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Saturday, October 27, 2018


                         Where's Waldo?  Where's our camper?  Lingering next to the Dirty Devil.

    They call it "The Big Five".  People come from all over the world to see southern Utah's five most mind-boggling parks.  They begin with the Grand Canyon,

  its depth so vast on first sight, it makes you cry.
     But there is much more nearby starting with the Grand's "opposite",  Zion National Park.  Think of it this way, when you go to the Grand Canyon you're looking down into an incredible, colorful canyon, too big to fully comprehend. When you visit  Zion, 100 miles northwest, it's the other way around. You're at the bottom of another fantastic canyon, looking up.
    I suppose the 900-foot spires rising all around gave it its heavenly name. On our third visit there, earlier this month, we were again inspired by Zion.

  INSPIRED      Painting in  the visitor's center.

    Francesca and I hiked a bit then jumped on our bikes to coast down the canyon road.
 Francesca served dinner under the eye of Watchman Tower.  Later, we spoke to a ranger about short hikes (Pi wasn't allowed on trails) and she told us, "Don't hike up into any narrow canyons tomorrow.  The hurricane is coming and a flash flood could spoil your day".

   At first, we thought she was kidding, a hurricane in Utah?  But she was right. Hurricane Rosa had made landfall in Mexico and was headed our way.
Being South Florida storm vets, we knew this would be like a 'cane drifting up into Kentucky to bring rain and possible flooding without the crazy wind.  
We were okay with that. The next morning we hiked up the river but not too far.

   You exit Zion to the east by driving through a mile-long tunnel punched through a canyon wall. On the other  side there's another version of Utah splendor complete with mountain goats grazing.

     Heading north we passed the incredible rock
towers ("hoodoos") that pop up at Bryce Canyon NP. 

It seemed strange not to stop  but we had visited twice before.  Our plan was pass up this -and- the Grand Canyon, so we could see other nearby national parks for the first time.

   We got to Escalante NP's visitor's center just before the hurricane. Park service employee Shannon Holt showed us the life-size paper-mache Diabloceratops her crew made for the 2018 Pioneer Day Parade. "It's Utah's biggest event", she exclaimed, "bigger than the Fourth of July!".  It celebrates the day Brigham Young, his 8 wives and 54 children, came to Salt Lake Valley for the first time and he said famously, "This is the place!".  I imagine the full text was, "This is the place that can accommodate  me, my 8 wives and 54 children!"
    While Diabloceratops and Native Americans no longer living in the area, there are plenty of Mormons to take up the extra space. 

     We told the center's rangers we wanted to get away from people so they directed us to this slot canyon.
  Places like this are why we are drawn to Utah.

The rocks' spectrum of browns and oranges are due to its iron content. 

We needed to eat before the Rosa flood so we stopped by "Magnolia's" outside the Anasazi Indian Center. The museum was very good but the French fries even better.  I had gobbled half of them when the 'cane rain began. The locals were thrilled to be getting a hurricane as it had been such a dry summer.  How un-Miami.

    As we drove up into the 9000-foot mountains the rain got as thick as fog.  They say Escalante is filled with incredible canyons and pine forests but I could barely see the road with "Rosa" blowing through.  
     We proceeded slowly as windshield wipers waved furiously. At one point I asked my wife to roll down her window to take a picture of the mountains we could not see.  She refused (for good reason).  When the rain let up a bit, I saw cows by the road  and tried the same thing. So much water blew in I might have well stepped outside. 
     But I did get my picture,

           "Cows Enjoying the Fall Colors and Hurricane Rosa".

      We were able to drive past the hurricane and into Capitol Reef National Park.  Interestingly, there are no capitols or reefs there, just the burnt orange beauty of extended desert canyons, ancient petroglyphs, and what I remember most, fresh peach pie.
     The white guys (Mormons in this case but it could have been any Europeans with superior fire power) kicked out the Indians from the park's verdant valley in the late 1800's. They raised cattle, children, and planted orchards. Thirty years ago the area was declared a national park.  The U.S. government threatened to kick out the Mormons but they came to an agreement. Mormons were allowed to stay in their village (it's called "Fruita") as long as didn't mind the annual  swarm of park visitors.
     Now,  a few families remaining make a living working for the park or making pies and ice cream for people like us. Visitors are allowed allowed to wander into the orchards to pick apples, pears, or peaches. 
     After fattening ourselves we rose up out of the valley to return to rocks and desert. Rounding the last big hill before the flatness, we saw the most amazing sight,


   We were agog again. Francesca was nice enough to pose with what seemed like a mythical mountain-top fortress.

     We then took a right in Hanksville and headed down a piece of straight road called "The All-American Highway". We have no idea why they call it that but it led to one of our coolest camping spots, a National Forest campsite, -where there are no trees- next to the Dirty Devil River.
 Not too many people either.

 Room for twelve at our picnic table

     In the morning we scrambled down thirty feet, just past the "table", to play our version of
Hollywood Squares, "Utah Holes". 

      Tuckered out and hungry, I suggested that we go 100 mile back to Fruita for more pie.  Francesca, being the wiser of us two, fed me  home-made granola and hot coffee until I was ready to move on. In ten days we were supposed to be back in Miami.


                    Pi wondering where she will wake up next

Sunday, October 21, 2018


     After a 5000-mile trek across America we're back in Miami. Now I have time to tell you about canyons, coyotes and delicious frosted mugs of beer. Our crossing began on Monterey Bay and a few hours later we being humbled, once more, by Yosemite National Park.

    El Capitan was there to greet us. We marveled  that a young man had climbed its 3000-foot face, a few months earlier, using only his hands and feet  (no rope!). I tried ambling up a rock pile at its base but found it too difficult.

   Yosemite Valley is a crowded as the Coconut Grove art festival. We braved the traffic, took a quick look, then headed to the quieter eastern side.  

    You could almost hear a pine needle drop in Tuolome Meadow. The eastern half of Yosemite was almost a ghost park, more bears and elk than people. Perfect except the campgrounds were closed for the winter.

   We had to  go up 10,000 feet, just outside the park, to find a campsite above Saddlebag Lake. On late September nights the temperature falls below freezing. Morning ice on the windshield was a novelty,  something you don't often find in South Florida.

    On Sept. 29th we dropped down to visit Mono Lake. That's the one decimated by Los Angeles developers in the 1940's. Once a part of North America's inland sea, this salt water expanse had been fed by mountain streams for millions of years. Los Angeles diverted the lake's water supply for its own use (huge pipes -and gravity- take it 500 miles south now).

    What's left? A much smaller, saltier lake. 

It's lowered water level leave coral reef-like structures called "tufas" exposed. Only tiny shrimp and fly larvae can live in it. It's not the best place to snorkel.

    Visiting the two-mile pond was a strange, surreal experience. We hope the 40-year campaign to "save Mono Lake" eventually succeeds.

     After being so cold the night before we were looking forward to Beatty, Nevada's hot springs.
When we got there we learned it had been closed down by the health department (too many cooties).  We had to settle for hot showers at a nearly RV park.
     It's manager, "Gypsy Mike", told us he loves this desolate town which bills itself as "The Gateway to Death Valley".
    "We got no crime here", he said, "just 900 happy residents".  They also have two 24/7
casinos and a brothel, a string of old red trailers for "Angel's Ladies".

       What is it about a wrecked airplane that beckons the lonely?

(Next stop, Zion's National Park)