 $ for 30 minutes entertainment without any service isn’t cheap, but it is worth it anyway.

Right behind the park exit Wild Horse / Muddy River Road branch off, leading to Factory Butte Road. The whole area, except the remaining goblins, is eroded, pulverized sandstone that was deposited again. It is what Malcolm calls ‘t’s-not-stone. When it’s dry, it’s stone. When not, it’s not. It is dry, but several weeks ago it must have been raining. Parts of the off-road trail seemed to have been destroyed and completely newly compiled. The grader has done a good job. Close to the end of the trail, the terrain gets flatter. Water seems to have accumulated here and due to low temperatures evaporated only superficially. The grader sank in, that’s what the traces tell us, stopped his work, and left the place. We try to get through anyway, but can go only some metres further before we sink in as well. All-wheel-drive, differential lock and low gear rescue us also this time. We have to change our plans and return to where we came from – the whole track. It is darkening already, but there is a trail head at the beginning of the gravel road where we can park overnight and not have to fear to be locked in case of nightly rainfall.

Goosenecks SP + Natural Bridges NM + Lake Powell, Utah – Day of astonishment

Montag, Dezember 6th, 2010

San Juan River winds for six miles in several S-curves but approaches Lake Powell for only 2 miles. From the view point at Goosenecks State Park we have stunning views to the meandering goosenecks, North America’s longest ones. You can easily see the different geological layers. San Juan River carved itself down for 460 m – and continues to do so.

Back to hwy # 261 we stand in front of the 500 m high precipice of Cedar Mesa. What follows is one of the most spectacular roads of the United States that can be driven with normal cars. Moki Dugway, part of hwy # 261, just climbs the steep face with up to 11 % grade. Unbelievable. In each of the very narrow hairpin bends there is in the outer curve a lengthening to reverse in case you can’t get around in one time. Four of the five kilometres aren’t paved. The views to Monument Valley, Valley of the Gods are like a bird’s eye view – incredible.

Immediately after reaching the mesa’s plateau Muley Point Road branches off to south-west. It is astonishing that this road isn’t known better. The view from Muley Point that’s only five miles away is unique. You look down to San Juan River’s goosenecks, but the river can only be sensed, since you are another 500 m higher. Monument Valley presents itself decoratively in the background. The meander-eaten landscape appears unreal, like from another planet.

Natural Bridges National Monument at highway crossing # 261 and 95 attracts with three stone bridges that span White and Armstrong Canyon. Unlike arches these yellow-brown stones are created by rivers that washed away the bottom. Two one- and one half-hour-hike lead down to the bridges. You can walk alternatively the 14 km loop to all three bridges through the dry wash. Sipapu Bridge, the largest one, has a span of 67 times 82 m – the earth’s only taller one bridges Lake Powell, not far away, but not accessible from road.

Today, one optical sensation follows the other. Hwy # 95 seems to be one of the “obligatory” roads you have to have driven at least once. The so-called Bicentennial Highway from Natural Bridges National Monument north leads through a landscape that’s a unique mixture of a kind of Monument Valley and Needles District. Plus there is the White Canyon beside the road whose river succeeded to carve into the light-coloured, nearly white stone that lies under the red layer. The Henry Mountains with snowy peaks decorate the background. Two graceful bridges traverse Colorado River and Dirty Devil River, both mark starting points of Lake Powell. The lake is intensely green coloured, but the road accompanies only dry bays since the lake retreated many meters during the last years. The former Hite Marina became completely useless and is abandoned.

Monument Valley, Arizona – Famous rocks and wonderfully macabre ghost train

Sonntag, Dezember 5th, 2010

At sunrise we don’t have to leave the cabin. We can shoot photos of the monoliths with the red sky from our window. Later we proceed to the 17 miles long loop drive between the huge rocks that were carved by wind and weather as well, not by water. The partially rough sand track can be made with most cars. There are the unavoidable souvenir stands at the view points. There is not much to do for the Indians in this season, and they have plenty of time to chat. Nevertheless we don’t buy anything. Up to 100 $ for a simple turquoise necklace seem somehow excessive to me. Well, they aren’t made in China but by the Navajo. But methinks that they grant themselves a considerable hourly wage. Since 1925 Monument Valley served as film screen for more than 50 movies, and hundreds of commercials and print ads. The only hike is a nice and quiet 5-km-walk at Wildcat Trail. You get the most spectacular picture with an overview to the whole valley from Artist’s Point.

