Utah Rocks! (*)
A travelogue by Evelyn C. Leeper
Copyright 2008 by Evelyn C. Leeper

"Heaven for climate, hell for society--and Utah for scenery." [adapted from Mark Twain]



(*) "Utah Rocks!" is the slogan of a campaign promoting the five National Parks that we visited. For those who are not familiar with them, I will add that it is a pun, because these are Parks best known for their geological formations, i.e., their rocks.

I am assuming this will be an easier trip log, because we are mostly visiting places we have seen before, and the natural scenery really has not changed that much in ten years (though apparently a large piece of one of the "mittens" in Monument Valley has fallen off, and a couple of days after I finished this log Wall Arch in Arches National Park completely collapsed). However, even though we have seen them before, any excuse to see them again is good, and Mark's mother (hereafter referred to as "Mom") expressed an interest in seeing the National Parks of southern Utah without the pressure of an organized tour. So we offered to give her a disorganized one. :-)

Actually, it is a bit more organized than our trips usually are, because we made all our hotel reservations ahead of time rather than take pot luck. For one thing, with only a week, we have less flexibility in our schedule, and for another, we do not want to risk ending up with (for example) second-floor rooms in a place with no elevator.

We also saved a lot of money on the Parks, because Mom had the Golden Age Pass (or whatever it's called) that she had bought for the Grand Canyon a few years ago, and so all of us in the car could get in on that. The Park admission fees would have totaled $75, just under the $80 regular Annual Pass fee.

We actually checked luggage on our flight out. Usually we can manage even a four-week trip with just carry-on luggage, but the desire to do no laundry on this trip, combined with the ever-increasing amount of electronic gear (palmtops, DVD player and cables, DVDs, RF modulator, cassettes for the car, iPod, GPS, camera, and chargers, batteries, and storage media for all these), resulted in the necessity for an extra bag. (The wild temperature swings we may encounter did not help: with lows in the 20s and highs in the 90s, we needed sweaters, gloves, and so on, as well as shorts and T-shirts.) I am really hoping to get our next trip back to just carry-on, but that means foregoing the DVD set-up (as well as the cassettes for the car, but no rental car has a cassette player anymore anyway). On the other hand, we will not be needing sweaters or jackets either.

In any case, Continental makes everything very easy. We booked on-line and checked in on-line. This let us change our original middle seats for two aisle seats that had freed up--and they each had an empty seat next to them! We checked our bag to be checked curbside, there was no line at security (well, okay, two people ahead of us), and we got served a snack at no extra charge (a six-inch cheese pizza and a small salad). And the plane left on time! I definitely prefer Continental over pretty much any other domestic airline available at Newark.

What was even nicer was that we got flights at reasonable times. Our flight to Phoenix left at 11:55AM and arrived at 2:17PM. This meant we could get up at our normal time for a 9:30AM limo pick-up. And coming back our return flight was at 10:50AM (arriving 6:38PM). None of this getting up at 4AM, etc. In addition, it seems as though the lines are much shorter by mid-morning; maybe the early morning rush of business travelers is over by then or something.

All in all, except for the somewhat more cramped seats, this was as comfortable a flight as one used to get. (And at $398 each, including all taxes and fees, the cheapest flights available!)

About Scottsdale I will not say too much, as that was mostly family stuff. We made our traditional visit to the really good used bookstore (Bookmaster), or at least to the branch up near Mom's apartment. Their main store is quite a ways south, and the one nearby is quite large on its own.

Saturday we visited an old friend in Tucson. By "old friend", I mean someone we knew when we lived in California in 1972-1974, and then lost touch with for thirty years. The Internet has made finding old friends a lot easier, though, and we re-started our friendship via e-mail a while ago. Now that we are out here we made time to be able to drive down to see him (and his wife, who is not the same wife he had when we knew him before).

May 4: Today we started the sight-seeing trip itself, with a very long drive from Scottsdale to Panguitch, Utah. This was about 320 miles, but because it went through several different eco-systems, it was not as boring as one might think. Near Scottsdale there is saguaro desert, then you climb a few thousand feet to grassy plateau. Then near Sedona it becomes evergreen forest. East of Flagstaff it becomes "painted desert" (and colorful rock formations). After crossing the dam, it goes back to scrub desert, and so on.

We ate lunch at the Cameron Trading Post, known for its Navajo Tacos. Everyone says that you should not try to eat a whole one, but split it with someone, and they are right. "Trading Post" sounds rustic, but it is really a very nice restaurant (and store and motel, etc.) that gets a lot of tour buses and has a good AAA rating.

