Day 1 (May 25, 2017 – Salt Lake City, Utah: “Pungent Cedars”
It was 4:45am when I awoke. As I was immediately getting started with loading up the rental car, which was parked on the street, I noticed a parking citation on the ground right next to the driver side door. Our driveway was full and I thought it would be awkward to park on the sidewalk so Julie suggested that we just roll the dice with leaving the car on the street overnight since it was just for this one night, especially since we had done this at least a couple of times in the past and never got ticketed. But with that additional $26 cost on that citation, that pretty much meant that we increased our rental car cost by this amount. I guess in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t that big of a deal, but it still left a sour taste in my mouth and was not the best way to start off this Memorial Day weekend trip.
As usual, it took Julie and Tahia some time to get ready. I knew that we were in for a marathon drive all the way to Salt Lake City so the sooner we could be on the road, the sooner we could beat traffic and still make it to our destination at a reasonable hour.
That said, it still wasn’t until 6:45am when we finally left the house. The rental car was a Ford Explorer and it was about similarly sized to our own little Honda CRV. The difference was that we had multiple car chargers and even a dedicated USB port. So that was pretty convenient as we could play the iPod which Tahia immediately wanted the B-52s to be playing. Meanwhile, the rest of the setup was still the same deal with the electricity-aided cooler in the front seat and a bunch of snacks, luggages, and hiking gear in the trunk.
Aside from a little bit of traffic on the 91 freeway, it was fairly smooth going on the way out to the 60 freeway and eventually to the I-15 north despite the high volume. There was a little fog and drizzle going through the Cajon Pass, but once we got into the deserts, the fog was quickly disappearing and the temperatures were quickly climbing the further northeast we went.
We made one bladder stop at Baker at 9am, where it was already 91F, but since we knew we’d be on the road for a while, we also made a stop at the Mad Greek thinking that we could get some gyros to go and we’d be out of there in no time considering how early it was. But it wasn’t until 9:45am when we finally left with the takeaways because it was apparently busy with people dining.
Given that little bit of a delay, we’d resume the drive but as expected, it was getting hotter (the temps got as high as 97F around Las Vegas) and there were a lot more cars on the road. After making another stop at a big and busy Wal-mart in the pretty busy city of St George, Utah at 12:45pm, it wouldn’t be until 3:20pm when we finally arrived at the Cascade Falls Trailhead just east of Cedar City. We had lost an hour due to being on Mountain Time by the time we got into Utah.
As we went east on the Hwy 14, the road was climbing and the temperatures went from almost 80F to about 60F at the trailhead. We had actually passed the southern turnoff for Cedar Breaks, which Mom and I had been to many years ago, but I also knew that we were pretty high up in elevation as well. Anyways, we initially drove on Navajo Lake Rd, but apparently, we had missed the turnoff on Forest Road 054 to Cascade Falls. That connecting road was a little on the rough side, but it wasn’t too bad though it was way smoother on the Cascade Falls Road.
Anyways, we were one of three cars parked at the obvious trailhead and dead-end. The skies were overcast and threatening rain apparently. So the colors of the nearby red rocks and Cedar Breaks-like cliffs were a bit muted. But in those moments when the sun broke through the clouds, the colors were brilliant. One group of hikers had returned to the trailhead just as we showed up so that reduced the number of cars parked here to two when they took off.
The view out from the trailhead were towards the Kolob Terrace area, which was part of Zion National Park. The view itself was a little on the flat side, but it was cool to know that Julie and I once went way out there from the south to do the Subway hike way back some 13-14 years ago.
It took some time for Tahia and Julie to get ready, but we’d eventually get started just as some folks were heading back. The trail immediately started to our right and we followed the pretty obvious path as it skirted what appeared to be a rim or ledge that looked to our left towards the Kolob Terrace area while meandering between trees. There was a dedicated lookout with a couple of benches and a railing to pause and take in the views, which I stopped at briefly while Julie and Tahia pushed forward.
Then the trail skirted a real scenic red rock area where it really felt like we were hiking amongst the Cedar Breaks-like formations. There were some muddy spots because apparently the snow was in the process of melting and made the footing a little less sure in the presence of the dropoffs, but it was quite doable by Tahia and the scenery along this stretch already made this a very worthwhile detour and chance to stretch the legs and get exercise after spending so much time sitting in the car.
