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 Thursday morning we made an early drive into Zion NP for our final hiking of the trip. We started with a walk along the Virgin River following its winding path until we reached the narrows where the flow of water due to winter snow melt makes continuing further too dangerous. We then hiked the steep climb up to Hidden Canyon. This is a fairly strenuous hike with a 1000 vertical climb along steep narrow switchbacks and exposed cliffs. Well worth the climb with outstanding views and exhilarating moments holding tight to the chains bolted to the rock.
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 Tuesday we hiked the Middle Fork of the Taylor Creek in the Kolob Canyons district of Zion NP. We accessed the hike from the trailhead on Kolob Canyons Road. We followed the middle fork crisscrossing the creek multiple times. The canyon narrows and deepens until ending at a double arch alcove. Along the way we stopped to see two long abandoned cabins built by homesteaders around 1930.
On Tuesday we drove north 40 miles to access the much less visited Kolob Canyons area in the northwestern section of Zion NP. The road is paved and winds up along the western side of the canyon providing spectacular views of Nagunt Mesa, Gregory Butte and Burnt Mountain.
On Saturday we hiked down into the Fairyland Canyon from the rim of Bryce. This is one of a kind scenery with towering hoodoos reaching straight up into the sky throughout the canyon. As typical of Utah at this time of the year at 8000 ft elevation the weather can and does change dramatically within minutes. We started this hike under cloudy skies and then encountered heavy snow as we descended from the rim down into the canyon. Within an hour the snow moved off and we enjoyed blue sky and sunshine for the remainder of our trek through the canyon. This is a long hike with over 2000 ft of vertical but well worth it to experience these other wordly formations.
On Saturday we climbed to the Rim Overlook which provides great views to the east, west and south as well as the park directly below the rim. After a break at the rim we ventured further down the Navajo Knobs trail and then ventured up a side canyon before turning back and retracing our route back to the trailhead.
Hickman Bridge is a natural bridge (not arch – bridge caused by water erosion) that sits at an elevation of apx 5700 ft above sea level. A short hike of 2.2 miles albeit the trip out is all climb to reach the bridge. The bridge is 133 feet across and 125 feet above the ground. A nice bridge to visit because you can travel under the bridge as well as climb above for a view from the top of the bridge.
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.