After another three hours, we arrived at Panguitch and the Purple Sage Motel ($66.23 a night including tax for a double).

We had dinner at the Apple Crate Cafe. The choice was easy, because on Sundays the only two restaurants open in Panguitch are the Apple Crate Cafe and the Flying M, and the hotel manager recommended the former. And this unusual devotion to the Sabbath is year-round; even in season when there are 20,000 visitors in Panguitch, these are the only two restaurants open on Sunday. It is true that most of the visitors are in campgrounds or are otherwise providing their own meals, but there are still a lot of people trying to eat in those two restaurants.

For entertainment, we watched "Yiddish Theater--A Love Story" and "Juno". We had brought along a lot of DVDs of movies we thought Mom would enjoy, because even when the motels have full cable, there may be nothing you want to watch.

May 5: Today we visited Zion National Park. Mark and I had first visited Zion in 1995; the full description of that visit can be found here. But we had managed to schedule that trip during the six-week period when the Canyon itself was closed due to a massive landslide. So while we saw the sights along Route 9, hiked the Watchman Trail and the Canyon Overlook, and drove to Kolob Canyons in the far northwest corner, we had not seen a major part of the Park. We returned to the Park for a one-day visit in December 2003; a description is here. But then it was cold and rainy. This time, we finally got to see the whole Park under good conditions.

Because we came in from the east, our first sight was of Checkerboard Mesa, and Mom was definitely impressed. But of course that is just the beginning. Even before you get to the Canyon, you see amazing slickrock formations. Then you drive through a mile-long tunnel (with turns in it!) and lose a thousand feet of altitude (and all the bars on your cell phone :-) ).

Because I misread the signs, we parked at the Human History Museum and caught the shuttle there instead of at the Visitors Center. Because it was early in the season (and the day--we arrived at the Park about 10AM) we could do this. We took the shuttle "up canyon" to the end, then walked a ways down the Riverside Walk and back. After returning to the Museum by shuttle, we decided to go back to the Canyon and the Zion Lodge for a quick lunch. The food was not great but the view was magnificent.

Then back by shuttle for a quick stop at the Visitors Centers to view the film, and then we returned to Panguitch.

We wanted to eat dinner at the Cowboy's Smokehouse Cafe, but it appeared to be closed (whether temporarily or permanently was unclear). So we ended up at the Flying M cafe, which had a decent turkey pot pie and chili, but not (according to Mom) a decent roast beef sandwich.

Our evening's movie was "Sideways".

May 6: Breakfast was at Foy's--passable, but the service was very slow, the orange juice was not cold, and the coffee was not hot. Let's face it, Panguitch is not the cuisine capital of the world. Someone said that the best meal they had in Panguitch was one they cooked themselves over their campfire, and I can believe that.

We drove down to Bryce Canyon ("hell of a place to lose a cow"). Again, Mark and I had visited Bryce in 1995; the full description of that visit can be found here. This time we drove to the viewpoints, but did not do any hiking. (Given the altitude, it would be difficult for Mom to do even what they term "easy" walks. The best one would have been one that was "easy" but was actually a walk *down* into the spires, and walking down means walking up afterwards. For that matter, I am not sure we were up to it either.)

And it turns out that in fact we got to see more of the Park this time, because when we were there in 1995, half the road was closed for widening and we could not drive past Farview.

While stopping only at viewpoints may seem redundant, the view is actually very different at each viewpoint--some have close-ups views of the hoodoos, other show broader expanses, and so on.

Mom has handicapped plates on her car, and I have to say these helped. We were too early in the season for the shuttle at Bryce (it starts later in Bryce than in Zion), so we had to drive and park at each viewpoint. Several of the ones with smaller lots had only handicapped spaces left when we arrived, so it was lucky (for us) that we could use them.

This visit we did get all the way out to Rainbow Point, at 9115 feet, then returned to the Park entrance and then to Fairyland Viewpoint. This is actually outside the Park, and since people do not get maps until they enter the Park, many people miss it. But in my opinion, this is probably almost as emblematic of Bryce Canyon as Sunset Point.

We ate lunch at Ruby's Inn (the Best Western just outside the Park). Mark and I had the buffet, which included boneless pork ribs, roasted chicken, and (for Mark) barbecued beef ribs. Mark loves beef ribs, but most places do not serve them. Mom got a roasted vegetable plate. After the dearth in Panguitch, the variety was quite welcome. And given the prospects ahead of us, eating our big meal at lunch was a good idea.

We then drove Highway 12, "A Journey Through Time Scenic Byway." Yet more stupendous scenery, including cliffs, sheer drop-offs, and the "Hog's Back", which has a drop-off on *both* sides of the road, plus a climb to 9400 feet.

