Monday, October 5, 2015

Capitol Reef National Park

Moving across the country, to a state where you have no prior connections, family, or aquantances even, comes with a large set of challenges.  But then again, it also comes with a unique set of rewards.  A whole lot of new terrain to cover, and a whole lot of time to do it.  Back home, it is so easy to get wrapped up in prior engagements.  Family events, birthday parties, plans with friends, benefits for this, evenings out for that, you get the picture.  While these things are so wonderful and important, they take up almost all of your free time.  But when you move 2,200 miles away, let me tell you from experience, that your calendar reallllly clears up.  
One of the many farms on the way to Capitol Reef National Park 
With all my "new free time" (oh how I miss the horses, friends and family though), I have had a lot of weekends free to explore.  Utah is a big state, surrounded by a bunch of other beautiful states I can sink my hiking shoes into.  More free weekends, more free time, more road trips. SO many road trips.

This weekend, we did a big road trip down to Capitol Reef National Park (3.5 hours away),  then across Famous Highway 12 (2.5 hours) which connects Capitol Reef National Park and Bryce National Park, spent a day at Bryce, and then back up to Salt Lake City (4 hours).  So in one busy weekend you can see TWO national parks, National Monuments, National Forests...a lot!
Area of an old mill, before the entrance of Capitol Reef National Park
The drive through some of Utah's tiny towns is half the trip, we had so much fun marveling at how small these towns were, and how different the culture is.  So many cows, horses, atv's and farms! Some of the towns you will be confident there are more guns and residents.  And some towns you will feel like you are in an episode of Breaking Bad.  The journey through some of these towns is half the fun. 

Capitol Reef National Park
You will know when you are getting close to a National Park, as that iconic red rock will come into view. And then the National Park sign that kind of gives me goose bumps every time I see one.  For me, its the amazement and appreciation that we have a National Park System that worked so hard to preserve these lands for all, not just the entitled few who could afford to buy the land. For a small fee to help preserve the area, this beautiful park is yours to enjoy.  Capitol Reef is actually one of the cheaper National Parks and you can see the fees here. 

Okay enough of that. Let's talk about Capitol Reef. 

First lets talk about the name.  The name is kind of broken into two parts. Early settlers noted that the white domes of Navajo Sandstone resemble the dome of the Capitol building in Washington, DC. Prospectors visiting the area (many with nautical backgrounds) referred to the Waterpocket Fold, a 100-mile long ridge in the earth's crust, as a reef, since it was a formidable barrier to transportation. NPS.  While this park is the least visited of Utah's National Park, it is beautiful and so unique.  
The rock that gave the park its name in Capitol Reef National Park

Reef Like Rock at Capitol Reef National Park

Reef Like Rock at Capitol Reef National Park

vistas at Capitol Reef National Park

sandstone at Capitol Reef National Park
Chimney Rock Trail at Capitol Reef National Park
Scenic Overview at Capitol Reef National Park
I love the first few moments I enter a National Park and I just don't know what I am going to find.  Sure, there is google, and I do a bit of research before I go, but each National Park surprises me in a new and exciting way.

Capitol Reef, it was the greenery and the old culture.  Beautiful rock is the backdrop of a luscious green field and orchard.  Yes, you read that right.  Capitol Reef has one of the largest orchards in the National Park system.  In the desert of Southern Utah, amidst cascading rock, you can pick fruit.  You can enjoy an apple while learning about the culture and people that once inhabited the area.

Greenery at Capitol Reef National Park
Old barns and houses at Capitol Reef National Park
Photographer at Capitol Reef National Park
  First thing I do when I get to any National Park is go into the visitor's center and talk to a ranger about the scenic drive, which hike is best to do, and any weather, concerns, or any closures I should be aware of at the park. This is also a great place to learn about the park, its background, and culture. 

It was also a perfect time of year to go.  Early October is technically the start of the off season, the kids are back in school, and there are far less crowds at the National Parks.  The temperatures stay cool and hey, you can enjoy a nice 65 degree fall day picking apples in a National Park. 

Orchard at Capitol Reef National Park
We spent some time in the orchards, admiring the beauty and of course, picking apples.  The orchards were open for apples and pears, and baggies, ladders, and apple picking tools were available.  For 1$ a pound, you could bring home freshly picked apples.  You can even sample a few as you enjoy your walk in the park, for free. 

