Day 1: OASIS IN THE DESERT
Julie, Stacey, Andy, and I left early (5:30am) from the memorable Bed and Breakfast in Escalante. We really didn’t want to leave this place as we enjoyed watching the shooting stars amidst the starry night sky last night and we received the friendliest hospitality we had ever experienced. We felt compelled to leave a big tip or something to show our gratitude and so I posted a $20 bill on the proprietor’s refrigerator door before we got our stuff and continued east on Hwy 12.
As we headed deeper into the sandstone and slickrock expanse deeper into the Grand Staircase National Monument, we stopped at a pullout as we noticed the sun was rising above the horizon.
Then, we proceeded to go further along Hwy 12 as it descended into the badlands before us.
We marveled at how strange the rocks that lined Hwy 12 appeared. It was almost as if the rocks had liquified at some point and then got hard again. It was like a cave went inside out. Lots of the mounds had very pudding-like texture. We couldn’t help but think about Jabba the Hut in the “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi” movie.
By 6:45am, we arrived at well-signed Calf Creek Recreation Area and parked the car there. After stuffing an envelope with cash and putting it into a self-help toll slot since a day use fee was required, we picked up one of the brochures at the trailhead and were on our way.
Shadows still reigned supreme this early morning and so it was quite cool. The trail at first undulated amongst some of the Jabba-the-Hut-like sandstones and slickrock we had seen earlier, but that soon gave way to a sandy trail that more or less followed Calf Creek.
The trail would continue on like this for the next couple of hours and it was a bit slow going as we didn’t seem to get the propulsion we would’ve liked with each step we took in the sandy trail.
All of us were killing time conversing amongst ourselves while paying attention to the trailside markers that were keyed to the brochure, which Andy was carrying. It wasn’t long before the rising sun had gone above the cliffs and started to heat up Calf Creek Canyon.
With each passing minute, it got hotter and our pace seemed like it got more sluggish. Still, we moved on as we noted some more weird cliff formations and shapes.
After hiking along the deceptively strenuous sandy trail for what seemed like an eternity, we could see the falls up ahead behind the foliage. Its sound grew louder as we got closer and our pace quickened.
And there it was before us – Lower Calf Creek Falls. It was still in shadow, but we were alone and had the falls to ourselves. The sight of this 126ft waterfall sitting in this cool yet picturesque cove was awesome! We couldn’t wait for the sun to penetrate deeper into the canyon as we knew it would make the moss and algae behind the falls glow with radiant colors.
So we took this time to relax before the falls. We took off our shoes and tried to endure the numbingly cold water as we waded in its plunge pool. Julie was busy taking angled shots on the other side of Calf Creek.
Eventually at 9:15am, the rays of the sun reached the waterfall. After taking more photos and feeling the heat of the morning increase, we started seeing more people showing up. We knew that our time here was done and it was time to start walking back to the rental car.
With the sun now pretty much out, the hike back was pretty hot. The waters we were carrying were pretty much warm, and the sandy surface didn’t help us. In any case, the hike out was uneventful and we certainly couldn’t wait to get into the AC of the car.
By 11:30am, we returned to the car. The full light of day was upon us and we continued heading up the Highway 12 towards Boulder. But before gaining full momentum, we stopped at the top of a slickrock ridge that allowed us to look down at the canyon we had just hiked in. Moreover, I had read about an Upper Calf Creek Falls, but I never recalled seeing the proper turnout for it. Oh well, we’ll look for this one next time…
We continued to cross the Grand Staircase, passing through a surprising forest along the way. We made a few stops here and there to see various panoramas as we looked south and east of the highway. Eventually, we would reach a junction with Highway 24. There was a conveniently located gas station and Subway there so we grabbed a quick bite while filling up on petrol.
Then, we headed east on Hwy 24 as we entered Capitol Reef National Park.
Even though the park had the gaudy “national park” name to it, we couldn’t really identify any central or noticeable attraction that would’ve anchored the park. It was more like a park where you really had to get off the beaten path to appreciate its wonders.
As we passed by Chimney Rock and continued heading east, something that caught our attention was this road that headed deeper towards the south from the township of Fruita. We went ahead and took this scenic drive, which basically had a bunch of more formations that resembled Egyptian temples and thrones. We eventually got to where the road became unpaved and ended at a car park near what was called the Grand Wash.
As the scenery started opening up again from the tight canyons of Capitol Reef National Park, the land was open again with interesting cliffs way off the road flanking either side of it. When we got to Hanksville, we reached a fork and continued north.
By now, the afternoon was in full effect and the road was mostly straight shot. In fact, there were hardly any cars around and the scenery was wide open and desolate. We had no trouble going over 100mph along this stretch of road. But in our need for speed, we neglected to check out Goblin Valley State Park. Again, this one would have to be revisited on a future trip.
When we reached the I-70, traffic was whizzing by at very high speeds. This even included the big rigs who were gunning it well over the 75mph speed limit.
We followed suit and it wasn’t long before we junctioned with Hwy 191, which headed back south towards Moab – the location of our next accommodation.
When we finally got into Moab, we checked into this motel that was a little on the old and rustic (i.e. dingy) side. Their air conditioning didn’t seem to be working so it was quite hot in the room.
Anyways, we checked in and put our belongings into the room before we headed back the other way towards Arches National Park to check out the place with the remaining afternoon daylight.
And so we ascended the switchbacks past the park entrance and eventually made it onto a wide open plateau with giant monoliths visible from the road. I recalled there was a sign that mentioned something about Park Avenue, but we kept going.
We intended to at least get out to the Windows Section to see some arches.
Along the main road, we did notice a giant spire that probably would make the censors cringe. It was infamously called the “What-a-man” formation. I’ll leave it up to you to see it for yourself.
When the main road junctioned with the spur to the Windows, we saw a rock perched precariously above this natural pedestal. It was called Balanced Rock and it certainly was true to its name. Apparently, this rock used to have a companion called “Chip off the Old Block,” but it fell several years ago.
By 6pm we made it to the end of the spur road at the Windows Section. Immediately from the car park, we could see Double Arch as well as the North and South Windows. Along the way, we had passed the Garden of Eden and the Cove of Caves.
With the fading light in the partial overcast skies, we took the time to do the Windows loop and took photos of us being dwarfed by the North Window. We also passed beneath the South Window, though this one didn’t seem all that accessible. Eventually, we passed before Turret Arch when the well-defined trail turned back on itself back towards the car park.
That was when we looked to our right and noticed both the North and South Windows together in an interesting display called “the Spectacles.” That was because the juxtaposition of both the North and South Windows with the “nose” in the middle looked like a giant pair of glasses.
And with that, we finally returned back to Moab, where we enjoyed some bar food at some joint in town. It was a pretty interesting day when all was said and done. Tomorrow, we were going to see Arches National Park more thoroughly (including the iconic Delicate Arch as well as the many arches along the Devil’s Garden Trail).