We arrived at Austin's Chuckwagon Lodge in Torrey, where I had reserved a cabin instead of two rooms. This was because the only rooms left when I had called were second-floor rooms, and there was no elevator. When Mom heard we had reserved a cabin, she was skeptical (to put it mildly). But the "cabins" are really little bungalows with two real bedrooms (each with its own TV and temperature control!); a living room with another TV, along with a couch and rocker/recliner; and a kitchen with breakfast bar, microwave, refrigerator, and full set of dishes and utensils. There is also a porch with very nice chairs, a picnic table, and a grill. The only drawback was that there was only one bathroom. Mom admitted this had not been what she expected when she heard "cabin". (This was $125.16 a night including tax, about the cost of a double and a single.)

"Dinner" was shakes and sodas at Slacker's Burger Joint, where they are very generous with the ice cream in them.

The movies were "Atonement" and "Golda's Balcony".

May 7: We went next door to the general store owned by the lodge and bought banana bread, rolls, and cheese for breakfast. (We were going to get cereal, but the milk was only in half-gallons.) Back in the room, we made tea and had a picnic breakfast. The options for eating in Torrey are very limited.

The morning was spent at Capitol Reef National Park. For a full description of the Park from our last trip, see here. This time we drove down the Scenic Drive and stopped at the various viewpoints, but did not do any hiking. Even so, Mom thought this was the best and most impressive of the five Parks. We also drove a ways further on Route 24 and back. Even though we were driving this way tomorrow, it was sunny now and we did not know what the weather would be then. Also, by driving out and back, we got to see the scenery in both directions, and it can look very different from the other way.

Lunch was at the Wonderland Inn. Mark had a "Spanish burger", which had green chiles, salsa, and sour cream, and came wrapped in a tortilla rather than on a bun. I had a pulled pork sandwich. Neither was great, but they were better than what we had in Panguitch.

Torrey is much smaller than Panguitch, with even fewer dining choices (during the week--I suspect most of the hotel restaurants would be open on Sundays), but we were having only one dinner here anyway. In general, people who are staying longer probably make more use of their kitchenettes. There is supposed to be an excellent Southwest cuisine restaurant (Cafe Diablo), but it is somewhat expensive and open only in the evening, while we have been eating our big meal during the day.

Afterwards we relaxed around the cabin. It finally rained (after threatening for several days), but the rain did not last very long.

We spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to tune the satellite TV. The only way we could figure out how to choose a station was to cycle through the whole guide, but with several hundred channels, that is not a very fast way to do it. There *must* be some other way we had not figured out.

The movies were "The Savages" and "The Hoax".

May 8: After another picnic breakfast, we drove on Highway 24 Scenic Byway. As with many roads in Utah, the scenery is as good outside the Parks as outside. We drove through Hanksville, a "town" we had considered staying in, but which turned out to be even smaller than Torrey and without any place to stay that met our standards. This turned out well, as we ended up staying two nights each in three reasonable motels, rather than changing motels every night.

The Luna Mesa Cafe is still there on Highway 24, but no longer has the giant model spaceship on the roof. Oh, well.

We picked up I-70 for a short stretch, then drove down US-191 to Moab, or rather to just north of Moab, to Arches National Park. This is yet another type of geology; see here for details. Many of the features can be seen from the car, or by a short walk (e.g., a few hundred yards for a view of Delicate Arch).

This, I suppose, segues to Edward Abbey. Abbey is the author of many novels and non-fiction books set in and about the West. At one of the book sales a couple of months before the trip, I picked up his book DESERT SOLITAIRE: A SEASON IN THE WILDERNESS, a collection of essays about his time as a Park ranger in Arches National Park. If this is true, I think the Park ought to have gone after him for dereliction of duty, since he seems to have spent a lot of time helping a near-by rancher herd cattle, rafting down the Colorado, and doing a lot of other things having nothing to do with the National Park Service. But let's give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that although he calls it *a* season, the book actually covers a couple of years or more.

Anyway, the most pertinent chapter would be "Polemic: Industrial Tourism and the National Parks". In this chapter, Abbey complains that the National Parks are effectively being destroyed in the attempt to make them more "accessible". Now, Abbey worked in Arches in the 1950s, and wrote the book in 1967, so by "accessible" he does not means wheelchair ramps and such, but paved roads and plumbing.

Abbey's suggestion was close the Parks to all motor vehicle traffic (except for shuttle buses and other vehicles owned and operated by the National Park Service). All visitors would have to leave their cars outside the entrance. They would be issued a bicycle (or horse) for use inside the park. Their tents, bedrolls, etc., would be transported by shuttle bus to the campgrounds. (He even accepts that those "too elderly or too sickly to mount a bicycle" might be allowed to ride the shuttle buses.)

