Our first backroads adventure: Zion, the finale.

Road into Zion from I-15 in the West near the Kolob Creek Visitors Center.

We did not know it then, but 1997 was a great time to visit Zion National Park.  We were able to drive into the park.  It was not crowded on the trails, and at points, we were even able to relish a quiet spot.

I think those days are gone.  On our more recent visits, long lines of cars approach from nearby Las Vegas.  One is required to park at the visitors’ center and take a tram into the park itself.  We found no quiet spots.

If you haven’t been there, however, you should still visit.  The trails each have a unique characteristic, and the geology is still very special.

After leaving Bryce Canyon, we spent a night at the Perry Inn in Kanab which had hosted numerous early movie stars staying there to make “westerns.” We ate at the Houston’s Trails End Restaurant which had good food and an interesting mobile catering business serving forest fire fighters all over the west.

Then we moved on to Zion.  At the time, it had roads paved with red gravel which blended in with the canyon walls.  We encountered smoke from lightning-caused fires on the way into the park, but it did not spoil our visit.  Weeping Rock was decorated with many spring flowers.  Alie made it up the “easy” trail to Emerald Pools despite an RA flare in her hip.  But, the most endangered species in the park on a weekend was a parking spot. It took some driving around just to find one.

We thought we would try one last dirt road and drove from Virgin, Utah over the plateau to the Kolob reservoir.  Then, however, we were warned the road would become muddy and was possibly blocked by the fires, so we didn’t try to continue to Cedar City, Utah.  Instead, we back-tracked to the main road much to Alie’s disappointment,

Click on photos to enlarge

Date of our visit: 17 May 1997

The finale?

We are grateful to be able to look back to so many wonderful travel adventures in our lives.  At the moment, however, mobility issues require we now find our “adventures” closer to home.

Originally written for family and friends, it amazes me this blog has so many “followers.”  I know most of those people click “follow” and do nothing else in the hope that their gesture will be reciprocated, especially those seeking income from their blogs.  However, I am even more amazed by those whom I have never met that are regular readers.  I feel like I have come to know you.  It is rather like the “pen pals” of my youth.

For those of you who do read RalieTravels regularly, I will not be writing for a while.  I do not know when I will resume, but I am confident we will resume our travels at some point, and I look forward to writing about them again.

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Our first backroads adventure, part eight: the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

The Grand Canyon as seen from the North Rim

As we were still gainfully employed and our vacation time was limited, we moved quickly on from Bryce Canyon National Park to Kanab, then through the beautiful high meadows of the Kaibab Forest to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Nearly six million people visit the South Rim every year.  Few make it to the North Rim.  For that reason alone, you should try to do so.

It was one of the few places on our 1997 trip that we made advance reservations or needed them.  We arrived on May 15, the first day the lodge was open for the summer season. 

The lodge, perched on the cliff, was fantastic. We had cocktails on the veranda watching the sun set. 

North Rim visitors watch the sunset from the Lodge terrace.

We needed reservations for dinner and still had to wait about forty-five minutes.  Had we been anywhere else, we probably would have moved on.  Alie says “if there is a line for the second coming, I’m not waiting.”  But it was the restaurant’s first day, and I imagine they might have even greater problems in today’s post-COVID staffing era.

Our cabin was spacious and nice, and I was up early to see the sun rise over Bright Angel Point on the other side of the canyon.  Four of us sat quietly and apart, but soon we were joined by a thundering herd of five or six more people.  I wonder if it is still that isolated today.  But back then, there were too many people, and I walked on to an overlook where the only other creature was a squirrel sprawled out on a rock that seemed to be enjoying view too.

After Alie was up and going, we went out the Cape Royal trail which was easy to walk and had many signs describing what we were seeing.  Angels Window is a lovely arch close to the trail on Walhalla Plateau. 

We had a picnic lunch next to the rim at Vista Encantadora near Point Imperial, the highest place on the canyon rim.  At 8803 feet, it is about 1800 feet higher than Bright Angel on the South Rim.  Notes I kept at the time say we were plagued by bugs.  Looking back 25 years later, I guess they were probably flies.  It was the only place on the trip to the Southwest where we were bothered by insects.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Date of our visit: 15-16 May 97

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Our first backroads adventure, part seven: Bryce Canyon.

The ground drops off quickly here to each side of Utah 12.

For the most part, the remainder of our trip was on main roads, but often the “main roads” were two-lane paved roads that would be considered back roads in most of the country.

For instance, Utah 12 from Capitol Reef National Park to Bryce National Park is that way.  One crosses through a pass 9400 feet high near Boulder, the last town to get mail by pack mule.

