After our terrific stay in BBRSP we journeyed east on FM 170 (farm to market) alternatively known as Farm Road 170. The local folks just call it the River Road. It is also a segment of the Texas Mountain Trail. Regardless of what name you reference it by it is an absolutely stunning drive. The road is an undulating strip of asphalt winding its way between the mountains of BBRSP on one side and the Rio Grande and Sierra Madre Oriental Mountains on the other.
Big Bend National Park is an expansive park with remarkable diversity in regard to the terrain and species of wildlife and flora. While it is wild and rugged it is far more accessible than Big Bend Ranch State Park. There are visitor centers, a gas station, drinking water, paved scenic drives and more people. The one thing that both parks have in common is the spectacular scenery.
We would rate this park as a “must visit” national park. A couple things to keep in mind – this is not a summer park due to the South Texas location and it is a spring break destination for many Texas families (making mid-March the busiest time).
Re-assessing our itinerary based on developments with Covid-19.
On Wednesday afternoon we drove the Kolob Terrace Road to take in the views of the terrace and Zion NP to our east. The road ends at the Kolob Resevoir after 24 miles and an elevation gain of over 1000 ft. We traveled to mile 18 where the road is still closed due to remaining snow making the road impassable. Great views and a refreshing drop of about 10 degrees in temperature from the desert floor below.
On Wednesday we ventured down the Hole in the Rock Road for 26 miles to canyoneer in several exciting slot canyons. This environment was a dramatic change from the tall Ponderosa Pines of the Box Canyon in Dixie NF where we hiked on Tuesday. The road is a washboarded bone rattling dirt track but fun to drive none the less and provides dramatic views of the Straights Cliffs section of the Fifty Mile Bench and Fifty Mile Mountains. Once at the trailhead we tackled the three slot canyons which can be accessed from the Dry Fork Gulch below the trailhead. We hiked Dry Fork first as an out and back as the slot became impassable due to water. We then made a loop by climbing up through the Peek-a-Boo slot and then traversed across to Spooky Gulch and then down climbed Spooky slot exiting into Coyote Gulch and returning to the trailhead from there. As you can see from the photographs below the slots provide some challenging terrain with the tight spaces and chimney descents but make for great fun and excitement.
Today we attempted to drive the Hells Backbone Rd. We knew that it was unlikely we could make it through but wanted to see if we could make it to the Hells Backbone Bridge which spans Sand Creek. The Bridge is 109 feet long and 14 feet wide. The drop is 1500 feet on both sides! Unfortunately due to a late winter storm the road is closed just short of the bridge. We spoke with another traveler who proceeded past the road closure sign but turned back when he saw a vehicle ahead of him stuck in the snow.
On Thursday road conditions allowed us to venture into the remote Cathedral Valley district of CRNP. The terrain in this area consists largely of Bentonite which when wet is virtually impassable for any vehicle. So with several days of dry weather behind us we set out to reach the Sun and Moon Temples. Our average speed was only about 15 MPH due the significant washboarding present along with the many washes that need to be carefully negotiated. We again had many hours of solitude and beauty in this very unique portion of the San Rafael Swell.
Strenuous hiking today with several miles of moderate to steep climbing but well worth the effort with tremendous views. We first climbed to Cassidy Arch and then continued the hike to the highpoint of apx. 6400 ft on the Frying Pan Trail.
Sunday’s weather provided a beautiful backdrop for our drive and hike within the Waterpocket Fold District within CRNP. Our drive began with a thirty mile trek down the sandy and occassionally muddy Notom Road which provided spectacular views of the Reef and the Henry Mountains. We turned east at the junction with the Burr Trail to drive the incredible switchbacks to the top of the Reef. We then left the Burr Trail to journey up the 4WD track to the Strike Valley Overlook trailhead. After hiking up to see the impressive view of the full length of the valley we hiked back down and then hiked the Upper Muley Twist Canyon stopping at the Saddle Arch before returning to the jeep and back down the wash to the Burr Trail. The Burr Trail becomes paved after several miles and winds its way through numerous canyons ending at Rte 12 in Boulder. Boulder is an impossibly small town 40 miles from any other town but fortunately is the improbable home to a highly rated Zagat restaurant – Hell’s Backbone Grill. We had a great dinner and bottle of wine before heading north over the 9600 ft elevation of Deer Mountain within Dixie National Forest. A great way to celebrate Stephen’s birthday with a beautiful day and a wonderful dinner.
Today we hiked the Capitol Gorge Trail from the trailhead to the boundary of the park. Beautiful day with temperatures in the high fifties – perfect for hiking. After the hike we drove to Pleasant Creek on a 4wd track.
Today we traveled from Price to Torrey where we will be staying while exploring Capitol Reef National Park. Along the way we traveled through the northern section of the San Rafael Swell to visit the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry which has one of the largest and densest concentrations of dinosaur fossils ever found.
From there we traveled further south with the intent of driving through the Buckhorn Wash to visit the Wedge (aka the Little Grand Canyon) but rain overnight made the sand and dirt roads impassable. Instead we ventured south on Route 72 which took us through Fishlake National Forest and over the summit at Hogan’s Pass where we encountered gale force winds and snow.
Tomorrow we begin our hiking at Capitol Reef National Park.
A shorter hike on the morning of day two to beat rain showers forecasted for the afternoon. The trailhead is accessed via the one lane dirt Inside Fork Road – an adventure in it’s own right!
The trail runs through an area of forest burned in the North Fork during the 2001 Moose fire and really illustrates the power of nature. Howe Lake is actually two small lakes at the terminus of the Howe Lake Trail. Also, Grizzly Bear territory!