Saturday, January 21, 2012

Grand Junction

We spend the night at comfort inn and find the Pufferbelly for breakfast. According to Yelp, it is the best breakfast place in town. That is a sad statement as we find it not so good. We head for the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, a national park, but it starts to snow and the mountain road is quickly getting an accumulation of new snow, so we descent and head out to the Umcompagres River. We then drive in to Grand Junction where I had reserved a room at the Los Altos B&B.
It us a lovely place high on a hill overlooking Bookcliffs. We follow the innkeeper's recommendation and have a wonderful meal at Il Bistro Italiano.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Bryce Canyon

The hoodoos at dawn are spectacular and I spend hours shooting photos of the canyon. The only other person out there is a man from Australia, who greets me with, "Weren't you on the road yesterday?" I responded with, "You were the only car that went by, other than the FedEx car!"
It is crazy cold at that hour, but totally worth it. Ray then takes me down in to the canyon, I hand on to him with dear life as it is difficult traversing the trail due to snow and ice. The drop off is steep! We make our way down to the bottom and hike across the narrow canyon floor on snowy trails, looking up at the blue skies and red hoodoos. The sight is unbelievable and the weather perfect. There is no wind. We hike several hours, alone in the canyon and make our way to the Queen's Garden and a horse trail that takes us up the canyon walls. It is our 33rd anniversary and we are adding up the 33 kisses today. The 3 mile trail gets steep as it ascends, and the view is interesting looking up at the hoodoos, then seeing them at eye level. Some of the columns are so tall and have such interesting shapes, eroded by weathering. There are holes in some, which I later learn are not fully carved hoodoos. In the distance, we can see Utah and its mesas. Some parts of the trail are quite muddy, others ice covered. It is a spectacular time of year to see the canyon as the patches of snow provide an interesting contrast to the sandstone. Besides, the lack of visitors creates a very peaceful setting.

After a lunch of crackers, cheese and lunchmeat, we drive to the other points of interest and view the canyon from many different perspectives. I like Inspiration Point and return for a few shots at sunset.

Ray sees that the weather is changing and a winter storm warning appears for Grand Junction. This has us worried and we decide it might be smarter to leave tonight and get out of the canyon before the wind and snow arrives. We go back to the motel and check out early. They agree to give me a refund for the evening, minus a $30 cleaning fee, and we are off on our way. It is dark as we drive and alas, we cannot see the scenery, which we believe must be interesting and beautiful. It takes us 5 hours to reach Grand Junction, when alas, the weather report changes drastically, and now only light rain is predicted for tomorrow. Oh well, we have a full day to explore!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Route 12

The guidebooks highly recommend Route 12 from Green River to Bryce, as one of the most scenic routes in the US, especially between the town of Boulder, Utah and Escalante. They weren't kidding! The road meanders up to the summit which in Jan, is covered in snow, the aspens are leafless but grey lacy branched and intermixed with pines. It descends into the canyons high above the Fremont River. Off in the distance are mesas and plains. There are photo ops at every turn and we make multiple stops. The mountains in the distance are snow capped and we know that the scene is unique to this time of year.

We end up in the town of Tropic late in the afternoon, which exists only to provide lodging and food for visitors of Bryce Canyon We get to the canyon at sunset and as I walk up to the canyon overlook, it takes my breath away. I had seen many photos of Bryce but seeing it up close is magnificent. The scale and depth of the canyon is something that cannot be conveyed in a photo. We watch the sun dip behind the clouds and as the evening falls, we drive to Tropic for dinner.

To our surprise, the only restaurant is closed for the winter and the only option is Ruby's Restaurant which has only 1 stars on yelp. I have never read such bad reviews for any restaurant before and people suggest eating anything except going there. We decide to purchase frozen food at the general store and microwave it in the motel room. I choose lasagna, a chicken tv dinner and frozen veggies. The motel next door is "fully booked" which when I questioned incredulously, learned that only a few rooms are open. We go to the Best Western Ruby's Inn, rated well, unlike it's restaurant. The lasagna is actually quite good, we discover. Obviously, winter is not a time when one has lots of options!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Canyonlands

It was another early morning and we first drove to Dead Horse Point, an overlook that gives you a view of the canyon and the bend of the Colorado River. It is a beautiful sight, especially looking off in the distance to the mesas and buttes of Utah. Windy, windy, windy and being outside is difficult today. Our next stop is the north section of the Canyonlands National Park, Island in the Sky, south of the Arches and about equidistant from Moab. We hike out to Mesa Arch, which overhangs the cliff-part of the front of the rock had fallen, leaving a very wide arch, that at sunrise glows from beneath. Mid morning, the arch is still beautiful. Again, we hit all the popular sights, but the gusty winds make it somewhat unpleasant to be standing at overlooks, especially at sunset, over Destination Point. Even more than the Arches, the park is ours alone and we see only a couple of people our entire stay.