A little further along, the road runs along a ridge barely wide enough to hold it before plunging down a canyon on each side. 

But the worldwide-known views of Bryce are spectacular.  Rainbow Point (9105 ft.) gives a great view of the cliffs.  Bryce Point and Sunset Point come closer to the “hoodoos,” the narrow knobs of rock left by erosion. 

I walked down a path with 30 switchbacks to get in among the hoodoos.  We were surprised that the trees could grow in the loose red shale.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Date of our visit: 15 May 97

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Our first backroads adventure; part six: good roads and great scenery.

Capitol Reef National Park

Once we left the Tavaputz Plateau, we encountered just a few dirt roads, but the scenery was fabulous.

Heading South, we passed through Helper, so named because coal trains required a “helper locomotive” to get over the mountain.

A miner outside the library in Helper, UT May 97

There is no direct route from Helper to Capitol Reef National Park.  Therefore, just down the road from Helper in Price, we chose a smaller road, Utah 10, because it passed closer to the mountains than U.S. 191 and Utah 24.  We then took Utah 72 over Hogan Pass.  It was a fortunate decision.  72 led to the west entrance of the park while 24 comes in from the east.  The next day, we learned the east entrance was blocked by a landslide.  Indeed, we might have been victims of the landslide had we gone that way.

The roads in Capitol Reef National Park are good, and even the dirt road back to Capitol Gorge is passable by most automobiles in good weather.

Capitol Reef takes its name from the ancient fold of white Navajo sandstone over red Wingate sandstone cliffs.  Some thought the domes in the sandstone resembled the dome of the U.S. Capitol building.

Early Mormon pioneers established farms and orchards along the Freemont River and the community of Fruita near where the park headquarters is now.

Capitol Gorge was once a pioneer trail, but now is only accessible by foot.  There you can see the “Pioneer Register” a rock wall on which pioneers wrote their names, in other words, pioneer graffiti.  Signs warned there was a $100 fine for modern graffiti.  I think they should designate a rock as “Tourist Register” and allow people to write on it.

Click on photos to enlarge and see descriptions.

Date of our visit: early May 1997

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Our first backroads adventure, part five: we drive over one hundred miles on unpaved roads and trails.

We saw these guys soon after leaving the paved road. The Tavaputz Plateau is in the distance.

We wanted to visit Randlett, Utah, a post office near the Ute First Americans tribal headquarters in Fort Duchesne. Randlett was named for a very distant relative who was an Indian Agent in the 1800s and probably sold whiskey to the locals.

But using Interstates and U.S. highways was 185 miles one direction and 202 miles the other.  We noticed a dirt road on our Triple A map that seemed to be less than 100 miles long.  I remind you that wide use of GPS was still ten years in the future.

And we were in an adventurous mood.  We left the Interstate and started across the desert.

We came upon some men repairing the road.  The area is so remote, the county sent them out with an RV trailer for a week at a time.  Their map only went as far as the county line, but it seemed we were heading in the correct direction.

Passing a cowboy and girl herding cattle at the base of Hill Canyon, we started our climb to the Tavaputz Plateau.  We would not see another individual for at least the next fifty miles.

Starting up towards the plateau.

We had a picnic on top just with cattle for company.  At the time, I thought, if we can’t find our way, I can light a fire beacon in the middle of the road.  Alie later told me she was reviewing how much food we had in the car.

We followed a faded wood sign toward Spring Cove Canyon but instead wound about 3 miles down the roughest road yet. It had about six inches to the canyon wall on one side and a steep drop-off on the other.  We found we were actually in V Canyon only to discover it is a box canyon with no outlet – we had to go back up that nasty road. 

At an intersection back on top, we decided on Bull Canyon which started out good but soon became a narrow gravel stream bed with high canyon walls on each side.  Looking up at the dark clouds overhead and thinking of flash floods, Alie said to turn around.  But the streambed was too narrow to turn in, and I didn’t think I could back the entire way.  Soon there was a wall straight ahead of us, but figuring the water had to go out, I kept on going.  The stream bed made a left-hand turn through water carved walls just wide enough for the vehicle.

Click on photos to enlarge and view descriptions.

At the bottom, we came out into a valley with a sign post aimed up the hill.  I said, someone has to be coming this way to see that sign.  It assured us there was a way out.

Following Willow Creek a mile, I noticed we were going upstream again.  So, we turned around and found the correct way through a meadow next to an abandoned ranch to a road on the other side that follows Willow Creek downstream for another 30 miles to Ouray, Utah.  In all, it was about 110 miles of gravel or dirt or worse road.