As we continued along the scenic red-cliffed part of the hike, when the trail momentarily went back to trees, we finally started to see the impressive Cascade Falls in the distance. It was definitely loud, but it was a shame that there were so many trees obstructing a clean view of the falls. Still, we took our shots and kept walking as we were never able to get the whole thing in one shot without some interruption in the stream due to the quantity of trees.
Eventually, at 4:05pm, we finally arrived at the lookout right at the brink of the falls. The last stretch of the trail was pretty interesting as we were going underneath some red rock overhangs with some wood steps planted amongst the terrain. We kept noticing some pungent odors that we weren’t quite sure what it was as we were walking through, but I suspected that the smell came from the wood, especially where the trail was wet.
In fact, I was willing to bet that the wood was probably cedar since we were hiking on the plateau known as Cedar Mountain and we were east of Cedar City, and we were nearby Cedar Breaks National Monument. So yeah, it seemed like it was cedar-everything in this part of Utah.
We spent quite a bit of time taking in this view of the water gushing out of what appeared to be a hole amongst the red rock. But being so close to the falls, the photos made it seem like it was essentially a puny 5-10ft drop before the stream continued cascading below us. The water came from Navajo Lake and the signage back at the trailhead suggested that there was a hole in the “dike” that allowed this falls to happen. But I still wasn’t sure if that “dike” was manmade or if it was a natural one. In any case, Tahia was busy chucking rocks in the stream while Julie and I were busy documenting the whole experience.
We were the only ones at the overlook so we took some time to really enjoy this spot while also catching our breaths since we had to do a little bit of a climb to get up to this overlook at high elevation. So our lungs were somewhat burning as a result.
On the return hike, it seemed like the scenery was even more impressive along the final stretch of the trail near the falls. We would eventually get back to the overlook where we briefly enjoyed the scene as a family. Then, by 4:50pm, we finally got back to the car where we encountered one other large family just getting started on the hike to the waterfall. They were the only other people we saw on the trail besides the folks that were wrapping up their hike at the beginning when we were just getting started.
Since we knew that it was getting late, we decided to skip checking out Cedar Breaks National Monument and head right back down to Cedar City before resuming the I-15 drive all the way north to Salt Lake City. Apparently, it wouldn’t be until 9pm when we’d make it to our destination, but we also needed to have dinner and we decided to find a spot in Provo so we could at least have that dinner at a reasonable hour and then check in really late.
Eventually at 8:20pm, we finally found this place in Provo called Communal. It was in a seemingly downtown part of Provo, which was also where BYU (Brigham Young University) was. We saw glimpses of the general campus area as well as some ornate Mormon churches along the drive to get to the restaurant. It was still pretty bright outside so I took a few snaps back towards the mountains behind us as well as the intersection where the restaurant was on what appeared to be the main drag through town.
We wound up having a pretty satisfying dinner of bone marrow appetizers, duck (confit of leg and breast), bison short ribs, and asparagus. Everything was quite tasty, and even the asparagus had a pretty unique flavor of some kind of mint-like yogurt with honey and almonds. The short ribs with polenta was also very tasty. And the duck was pretty flavorful, but the only bad thing about it was that it was a little on the chewy side and the leg was a big undercooked as it was pretty bloody.
Since it was getting late in the day by the time we were done with the meal, we skipped the dessert. And so by 9:35pm, we were back in the car. It was still somewhat late twilight at the time, which made me realize that we were high enough lattitude that it was getting dark late and I now wondered how bright it would get in the morning by wakeup time.
At 10:25pm, we finally parked at the Hyatt House in downtown Salt Lake City. Apparently, there was a big puke spot near the entrance, and I was hoping it wasn’t a foreshadowing of any possible food poisoning I might have from the undercooked duck, but aside from that little strange observation, Julie promptly checked in and I went ahead and parked the car in the public parking lot next door, which was $10/night.
When we finally got settled in the room, we saw how small it was compared to the rest of the Hyatt Houses we had been staying at up to this point. So that made us wonder whether we’d have a somewhat uncomfortable stay for the remaining 4 nights we have at Salt Lake City, especially since having a full-sized fridge (instead of one of those mini ones) might make a big difference in terms of self-cooking and keeping our produce and things cool.
I guess we’ll have to find out. But in the mean time, it was getting late, and it wouldn’t be until around 11:30pm when Tahia finally slept, and it wouldn’t be until after 1am when I finally slept…