Something like this has been done in the bigger Parks (e.g., Zion, Bryce, Grand Canyon). Cars are allowed in the Park, but they are barred from the most scenic parts, and people wanting to see those parts must walk, bicycle--or ride shuttle buses. This is not quite what Abbey suggested--he did not want shuttle buses running constantly up and down the roads every seven minutes. But it is vastly better than bumper-to-bumper cars and RVs.

Abbey then suggested no new roads be built in National Parks. This follows fairly directly from the first suggestion--if cars are not coming, why build roads? And rangers should be spending more time outside, guiding people on hikes, helping them with camping (in tents, since no vehicles are allowed in the Parks), and so on. All this--ranger service, bicycles, horses--should be free to the public. Abbey claims that by not building new roads or spending money to maintain the old ones--let them revert to unpaved roads again if necessary, but lack of traffic will probably lower the maintenance cost a lot--the Parks would have more than enough money to finance his proposals.

The major obstacle that he sees to this is that "Industrial Tourism"--motels, restaurants, tour companies, road-building contractors, etc.--are going to fight this tooth and nail. Well, maybe, although as I said, Abbey's suggestions have been implemented somewhat.

The real problem (as I see it) is that there is a feedback loop. Abbey bemoans the changes in Arches that the paved road brought. Tourists have to camp in the campgrounds rather than wherever they want, and must bring charcoal or their own wood for fires--there is not enough dead wood around for the numbers of campers that now arrive. But these changes are because of the numbers of tourists. Are there lots of tourists because the paved road was put in, or was the paved road put in because there were so many tourists that an unpaved road could not support that many people? In the 1950s, it took a long time and a lot of effort to get even to the entrance of Arches. Now one can fly to Salt Lake City or Denver, rent a car (or even 4-wheel-drive vehicle) and be there in a day or two. (Admittedly, this may change with global warming and/or the increase in gas prices.) So if thousands of people show up at the entrance, the question is, what can the Park do? One option is to limit the number of people who can enter the Park on a given day. This, understandably, they are reluctant to do. The other is to figure out how to support this many people. The easiest way has been to build better roads, create campgrounds (with plumbing, because the sort of back-country camping where one digs a latrine fails spectacularly long before the numbers of tourists the Parks are currently getting), open a Visitors Center to provide an orientation, and so on. However, at some point even that does not work, and the Parks have switched to shuttle buses in the more congested areas.

A reasonable approach for the future is to consider before building a road whether this road is going to be a real solution or something that will be equally congested in ten years. If the latter, put in a dirt road for non-motorized traffic (and possibly Park buses) rather than a much more expensive paved road.

On the other hand, Abbey does make a logical error in his argument. He describes the people who visit the bottom of the Grand Canyon and other remote places in the mountains, or raft down rivers, as being "not consist[ing] solely of people young and athletic but also of old folks, fat folks, pale-faced office clerks who don't know a rucksack from a haversack, and even children." Yes, and Theodore Roosevelt was a weakling before he headed west. The point is that just because some old folks can climb Mt. Whitney, and some fat folks can raft down the Colorado, and some children can horse-back through the Smokies, does not mean that most, or even many, can. The existence of a few professional basketball players under six feet tall does not mean that the profession is as open to shorter people as it is to tall ones.

The irony is that he has an entire chapter about "The Dead Man at Grandview Point". In it, he describes the search for him: "Learning from the relative--a nephew--that the missing man is about sixty years old, an amateur photographer who liked to walk, and had never been in the Southwest before, we assume first of all that the object of the search is dead...." So much for Abbey's argument that anyone can explore the wilds of America on their own.

Abbey makes other logical errors. He says, for example, "To refute the solipsist or metaphysical idealist all that you have to do is take him out and throw a rock at his head; if he ducks he's a liar." This sounds reasonable, but in fact this does not refute the solipsist at all, because if the solipsist is right, he is merely a figment of *your* imagination, and there is no one to refute. All you have proved is that if solipsism is correct, you can create an imaginary person that does not believe in it. And similarly for metaphysical idealists, because though they believe that the external world exists, they also believe that it is still filtered through their own senses and mind.

Well, that last part had little to do with Arches (unless you are a solipsist, in which case, you have imagined the entire Park). The book itself had an interesting journey, having been bought originally in the bookshop at Capitol Reef National Park, traveled to New Jersey, traveled *back* to Utah, and then back to New Jersey.