There was a closed Indian school in Randlett, a general store/post office also closed for the day and nothing much else.  We were invited to the annual Ute Bear Dance held that night in a nearby field, but we were too tired and drove on to Vernal where we found a motel.  I regret missing that dance, but I think I might have gone to sleep and fallen down in the middle of it.

After crossing an abandoned ranch and meadow, we found the road along Willow Creek to civilization!

Date of our visit, first two weeks of May, 1997

Later we found BLM [Bureau of Land Management] maps that showed us where we had been.  It was too bad we did not find those maps before crossing the plateau. With them and GPS, I might try it again.

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Our first backroads adventure, part 4: Moab and vicinity.

Utah Route 128

This part of our 1997 trip was often on small roads, but they were principal routes in the part of Utah where we were travelling.

Leaving Canyonlands, we headed north and passed Wilson’s Arch, close to the highway and one of the best formed arches of the trip.  “Arches” are formed by erosion by sand and wind.  “Bridges” are formed by erosion by water.

After getting a room in Moab, we drove through Arches National Park and had a picnic supper at sunset by the “balanced rock.”

The next morning, we took Utah Route 128 up a very scenic canyon.  At the time, Alie called it ls Castle Rock Valley although we later learned Castle Rock is the name of a butte, and Castle Valley is a development east of 128.

The Colorado River rushed through the canyon. The walls grew higher as we went up-stream. The result was an optical illusion that the river was flowing up-hill. We did not notice it on a later trip when there was less water in the canyon.

Leaving the canyon, we passed through Cisco, a modern ghost town near the interstate where a photographer was making a picture of a ballerina in a brilliant white tutu in the door of a ruined shack. 

Click on photos to enlarge and reveal captions.

Date of our visit: May 1997

Next week: On 100 miles of unpaved trail.

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Our first back roads adventure, part three: over the Lukachukai Pass to Canyonlands.

Looking down from the top of Lukachukai Pass. the vague gray dot in the upper center is Shiprock.

We could have driven straight north from Chinle after seeing Canyon de Chelly.  It would have been a more direct road to the south part of Canyonlands National Park.  But after 25 years, I forget why we chose instead to drive over the Lukachukai Pass.  Perhaps we just wanted to see the famous New Mexico landmark sticking high out of the desert, Shiprock.  After that, we drove regular highways to Cortez, Colorado, then to Monticello, Utah and then into Canyonlands.

Two memories of the pass remain, driving over bowling balls and the view on the other side.

The bowling balls were round rocks scattered along the dirt road we took over the pass.  Perhaps they were the remains of molten lava cast into a cold sky by the same volcano that created Shiprock.  I don’t know.

At the top of the pass, a Navajo couple gave us directions to Shiprock when we stopped to look at the fabulous view down into the steep valley.

By contrast, the road into Canyonlands was tame.  We did drive a dirt road back to a picnic area near Elephant Hill.  Off-roaders like to challenge their skills driving up Elephant Hill, but the stains on the rocks from broken oil pans made me think this wasn’t the best thing to do in a rented vehicle.

Click on photos to enlarge and see descriptions.

Date of our visit: May 1997

The time zones were getting to us.  We changed our watches 3 hours back on arriving in Las Vegas and one hour forward at the Hoover Dam.  We had to move back one hour again at the Canyon, but then forward again at Canyon de Chelly and then back again.  Nevada was on Pacific daylight savings time, Arizona just uses Mountain time, except for the Navajo on daylight savings time (but the Hopi aren’t) and Utah is on Mountain daylight savings time.  We finally stopped changing our watches and went on Randlett time.

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Our first backroads adventure, part two: Canyon De Chelly

Canyon de Chelly

Leaving the Grand Canyon, we decided to head for Chinle and the Canyon De Chelly National Monument.  A dirt road across the Navajo Nation seemed more direct than the Arizona and U.S. highways.  We had gone a long way and were beginning to have some doubts when we spotted some Navajos at a junction and asked them.  They told us we were still on the correct road, but I am sure we left them wondering why we were there at all.

Crossing the Navajo Nation

Canyon De Chelly, home to First Americans for about 5000 years, has a sad history but if you are not familiar with it, you should look it up.  Suffice it to say, it was the last refuge of the Navajo until they were starved out in 1863 and forced to move to a reservation.

We discovered hiring our own guide [only if one had a 4-wheel drive vehicle] was no more expensive than riding on a tour bus, little more than bleachers on a flatbed truck.