We go back on # 163 north and turn via # 261 and # 316 to Johns Canyon Road. The 25 km long off-road trail is an exciting route along the steep face of Cedar Mesa on one side and the brim of San Juan Canyon on the other side – there are only three metres in-between. That’s something like riding a ghost train: It is wonderful and macabre at the same time, and you assume that everything goes well. 4-wheel-drive is necessary, and there are a couple of steep ramps and a river crossing. At some point Johns Canyon Road finishes and we have to hurry to get back since it already darkens. There is a chance of rain and we don’t want to be stuck on this track. Fortunately we know that we can camp for free at Goosenecks State Park to be reached from the highway on a paved road.

Mexican Hat, Utah – All stone: Gods’ valley and sombrero

Samstag, Dezember 4th, 2010

Deep down below our place to sleep San Juan River perfectly doubles back in two 180°-angles. The blood-red sandstone is washed out several hundreds of meters deep. The river left spits that taper upwards and erode gradually. To have a good view to this horseshoe bend we have to climb down to a prominent headland and crawl on our stomach to the brim. For some pictures you have to make a greater effort. Not far away there is a “dead” horseshoe. One day the river found a shortcut and left a dried oxbow.

More western the Valley of the Gods Road branches off. The gravel road should be suitable for most cars but rain can make it impassable. The landscape there is created by rain, ice and wind. Lonesome monoliths tower into the air similar to the better known Monument Valley. With a minimum of fantasy you can recognize a warship, a castle, or a sitting woman with an ample figure. The best thing: There is no entrance fee. The 17 miles long road through the Valley of the Gods ends at hwy # 261 that we follow south to # 163. After ten miles, right before the town with the same name, we reach Mexican Hat Rock. The rock resembles a sombrero. It is better to take pictures from a distance. 30 miles later we cross the border to Arizona and reach Monument Valley in the Navajo Indian Reserve. We’ve been here on one of our earlier journeys, but we didn’t want to withhold Arminius from this pleasure. On the opposite side of the visitor centre is a gravel pit with a few pick-nick tables and chemical toilets. Actually not very attractive, but camping is free of charge and the view to the valley is magnificent.

Bluff, Utah –Mormons’ procession

Freitag, Dezember 3rd, 2010

We follow # 191/163 via Blanding to Bluff. Behind Bluff we cross the Comb Ridge, a long but narrow range of hills that reveals its numberless diagonal breaches from the air, and that gives it the appearance of a comb. Right behind we turn into Comb Wash Road, one of Malcolm’s inside tips. At first we have to absolve miles of an off-road trail. Comb Wash Road is not too difficult but requests 4-wheel-drive and high clearance. It may be impassable when wet since we have to cross Comb Wash several times. It’s not suitable for bigger vehicles. In the end San Juan River is an obstacle. To get nice pictures, we have to climb Sand Juan Hill from where the view is good.

We puff when climbing uphill. How must it have been for the Mormons in the end of the 19th century when they hoisted their covered wagons with oxen and horses over the hill? Their church sent them from Escalante, Utah eastwards to friendly connect with the Indians. In the extremely difficult terrain they found themselves hemmed in between river and mountains. The only way out seemed to be San Juan Hill, as they named it. From today’s view it seems unimaginable how the Mormons brought their belongings across the steep slabs. And first of all: How did they convince their animals to do so? They had to fix seven teams of horses in front of each wagon to accomplish this maximum performance. So they guaranteed that there was always tension at the shafts even when some of the animals fell or gave up exhaustedly. Some of the oxen and horses did not survive the exertion. Still we can see the traces that the Mormons left. At especially difficult and steep sites they carved small steps into the stone to give the animals some kind of support. Even the stress marks of their wood wheels with iron fittings can still be seen. The procession made it to the Four Corners area where the believers settles down and fulfilled the inducted duty.

Back to # 163 we turn left after few more miles into Lime Ridge Road. That’s a gravel road in the beginning that worsens after a while but doesn’t contain difficulties. We will attend to the good subjects for photos tomorrow.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah – Snow on road

Donnerstag, Dezember 2nd, 2010

We spent the night on park campground Squaw Flat (15 $, beautiful view, only few sites). Then we visit all scenic drives and view points and go hiking to enjoy the bizarre rocky landscape and capture it photographically. Harts Draw Road shall bring us to Monticello. A sign posts that the road is not maintained and ploughed during winter, but this doesn’t matter, there is nearly no snow. Or? All of our maps told us that we have to cross the Abajo Mountains, but none of them informed us about a pass or its height. In the end we are on 2,750 m elevation with 8 inches snow on the road, but Arminius ploughs through without complaint. Some cars come towards us when we are going downhill, but all of them turn round and go back. They can’t make it through the snow.