U-Pick rules at Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef National Park
Orchard at Capitol Reef National Park
Picking apples at Capitol Reef National Park
Apples from Capitol Reef National Park
The orchards are the remnants of the pioneer community Fruita, settled in 1880 by Mormon Pioneers.  The orchards contain approximately 3,100 trees including cherry, apricot, peach, pear, apple, plum, mulberry, almond, and walnut. The National Park Service now maintains the orchards year round with historic cultural irrigation practices, pruning, mowing, pest management, planting, mapping, and grafting. (NPS)

You will also see an abundance of animals throughout the park and around the orchards.  We saw deer in the fields, turkeys in another field, an a lot of critters roaming the park.  Thankfully, we did not see the Midget Faded Rattlesnake. Seldom reaching 24 inches (61 cm) long, this snake is the park's resident venomous snake. (NPS)

Dog Friendly Fremont River Trail Capitol Reef National Park
Dog Friendly Fremont River Trail Capitol Reef National Park
After picking some apples, we decided to walk the Fremont River Trail, the one trail that is dog friendly in Capitol Reef National Park.  The trail is by the campground (really great campground) and is a pretty trail following the river by the orchard and campground.  Also in this area, is the general store where a harvest festival was going on, with live music, pressed cider, fresh pies, and more. I mean, it was the perfect way to start a fall weekend and SO unexpected.   We stopped in and bought some jalapeno honey mustard I am putting on everything edible. 

Scenic Drive Capitol Reef National Park
Sandstone at Capitol Reef National Park
After leaving the orchards and river, we drove the scenic drive down to the end of the road, at Capitol Gorge.  It was very interesting to see the washouts along the road from when the  flash floods cross the scenic roads. You can only imagine how much water can moves across this landscape during a heavy rain storm.  I really enjoyed the drive as it was a short and easy scenic drive, that was very quiet, with a few pullouts to stop and take a picture.  

We had lunch at Capitol Gorge, the end of the scenic road before heading back up to the entrance.  You can actually travel down the dirt road at Capitol Gorge and access some trails in this area, but we had a lot more to see this trip.  We headed back to the entrance of the park to see the Petroglyphs and a shot of the Capitol Dome Rock. The petroglyphs were carved into the rocks by tribes that lived in this area along the Fremont River, known as the Fremont Culture.
Petroglyphs at Capitol Reef National Park
After spending a beautiful few hours exploring Capitol Reef, we headed west for Highway 12.  While National Parks are not dog friendly, the surrounding National Forests are, and I had a lovely hike planned just an hour and a half down Highway 12 in Escalante.  

Wednesday I will be sharing more pictures from the next leg of my journey- my trip across famous Highway 12.  Talk soon!

Friday, October 2, 2015

PROs and CONs of Salt Lake City

Thursday on the train I was giving a new couple with a kid some advice, pros, and cons of Salt Lake City.  And as we talked it over and I spewed off my list, I decided that it would be a great idea to write them down, share them with you all, and get your feedback.  If you are thinking about moving to Salt Lake City, this is what I tell people.

If you are already land locked, and being coastal is not important to you, Utah is AWESOME.  Great city in the mountains, its an outdoor lovers dream.  However, if you are on the coast moving inland, it may be a little harder. Every city has its perks, and has its downfalls.  And I tried to summarize them as best as I could below. 

PROS and CONS of Salt Lake City 


  • Friendly people
  • So close to mountains (What Colorado thinks they are ;)
  • Outdoor paradise, great hiking, skiing, mountain biking 
  • A lot of parks
  • Local breweries 
  • Great skiing (cheaper than CO)
  • Food scene is growing
  • Good Mexican food 
  • Great farmers markets/local food
  • A lot of fairs, events, etc down in the city
  • Art/craft and culture scene 
  • Hub for concerts and shows
  • A lot of FREE events (especially at Gallivan)
  • Airport is such a quick ride! 15 minutes on the train
  • Small but newer airport with a lot of cheap flights 
  • Only 1 hour flight from Vegas
  • Proximity to a lot of great areas, Wyoming, Idaho, Nevada, California, Colorado 
  • Has 5 National Parks and amazing monuments, forests, etc. (Uintas)
  • No rain- sunny days 


  • Public transportation is expensive, has odd times, only every 15 minutes, and limited travel
  • Inversion and air quality
  • Confusing highway system/ road signs 
  • Lack of downtown housing
  • The MANY Drinking laws 
  • Land of Chain Restaurants outside of the city
  • Worst . Drivers . Ever
  • Traffic 
  • EVERYTHING closed Sunday 
  • Land locked
  • Reservoirs are often disappointing and VERY crowded
  • Brutal summers and lack of shade everywhere
  • Dominating Religious/Republican views 

Any you can add?
I guess the good thing about my lists is so far, there are more PROs than CONs but it all depends on which are most important to you.