We met our guide, Bryson Joe, near today’s welcome center where the North Rim trail to the left and South Rim Trail to the right come together.

“Which way shall I go, right or left?”

“Straight ahead.”

“Into the River?”

“Yes.  We will have to be careful.  Nobody has been up the river today so there are no tracks and the sandbars shift.”

About to take the plunge.

The water was soon up to the middle of the hubcaps and splashing higher.  Bryson Joe made sure I knew it was a $50 charge to get towed out.  After a lot of white-knuckled driving and a couple stops, he asked if I would like him to drive.  I gratefully said yes.

Click on photos to enlarge.  They are either from a rim trail or when we pulled out of the river to make a stop.

It did not bother me that after a few days on back roads, the vehicle had gone from being filthy to looking like it had a head-on collision with a dumpster.  But I didn’t think it was a good idea to have our disk brakes covered in mud, so our first stop after our drive up the river and back was a carwash where we could get them back to a semblance of normal.

Date of our trip: May 1997

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Our first backroads adventure. Part One

To celebrate my birthday, a much younger me jogged to the point at the end of the trail in the center before returning to Alie for lunch.

One should live in the present, but rule two above says one should take time to be grateful.  We are very grateful for the many wonderful experiences we have had.  So, I plan to reminisce for the next couple posts about our first trip which, although it went to many famous places, followed rule seven, had no set destination, and often arrived at those destinations driving routes that not only avoided main highways but were actually closed to cars a couple times.

We flew to Las Vegas in May 1997 escaping for two weeks from the stress of hard times and a small business. There we rented a Nissan Pathfinder with four-wheel drive, stopped at a store to buy a couple cheap collapsible chairs and a foam ice chest and set off to see some of the Southwest.

Shortly after crossing the Hoover Dam, Alie the navigator, set the tone for the trip directing us down a dirt road to see if it would lead to Grand Canyon National Park.

In 1997, one could drive across the Hoover Dam and it held more water than today.

It did not.  But after spending the night in the touristy town of Williams where a morning walk led me to the best peach turnover I have ever had, Alie started us northwards on dirt roads through the Coconino National Forest and then through the Kaibab National Forest.  We pulled out those chairs for a picnic lunch beside the road.

In my memory their fresh peach turnover gets better every year.

The trail through the Kaibab became so rutted, I had to take care to drive on top of the ruts for fear of dragging bottom if I went down into them.  But then, just as it seemed to be levelling out, we came to a huge boulder in the middle of the road.  That is what 4-wheel drive is for – I drove off the road and around it.  Proceeding up the hill, what was left of the road tilted so much that at times I wondered if I would roll the vehicle.  But it was wonderful.  The grass of the Kaibab turned into lush forest with huge elk wandering through it unconcerned by our presence.

As we reached the top of a long climb on the rough road, we encountered a large sign facing away from us in the middle of the road.  I stopped beyond it to get out and read.  We were in the Grand Canyon National Park, and the road behind us was closed because storms had washed it out!

Click on photos to enlarge and see captions.

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Strange weather and Reuben Partridge’s bridges

1883 Spain Creek Bridge, 66 feet long. The windows and awnings were added sometime prior to 1930 and the bridge was rehabilitated in 1988.

We think we have readjusted to winter after 25 years in Florida, but when temperatures ran about twenty degrees above average the first weekend in March, we rejoiced and had to get out of the house, even if just for a drive in the Ohio countryside.

A map of Central Ohio had a covered bridge on it, so that became our destination.  The map was not precise, so it became a game to find it as well as other covered bridges.

Reuben Partridge began building covered bridges in Ohio in 1866.  During the course of his career, he built over one hundred.  Four remain in Union County to the northwest of Columbus and one in Franklin County which includes Columbus.

The first bridge we tracked down was the Spain Creek bridge, a short bridge on the creek of the same name which flows into the Big Darby Creek.  The Upper Darby Bridge, later known as the Pottersburg Bridge was not far away. 

Click on photos to enlarge and see the captions.

The Union County Engineer built a two-lane bridge over Big Darby Creek when he restored and moved the Upper Darby / Pottersburg Bridge.  We thought it was a nice touch.

When the Union County Engineer restored and moved the The Upper Darby / Pottersburg Bridge in 2006, he replaced it with a larger bridge in the same style.

Having seen these two Partridge bridges, we started to look for other covered bridges in adjoining counties.  Then on our way home, we caught yet another Partridge bridge.

At the end of an easy day on back roads, we had found six historic bridges and one modern version.  I think we may have also found a new “sport.” 

Date of our visit: 5 Feb 22

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