Down in the valley it is mild and dry. At Recapture Lake right before Blanding there is a not maintained recreational area where dispersed camping is permitted. The lake is peaceful and cosy. Wild ducks and goose cackle. A thick dry cedar stem provides us with fragrant fire wood for a camp fire with coffee and cake.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah – A true story of river bed and quicksand

Mittwoch, Dezember 1st, 2010

We are heading into Needles District of Canyonlands National Park via Hwy # 191 und # 212. You’ll find Newspaper Rock 20 km behind the turn-off, a rock covered blackish eroded sandstone wall with uncountable petroglyphs. This spot shall be the best pre-Columbian stone art accessible by road. The around 2000 years old rock paintings of symbols, animals, men, and parts of the body (remarkable are the numerous feet with six toes) are creative and very clear. Still today there are only speculations about their purpose; a pretty object for a photo in any case.

Needles district mainly offers two things: long hikes and the most challenging off-road trails in Utah. The rangers in the visitor centre discourage us from doing the long hikes. Too much snow and ice left shady spots slippery, and difficult climbs that are already demanding and not very suitable for hikers suffering from vertigo dangerous. Even with spikes under the shoes we would miss support in unsecured spots. Some of the jeep trails are closed due to ice and snow, but after serious inspection of our expedition vehicle the knowledgeable ranger comes to the conclusion that the trail to Colorado River Outlook, today categorized as “not recommended”, shall not cause any problems to our truck.

It would really not have caused any problems if we had kept our eyes open, if we hadn’t fail to see the signpost, and if we didn’t drive into the river bed. But we did so, stupidly following the tracks of the other inattentive drivers. We do not think too much about the missing tracks after a while. But a big question mark hangs over our heads as the river that we follow now lengthways gets deeper and deeper. For a jeep the water level would be already much too high. On the other hand, the ranger had said that we somewhere have to cross frozen water. The weight of our truck would just break through the sheet of ice, what would make the spot harmless for us. All right, keep going. We crash through the ice of the river that narrows now. I clear some bushes from several superfluous branches, others I pull aside so that we can go through. On the right side of the riverbed is now a small steep face, on the left side are large up to one and a half feet high stones over which we partially have to go over since the passage is getting too narrow. Then it gets even more restricted, and there are no more tyre tracks. Where is the way out? There is none. A short scouting of the terrain on foot tells us so. We have to go back. Going through the narrow passage and driving backwards over the thrilling stones is somewhere between no good idea and dangerous. So turning back. Right before there is no way to go on the river describes a curve where the bed is washed out a bit more and the water has retreated into one corner. Joerg hauls off to turning back when the left front wheel starts to sink into the quicksand. The cabin leans to the side in an unhealthy angle, it threatens to tip over. My heart stops for an itty-bitty moment before it pumps the adrenalin into my veins.

One of the terrific qualities of a Unimog is that with a quick clutch depressing and a simple lever pulling you can shift into reverse gear very quickly. Joerg tugged at the lever with great presence of mind and starts to creep backwards. If the rear tyre would have dug as well, Arminius would have been lost. Sometimes you need some fortune. The rear tyre grips and Arminius slowly moves away from the danger zone. But the difficult part just starts: going backwards through the problematic riverbed. It already feels extremely disturbing in the cabin when the vehicle leans to the side. From outside is looks simply awful when Joerg climbs over the huge stones only on one side. A couple of times it becomes hairy again when the right rear tyre threatens to climb up the precipice. With joint efforts we manoeuvre Arminius back to a safe tough turning area in the river. Except a bent daylight holder (it can be bent back later) and one rear mud flap that’s ripped off (we’ll not find it again) we don’t have to list any damages. The tyre track in the quicksand fills up as soon as we drew it in. Shortly after the water surface is frozen over as if we have never been here.

Escaping the river bed we find the correct turn-off and the before overlooked signpost and proceed to the correct path. But this section is temperamental as well. Easy sandy passages alternate with demanding rock climbing of increasing degree of difficulty. Many drivers fail in front of the considerable rock ledges, the ranger warned us, but our workhorse masters everything with a serene drone. The Colorado River Outlook – very welcome after 12 strenuous kilometres – is exciting as well. We have to climb on the natural rock projection, but the view is breathtaking.