What are some of the pros/cons to your city?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Desolation Lake Trail and Overlook - Fall in Big Cottonwood Canyon

I used to think nothing beat the colors of New England Fall.  The deep reds, subtle oranges, and crisp yellows of the New England Autumn just makes your heart leap.  Couple these changing colors with the drop of humidity, warm sunny days followed by cool sweater weather nights, and fall in New England is easily one of my favorite seasons. 

Fall on Desolation Trail  

And then I moved to Utah.  Sure, there is a serious lack of trees, especially here in the city, but a drive to the canyons will solve that.  At the bottom of the canyons you may not be very impressed, but as you climb up the canyon, the colors will POP.  The yellows of Utah are the most stunning to me, and coupled with the reds and the oranges, the mountain looks like they are on fire.  

The one thing I am missing is that drop in temperature and cooler nights.  Downtown, temperatures were still hitting the 90s during the day, and nights were still AC weather.  I am waiting for that crisp New England weather so I can start baking apple pies. 

The canyons are the perfect place to escape some of that city heat, and see Utah's amazing fall colors. And while you can drive the Aspen Loop, or drive up and down the canyons, a long hike through the woods is the best way to experience Autumn in the American West. 

 I am officially in love with Autumn Aspens 

Desolation Lake and Overlook
(Desolation Trail and Wasatch Crest Trail Spine )

Trailhead:  Mill D North, Big Cottonwood Canyon    Season:  Mid summer to fall (due to high altitude snow accumulation) (This hike was September 26th, perfect time for fall leaves).   Distance:  7.4 RT to the lake, 8.75 RT to get to the ridge and back.   Elevation:  Start at 7,927' to 9,577' (2,303' gain).   Dogs: No - Big Cottonwood Canyon Protected SLC watershed.   Kids: Maybe, easy trail to follow but due to its long distance I would say no.    Camera:  Nikon 3200 DSLR

Mill D Trailhead 

The trail starts off at the Mill D trail head at the top of the canyon  There is a large parking area on both sides of the street.  It is quite a ways up the canyon so be patient and drive carefully up the canyon.

Mill D Trail head and Desolation Trail 

Big Cottonwood Canyon

The trail is well defined and easy to follow. For the first half mile, keep your eyes on the gorgeous peak to your right. 

Big Cottonwood Canyon

Fall in Big Cottonwood Canyon

When you reach a junction to go left towards Dog Lake or right to Desolation Lake, keep right to Desolation Lake.  If you want to keep the hike short, Dog Lake is an okay option (you can check out my Dog Lake post here).  Desolation is much prettier and is worth the extra hike. Do note that this is a very popular downhill mountain bike trail.  You will encounter a lot of mountain bikers coming down the narrow section of the trail- keep your eyes open and share the trail. 

Desolation Trail to Dog Lake or Desolation Lake 

Fall on Desolation Trail  

Fall on Desolation Trail  

The reds, greens and yellows in this field were fall perfection.  

Moose on the Desolation Trail  

I have a serious Moose fear (like, I have nightmares about hiking with moose).  They are beautiful and I enjoy watching them, but I have a large fear of coming around the corner to an aggressive moose on a trail.  Moose are not normally aggressive, but can when:  it is a female with her calf, or males during the mating season (rut) in the fall.  I came around the corner to see this female moose laying about 20' off the trail with her calf.  Thankfully her calf was older, and this was a popular trail with a lot of hikers and bikers in front of me.  I nervously and briskly walked by and survived to tell the tale. 

Desolation Lake 

Finally you reach Desolation. This gorgeous and quiet lake had an emerald hue and was the perfect place to have lunch and relax before climbing the last half mile to the ridge. 

Desolation Lake 

Desolation Lake 

Desolation Trail

Desolation Lake and Trail
Heading up to the ridge adds another mile+, but is so completely worth it.  Looking back, the view of the lake and the peaks, with the fall colors is breath taking.  

Desolation Trail

Desolation Trail meets the Crest Trail

At the Ridge !

When you reach the ridge you will have cell service again, and see park city on one side, and the Desolation Lake basin on the other side.  You will also see a lot of mountain bikers coming across the ridge and down the Desolation trail. 

Park City below the ridge 

Desolation Lake 

This is the perfect long day hike to see fall. The aspens, the lake, the meadows and the wildlife- this is a perfect way to spend a weekend. I would plan this hike ASAP as the colors wont last, and snow will be making its way to the top of the canyons soon. 

Happy Hiking,

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