We’re in Utah, home of The Mighty 5. That’s the name given to Utah’s five national parks. On this quest of ours to visit the national parks, we’ve been looking forward to this part of the trip. Zion, Arches, Bryce, Capitol Reef, and Canyonlands have some of the most iconic landscapes anywhere in the United States.
Zion, the most popular of The Mighty 5, is located closest to Las Vegas. We’ve been there before. A little more than four years ago, we flew into Vegas with our daughter Jessica and son-in-law Bryan for a road trip that included two incredible days in Zion. Should we go back? We’d like to hike the Narrows. We didn’t do that last time.
However, after looking to see if it were possible, we saw a problem. Private vehicles are not permitted in the canyon because of the lack of parking. Access is only by shuttle bus. This year, due to COVID-19, the number of tickets for the shuttle bus are limited and they must be purchased in advance. This reduced number of tickets sell-out weeks in advance. Sadly, the earliest shuttle bus tickets available were nearly a month away. That’s not going to work for us. So we’ll skip this park and spend our time exploring the other four parks. Glad we’ve been there before and checked it off our list.
Our daughter Shanna called a few days ago and said she’d like to come out and join us while we are in Utah. “Would that be okay?” she asked. Of course, we told her we’d love to see her. During these times of social distance and mask wearing we’ve been extremely cautious around others. We know there is a risk even from our daughter. However, in our opinion it’s a minimal risk. So we’re not going to let that stop us from seeing her. “Okay”, she said, “I’ll book a flight and let you know when I can get there, Oh…and don’t go anywhere cool without me.” “Don’t worry, we won’t”, I told her with as much sarcasm as I could inflect and giving a tongue-in-cheek wink that I know she couldn’t see.
We called around to a few campgrounds searching for a place to settle for a couple of days until we hear back from Shanna. Most of the ones we called were either booked or first-come, first-serve sites. Eventually I talked to Tonja at Circleville RV Park. She told me she had full hook-up sites available for twenty dollars per night and we could stay as long as we’d like. “Sounds good to me,” I said. With that, we headed for Circleville, Utah.
Heading north on U.S. Route 89 nearing our destination, we passed an old homestead with a sign saying it was the childhood home of Butch Cassidy. “Hmm…”, I thought to myself, “we’ll have to come back and see about this place.”
So after checking in at the campground and unhitching the camper we drove back to where Butch Cassidy was raised. Having no more knowledge about Butch Cassidy than what I saw in a movie starring Paul Newman, I was eager to find out more. The main house was a basic one-room log cabin with a loft where Robert Leroy Parker (aka: Butch Cassidy), the eldest of thirteen children, lived until he was 18 years old. I thought how crowded that loft must of been.
Over the following few days, we learned a lot more about Butch Cassidy and his family. Butch’s family was one of the original Mormon settlers in Utah. As children, his parents helped to pull handcarts holding the families belongings across the country. We visited his parent’s gravesite. We drove by his younger sister’s house. We heard stories of the legend of Butch Cassidy and how he was admired and respected by most. Like Robin Hood, there are stories about how he helped families in need.
We heard from our daughter. She’ll be here in a couple of days. She booked a flight into Las Vegas where she will rent a car and come to meet us. We weren’t sure if she would fly into Vegas or Salt Lake City, but now we know. She was disappointed when we told her we weren’t going to Zion National Park. We said we would go to Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon National Parks instead.
The next morning Grammi and I drove to Bryce Canyon to check out the camping options and to familiarize ourselves with the area. It was only an hour drive. We saw some forest service campgrounds in the Red Canyon area that looked like they had sites available. We stopped at a private campground in Bryce Canyon City and were told they have “a couple of spots available” for $65/night. Then we went into the national park and drove through their campground. Surprisingly, there were vacant sites and they were beautiful, spacious sites. We talked with the ranger and he told us that as long as we arrive early in the day we were almost certain to get a site. Okay, that would be our plan. We would try to get a site inside the national park with the other campgrounds as our backup plan.
After forming our plan we thought as long as we’re here at the park we might as well look around, right? We parked the truck and walked to the canyon amphitheater for a first look into Bryce Canyon. It was amazing! Colorful hoodoos stand in the canyon like fans cheering for an unseen team on the canyon floor. I’ve seen pictures of Bryce Canyon many times, but no picture can convey the magnitude seen in person. No words can fully describe it. I can only say it was magnificent.
We drove around a little to look from different perspectives. We found a spot near the ledge where we sat on a downed tree and ate our lunch. Looking down into the canyon we could see the tiny figures of people hiking on the trails below and knew we wanted to do that. We also knew we would be back here soon with our daughter, so we cut our day short and started back to camp.
“I think she’s here”, Grammi said with a not so subtle tone of excitement. We stayed around camp all day. We cleaned the camper. We did laundry. We washed the truck. Then we sat in our chairs outside the camper and waited. “Really?”, I replied. “Yes, it’s gotta be her”, Grammi said as she stood up and started walking toward the bright red SUV driving through the campground.
