Category Archives: Southwestern Safari

Capitol Reef National Park – I Think We’re Alone Now

This is the second in a series of posts from my photo safari to the American Southwest.  Look for links to the others at the bottom.

Every day busloads of tourists arrive at Bryce Canyon, Zion Canyon, and Arches National Park. Not so at Capitol Reef. If you are looking for solitude, you really can find it here. It gets a fraction of the visitors of the more popular parks nearby.  And the park is huge.

How many Chimney Rocks are there in the world? Here's another, right by the highway.
How many Chimney Rocks are there in the world? Here’s another, right by the highway.

Like much of the southwest, Capitol Reef is another red rock scene.   There is a visual smorgasbord of color that surrounds the adventurer here.    The rock formations are not as bazaar as Arches or Bryce, but they are spectacular nonetheless.

Great red cliffs loom above the park visitor center - and my truck.
Great red cliffs loom above the park visitor center – and my truck.

One can get a great sampling of the beauty here by driving  through the canyon on highway 24 east of Torrey, and Capitol Reef has a nice paved scenic drive that wanders among the towering cliffs.  But the real solitude is found at some of the remote valleys that the park encompasses.   Cathedral Valley to the north and to the south, Waterpocket Fold.

Capitol Reef w pickup

But here’s the rub.  They are hard to get to, which is precisely the reason that these obscure sights remain unknown for the most part.

One of the routes into Cathedral Valley requires fording the Fremont River.  I did it both going and coming.  (You can watch the video of my crossing at the bottom of the post.)

On the very rough trail to Cathedral Valley after fording the river. Rock me, baby!
On the very rough trail to Cathedral Valley after fording the river. Rock me, baby!

All of the roads that are less traveled and lead to the more secluded areas of the park are in varying degrees of condition, and high clearance and four wheel drive vehicles are recommended.

Red Rock at Capitol Reef

Of course, if you do go off road, it is important to fuel up and make sure your provisions are in good order, especially water.  If it rains while you are out there, the roads may become impassable, even for four wheel drive.

It’s a long way from the freeway, but if you are looking for rugged adventure and to really get away from it all, try Capitol Reef.

And have fun!

Capitol Reef landscape

Here is the link to the 53-second YouTube video of my river crossing. (You will leave my site)  The water was deep for the Jeep following me, but they  made it across too – without floating away downstream.

Read the 1st post in the Southwest series here:  Bryce Canyon National Park is Hoodoo Central.

Bryce Canyon is Hoodoo Central

This is the first in a series of posts from my photo safari to the American Southwest.  Look for links to the others at the bottom.

I doubt if there is another place in the world with as many hoodoos as Bryce Canyon National Park. Red rocks, pink rocks, yellow rocks, white and orange rocks, a panorama of this landscape is a mind-boggling blast of color. It’s almost too much to comprehend from the canyon overview.

Sunset Point is perched on the brink above Navajo Trail.
Sunset Point is perched on the brink above Navajo Trail.

Fortunately, you can get right into this scene and touch and feel these fantastic natural features, because there is a network of hiking trails that takes you right into the heart of it.

Navajo hiking trail descends from the canyon rim just below Sunset Point.
Navajo hiking trail descends from the canyon rim just below Sunset Point.

I chose the Queen’s Garden trail first because I knew there were tunnels and I wanted to photograph them at dusk. Great fun.

My shot of one of three tunnels on Queen's Garden Trail ended up taking on an Indiana Jones aura.
My shot of one of three tunnels on Queen’s Garden Trail ended up taking on an Indiana Jones aura.

Of course, every trail ends with a strenuous climb back to the canyon rim. Whoa. And at 8,000 feet elevation, the unseasoned hiker will be gasping for air before making it back to the top.
Rather than doing an out-and-back, I connected to the Navajo trail which is the most traveled pathway in the park. But after dark, I was the only one out there. Hah!  those busloads of tourists were nowhere to be seen.

Queen's Garden trail has three tunnels carved through the rock.

