Boulder Mountain to Capital Reef

Boulder Mountain
Tuesday, April 30We left Escalante this morning on our way to Capitol Reef National Park. There isn’t a hope that we will find a campground there, so we looked for a good BLM dispersed camping area, of which there are a number of possibilities. The drive over Boulder Mountain always holds interest for us. As the road winds across and over the mountain, vast aspen groves begin to show up. Many are dead, but at this time of year it is difficult to tell the difference. There are several pull-out and viewpoints large enough to pull the motorhome into so we could stop and photograph the trees. It is best if there are clouds passing over the mountain. Then areas of trees light up when light breaks through.  Boulder Mountain Road eventually hits one last large overlook where views of the La Sal mountains and sandstone reefs can be seen. This is about the highpoint (around 9000’) of the mountain and soon the road drops down into a pine forest and warmer temps. We followed the road off the mountain and through the town of Torry until we found a pretty decent BLM campground about 5 miles from Capital Reefs border. Our spot is pretty close to the main road, and hidden behind some hills. The dirt road to reach the spot is a little bit of a worry. The dirt  is solid enough now, but rain is always a possibility and the stuff turns to sloppy mud really fast. The other dispersed site is just outside the park border, but it its more of a wide open parking lot – and much busier.

Capitol Reef National Park
Wednesday, May 1 We were looking forward to a hike of some kind. We chose to hike to the Tanks reached by hiking down Capitol Gorge and taking a spur trail up to them. The Tanks are a series of large natural sandstone catch basins that should still have water in them. Once inside the park, we drove to the trailhead, stopping occasionally when something caught our eye. A few nice flower groups of flowers were spotted in washes along the way.The paved Scenic Drive road ends, and from there the trailhead is reached by driving down the gravel Capitol Gorge Rd for several miles. From the parking area, the trail goes right into the narrow gorge. There isn’t really any other way to walk so it is easy to follow. Looking up, the sheer cliffs are always impressive. Along one section of red sandstone, easy settlers carved their names into the rock. The precision of their carving is in contrast to some later etchings. Other non-settler defacement carvings have been chipped out by the park service. The red sandstone walls eventually gave way to harder whitecap sandstone formations. The trail to the Tanks branches off from here. It switchbacks up the cliff quickly over a rocky path. It was a little difficult to follow a specific trail in sections – the go all over the place One has to just kind of move toward where the formations are. There were quite a few people already here, but more were coming all the time. We decided to hike up the wash feeding the tanks for a while to see what there was. We found a few more isolated water-filled tanks, but nothing real impressive.Walking back down, I found the first large tank and followed the wash to several others. I stopped trying to slide myself around the last few because it became a little too precarious for me. I met Mary up above the wash again and we started back.On the way back to the gorge, we noticed how beautiful some of the sandstone layers under the overhangs were. These are a little difficult to make sense of – there is no point of reference, but most are close-up sections of the underhangs. You could put your hand around the column below.Another section featured wave-like, scalloped layers of colored rock. Still another had a sandstone rainbow.The light had changed in the time we had been hiking. Some nicely highlighted Mormon Tea caught my eye just before we finished. I thought we might continue down Capitol Gorge more, but we were tired and done for the day.

Chimney Rock Trail
Thursday, May, 2Our short time in Capitol Reef was coming to an end, but we wanted to get in another hike before we left. One I don’t remember doing for maybe 20 years was the Chimney Rock Trail. All I could recall was that it was a hot slog up a 600’ butte and a boring return on the loop route. It didn’t sound too appealing to me, but I was interested to see it my feelings still held true.

The trail is named for the standalone pillar of sandstone near the edge of the butte. There are only a couple of places on the trail you can actually see the formation. Most of the trail after getting to the top, is away from the edge, then it switchbacks down the other side.We chose to do the loop counterclockwise to get the steepest part of the trail over with at the start. While there are more steep switchbacks coming down, they transition quickly into a pretty easy up and down walk through most of the rest of the trail.The first part of the trail from the parking area is an easy rise up to the base of the butte, where the first switchbacks then begin. It was mid-morning when we began and was still quite cool. That made the hike up much easier. Along the way, nice clear views of the nearly cloudless skies and landscape began to be revealed. After getting up the first set of switchbacks, the loop for the trail begins. Taking the branch to the right brought us to the next set of switchbacks to the top. I had to keep remembering to look up or I would miss one of the few views of Chimney Rock.The trail continues up more gradually, but still pretty steep. The bright sun was making everything harsh, so making images was less of a priority for me. Instead I just enjoyed the scenery as I walked through. Up on the top, I began noticing how so many of the lower hills around me were so green. Looking closer, I noticed that some of the hill were actually more tan but had lots of green plants on them, while other had few plants but were still even greener – green soil. The trail continues along the top for a time. Again, the views were great, but the light was not.  As the trail dropped further down off the butte, solid walls of red sandstone rose around us. The contrasting reds and greens made things interesting, as did the boulder field of giant sandstone blocks we soon passed through on the loop back. It was much warmer by now as the trail folded into the rolling hills for the hike back. There were nicely multicolored hills all through this area, and now afternoon clouds were gathering, finally adding some interest into a featureless sky.

All along the way I realized this was a much nicer hike than I’d remembered. A different time of day or softer light would have been preferable for photographing, but the hike was still one I would do again.We returned to our BLM camp outside of the park,  got ourselves packed up and battened down to move a few miles up the hill to the town of Torrey. Tonight we have reservations for the Diablo Cafe there in town – a place recommended by Lazy Daze friends Don and Dorothy – for Mary’s Birthday. The menu was pretty different from the last time we were there quite a few years ago, and I learned they were under new management. But the food remained quite good, the prices very reasonable. It was about the first dinner out we’ve had on this trip, so it was especially enjoyable. We are moving to the general area of Moab for the final portion of our trip tomorrow. Only two weeks left for my favorite place in the world.

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