After this, we drove to Moab and checked into the Bowen Motel. Here we were back to two adjacent rooms, each with only one king-size bed but a lot of empty space (probably about 12 feet by 10 feet of it). Given the amount of biking, hiking, rafting, etc., that people do here, I suspect people have expressed a desire for more space to stow their gear and less taken up by excess furniture. It does have a microwave and refrigerator. Again, I suspect that people want a way to chill beverages and prepare quick meals.

We had dinner at the Center Cafe, highly recommended but in my opinion over-priced. We arrived early enough for the "tapas" menu, which are small portions of various dishes (sort of like dim sum, only not Chinese). Mark got fish croquettes and a shitake and asparagus spring roll, I got a salad of organic greens, bleu cheese, pears, and candied pecans, and we shared a hot and sour shitake soup. Before tax, this added up to $29! Mark's two fish croquettes were about the size of golf balls, there was about two cups of soup, and most restaurants serve a larger salad than mine as a side salad with dinner. I guess this is what you call "nouvelle cuisine".

Afterwards we went for ice cream. Mark and I shared two scoops of maple walnut ice cream for $3.50--a much more reasonable price.

The movie was "All That Jazz".

May 9: The Bowen Motel offers a Continental breakfast (the only motel this trip that did), so we had that. For people who don't want a big breakfast, this is a real convenience.

We drove to Dead Horse Point State Park; see my earlier description here. This has a very impressive view when seen early in a trip, but after all the scenery we have seen, it is only averagely impressive. Driving in we saw open range cattle and passed over several cattle grids. These are metal grilles with bars about four inches apart over trenches cut across the road. This lets the ranchers put a gap in the fences for the road, because cattle cannot walk on these grilles but cars can easily drive over them. We had seen them many times in our Western travels, but Mom had never seen them before and wondered what they were. (I guess the Phoenix area does not have large herds of cattle roaming the streets. :-) )

Canyonlands National Park is not as scenic as other parks, although the Green River Overview is quite dramatic. It is in three "districts" that are contiguous, but accessible only from three separate entrances. The district we went to was "Island in the Sky" at the top of the mesa. The Needles district at the base of the messa is too far and not very accessible by car in any case (Edward Abbey would be very happy). The third area is all back-country.

After returning to Moab, we drove to the Moab Movie Museum (in a resort hotel on the Colorado River). This meant a fourteen-mile drive along the river through the river gorge, every bit as scenic as the various Parks we went to.

The museum commemorates the many movies filmed in this area. The latest is "Takkari Donga" (?), a film in Telegu, which they called a "chapati western" (a la "spaghetti western"). "Chapati western" sounds even better--after all, cowboys do wear chaps. Many of the films are not Westerns (such as "Hellrider" and "The Screaming Skull").

There was a photograph of Native Americans in warrior dress labeled "Homeland security--fighting terrorism since 1492".

May 10: We saw a billboard for A&W "All-American Food". My comment was, "If you want All-American Food, eat a Navajo Taco, not a honey dijon chicken club" [as they suggested].

We drove back to Scottsdale today. But we drove past Monument Valley, though we did not go into the Monument Valley Tribal Park itself. However, most of the scenic buttes and formations are easily visible from the highway. It is much hillier than people expect from what they have seen in films; we needed second gear to go uphill and could not get above 30 miles per hour doing it. The scrub country on either side of the highway had sheep and goats rather than cattle.

In Kayenta (the town near Monument Valley) we stopped at the Burger King, as did all the tour buses. There is a McDonalds in Kayenta, but the Burger King has the Navajo "Windtalkers" exhibit, a history of the use of the Navajo language as a code in the Pacific theater of World War II.

However, though we stopped at Burger King to see the exhibit, we ate lunch at the Cameron Trading Post. I had the Cameron green chilli [sic]--excellent! Mom had something with potato salad, which she said was the best potato salad she had had in a long time. We arrived back in Scottsdale about 6PM.

Had we but known: We would have had more picnic lunches. (It turned out Mom likes picnics, but we did not realize this.) We would have stayed in Kanab rather than Panguitch (more choices for meals).

For next time: If we do a second trip in a few years, we would drop Canyonlands and possibly Arches. We would add Monument Valley Tribal Park, Natural Bridges, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and possibly Vermilion Cliffs. We would probably stay in Kayenta rather than Moab. And we would have more picnics.

License plates seen: AR, CT, DC, DE, GA, HI, IA, IL, KY, MA, MD, MS, NC, ND, NH, OH, PR, RI, SC, SD, VA, VT, and WV. (Hey, it was only a week!)

More about travel in the Southwest can be found in my earlier logs: