Utah 2020

We dropped out of Idaho and into Utah through the small town of Snowville, UT. Pam looked over and spotted a zebra coming out of a barn, not something you expect to see in rural Utah. Ocean Star International is a fish food producer in town that also owns the farm with several exotic animals, including the zebra.

Just south of Snowville, we passed under I-84 and continued south along a nice dirt road to the northern end of the Great Salt Lake.

It was a pretty drive through the remote salt flats on the northern edge of the lake. The road emerges at the Golden Spike National Historic Park. Promontory Point, within this park, is the location where on 10 May, 1869 the Union Pacific railroad from Omaha joined the Central Pacific railroad from Sacramento to complete the first transcontinental railroad. The golden spike was the final spike driven in by the president of the Central Pacific line, Leland Stanford, to complete the track. The actual golden spike now resides in a museum at Stanford University.

The visitor center is a beautiful rock building, and the park has replicas of the two locomotives that were there that historic day.

Usually, the two locomotives are next to the site where the golden spike was driven into the rail. However, this time of year they are taken to a maintenance facility just a short distance away where they have their yearly check-ups to keep them operational.

We went to the shop to see the two locomotives. The Ranger gave us a great overview on the history of the one wood-burning engine and the other coal burning engine, and how they were duplicated from pictures for the National Park Service. He was a history major who now works for the NPS. When he joined, he was surprised to find that they even had train engineers and maintenance folks within the Park Service to keep these two beautiful machines running.

The Union Pacific engine 119 was one of the two historic trains.

The Central Pacific engine 60, named Jupiter, was the other engine there that historic day.

After the visit, we stopped in Brigham City, UT to pick up supplies and do some laundry. We then dropped down into Salt Lake City to visit with Allan, Pam’s brother. Alayna, our niece, was there visiting from her job in California, but had to head back the day after we arrived.

Rowan, our nephew, was out of COVID quarantine after one of his classmates tested positive, so we got to see him too. We helped Allan with some fall yard work, cleaning up several trees on his property and taking a huge load of trimmings to the dump. We had a nice visit, pickling some of his beets and carrots from his garden, and playing a very competitive game of cornhole out by a nice campfire in his back yard.

We left Salt Lake City and dropped south into the San Rafael Swell. We dispersed camped off the San Rafael River Road, next to the San Rafael River. Our spot turned out to be an incredible site, surrounded by the sandstone cliffs that are much larger than they look.

As we sat outside enjoying the beauty that surrounded us, Pam kept hearing people talking, but we could not spot them. Finally, Pam pulled out some binoculars and found two climbers on the cliff face. Their voices were reflecting off the rock wall about a half-mile away. Zooming into the right side of the wall behind our rig you can see the rock face a little closer.

Zooming in even further into the overhang about half-way up the face, we spotted the two climbers. They were ascending the crack below the over-hang. That is when you realize how large that rock face really is.

We had camped near this location with Allan and Rowan last year and there were many signs of beavers – dams, downed trees, and willow shoots downstream, but we never saw the beavers themselves. Our spot this time looked right down a small section of the river with beaver dams at both ends to create this nice pool in this arid place.

They were not large dams, but effective in creating enough deep water for the beavers.

As dusk approached, we spotted the first beaver coming out for a snack and some dam maintenance. Instead of lodges, the beavers burrow into the side walls of the riverbank.

Soon we spotted more and realized that a group of four beavers lived along this stretch of the river. They are very interesting to watch. Beavers are one of the best environmental engineers around and have a way of transforming the entire ecosystem for the better. It will be interesting to revisit this area in the future to see their progress. Hopefully, folks will leave them alone to do the wonderful work that they do.

When you see what four beavers can do and consider that millions of beavers were extracted from the West during the early days of expansion, much of the West must have been very lush and retained significantly more water due to these animals. Their numbers are growing again, and conservation groups are working to deal with the beaver – human interactions now instead of just killing them. Hopefully, beaver pelt hats never come back into fashion.

We woke up one morning to see three hot air balloons flying around the rock walls. They landed over by the campground about a mile away after traversing the rock faces. Again, it gives you the scale of the surrounding area because hot air balloons are not small.

The wind was calm, but they had enough of a predictable wind to guide their balloons very close to the rock walls.

The evenings in the swell were very beautiful and peaceful. This remote place is rapidly climbing on our list of favorite places to camp.

We continued south to Hanksville, UT and picked up some beer, which is not always easy in Utah. We thought we would camp in Capitol Reef National Monument, but it was very crowded when we arrived. Of course, after a few days in the swell, “crowded” could mean just two cars, but it was quite a bit more. We stopped for lunch at Capitol Reef and then continued south towards Boulder, UT. I caught this group of deer in the field enjoying the grass near our lunch spot.

We pulled off Hwy 12 at Oak Creek Campground, one of the few Dixie National Forest campgrounds still open this time of year.

We had a nice short hike through the forest near the campground, enjoying the colorful aspen that were changing at this altitude of about 7,000 feet.

The next morning, we grabbed some tasty breakfast burritos from the food truck parked at the Anasazi State Park Museum in Boulder, UT. After breakfast, we drove the picturesque Hwy 12 from Boulder to Escalante. A lot of folks were on the road, and it looked like a film crew was also filming along the road. The Calf Creek falls are in the canyon near the center of the picture. Cars were packed at the trailhead for the falls hike.

We stopped to enjoy the view at the top. As we entered Escalante, we noticed the sign for the marathon that is run every year from Boulder to Escalante. The climb up the road to this view would be roughly mile 15, or no fun even with the gorgeous views to distract yourself from the pain – lol.

We turned south at Cannonville, away from the many tourists in the area. Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Grand Staircase, and several other notable places to see are all in this area, drawing in the large crowds of tourists. We continued down the dirt Cottonwood Canyon Road at a peaceful pace, with little traffic. Just before our intended camp spot a herd of bighorn sheep ran in front of our rig and up the hill along the road.

We camped about 7 miles up from the south end of Cottonwood Canyon in a nice rock formation. The sides of the hills were covered with bighorn sheep tracks, but we didn’t see any more that night.

The following day we continued into Kanab, UT, refilled our gas tanks, restocked our food supplies, and headed south into Arizona.