Photography was my first priority on my wandering tour of the southwest, but hiking was essential to get to the scenes I wanted to shoot.  Queen’s Garden trail was a great way for me to get into the guts of Bryce Canyon and capture the essence of this gorgeous geological site.

Queen's Garden trail arch.
Look how the time of day and the angle of the sunlight changes the glow of the rocks on this photo and the one above.

Photographers often say it is all about the light.  One of my favorite phenomena about the light at Bryce is that it bounces and reflects all over the place, making the rocks look as though they are glowing from within, creating a rather neon effect.

So this is the thing about Hoodoo Central.  Make sure you get below the rim and into the heart of place.  Feet on trail,  firsthand experience, here we come.

And take lots of pictures.  It is a one-of-a-kind place in all the world.

And have fun!

Visitors from the west will drive through two tunnels on highway 12 before arriving at Bryce Canyon.
Visitors from the west will drive through two tunnels on highway 12 before arriving at Bryce Canyon.

Coming Up:

  4 Mountain Roads that Scared the Snot Out of Me

 3 Cliff Dwellings that Left Me Hanging

 Arches National Park – A Delicate Balance

 And more

The Pickup Camper

Milepost 9-5-18                                              Living in a small Michigan town

I once wrote about the different modes of travel that we have employed at various times in our lives, from tent camping throughout the family years, to the 29-foot fifth wheel that we have lived in for the last few years, touring the country from one end to the other.

We once took the family on a month-long camping trip with the family van, a convenient version of car camping with room for all the gear.
We once took the family on a month-long camping trip with the family van, a convenient version of car camping with plenty of room for all the gear.
We visited all corners of the USA while living in the big rig.
We visited all corners of the USA while living in the big rig.

We “parked it” a few months ago, moving into a small apartment so we could have a home base again for a while not far from our grandkids.  We need some family time.

And now we have purchased a used pickup camper so that I could try some solo adventures — sort of a mobile bachelor pad, if you will.  My first safari is to the American Southwest canyon lands and arches of southern Utah on an extended desert photo shoot.  Kaye needs a break from the wandering life for a little while, so I am doing this one alone.

The pickup camper, sometimes called a slide-in, is the smallest version of the self-contained RV.  It has a tiny kitchen, bathroom, living room/dinette, and bedroom.  It is a tiny house on wheels.

One of the advantages of the pickup camper is that because of its size, it can go anywhere that a pickup truck can go.  Not only is driving easier, fuel stops and restaurant visits are streamlined because the rig only takes one normal size parking space.  There are a lot of places that the larger fifth wheel simply can’t go because of its size.  Tight turns and low canopies are the dread of every big rig owner and driver.

Boondocking is easier with the pickup camper as well, because you can head out on the back roads and two-tracks where the larger rig would be dragging its tail.  You can reach remote destinations.

Bad weather is not such a spoiler with a hard top camper either.  I have had many uncomfortable experiences while tent camping when the rain set in and I had to break camp with a wet tent and sand that stuck to everything.  More than once I forgot to air out the tent after arriving home and found it moldy the next time I wanted to use it.

Another big plus for the pickup camper is that it is not one more set of wheels to be maintained.  It does not add another engine and tranny to the fleet.

Of course, there is a trade-off with everything, and with the pickup camper it is the limited space inside.  It is not so well suited for the family as it is the solo traveler or couple.

Pickup campers were invented in the 1940’s and I am sure the most famous one was Rocinante, the camper that John Steinbeck had custom built for the cross-county trip that he wrote about in his novel, Travels with Charley.

Steinbeck's pickup camper, Rocinante, at the Steinbeck Center in Salinas, CA
We saw Steinbeck’s pickup camper, Rocinante  on display at the Steinbeck Center in Salinas, CA.

Watch for reports on my Southwestern Safari starting soon.  I’ll let you know how pickup camping is working for me.

Read Kaye’s review of Rocinante and Travels with Charley here.