Prior to leaving on this road trip across the country we would see our children often. This was the longest time we’ve experienced not seeing any of them. It was a special moment with hugs and kisses, welling eyes, more hugs and kisses. After settling in, we sat and chatted the rest of the day. She was tired though. Having taken an early morning flight from the East coast and then driving 4 hours, she turned in early.
The next morning we arose early, packed lunch and made the 1½ hour drive to Capitol Reef National Park. The skies were clear bright blue and we were looking forward to spending a lovely day with our daughter.
Capitol Reef receives less attention than the other four Utah national parks. It’s a peaceful hidden treasure with spectacular multi-colored layered cliffs, white sandstone domes that resemble the U.S. Capital building giving the park its name, mysterious slot canyons, and a variety of interesting rock formations.
We stopped at the visitor center and inquired about the Sulphur Creek Hike. It’s a hike that almost guarantees you’ll get wet. We were told that we could experience a portion of the hike beginning just behind the visitor center. We walked or more precisely waded upstream for about a mile into a canyon where we came to a small waterfall cascading into a pool of water. Shanna waded out into the pool and submerged herself. She came up screaming “it’s cold, it’s cold”.
We also inquired about the u-pick fruit orchards. The old Mormon community of Fruita is maintained as a historic site by the parks service. With 22 orchards of cherries, apricots, peaches, pears and apples, visitors are welcome to pick ripe fruit for a fee. Today, only the apples were ready for picking. Homemade fruit pies are available for purchase at the Gifford Homestead. It’s a known fact by all who have been to Fruita that they are the best fruit pies in all of Utah. We took two pies home and they were delicious!
We ate a picnic lunch at the Fruita Picnic Area. After lunch we took the scenic drive, stopping all along the way to admire the beautiful landscape. Judging from the number of pictures I took I surely was impressed. At the end of the paved road we continued along a dirt road winding up into a narrowing gorge. At the end of the road was a small parking area and trailhead to the Capitol Gorge Trail. We hiked the trail to the petroglyphs and pioneer register.
The day was starting to get away and we still had things we wanted to see. We cut our hike short and drove back to Highway 24 to see the Capitol Dome. Then we started to hike the Hickman Bridge Trail. This is a moderate rated hike covering 1.8 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 400 feet.
The day turned out to be much hotter than we expected with afternoon temperatures in the upper ninety degree range. More than half-way into the hike, Grammi and I got overheated. We found a little shady spot to sit on a rock and sip some water. We told Shanna to go ahead and take a picture for us. She wasn’t gone long, so I think we were close, but the heat was just too much for us older folks.
One last stop before heading back was to see an impressive example of ancient petroglyphs. The parking turnout on Highway 24 is just a mile and a half from the visitor center. It’s a short walk along a boardwalk to the sandstone cliff where the artwork can be seen.
We were spent. We had a long drive back to camp but it was worth it. Doing Capitol Reef National Park as a day trip was all we could afford the time for. I think we hit most of the highlights.
The next day we drove from Junction to Beaver over the Tushar Mountains. Our intended route was SR-153, a mostly unpaved road designated as the Beaver Canyon Scenic Byway. We stayed on SR-153 for a while, but somehow missed a turn or turned when I shouldn’t have and ended up on Forest Road-137. You may have heard baseball Hall-of-Fame player and manager Yogi Berra say, “when you come to a fork in the road…take it”. I think that’s what I did.
Oh well…it may have been a blessing because this was a beautiful drive past an aspen forest and snowmelt lakes. There were lots of disperse camping. People were four-wheeling the trails and others were swimming, canoeing, and fishing in the lake. We stopped at a couple of the lakes to see the water and talk to some of the fishermen. They were catching trout. We picnicked along the shore of Lower Kents Lake.
We did join back up to SR-153 and made it to Beaver. From there we drove south to Red Acre Farm near Cedar City. There’s a farm stand with fresh seasonal vegetables, eggs, cheeses and for the mere sum of fifty cents you can buy a small bag of joy. The joy I speak about is a brown paper bag half filled with animal feed. That’s all you need to make friends with the farm animals. Shanna fell in love with a baby goat that escaped its enclosure and started following her.
The final stop for the day was at I/G Winery and Tasting Room. Located on Center Street in Cedar City, finding this spotless clean winery with modern decor and a friendly staff was a great experience. We tasted 5 of their locally made wines from dry to semi-sweet and were not disappointed once.
Another long drive back to camp for dinner and much needed sleep. It’s full speed ahead as we conquer the Mighty 5. Tomorrow we’re moving to Bryce Canyon National Park. We’re hoping for a first-come, first-serve campsite inside the national park. Keep your fingers crossed.
So until next time…happy days and safe travels.