Our plan is to leave the park after sunset and begin driving out toward Bryce. We stop for burgers along the way and stayed in a practically empty Comfort Inn in Green River. It is obvious that these towns depend on summer traffic to survive and just about shut down in the winter.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

More Arches

We had lots to see and many recommended spots to photograph. We started at the northern end, hiking to Landscape Arch for the early morning light. The arch is delicate and wide,and hard to believe that it is through the process of erosion that it has developed. A nearby arch had collapsed not too long ago and it was unknown as to how long this one would remain. Ray and I had a bit of a miscommunication, causing us to lose each other for a bit, making me realize how scary it could be to lose each other in the canyon. We drove throughout the park, hiked to all the sites and ended the day at Delicate Arch. The 3 mile round trip trail starts as a developed path and then runs on top of "slick rock" marked by small piles of rocks or cairns. The last section gave me the heebeejeebees as it was narrow, without railings and steep drops on the left. But.....the last turn on the path comes out over a simply breathtaking sight that made me gasp. The full arch over the canyon, with the snow capped cliffs behind it, glowing red in the late afternoon light. What a sight! There were only 3 of us couples up there, quiet, serene and magnificent. We watched the sun set and the colors dim, and walked the trail back down at dusk, arriving at the parking lot just as the darkness hit. It was a perfect ending to a beautiful visit and wonderful day.

Before driving back to the ranch, we decided that we had had enough of bad food, and purchased a roasted chicken and frozen veggies to microwave in the room. Another early night with plans to see the Canyonlands tomorrow.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Arches

Photographers say that the best photos are taken at dawn and sunset. Well, how can one come to the Arches and not get up at the crack of dawn? The downside is that the weather report says the temperature will be in the mid 20's. Even though we had brought lots of winter clothes, the thought of getting out there in the dark and cold, was not terrifically motivating. Ray partook of the free motel breakfast; I ate the instant oatmeal and banana bought the night before. We set out close to dawn and entered the park as the first rays of light appeared. I had my list of recommended morning sites for photography and we headed for "the windows". The park had an eery feel as we drove the winding park road among the huge sandstone columns and wide expanses of desert. Unfortunately, the skies were cloudy and though "the windows" were interesting, they appeared dull and colorless. We walked the short trail and took photos but I was uninspired by the sights.

By mid morning, the skies gradually cleared and patches of blue appeared. What a difference it made as we looked through openings in the columns. The contrast of the red sandstone with the blue sky was striking and my excitement grew. We drove to selected points of interest and hiked the trails, taking pictures along the way. With limited daylight hours of winter, we walked, photographed and gazed in awe at the monoliths. The park was ours alone to enjoy as we saw only 2-3 couples the entire day. We ate lunch in the car, sitting at an overlook, while warming our fingers and taking a brief break from walking. Suddenly, the clouds turned dark and snow flurries swirled around the car. In the distance, we could see snow blowing like sheets in the air. I jumped out of the car to catch the moment on camera. Lightning bolts appeared across the desert floor and a crash of thunder behind me made me jump.

We ended the day at sunset watching as the reflected light turned the columns deep red and balanced rock was striking. We had been outside for 10 hours! January in the Moab and the dining choices are limited. Zax for pizza, recommended by Yelp, wood fired but somewhat lacking in tomato sauce was again food that filled the stomach, but not a culinary delight.

I had made reservations at the Red Cliff Resort, half price in the winter, but a 20 min. drive from Moab. Again, we made the drive in the dark, wondering about the scenery which appeared to be bordering the Colorado River. The ranch was practically empty with only 2 other guests. The room was comfortable with living area and small kitchenette, and stood at the edge of the river. We had plans to get out early again in the morning, and so it was an early night.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Winter Holiday

For one week, I am free of all job responsibilities, a break between jobs. Where to go in the middle of January? Yellowstone...Death Valley...New Orleans...? We didn't want somewhere too cold and we had eaten way too much over the holidays to go somewhere known for its cuisine, thus we finally settled on Utah. The Arches and the Canyonlands had been on the "to see" list for a while but timing had never worked out. With only a week to travel, driving was impractical so we decided to use frequent flyer miles and fly to Grand Junction, CO. From there, we could drive to the Arches, which was only 2 hours away.

Here we are, dropping off Jen at Continental for her return to school, and us, over to United for our little adventure. We arrive in Denver, change to a United Express small plane and fly to Grand Junction. The small airport reminds me of Champaign Urbana and our rental car at Hertz is right outside the door. It is already dark and we make the 2 hour drive to Moab, the main town of the Arches National Park. We speculate at what the scenery is like as we drive the deserted highway.

Not much is open and we find a local bar Eddie McStiff's for a quick dinner right before their kitchen closes. It's food that fills the stomach but not a culinary delight. We check in to the Ramada Inn and call it a night.